Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Six Links in Search of a Commonality

What do the following stories have in common?

Story 1: The New York Times reports on how Chinese artists are getting vocal about the distance between what they were told about the Estella Collection when they sold their work to its representatives and what actually ended up happening:
[A]rtists and curators say that as the collection was being formed, they were duped into thinking that a rich Westerner was putting together a permanent collection and would eventually donate some of the works to leading museums.

Instead, they say, the buyers were a group of investors who quickly cashed in by selling the works last August to the Manhattan dealer William Acquavella, who is in turn selling them through Sotheby’s. (The second half of the collection is to be auctioned this fall in New York.)

Some of the artists say they sold works in the Estella Collection at a discount in the belief that the collection would gain long-term renown and help enhance their reputations.
Story 2: The McKibbeners lifestyle is put under a microscope by the Times as well:
To spend a few days at the McKibbin lofts is to experience what it is to be young, hungry for acceptance, and willing to put up with just about anything in order to gain a foothold in the city’s competitive, and thriving, underground art and music scenes. This could have been Greenwich Village 60 years ago, or SoHo 30 years ago, or the East Village in the 1990s.

Who cares if the walls are paper thin and people honk saxophones and bang drums at 3 a.m., when a band and audience can be assembled without leaving home? So what if bedbugs ravage all of one’s earthly belongings if it means couch surfing with the cute painter in Apartment 2F? And if people’s iPods and cellphones mysteriously vanish after nonresidents visit Potion, the McKibbin’s in-house coffee shop, what of it? That just means the McKibbin is keeping it real.

“It’s rare to have so many scenes stacked like they are here,” said an 18-year-old poet living in 255 who gave his name as Eirehan Failte. “Even when it’s really loud, it’s still better than some terrible stock-trading roommate listening to Fox in the next room.”
Story 3: Speaking of mixing art and accommodations, reports that the "London chain Guest Hotels has announced plans to open a series of arts club hotels":
The company, which already runs several high-end hotels in London, including a design and a boutique hotel, will partner with a series of arts institutions to stage exhibitions and live music events at the sites. Guests as well as non-residents who may pay to become club members will be invited to the events and gain special access to partner institutions, among them the Institute for Contemporary Arts and the Tate.

Iram Quraishi, the former head of creative networks at the ICA, will act as the hotels' curator, and Stephen Bayley, founder of the Design Museum and design correspondent at the Observer, will be the style director. "Until now, hotels have used art as decoration.... We are reversing that concept by allowing artists to use our hotels as their showcase," said Johnny Sandelson, chairman of Guest Hotels.
Story 4: Tyler Green offers a pair of interviews with curators Anne Ellgood and Lisa Dorin (full disclosure, I've met them both but have worked with and am friends with Lisa), exploring the difference between how commercial galleries and museums approach solo exhibitions by relatively unknown artists:
A couple of weeks ago, in writing up the Hirshhorn's Amy Sillman 'Directions' show, I complained that the exhibition resembled a commercial gallery show: The paintings were fresh out of the studio, that the installation didn't provide any specific Sillman-related context, and that the Hirshhorn show was essentially indistinguishable from how Sikkema Jenkins would show fresh-from-the-studio work. In a succeeding post, I discussed that this was a broader, substantially unexamined museum issue. Last week I talked with the Art Institute of Chicago's Lisa Dorin about these contemporary mini-shows here and here. Today: Three posts with the Hirshhorn's Anne Ellegood, who curated the Sillman show.
Stories 5 & 6: The Art Newspaper offers two pieces about art and death (actual death in these cases):
Story 5: One of the central works in the exhibition “Design and the Elastic Mind” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (until 12 May), Victimless Leather, a small jacket made up of embryonic stem cells taken from mice, has died. The artists, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, say the work which was fed nutrients by tube, expanded too quickly and clogged its own incubation system just five weeks after the show opened.
and German artist Gregor Schneider seems to contradict himself in his reply to a story (that generated lots of comments) about his plans to include an actual dying person in a museum exhibition [emphasis mine]:
Story 6: Death is a very private and intimate occurrence that is usually not “beautiful”. I would be happy to die in a room chosen by me, in a private part of the museum, surrounded by art. Not in a side room. I hope to die beautifully and fulfilled. Perhaps we shall manage to liberate death from its taboo, to make it a positive experience, like the birth of a child.
OK, so what's the commonality? I found myself feeling a little overwhelmed when reading the contemporary art press this morning. Take the word "art" out of any of those stories and reframe them in a slightly different context and you might have the top headlines for just about any given day of the year. Indeed, contemporary art has seemingly infiltrated virtually every corner of modern living and its moral dilemmas to the point that there's not much difference between the regular news and the art news anymore.

In other words, contemporary art has seemed to catch up with life. Or perhaps life has caught up with contemporary art. I'm not sure. Surely the post-art era is dawning, no? Or perhaps I'm merely a bit too behind in my sleep.

Labels: art appreciation, scandals


OpenID artphile said...

In other words, contemporary art has seemed to catch up with life. Or perhaps life has caught up with contemporary art. I'm not sure.

I'm not sure if art ever needed to catch up to real life. Artists are part of contemporary culture and comment on contemporary issues (stem cell jackets (yuck), death). And many artists struggle to become successful (living in sub-par conditions and getting screwed by "investors"). These stories are great examples of current issues, but the themes seem common.

But if you're behind on your sleep, I'm sure you could get some good sleeping pills from McKibbin.

5/07/2008 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure if art ever needed to catch up to real life.

I think they were out of sync for a long time, actually. The whole NEA-Congress war of the late 80's/early 90's for example was predicated on the notion that contemporary art was out of step with the values of average Americans. It was decadent and perverse. Perhaps it's merely that the rest of the nation, in the face of the Iraq War, Katrina, global warming, genetically modified food, the gay marriage debate, religious intolerance, etc. etc. has come to see that contemporary art isn't any more perverse than the real world around them and never really was.

5/07/2008 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

I like my art to step away from stunt and I like my artists to be part of the unpopular crowd.

Basically, I like my art to hold its distance from contemporary life, thank you very much.

The investors, we can't control.

5/07/2008 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

oy...speaking of contradicting oneself (referent: my last comment, no one else's)

I guess what I mean (and if I'm not sure, who is, eh?) is that even though you're right in one respect, artphile, that art didn't need to catch up to life in the minds of those working closely with contemporary artists, it seemed out of sync to those not paying much attention unless some Congresscritter drew their attention to a scapegoat.

Today, I can't imagine the same scenario unfolding. It seems ludicrous to complain about Mapplethorpe's photographs when New Orleans still looks like a war zone in many parts. More than just that, however, contemporary art seems to have finally come back to a position of respect (lent mostly by money, but...) among the general population. Not each piece pleases all people, obviously, but the notion that there's value in it in general seems to have re-emerged.

Even more than that, though, it seems in certain contexts to have taken its place among other markers of wealth and/or class and in that way, as the post-art theories go, become simply another luxury product and nothing more. No more shocking than an 18-bedroom McMansion.

5/07/2008 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that one of the stars from Sex in the City was putting together a reality show of artists who would travel across country earning their living doing art as they went. (Sounds like the guy who paints currency, doesn't it?) The call for participants listed a photo at the top of the requirements.

All of this is part of the conversion of life into entertainment (aka profit). Art is just going along for the ride.

5/07/2008 10:41:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Rauschenberg's famous line:

"I work in the gap between art and life."

doesn't really mean much now because so much of life has entered works of art that the gap he refers to is impossible to locate.

For Rauschenberg it was important to incorporate real objects into his work ("I think a painting is more like the real world if it's made out the real world."), but he always included self consiously artful or painterly or sculptural elements in the work, drips and swathes of paint, the careful placement of various compositional elements. There is always a painterly element to be found in his combine work. The silkscreen stuff doesn't avoid painterly or artful composition either, because of his use of overlap, the careful placement and repetition of visual elements, the choice of colors, the strong visual quality of the source material he used. Has the heavy use of found objects, industrial techniques, and appropriation, eliminated this gap between art and life or do artists still counter-balance the real with artifice?

5/07/2008 10:42:00 AM  
OpenID artphile said...

Ah Ed, so maybe the question is has the question is has Congress caught up to contemporary culture? Because I think we all know the aswer to that.

5/07/2008 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Well, congress tried to impeach the president for doing the nasty in the oval orifice. Messin' with the NEA was childs play.

5/07/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

I would say that 'art' has rather expanded to fill the volume of other cultural modes of production. The stories Ed cited applied the word 'art' broadly to a variety of lifestyles & disciplines, the stem-cell jacket for example, perhaps could be thought more accurately as a work of 'socially conscious craft.' And the McKibbiners, well, is their very lifestyle Art itself (although I doubt we will see a level of production from them that will elevate them to the status of other post-grad art colonies like Fort Thunder..). But these days, anything that wants to be called art, *is* art...sure, why not? Everybody is an artist now.

Here is a quote I pulled from the 'Art & Markets' Artforum:
"..further complicating the status of artistic production is the 180-degree shift in the profile of the artist, from marginal outcast to a fetish figure for the creative networked economy...the new spirit of capitalism calls on all of us to think like an artist: outside the box." (Gregory Sholette, 'State of the Union').

5/07/2008 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No shit, I mistakenly clicked on my Winkleman bookmark when I meant to click on my daily kos bookmark and didn't realize till I got near the end of this post that I was on the wrong site- LOL! I was thinking, "This is pretty cool for a kos post"! Ed's got the kos color scheme but I must really be out to lunch today. This reminds me of my dad watching CBN News (Pat Robertson's channel) and thinking he was watching CNN News. He said, "That's kind of a unusual slant on things." LMAO!

5/07/2008 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

One more comment: an area of 'life' that art has apparently not quite caught up to is the war & current state of the union--thinking of a more or less total lack of 'political' art or subversive art in the news of the day. As Ed noted, no Mapelthorphes or Serranos and no one is paying attention to poor old Hans Haacke's heavy-handed symbolism these days (does it sell?). Welcome to the "desert of the real", haha..

5/07/2008 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think the culture wars are over all it takes is one Republican demagogue to stand up and get the public fired up- with the help of a compliant mass media of course. Museums are much more gun shy. Where are all the Andres Serrano exhibits?
"It seems ludicrous to complain about Mapplethorpe's photographs when New Orleans still looks like a war zone in many parts."
Of course it is ludicrous. As ludicrous as "family first" Louisianan David Vitter getting a standing ovation from his Republican colleagues after it came out he was on the list of the DC Madam. And after prostitutes in New Orleans talked about some of his peculiar habits (wanting to be dressed up in a diaper and whipped). But if you think that will stop him or any Republican from finding a new moral outrage to whip up the religious fanatics who support them you are dead wrong. This is a nation of people who dwell in hypocrisy and love nothing more than to be morally indignant.

5/07/2008 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I couldn't live up to your high standards Sean.

5/07/2008 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Ehh, Anon, i was just kidding. Your comment was a funny non-sequiter.

5/07/2008 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sounds like the guy who paints currency, doesn't it?"

Do you mean JSG Boggs? At the risk being accused of self-promotion (oh, what the hell, that's exactly what it is), FYI I'm in a show right now with Boggs. If you're in the vicinity of Santa Monica, check it out. There is a slide show of images on the website.


5/07/2008 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The idea that art should aspire to blend with life (a favorite among certain proponents of conceptual art) parodies the Impressionist impulse to reflect the artist's times. This parody defeats one of the core components of art: making special, as Dissanayake puts it. Something barely distinguishable from life itself barely exists as a distinct object. Perhaps we can reflect on it in the way that we can reflect on anything, and we can enjoy our reflection, but we can't enjoy the thing itself.

This attitude fails as art but it succeeds at expanding the possible number of art objects, thus allowing the art world to expand to its present size. This market now handles too much work and too much money to run on trust and connoiseurship to the extent that it used to. It runs instead on the dealing, marketing, promotion, and spectacle that characterizes every other large-scale entertainment business. It must lure audiences in ever greater numbers. As the numbers expand, it has to accomodate ever lower tiers of expertise, until finally children's rooms become common in museum exhibits and wall text degenerates into simplistic readings couched in clichéed art jargon. The dealing only ever becomes more self-serving and less principled. Conflicts of interest become unavoidable. People get screwed in ways they could never get screwed before.

There's your commonality.

5/07/2008 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ehh, Anon, i was just kidding. Your comment was a funny non-sequiter."
Aw shucks Sean. Now I feel like a total douche. Sorry I was so touchy.

5/07/2008 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

one of the core components of art: making special,

I thought that was one of core components of elitism.

5/07/2008 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, I know this is really off topic but is anyone else completely disgusted that a professor who worked for the DC Madam when she was younger killed herself when it came out what she did and the DC Madam also killed herself- but serial perv Vitter suffers no consequences and gets a freakin' standing ovation from his colleagues in DC?! That really pisses me off. Hypocrisy knows no bounds with these holier than thou creeps.

5/07/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I thought that was one of core components of elitism.

Taking your cues from Hillary's campaign strategy, eh?

5/07/2008 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Making stuff special isn't important to me per se in art making. In fact art can be just the opposite.

Another or related thesis in Disanayake's book is that art serves a function to build communities - a social function. I don't think art has to do that, and reducing art to these sorts of sociological or anthropological palliatives is going to solve the worlds problems. Art by itself is not a use value.

And in conclusion, I, elitist pig that I am, screwed commonality before anyone else; but you are welcome to sloppy seconds.

5/07/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Is not going to solve the worlds problems. I mean people are the disease and I am the cure.

5/07/2008 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

contemporary art seems to have finally come back to a position of respect

When The KInks were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in his acceptance speech Ray Davies said (referring to the hall) I guess this means rock has become respectful..then added doesn't that Suck.

Well, congress tried to impeach the president for doing the nasty in the oval orifice

Congress did impeach Clinton, for a mere BJ.

screwed commonality before anyone else

that whore told me I was her first, anyone care to join in a three way with commodity.

5/07/2008 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

It's the 'regular life' joes that gave us two terms of Geo Bush and flunked Kerry; I say it's time "Let's give elitism a chance!"


When did America become about aspiring to the lowest common denominator? Regular life is what we all live, it's not in crisis. Art can elevate the discourse as well as present 'real life' but should IMO be separable from it in some way, or else let's come up with another word for it('relational aesthetic' art my ass; bo-ring! make something pretty to look at dammit!)..

5/07/2008 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

make something pretty to look at dammit

Ahh...but when there are so many pretty things to look at, that too becomes bo-ring.

It's not about "pretty" to many of's about "compelling." Some traditionally pretty things are remarkably compelling...some traditionally ugly things are.

5/07/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It's about "compelling" for me too. When it comes to art, I want something visually compelling, which is a harder target than conventional prettiness. If it's compelling for other reasons too, so much the better, but this is neither essential nor an adquate proxy.

Artists have known for a long time that certain things can look pleasant without really coming together as art. But you can use this as a premise to conclude wrongly that the way things look isn't important to art. It's a bit like the aforementioned degeneration from the impulse to depict modern life to the impulse to blend art and life. The central observation of modernism is that quality has no qualities - that goodness has no traits. This is what necessitates self-criticism. The central postmodernist misconception is that qualities have quality - that traits have goodness. This countermands self-criticism. Any conclusion from the former can be ported to the latter and turned into a mistake.

5/07/2008 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But you can use this as a premise to conclude wrongly that the way things look isn't important to art.

one can, but I haven't. ftr

5/07/2008 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin, whatever your points, your second paragraph above is factually incorrect. Things occur in the artworld today in a manner remarkably similar to times in the past. This things are noted in the critical literature from the 60's and sound remarkably like the kinds of events which occur today. Of course there are more of them occurring today because, as you correctly noted, the art world has increased in size.

5/07/2008 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm sure there are persistent threads over time, but try to imagine Art Basel/Miami Beach taking place in the '60s - you just can't do it. (This is especially difficult for those of us who remember Miami Beach as kind of a dumpy, somewhat dangerous place as recently as the early '90s.) We're not just talking about quantity, but a change of scale and tone.

5/07/2008 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

F, sorry if I was unclear, I was referring to your first comment at 01:37:00 PM. At the moment, I can't remember where I read it, but it was a description of some of the shennagians occurring in the art world in 60's. They sounded so much like what's being said today that I made a point of commenting on it to a friend. When there's money involved...

5/07/2008 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

re: Ahh...but when there are so many pretty things to look at, that too becomes bo-ring.

No, surround me by all things pretty, glamourous, wonderful---pretty things all round me, everywhere--


5/07/2008 07:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes I like traditionally pretty, but more often than not I prefer things that are abject, weird and cruddy.

5/07/2008 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

"Because fine art is despendant on a system of visual signs that garner meaning from the social complex in which they originated, it is always symbolic...being able to recognize an image as that of a bull or rhinoceros is not the same as [understanding] its meaning.."
"In short, meaning and significance are not completely transparent within the image themselves...fine art is as much about the viewer and the act of viewing as it is about what is viewed."
--Howard Risatti, A Theory of Craft.

"Why bother making an ugly image?"
--Alejandro Jodorowsky, interviewed in Tank magazine.

5/07/2008 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

(yup, out of thoughts of my own for today...good night!!)

5/07/2008 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

The NY times story on the McKibbin lofts is more a story of sadness to me. I am old enough to remember when you could rent a decent space in NYC for $150 per month without bed bugs and assholes parting all the time. The city was a lot more dangerous then, it was almost bankrupt. You could buy an abandoned building for few thousand dollars from the city in Hells Kitchen which a friend of mine did with a whole bunch of other squatters. The kind of behavior mentioned in the NY times would have gotten you thrown out of the building.

It was a very strange article and the photos of the couple in that weird bed who looked like they were right out of one of the photos of the slums from the early 1900's.

Except these rubes are paying $350 each or more for the bed space. I predict the city coming down on this building very soon as it seems to be worse than that building that was closed early this year.

As for the Chinese artist, welcome to the art world folks...

5/08/2008 12:34:00 AM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Has anyone seen this?
This guy Bill Donohue is a real piece of work.
How can you not love a chocolate Jesus?

5/08/2008 02:22:00 AM  

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