Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Feds Working Their Way West East (and Photographing Art Exhibitions Revisited)

Best headline by far I've read of the investigation into alleged Asian antiquities smuggling that included a raid of four California museums was Tyler's: "Museum attendance by federal agents up dramatically."

Now we read in the LA Times that the investigation is working its way West* East:
A federal investigation into looted Asian antiquities at Southland museums has broadened to include a prominent Chicago industrialist and art collector who purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of allegedly stolen artifacts from a Cerritos arts dealer.

On Thursday, the same day federal agents raided four Southern California museums suspected of displaying stolen art, authorities also searched the private museum of Barry MacLean, a trustee of the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago. The newly revealed allegations have significantly raised the stakes of the ongoing investigation, suggesting that a suspected network of illegal art dealers extended far beyond Southern California and included objects far more valuable than those previously revealed.

The affidavit suggests that MacLean built his well-known art collection with substantial help from Robert Olson, an alleged smuggler of illicitly excavated Thai, Asian and Native American artifacts. Warrants authorized federal agents to seize Cambodian daggers and a sword, a bronze mask, many objects from Thailand's Ban Chiang culture and all records relating to MacLean's dealings with Olson.

The supporting evidence for the raid was collected by an undercover National Park Service agent who, while visiting MacLean's collection, shot photographs of certain objects.
That last line must send chills down the spines of private collection security guards. "Hey you! You with the a Fed? You are??? Oh! OK, uh, just asking...."

James Wagner, who is phenomenally generous on his blog with press and images of work by under-recognized artists, has been posting on the topic of photography in galleries and museums for quite some time, including this 2005 classic on why he doubted whether he could blog on the Greater New York show that year, which didn't permit photos:

Barry writes that I'll probably be doing a post about our return visit to PS1's Greater New York 2005 show, but I don't know how I can do that without images.

There are no documented pictures on the institution's website [okay, there's a silly slideshow/teaser of a dozen or so works, but no information and the images can't be uploaded], and photography is not allowed in the galleries. My site can't function without pictures, and besides, they're called the visual arts, aren't they?


Before our current exhibition went up, though, I had told James and Barry (author of the equally generous art blog that, despite agreeing with them on the value of bloggers photographing exhibitions in general, I might want to make an exception when the work in question portrays me in my birthday suit. I've since changed my mind (I got used to the idea) and told them so. Still, I totally appreciated that they understood my initial hesitation.

As this particular exhibition plus the ongoing Federal investigation of the alleged smuggling suggest, however, the questions involved are not always cut and dry. There may indeed be times when photography makes those in charge of some space uncomfortable, and I feel they have a right to make that call. What I feel is the appropriate means of communicating with the public that photography in a gallery or museum is not permitted is a clearly posted sign and a respectful explanation available at the information desk. If the conditions change, take the sign down and inform the folks dispensing info.

Having said that, I have to admit that few of the rationales I hear for forbidding photography truly make sense. James shared a list of the ones he hears most with me the other day, and he charmingly, as always, made mincemeat of each in terms of logic or evidence of harm. The wide range of positions held by galleries, from very young galleries with "no photography" policies to very well-established galleries with totally open policies, suggests there is no industry standard, per se. (Speaking of well-established galleries with open policies, don't miss this gem from Heart As Arena.) And so it comes down to personal preference, which is fine, so long as that preference is respectfully and clearly communicated.

*I wish I could hide behind some MAO-esque cleverness intended in that correction, but the truth of the matter is I'm a dizzy redhead with no sense of direction. ;-)

Labels: photography in galleries


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Wow- you covered alot of big topics in your blog today- Ed. I want to say something in this comment box like, is this the first step towards regulation of the art world- setting up the status quo of etiquette (although that is not the right word) or gallery protocol- although it applies to museums as well- but how can you regulate behavior or establish standards when the world as it is is unregulated- the demand by viewers on the internet makes people take picutres or video clips to post on flickr and youtube- doesnt it?

1/30/2008 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

hi Donna,
Maybe I misunderstand what you mean by this statement:

how can you regulate behavior or establish standards when the world as it is is unregulated- the demand by viewers on the internet makes people take picutres or video clips to post on flickr and youtube- doesnt it?

The internet has been struggling with issues of regulation vs. open access, and neither Youtube or flickr are unregulated by any stretch. There's a constant stream on Youtube of people beset by third-party "take-down notices", (many of which are based on questionable copyright claims), and flickr offers any number of ways to license your pics once they're up online: from strict, traditional "all rights reserved" to various creative commons licenses. There are endless disputes to do with regulation and the problems of property, dissemination, copying, etc., online, and it's far from resolved. There's this horrible, stupid stop gap known as "Digital Rights Management" (DRM), which is the attempt by various companies to impose coding on products such as music CDs to keep you and me from sharing or copying them, or playing them on our car stereo once we've downloaded the music to our desktop (for example) even though we bought and own the disk. Regulation of intellectual property may well be the issue of our times... So, emphatically no, the internet is no longer completely unregulated and regulation poses a delicate set of problems. The best thing to do, I think, is for the people within the various creative industries to establish "best practices" guidelines -- not laws, but ethical guidelines. It's been done, it's practical, and it keeps the important grey areas alive rather than squelching them, as hard line regulation would.

1/30/2008 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Here's a little something for your consideration, JK

1/30/2008 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nice piece, James, like all your video reports, but you were politely informed they didn't permit videotaping the show. At a certain point, it's not important whether one agrees with a space's rationale for their policy or not. They do have the right, in my opinion, to set a policy on the issue. I'd prefer they not put their hands in your face, and more so, I'd prefer they post a notice on the policy, but....

I'm not sure what is gained by sneaking in to do this, though. I mean, if the show wasn't open to the public, I might see the value, but this Geraldo Rivera type reporting does seem to suggest they're not fully complying with something they should be, which I don't feel is the case here. What's your take?

1/30/2008 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

A friend of mine went to a show at a museum where he was told that not only could he not take photos or video but he also could not draw any of the pictures on display! I cannot think of any possible rationale for such a bizarre restriction. Do you think museums have the right to do that? And can anyone suggest why they would want to? Surely drawing paintings has a valuable educational purpose, and isn't part of the point of museums to provide those kind of educational opportunities?

1/30/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Billy F said...

I do find it curious that the 303 Gallery would have a no photo policy when on their website.(See James Kalm Report and above posting from James) The gallery has posted photos of each piece in the current show as well as installation views. Why not work with any press exposure no matter how small.

1/30/2008 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger ryan said...

I received a press pass for a show at PS1 once and had a security guard scream and run towards me when they saw me taking a picture with my amateurish point and shoot camera. Even if I was defacing a work in the gallery their reaction could not have been much stronger.

The no photo policy seems outdated and slightly ridiculous. It will only get harder to enforce. Anyone up for a paparrazzi-esque art stunt next time a museum mounts an appropriation artist's retrospective?

1/30/2008 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Sus said...

I went to a regional exhibit at our local museum. Their reason for not allowing me to take photos was that they did not have photo rights from the artists in the exhibit. I could, however, take images of the work in their collection.

As coverage from traditional press declines, I think that the policies of a lot of visual venues will change. The problem with relying on the institution for images is that they don't always shoot and post everything on their sites.

1/30/2008 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this was a frustrating one -

1/30/2008 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Perhaps this is “Geraldo Rivera” reporting, I prefer to think of it as “half-assed” reporting.

I could write on this for hours, but to cut to one of the basic tenants of the conversation, not everyone can get to New York to see shows. Even people in the city can’t always get to shows they’d like to. These mini-vids are not a substitute for going to the shows in person, they’re merely teasers.

Beyond the artistic reason for making the vids, I believe there’s a profound obligation to art history to try and document what our little art world was really like. I know it may seem uncouth for some lug from Brooklyn to ride up on his bike and start recording things, but what would you give to see actual footage of Jackson Pollock’s debut show at Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of this Century” even if it did break the unspoken rules of decorum? Despite gallery claims that they can provide “professional” images, there’re qualities of an exhibition, particularly one involving conceptual installation, that just aren’t going to come across in still photography. In essence it’s a question of SEEING. Who does and who doesn’t, and who gets to decide. I’m trying to open a few more people’s eyes. Sorry if I stepped on a few toes, history will be richer, thanks JK

1/30/2008 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Hoggard said...

Great comment James. I mentioned this

last August. Lisa Spellman of 303 Gallery, in the book "The Art Dealers," said she loved appropriationist art. I guess that doesn't extend to allowing photographs of work in her gallery.

This is a gallery that didn't even have installation photos of their last Mary Heilman show!

1/31/2008 02:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Let me be clear that I, as a gallerist, totally love what you're doing James and would encourage any other gallery out there to embrace it as well. Until they get to that point on their own, however, whether by requests from their potential clients or merely hearing so many other dealers rave about the extra traffic one of your reports brought in or whatever, I feel it's disrespectful to sneak in against their politely stated wishes and secretively shoot the show. It's their space, it should be their call. If they lose out because of that call, well, so be it. They'll learn. I was actually thrilled that you taped the phone conversation with them and then when I saw you filming from the outside, I can't stop the determined arts reporter...but my sense that you were championing an ideal faltered somewhat when you entered the space.

My sense of why this is wrong has absolutely nothing to do with how you get to the space or the costs of your equipment or any of that, either. If the BBC had just shown up with a team of 50 people and or Tom Browkaw sneaked in with a camera disguises as a baseball cap ow whatever, I'd feel the same way. The gallery stated their policy (one they may regret later, and certainly it's fair game to call them on it, the way the start of your video did), and they stated it politely, so I can't help but feel that much at least should be respected.

1/31/2008 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i loved seeing those bouncing blue and black circles flooating around.

1/31/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

As a commercial art dealer (in the best sense of the term) I see your point. One of the reasons for this piece was to provoke further discussion on the subject. But regarding the etiquette, I’d have to say that one of the responsibilities of “real art” is to push the boundaries of accepted ideas and behavior, just not in a bad way. It seems a contradiction of logic to have a space in which your invite the public to view objects, indeed you’re trying to expose your artist’s work to the maximum audience, yet deny a opportunity to increase the number of eyeballs seeing the work, so long as no one is injured (I’m not making any money on this) To me this smacks of “elitist BS”, and exposing the reality of the New York art scene (warts and all) is the main purpose of the “Kalm Report”

Oh, and thanks to James and Barry!

1/31/2008 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm with James on this one. If current art practice is supposed to piss people off -- and that does seem to be the main motivation of a lot of art -- then art people can hardly complain when someone pisses them off. I mean, gallerists love it (in some sense) when the rubes get all angry about using elephant shit to paint the Madonna or someone gets up in arms about a Jesus with a chocolate cock. Why is what James is doing any different?

Maybe you need a more complex artist's statement, James. Something like, "Kalm uses his camera to explore the questions lingering at the boundaries between art and the world in which that art exists by provoking extreme reactions in participants and viewers through violations of ideological and physical territory."

You can have that for free, babe.

1/31/2008 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Thanks Chris,
I think you have a future in the art blurb business, I understand there’s an opening at the Village Voice.

1/31/2008 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I tire too quickly when shoveling bullshit.

1/31/2008 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

Team James Kalm!

Though I do have a secret desire (sorry, James) to have you stop saying you're half-assed!

Self-deprectation is cool at times, but to continue it when you have so many qualifications that contradict that seems kind of silly.

I think phone calls and emails are a waste of time with galleries that are set in their ways.

And you have to promote yourself as well-- "I ain't half-assed, I have a huge number of viewers for my YouTube channel and have a good reputation in the NYC art world."

Play yusself up a bit more.

Though on the "half-assed" note, any chance of a new camera soon-- with a steady cam feature?

Just sayin'.


I'll still watch, but I'll take my dramamine first.

2/01/2008 02:31:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Thanks for your comments. Team James Klam, I wish? There ain’t nobody here but the guy on the bike.

Qualifications? Huge numbers of viewers? Good reputation in the art world? Baby, I’ve got a slightly used bridge here in Brooklyn I’d like to sell ya.

The reason I call my “production company” half-assed” (aside from the fact that it is) is to remind myself not to take it too seriously. I’m trying to maintain an element of fun (can’t art be fun?). Art is too serious to be taken seriously.

After over 155 programs I’m trying to take different approaches to what a YouTube vid can be, just to keep from getting bored. Check out the comments at the channel to see the positive and negative responses from viewers.

I’m trying to hold the camera still (I did upgrade at the beginning of this season, try bliptv’s feed, full screen), but after four cups of coffee and a twelve mile bike ride from Red Hook in twenty-eight degree weather, I’m a little shaky

Also let me recommend Robert Knafo’s NewArtTV at It’s a different take, with professional production values, (big cameras with tripods) great for people who want to watch art world videos. Thanks JK

2/01/2008 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

James sez:
I’m trying to maintain an element of fun (can’t art be fun?). Art is too serious to be taken seriously.

This is off topic (aren't we all?) but I wanted to say I've been thinking about this. I've gotten all cranky at people with my saying photography isn't art, conceptual art sucks, video art really sucks, and so on. I have strong opinions and I think about art seriously.

But it occurred to me the other day, maybe a couple of weeks ago, that art really is play. It's supposed to be fun, something you do for fun and that people engage with for fun. Not always happy touchy-feely fun, but it is about fun at least partly. Play can be serious, but it's still play.

So I'm thinking maybe I've been too cranky. Just thinking, that's all. Trying to be more fun-loving.

2/01/2008 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

Good points, J.K., about the humor quotient.

Of course, remember, these criticisms are coming from the chick who originally named her blog "lamgelinaoly," (my URL cross to bear) making fun of my name and ethereal good looks. ;)

Thank god for me, Ed decided to give it a different title in his links, and from there it stuck.

How about "Half-Assed, Inc."

You could make t-shirts and sell them like hotcakes.


2/01/2008 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Great suggestion, we’ll take it up with the head of marketing, right after the half-assed bicycle seat idea.

I would like to ad an addendum to my above statement that I apologize for not making earlier:

I’d like to thank the whole New York art world for putting up with my annoying gawking. Most everybody has been good sports, even the lady trying to snatch the camera, I love you all.

Second, but not in my heart, I have to thank Kate, with out who’s support none of this would be possible, JK

2/01/2008 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I'm late to the party as usual --

but for whatever it's worth, in those situations where photography has not been permitted I've asked the gallery to send me JPG files of the exhibition, and in most cases they did. Nice shots, too, professional and high-resolution.

2/03/2008 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Well, I'm even later to the party than Bill, maybe too late to be relevant, but . . .

I understand that a gallery would want to control the quality of images going out--hey wouldn't you like to choose your own portrait rather than leaving the shooting and selection to a stranger? And I certainly understand museums not permitting photography--could you imagine the numbers of tourists having their picture taken in from of the statues and paintings? Oh wait, they already do that.

Gallery jpegs are nice--and sometimes I pull an image from a gallery website (and credit it as such), but most of the time I want installation shots. My blog is not a catalog; it's my view of what I see. That requires installation shots, details, precisely the kinds of images you're less likely to get on an official site.

Some dealers are just clueless. I had one 57th Streeet dealer ask, "What is a blog?" Seriously. And some behind-the-desk folks are just afraid to grant permission if the boss isn't there. A new gallery hire, a decent fellow, e-mailed me in a panic to say, "Please don't post the pictures. I shouldn't have given you permission. It's my second day on the job and I'm afraid I'll be fired if my boss sees the pictures." I didn't post them, even though they're great pics of paintings by an artist whose work should be seen.

Artists, bloggers, critics and other art professionals have reason, indeed a need, to shoot certain works. The previous examples aside, I usually ask permission and receive it, especially after I hand my card to the person behind the desk. So what I've come up with is this: if I can't shoot, I don't post. There's a lot of great art out there. Of course there are some exceptions, like the 6th floor gallery of Moma, but they've struck a reasonable accord, I think, by allowing photography in the atrium and the couryard.

2/04/2008 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Ron Schira said...

It may be a vlogger's judgement call to shoot "under the radar," but for myself as an interested party some 3 hours from the city, and restricted by expenses and other issues from visiting at any given time, it is a peasure to see the artworld without the hype and in the correct context. It is also my opinion that everything James Kalm has done has always been in the interest of the viewer and the artworld he lives in. It could be conceived of as reportage and covered under the 1st Amendment, a "Reality-Web" on the cultural level. We folks in the provinces learn from it that tradition and the graveyard mentality of museums are not the only avenues to creativity.

2/04/2008 10:39:00 PM  

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