Friday, February 29, 2008

Why Are We Proud of Our Local Collectors?

I had an epiphany of sorts just now. An honest to goodness epiphany about something that seems so obvious in hindsight (is it a true epiphany if it's already widely known to others?). We have discussed the seeming penchant many collectors have for collecting regionally before (which I attributed to patriotism, but really should have just seen as local pride, which isn't necessarily the same thing). But in reading two reviews of a new book on collecting, something else...something new...dawned on me.

Jori Finkel (whom we adore, by way of a full disclosure) has reviewed for
Art+Auction the new book Great Collectors of Our Time: Art Collecting Since 1945 by James Stourton. You can read her review on artinfo.com. In her review, however, she notes:
American connoisseurs get little play compared with their European counterparts.
Fair enough, I thought; James Stourton is the chairman of Sotheby’s U.K.

Then, however, looking for other reviews of this book, I found one by John Martin Robinson, in which, reviewing the Stourton book with another on collecting, he noted:
Both these books are dominated by the American connection, over half of each being devoted to transatlantic collecting in the 20th century.
Both reviewers see an imbalance here. The source of the stark difference of opinion as to which way the book is slanted, though, seems obvious. Finkel, you see, is writing for an American-based magazine, whereas Robinson's review appears on the UK's Spectator website.

Robinson's other subject (a book by John Harris that "paints a hilarious picture of the earlier 20th-century trade in historic interiors and architectural bric-a-brac when ‘period rooms’ were a must-have in American houses and art museums, though most of the latter have now been de-accessioned as fake") does suggest to me that perhaps his reading of the Stourton book was a bit more influenced by his choice to review the two titles together (i.e., his structural need for a parallel in the quoted sentence above perhaps led to an overstating of the balance in the Stourton book), but not having read the books, all I'm left to work with here is the fact that an American review and a UK review had virtually opposite takes on whether or not American collectors were equally represented. This suggests a regional bias to me, similar to the bias in buying art.


But why?


I mean I understand the associations that play part in feeling one should support one's local artists. We are a competitive species by nature, and we love our champions to be home grown. A local artist who rises through the ranks reflects well on his/her community. I get that. But it had truly never dawned on me that there was a similarly widespread association with great private collections. I mean, I get that New Yorkers are as proud of the Met as Parisians are of the Louvre, but those are open to the public and reflect on their cities.

What I'm getting at here is that as much as people love to grumble and gossip about the Broad or Rubell or Saatchi collections, the locals (who know about them) in Los Angeles, Miami, and London are likely more than a little proud that such collections were assembled by one of their own. Again, this seems obvious to me now, but it had not been something I realized before.
Here again, though, the question becomes why?

I mean with artists it seems a bit clearer to me. Often a successful artist has a rags-to-riches or someone "beating the odds" sort of biography that warms our hearts, even if we're not particularly interested in the arts. Do we assume the same for great private collectors? Is there simply an appreciation for the work and achievement a great private collection represents? Or is there a genetic component to favoring anything superior that comes from where I come from? Help me here.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Two Quick Items of Note

  1. Krens is out. (I wasn't going to post on this, because I don't have much to add [as Tyler noted, "I'd actually forgotten that Krens was still around"], but, just in case folks want to discuss the departure, I'll open a thread on it.)
  2. Joy Garnett's exhibition of new paintings was selected as a Critics' Pick by the editors of artforum.com!

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Egalitarian Issues in Art Buying

There are two great articles on art in the House section of The New York Times today. First is a fabulous profile of the amazing Ms. Jen Bekman:
[Bekman had] two clear goals: to help emerging artists become more appreciated, and to encourage a broader swath of people to feel comfortable buying art.

To further those aims, she initiated several online projects, including Hey, Hot Shot! (heyhotshot.com), a regular competition for emerging photographers that offers winners representation by the gallery; and personism.com, a blog about photography, design and current events.

In September Ms. Bekman introduced another Web site, 20x200.com, which sells limited-edition high-quality prints of photographs and fine art for as little as $20. Almost at once, the site was in the black and gaining attention.

Five and a half months later, it counts among its customers art collectors from around the world, dozens of magazine writers and editors, a MoMA executive and many artists, including well-established ones like Brian Ulrich and Alec Soth.

In May the Griffin Museum of Photography, in Winchester, Mass., will honor her with its Rising Star award, given, the museum says, to an emerging force that the photographic community is watching with great enthusiasm.
The fact that Jen's goal of encouraging "a broader swath of people to feel comfortable buying art" is apparently bearing fruit makes the other article, on the anxiety of buying art, a rather odd companion piece, but it's worth a read all the same. Titled "The Terrible Toll of Art Anxiety," it outlines the reasons people who clearly have the money and wall space don't take the plunge and make the purchase:
Art paralysis: It is a widespread and often crippling malady, striking everyone from the new college grad in his or her first apartment to the super-rich banker, lasting anywhere from a few months to a lifetime. How many are affected is not known, perhaps because the victims are often too embarrassed to come forth. Who wants to admit that "I’ve had these posters since college, I know that as one of the American Top 10 Orthodontists I should get some real art, but I don’t know what that means"? Or that "It’s not that I’m trying to make a minimalist statement with these empty white walls, I just don’t know what to buy"? Or "I walk into those snooty galleries in Chelsea and feel like I just don’t belong"?
Ouch.

The article goes on to detail a litany of complaints about buying from galleries, like no prices available, too many galleries to know where to start, intimidating staff, the awkwardness of backing out of a purchase after the gallery has poured on the hospitality, etc. etc.

There are other causes of art anxiety discussed as well, including:
  • there are those worried about making an unfashionable choice
  • those obsessed with investment value
  • those who return to a gallery for months, even years, never buying a thing. (Some of these suffer from a form of art paralysis that Stephen Nordlinger, the president of the Foundry Gallery in Washington, calls red dot syndrome — a desperate longing only for those pieces bearing the red dots that show they’ve been sold.)
  • there are the people whose reasons make no sense at all, at least to those doing the selling.
Appearing in the House section (i.e., not the Fine Arts section, which is forced to take all this more seriously) the article permits its author great leeway in swaying back and forth between an insidery understanding of how it all works and a little posturing as the champion of those poor intimidated, defensive souls. One person interviewed summed up the sentiment I'm talking about:

Joseph Higgins, a 43-year-old portfolio manager in New York with a $900,000 mini-loft in west SoHo and a house in the suburbs, is one of the rare sufferers who will speak openly about his art paralysis. He blames it on galleries, and overcame it, he said, by breaking free of their grasp.

“You’re going into an intimidating space and having a curator or a gallery owner ask you ‘Do you like this style or this art’ when you have no idea what the price tag is,” he said. “It’s hard to say, I’m browsing, after someone spends time with you in a gallery and tells you ‘I’ll put it under a light for you’ and sets you up in a little room and brings you a cup of coffee.”

Mr. Higgins started out by using paintingsdirect.com, a Web site that sells the work of hundreds of artists from around the world in categories ranging from landscape to “fantasy.” He has bought 14 paintings there and has little patience with those who would sneer at such a site. New York may be a world capital of modern and contemporary art, he said, but he finds the same “edginess” online that he does in the galleries of Chelsea, at much lower prices.

I'm gonna try Mr. Higgins' patience a bit here, I'm afraid, because here's the thing: Mr. Higgins is projecting his own insecurities onto the actions of the gallery staff and, more than that, he's being a bit disingenuous IMO about why many of the people of his socioeconomic stature feel the need to buy art in the first place. Portfolio managers and others who might mingle with "One of the American Top 10 Orthodontists" feel social pressure to announce their superior tastes to their peers. As such, I'm not sure why the "intimidating" galleries are considered the culprits here.

But let me back up and discuss the first thing: projecting of insecurities onto the actions of the gallery staff. First and foremost, it's their job to create an atmosphere in which you can quietly contemplate a piece you'd like to consider. The quiet room, the coffee, the extra lighting...none of these things obligate you. If you can't accept these niceties and still leave the gallery without a purchase it's not the gallery's fault. Many galleries are actually just happy to discuss the work with a sincerely interested collector. Each such conversation helps the gallery staff member practice selling the work, so in one sense you're doing them a favor. I don't advocate wasting their time on work you're not interested in, but most galleries appreciate that making decisions on art can take time. Enjoy their hospitality, thank them for their time, say you're going to think about it, and leave. Seriously. It's that simple.

But back to the idea that spawned my title. There's something rather incongruous about the notion that those with new money want both the comfort of making purchases they might find in a local department store and the societal prestige of having good taste in fine art. I totally understand why they want the comfort (and many a good gallery is deft at making each individual feel personally comfortable in their space), but to get as defensive about the "sneering" galleries as Mr. Higgins seems to, when the entire point for many people who find themselves in need of the social prestige good art lends them is to announce to their Masters-of-the-Universe peers that they are their equals in the elite playgrounds, as much as in the boardrooms (in other words, that they are not common folk), well, it makes me want to recommend they just suck it up. If you're gonna talk the talk, then walk the walk.

OK, so I should give Mr. Higgins a break here. I'm unfairly using him as my example. I don't know why he buys art. Perhaps it's because he really loves it and he's right to avoid situations that might make him love it less. But for those in the category of "one of the American Top 10 Orthodontists [who] should get some real art," well, since their motives are suspect to me anyway, I don't have much patience for their moaning about the atmosphere of galleries.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Redefining Creative Generosity

OK, so on this side of the Atlantic, we have the example of Eli Broad who is arguably being creative in changing his mind about earlier promises to gift his considerable collection of contemporary art to US museums and instead maintaining private control of his entire collection via a lending foundation that would focus on keeping as much of the collection in the public eye as possible. For a well-informed analysis of this model, see Tyler here.

Across the pond, however, retired gallerist Anthony D'Offay [pictured above] has done something so remarkably generous, it makes one's jaw drop. The New York Times had reported that this was in the works back in 2006. Apparently now, the arrangements have gone through. From
Bloomberg:
Anthony d'Offay, a retired gallery owner, today made a gift which will add 725 works to British art collections by artists including Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst.

The artworks are valued at about 125 million pounds ($250 million) and will be acquired for 28 million pounds, said an e- mailed release by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland.

The release called it ``one of the largest and most imaginative gifts of art ever made to museums'' in the U.K.

London dealer D'Offay, whose donation also includes pieces by Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer and Gilbert & George, will get 26.5 million pounds, representing the amount that the works originally cost him, while the other 1.5 million pounds is the cost of administering the acquisition.
The rationale behind this gift is in many ways even more impressive:
The D'Offay collection will be known as ``Artist Rooms'' because it has been his practice to arrange the works in a series of galleries, each devoted to a single artist.
Every now and then the question of motives arises here, reflecting what I know to be a widespread sense that people become gallerists for the same reasons they would open up any other shop. Knowing how little money many of my gallerist friends actually make (and how long it takes to make a gallery a profitable business), these attitudes boil my blood a bit (but then I'm a hot head, so....). Indeed, knowing some dealers who truly have dedicated their lives to promoting what they see as the important art of their time at considerable personal sacrifice (i.e., they could have cleaned up as a lawyer or ad executive or whatever), I have immense respect for the profession. This story, however, sets a new standard in generosity, from both a gallerist and the artists he knows:
"I believe passionately that creative young people need to have available to them the best contemporary art," D'Offay said in a telephone interview today. "If you are a student in Sheffield, Aberdeen or Cardiff you need to be able to see contemporary art. It's not always an easy thing to do to buy art in depth, so we did everything we could with all the help we could get from the artists -- who were incredibly generous." [...]

"For the last seven years I've been working with my wife Ann Seymour and Marie-Louise Laband, the director of my gallery for 30 years, on putting together these 50 rooms," D'Offay said. "We felt that these particular artists and these configurations of works would be powerful for young people."
Good on you, Mr. D'Offay. Very good indeed.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Aşkım

It was exactly 6 years ago today that I first met Bambino (that's about a bizillion in gay years). Without getting too mushy about it, let me just say that I wouldn't trade the past 6 years for anything in the universe. From the way his laughter can part the darkest of clouds to the fact that I only thought I understood generosity before we met, finding him remains, without doubt, the best thing that's ever happened to me.

He's a prince among men, my Bambino.

Happy Anniversary, Aşkım!

UPDATE: By request, a photo with us both. My favorite. From our trip to Kyrgyzstan:

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Research Assistance Request

A charming Columbia student writing the thesis for her MA in Arts Administration interviewed me the other day, raising all kinds of intriguing questions about how the Internet is opening up opportunities for artists. To help with her research, I've offered to post some of her questions here and hope you can contribute to her research. I'll note that as happy as I am to do this this time, I'm heading into a particularly busy time of year for us, so please don't be offended if I can't make the same offer to others moving forward. Still, because this topic is perfectly in tune with what we do here, please feel free to offer feedback on the central premise and closing questions:
The art world is notoriously enigmatic in the way that it chooses its stars. Critics suggest that it is not necessarily how good an artist is, but more importantly who that artist knows, that determines his or her potential for success. Charles Saatchi, notoriously embroiled in this operation himself, recognizes elitism as a major player: "Dealers tend to buy artists that other artists they already show recommend. If you're not in the loop, if you didn't go to the right art school, if you don't know the right people who have the right dealers, it's very hard to break in" ("What Charles did next", The Guardian, 9/6/06).

Online art galleries, art blogs, and other new Internet practices have emerged which have the potential to democratize the process by which artists gain exposure to key art world influencers (i.e., curators, dealers, critics, collectors). This project will examine the methods that these influencers use to seek out new talent and attempt to understand the ways in which the Internet is changing this process. What are the primary functions and repercussions of these virtual "spaces", and do they have the potential to effect real structural changes to the way the visual arts industry functions?

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Hidden Treasures Open Thread

It reads like the plot of an Indiana Jones adventure. A golden and amber room, looted from Russia and hidden away by the Nazis, provided one of the most enduring mysteries from WWII.
There have been hundreds of theories about its fate. Some historians claim it was destroyed in bombing raids on Königsberg, others that it was lost at sea. Over the years, various searches have failed to uncover it.
Now, however, treasure hunters believe this prize, called by some the "8th Wonder of the World," has been found, buried far beneath the surface along the Germany/Czechoslovakia border. From artinfo.com:
Treasure hunters using electromagnetic pulse measurements to search underground near the German-Czech border have found a manmade cavern that they believe contains the Amber Room, an 18th century Russian palace chamber stolen by Nazis during World War II, reports Spiegel Online via Bloomberg.

"I'm well over 90 percent sure we have found the Amber Room," said Heinz-Peter Haustein, mayor of the nearby village Deuschneudorf, who led the search. "The chamber is likely to be part of a labyrinth of storage rooms that the Nazis built here. I knew it was in this area. I just never knew exactly where."

The room, made of panels covered with amber, gold leaf, and a fossil resin, was given to Czar Peter the Great by Prussian King Wilhelm I in 1716, according to Spiegel. In 1941 Nazis dismantled and removed it from the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) and shipped it to Konigsberg (then Kaliningrad). It hasn't been seen since 1945.
If actually uncovered, the Germans intend to return the room to St. Petersburg as a "gesture of reconciliation." There's no word about what the plans are for the other treasures believed to also reside in the underground labyrinth.

I've got a touch of a chest cold, so I'll keep this short. You can see other images of the room, excavation, and reconstructed version on Spiegel Online. Consider this an open thread on treasure, romance, and adventure (or whatever strikes your fancy).

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Not Both?

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones offers a well-considered essay on the meaning of public art today. Not long ago I cited a piece Jones wrote about the mediocre public works spouting up throughout London. Now he takes his critical eye on a wider tour of public art throughout Britain with an admittedly skeptical but hopefully open mind. The conclusions he draws are sound and certainly compassionate, if ultimately, for me anyway, somewhat disheartening:
Art is too important to be left to the art critics. It is about much more than aesthetics. Art is language and public art is public speech. Oratory is often brash, dishonest, vulgar - but without it there would be no communal life at all. So what we have to ask about the rage for this art in Britain now is not "Is it any good?" but "What are we saying, through it, about ourselves?"
In his tour, Jones cites some of the most popular public works in Britain, including perhaps the most celebrated, Antony Gormley's Angel of the North:



Jones' conclusions about this piece are lovely, I must say:
The Angel of the North takes on a very specific meaning when you walk towards it past the tower blocks and the Sure Start centre that nuzzle the hills directly to its north. The statue from here seems not high but wide. It really does seem a guardian of the city, its wings spread wide to enfold everyone. I start to understand why people love it.

Yet its meaning is enigmatic. Is it really, as the sculptor says, about the transition from an industrial to an information society? How? And if it can look redemptive and generous, a loving angel with wings spread wide, it can also look, the closer you get, minatory under a roiling winter sky. This could be the Angel of the Apocalypse. Its dark silhouette on the horizon as you pass an estate is not necessarily reassuring. What has it witnessed in its 10-year history? Promoters tell us how it has helped the city's regeneration, but no British city is all culture and shopping. Don't tell me the Angel has not witnessed its share of mayhem - don't tell me no one has seen its brooding form as they lose consciousness after a random act of violence. And this is why it works. Gormley's Angel is an overwrought image, a Romantic image. It has a sense of tragedy.
But he has far fewer kind words for Thomas Heatherwick's B of the Bang in Manchester. Nicknamed "B of the Bollocks" by some locals, this giant suspended exploding star sculpture is not only having some technical difficulties....
It cost £1.4m and the council is taking the legal action because, to put it crudely, bits have fallen off - huge spokes of metal that could impale someone on their way down.
....it has inspired some of the harshest words for a public piece I've ever read:
The suspension of this object in space, tottering over a road, is the best thing about it. But it's bad art; in fact I think the word "art" overpraises it. It's a piece of design, like a decoration devised for a shopping centre. There's something planned and corporate about it. As sculpture, it has no force. The supposed meaning is cynically populist. The title refers to athlete Linford Christie, who said he tries to start a race not merely on the bang of the starter's gun but on "the B of the bang". In its astral form - lines of force exploding from a central point, standing against Manchester's big empty sky - it is also, obviously, an evocation of the cosmic Big Bang. But whatever it's saying, it's saying it weakly; the image of dynamism is briefly effective from a distance. In reality, it's a very static thing.


There's undoubtedly enthusiasm for public art in the UK. From the Fourth Plinth contest in Trafalgar Square to the high-profile projects currently underway in places as far from London as Scotland, where "sculptor Andy Scott has got the green light to create the world's largest sculpted horses at the eastern entrance of the Forth and Clyde Canal" [model seen at top], as well as an odd spirit of civic competition that has led Kent to taunt Gormley's popular piece with their own Angel of the South, which promises to be twice as tall, it's clear that public art is a crowd-pleasing venture in Britain. Indeed, as Jones notes,
Public art, by which I mean art that aspires to speak not to a limited gallery-going public but to the entire population, is the defining British art of our time.
Still, there's no escaping the fact that some of the works (see again the earlier post on Jones and the dreadful "lovers" at London's St. Pancras train station) are just plain awful. Again, Jones notes:
[O]ne art expert, Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, denounced all these "Frankenstein monster memorials".
Hence my aforementioned disheartened read of Jones' piece. It's one thing for an anthropologist to assert that dreck in the form of popular public art serves a societal purpose, but it pains me to read an art critic forced to do so. Indeed, it seems to me that Jones' piece reveals a swallowing of some bitter pill prescribed by his editors in response to an avalanche of complaints:
As a columnist recently complained in the Guardian, a lot of "bunkum" has been written by snobs about this art that captures peoples' hearts. I've written a fair amount of it myself, and don't take back a word when it comes to the critic's legitimate job of honestly assessing art as it looks to me. But when it comes to art that is redefining the landscape of Britain, there are other ways of seeing it, other points of view - and I want to shift perspective.
Personally, I don't want Jones to shift perspective. Let that complaining columnist defend the dreck. I want Jones to stick to his art critic guns. I appreciate the insights he brought to this tour, but I hate to think they might subconsciously soften any future critiques of the works in progress.

Moreover, I want Jones, or someone, to insist that it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. There can be critically acclaimed and wildly popular public art. Koons' "Puppy," for example, might not have been everyone's cup of tea (what art is?), but overall it still managed to satisfy some of the requirements for both the "snobs" and the general public. By caving into the notion that public art doesn't have to be high quality to be "good" public art, critics will be abandoning us to more and more spectacle over substance.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Few Items of Note : Open Thread

Joy Garnett Opening @ Winkleman Gallery Tonight

Sorry about the confusion. Some folks thought the opening for this exhibition was last week. It's actually tonight! Come celebrate Joy's new show:
Joy Garnett
New Paintings

February 15 - March 15, 2008
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 21, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Winkleman Gallery
637 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001


Barack Obama Fundraiser @ Paula Cooper on Saturday


[Via artinfo.com]
On Saturday, February 23, Paula Cooper Gallery will host a Barack Obama fundraiser at its 534 W. 21st Street space from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The committee for the event includes such prominent artists and literary figures as Toni Morrison, Richard and Clara Serra, Jonathan Safran Foer, Robert Wilson, Tony Kushner, Brice and Helen Marden, Walter Mosley, Robert Gober, Junot Diaz, and Mark di Suvero, and the evening features a performance by musician Rufus Wainwright.

For tickets and information, contact Jamie Goldblatt at 212-255-1105 or jamie@paulacoopergallery.com.




Your turn!

What event within the next month would you like to encourage folks to attend? No complete press releases, please...just a paragraph (or less) with contact and/or links to more information.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Short and (I'm quite sure) Sour

Pressed for time again today, so I'll drop a bomb and check back in later to see how much carnage it's caused. My last comment on yesterday's thread will serve as catalyst:
What's not being discussed here much, but perhaps it's time to do so, is the fact that formal proficiency in and of itself (as subjective as that remains) is rather dull in most artists' hands. It's simply not enough anymore for many art viewers. It would be nice if there were more of it (most artists can stand to work on their craft), but as a goal unto itself it strikes me as anachronistic. It's like learning to operate an abacus better than anyone else around you. That train has left the station.

Indeed, what's also not being discussed, but needs to be, is that conceptualism is here to stay, and fighting against it as if one might turn back time or open the eyes of the fools who've bought into it is a waste of time. If you're unhappy with the state of aesthetics, by all means fight to raise the standards...but do so in a way that is relevant to your contemporaries.
I know that's will strike for some folks here as incendiary, but it's stated without profanity. Let's keep it clean, and as pleasant as possible. I expect passions to flare, but offer your opinions without direct reference to anyone else's artwork who comments here, please.

UPDATE: While I too agree that the dichotomy is false, I think it's OK to break it down for the purpose of wider understanding (we've had this anti-conceptualism debate for some time and not gotten very far with it, so I'm trying a new approach). For the record, though, I agree that the art worth knowing about combines compelling visuals with compelling concept. What so much of this debate seems to center on is disagreement over what constitutes the first part though (as if there were universally accepted criteria or methods for achieving the "visual appeal").

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Trickery vs. Transgression Open Thread

I have some faint memory of having heard of Dorothy Podber but never had the pleasure of meeting her. Not that everyone who did considered it a pleasure, mind you. I know she was an East Village legend, but I've always lived on the West Side and, well....

Now it's beside the point. The New York Times reports that Ms. Podber passed away at the age of 75, and so I never will meet the woman who, among other things, shot a stack of Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe paintings...and not with a camera:
Ms. Podber was an artist in her own right and in the late ’50s and early ’60s helped to run the Nonagon Gallery in Manhattan, which showed the work of a young Yoko Ono and was known for jazz concerts by performers like Charles Mingus. But she became famous, or infamous, in the art world mostly as a muse and a co-conspirator of more prominent artists like Ray Johnson, with whom she staged impromptu happenings on Manhattan streets.

In one, she and Mr. Johnson persuaded people they had just met to allow them into their apartments, where they would then play records used by speech therapists that contained samples of stuttering.

“She said people were pretty nonplused, as you’d expect,” Ms. Ely said “She and Ray would also do another bit where they’d re-enact the shower scene from ‘Psycho.’ ”

In a 2006 interview with the writer Joy Bergmann, Ms. Podber said: “I’ve been bad all my life. Playing dirty tricks on people is my specialty.”

Certainly the most outrageous was her unsolicited contribution to a few of Warhol’s “Marilyn” silk-screen paintings. In the fall of 1964 Ms. Podber, a friend of the photographer and Warhol regular Billy Name, visited Warhol’s Factory on East 47th Street in Manhattan with her Great Dane (named Carmen Miranda or Yvonne De Carlo, depending on the account). Ms. Podber asked Warhol if she could shoot a stack of the “Marilyn” paintings; he apparently thought that she wanted to take pictures of them and consented.

But she produced a pistol and fired at them, penetrating three or four. One of them, “Shot Red Marilyn,” with a repaired bullet hole over the left eyebrow, sold for $4 million in 1989, at the time setting a record at auction for a Warhol work.
Some of Ms. Podber's bad "tricks" were actually crimes, if still amusing in their creativity:
She once ran a service that dispatched maids to doctors’ offices, primarily as a way to get the keys to the doctors’ drug cabinets.
The charm of a trickster's craft is inversely proportional to the distance one is from the actual event, I generally find. Still, I find trickery more charming than transgression because it incorporates wit, even if a bit wicked. But that distinction begs for a definition or two, so:
  • "Trickery" definitions suggest the main goal of such actions often includes the desire to part a fool from his/her money. The word "con man" is a shorter version of "confidence trickster," for example.
  • Definitions of "transgression" center on crossing the line of acceptance. Often "transgression" is a crime, but sometimes it's merely the crossing of a "moral principle."
In this respect, transgression seems less selfish, if one accepts that its point is to illustrate the absurdity or actual harm of that line of acceptance (with an assumed eye toward progressive changes), whereas "trickery" generally has baser and more self-centered motivations. But if that's the case, why are "trickster" artists more enjoyable to be around? Consider this an open thread on transgression and trickery in art.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Just in case (and too cute for words)

Please note that our Opening Reception for Joy Garnett's new kick-ass show is NEXT THURSDAY, Feb 21, 6-8 pm. The exhibition is open to the public beginning today, but the reception is next week.

Also, [via sullivan], this is truly adorable.

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Art Becomes Crime

Two recent art-related stories blend tragedy with criminal charges and raise some questions about liability and the potential perils of artmaking.

First is the case of Professor Steven Kurtz, whom we've discussed before:

Dr. Steven Kurtz is a Professor of Art at SUNY Buffalo and a founding member, with his late wife, Hope, of the internationally acclaimed art and theater collective Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). Over the past decade cultural institutions worldwide have hosted CAE’s participatory theater projects that help the general public understand biotechnology and the many issues surrounding it.

In May 2004 the Kurtzes were preparing to present Free Range Grain, a project examining GM agriculture, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), when Hope Kurtz died of heart failure. Police who responded to Kurtz's 911 call deemed the couple's art suspicious, and called the FBI. The art materials consisted of several petri dishes containing three harmless bacteria cultures, and a mobile lab to test food labeled “organic” for the presence of genetically modified ingredients. As Kurtz explained, these materials had been safely displayed in museums and galleries throughout Europe and North America with absolutely no risk to the public.

The next day, however, as Kurtz was on his way to the funeral home, he was illegally detained by agents from the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force, who informed him he was being investigated for "bioterrorism."
Obviously these bacteria pose significant enough a risk to the security of the homeland that the investigation had to be expanded:
Dr. Robert Ferrell, a University of Pittsburgh geneticist, has been sentenced to a year of unsupervised release and fined $500 for providing Steven Kurtz, an artist friend, with bacteria to use in his biotech-theme artwork, The Associated Press reported. Dr. Ferrell pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor count of “mailing an injurious article.” Mr. Kurtz, a member of the faculty of the University at Buffalo, faces trial on federal mail and wire-fraud charges. Prosecutors say Dr. Ferrell sent away for the relatively harmless bacteria for Mr. Kurtz because he could not have obtained it on his own. His defenders maintain that Mr. Kurtz was merely trying to provoke discussion through art and that government prosecution stifles debate.
The other story actually resulted in two deaths and multiple injuries, but still led to some dubious judicial decisions, IMO:

The creator of an inflatable sculpture that killed two people after breaking free of its moorings was charged with manslaughter yesterday.

Maurice Agis, 76, has spent more than 40 years devising public art and had toured Europe for a decade with the ill-fated Dreamspace, a giant walk-in artwork half the size of a football pitch, which visitors said was like a “psychedelic cathedral”.

The incident happened on a warm Sunday afternoon at Riverside Park, Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, in July 2006. Dozens of families, many with young children, were exploring Dreamspace’s coloured caverns and corridors when it suddenly reared 70ft into the air and flipped over.

The artist tried vainly to grab on to a rope to stop the plastic structure from taking off. Some of those inside were flung clear. Others were trapped inside.

Mind you, Dreamscape was such a popular attraction that even the BBC had recommended families try it out and the UK Arts Council sponsored a tour of the piece to the tune of £60,000. There's no doubt that the authorities had to investigate this tragedy and that the families deserved someone to be held accountable, but to charge the artist for manslaughter, after permitting it to travel throughout Europe for a decade? It never occurred to the authorities in any of those locations before 2006 that this posed a danger?

As I've noted before, we've presented some potentially dangerous work in our gallery and I've lied awake worried that someone might be injured. Posting notices and hovering over visitors only go so far, and I'll be the first to step up and agree that galleries and institutions showing dangerous art are indeed responsible for the safety of their visitors. Precautions must be taken.

But there's something rather offensive about both these cases in terms of the courts' decisions as well as the prosecutions' point of view. For Professor Kurtz, the state should have stopped hounding him when it was apparent he wasn't a terrorist. Pushing through the investigation in search of misdemeanors and mail-fraud charges can't be the best use of the FBI's resources. Not if President Bush is correct in asserting that "terrorists are planning attacks on American soil 'that will make Sept. 11 pale in comparison.'" And in the case of Mr. Agis, who is 76 years old, and whose piece worked perfectly for 10 years before this freak accident, a charge of manslaughter strikes me as political scapegoating. Yes, the victims deserve justice, but will imprisoning this man really bring them such?

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Joy Garnett @ Winkleman Gallery, Feb 15 - Mar 15, 2008

Joy Garnett
New Paintings

Feb 15 – Mar 15, 2008
Opening: Thursday, February 21, 6-8 pm
Gallery Hours: Tues – Sat, 11 6 pm

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present a solo exhibition of new paintings by New York artist Joy Garnett. In four large canvases Garnett continues her groundbreaking exploration of the malleability of instantly globalized images and how they have begun to replace written language as the markers of mankind's collective memory or consciousness.

Unlike her last three New York exhibitions, which centered on specific themes of conflict or violence, this grouping is united only by the loose suggestion of images possibly taken at precisely the same moment in very different locations around the world. Garnett circles the planet to underscore perhaps the unstoppable imperative of this new lingua franca. The images Garnett paints are culled from digital mass media outlets and then archived for sometimes months at a time, permitting their context to evaporate. Returning to the image with a fuzzy at best memory of what it reportedly documented, Garnett’s process highlights the role misremembering plays in this new dubious "reality."

The optimistic rising sun in Morning in China references the economic ascent of the Asian giant, even as its smoggy landscape hints at the potential environmental disaster such rapid expanse can bring. The explosion and chaos suggested in the bright daylight of Noon points to the inescapably volatile nature that defines the seemingly ubiquitous power grabs taking place around the globe or simply the natural consequences of so much movement all at once. The South American seascape at moonlit dusk seen in Harbor (2) belies a calm similar to the Chinese morning, even as the blood red reflections hint at something sinister. And the overwhelmingly dark and massive destruction conveyed in the rubble of the World Trade Center in Night reminds us that there remains the potential for as-yet unimaginable nightmares. The first painting Garnett has been able to paint of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (despite it being the single most photographed event in human history), Night is a tour-de-force of expressionistic recollection visited upon its ubiquitous source image. It is also the only incident that's clearly identifiable among the exhibition's paintings, but as the event that only served to speed up an already insanely speedy world it has already taken on legendary status and become the central catalyst of the enhanced and panicked race to globalize.

Joy Garnett received her MFA from The City College of New York and studied painting at L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her notable exhibitions include, Strange Weather at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC; Image War, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art (2006); When Artists Say We, Artists Space (2006); Visionary Anatomies, Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition (2004-2007); and Without Fear or Reproach, De Witte Zaal, Ghent, Belgium (2003).

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or info@winkleman.com


Image above: Joy Garnett, Morning in China, 2007, oil on canvas, 60" x 70"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Short and Sweet

Pressed for time today, but wanted to encourage you to consider supporting New Yorks' very own Lower East Side Printshop via their benefit tonight:
Printshop Benefit 2008: February 13, 6 - 9pm

Live auction, sale, and reception to benefit the Printshop's residency programs for artists in 2008.

Featured artists and organizations include Kiki Smith, Ryan McGinness, James Siena, Spencer Tunick, Pace Prints, and many other generous contributors.

Tickets are on sale now:


The Printshop also has published a fabulous new piece by Joe Fig:
(c) Joe Fig, 2007, "Inka's Shoes", screenprint, 15.25" x 18.25" image, 20.75" x 23" sheet.


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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Get Your Grubby Mitts Off That Masterpiece

Reportedly they fled the scene with the paintings hanging out the back of their van. Memo to moronic art thieves: your odds of unloading them decrease significantly if you damage them! Sheesh!
Three men wearing ski masks walked into a private museum here in daylight, grabbed four 19th-century masterpieces, tossed them into a van and sped off, pulling off one of the largest and most audacious art robberies of all time. [...] On Sunday, the three men who entered the E. G. Bührle Collection here took four paintings — a Cézanne, a Degas, a van Gogh and a Monet together worth an estimated $163 million — but not the most valuable works in the collection. The four just happened to be hanging in the same room. [...] The police said paintings appeared to be sticking out of the back of the white van the men used to make their getaway.
This heist certainly won't be inspiring any Thomas Crown Affair style movie scripts. Not only did the robbers reportedly pass over more expensive works, but they seemed to merely grab four works in a row from one room, suggesting this wasn't a theft to order (which turns out to be a myth it seems). Indeed, the details suggest this was a somewhat clumsy and clearly uninformed run-of-the-mill crime. OK, so one involving $163 million dollars worth of paint on canvas, but still.

It's a fool's game really, though, because more and more the odds of them not getting caught are rather low:
The fact that there are no buyers lined up helps account for the recovery of famous works, [Karl-Heinz Kind, team leader of the works of art unit at Interpo] said, like the Munch paintings, which were recovered in 2006. “The thieves have difficulty finding someone to take them,” he said. “They are obliged to multiply their contacts and proposals. That increases the chances for police.”
Indeed, stealing artwork this famous strikes me as evidence of stupidity, if it's not some sort of political statement. In this instance, I suspect the thieves saw an easy heist and didn't think much past that point. This deficiency will hopefully add to the swiftness with which they are caught.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Why a Gallery?

I had the pleasure of speaking with a large group of BFA and MFA students in the gallery the other day. Bucking the trend I normally find when discussing the gallery-artist relationship with young artists, this group had a lot of very frank questions for me (I credit their instructor for insisting they come ready with them).

At a certain point in the discussion, the general question of how does one know which gallery is right for them came up. As I truly believe, I said that there are two criteria in determining this. First is to make sure you, as the artist, are ready to have your work seen in the context of a commercial gallery. (This is probably harder than it sounds, but until that's the case the second part won't be obvious.) Second is knowing your own market and limiting your search for a gallery (or the offers you entertain) to those galleries that are a good match. (With a bit of research, this is probably easier than it sounds.)

But in thinking about their response to my answer (and in preparation for a larger lecture I'm working toward titled "Watching Sausage Being Made: The Nitty Gritty on Artists, Galleries and Money"), it dawned on me that I might do well to step back even one more step and think through "why" should any given artist work with a gallery.

The obvious answer to this would seem to be that the artist wants to sell their work, but I find that many artists also have a wide range of other expectations from such a relationship (from simply having somewhere to present their work to the public every two years or so to the notion that once they have a gallery all the rest of their career up through their retrospective at MoMA or being chosen for the American Pavillion at Venice is just a matter of time). In fact, I think the expectations (especially for younger artists) are as individual as the artist and often related more to their ambitions than any discussion or realistic assessment with the gallery or other artists.

So I wanted to brainstorm a bit on what the reality is here in preparation for that lecture (yes, you're being conscripted to help with my research). Why do artists want a gallery? Off the cuff, I came up with the following 10 practical reasons an artist might want to work with a gallery:

1. Sales/Marketing
2. Prestige
3. Context
4. Career management (including forms/communications/interactions with other galleries, museums, etc.)
5. Networking/connections
6. Financial assistance
7. Dialog/sounding board/reality check
8. Privacy (a buffer between the studio and the public)
9. Regularly scheduled exhibitions / a platform
10. Archiving services

What I suspect, though, is that there is a wide range of expectations or beliefs not on that list. Am I right?

At the discussion with the students noted above, the question also came up as to whether an artist has to go the commercial gallery route to have success. Both the instructor and I listed artists we know and like who avoid the system and still do quite well. I went so far as to reiterate my belief that a commercial gallery is simply one in a list of options for exhibiting one's work and having that dialog with the public, which is what I assume is the number one objective of any artist's career.

But where are the holes in my thinking here. What am I missing from the artist's point of view? Is there a better understanding of the practical reasons for working with a gallery than I think there is? Or are many artists looking for representation projecting a whole load of unrealistic expectations onto such relationships? Why do you (if you do) want a gallery?

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Tyrant in the White House

Hilzoy calls it exactly right. George W. Bush is now officially a tyrant. This is not hyperbole. This is textbook definition:
ty·rant (tī'rənt) Pronunciation Key n.
  1. An absolute ruler who governs without restrictions.
From the Washington Post:
The attorney general yesterday rejected growing congressional calls for a criminal investigation of the CIA's use of simulated drownings to extract information from its detainees, as Vice President Cheney called it a "good thing" that the CIA was able to learn what it did from those subjected to the practice.

The remarks reflected a renewed effort by the Bush administration to defend its past approval of the interrogation tactic known as waterboarding, which some lawmakers, human rights experts and international lawyers have described as illegal torture.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Justice Department lawyers concluded that the CIA's use of waterboarding in 2002 and 2003 was legal, and therefore the department cannot investigate whether a crime had occurred.

"That would mean that the same department that authorized the program would now consider prosecuting somebody who followed that advice," he said.
Let me reframe that for you. George Bush asked his Department of Justice simply to declare that waterboarding detainees (as well as listening in on your telephone conversations without a warrant) was "legal," effectively giving him and his underlings a "get out of jail free" card should Congress ever try to get the Department of Justice to investigate whether the law was broken. In a nutshell, the Bush administration has twisted their influence over the DOJ such that anything they declare "legal" is for all intents and purposes, by decree, legal. In other countries we call this "tyranny." In fact, we call it tyranny here as well.

From Hilzoy's post on Obsidian Wings:

This means that if the Justice Department were sufficiently corrupt or compliant -- and does anyone want to argue that it wasn't, under Alberto Gonzales? -- the administration could do whatever it wanted without worrying its little head about the law. David Kurtz at TPM:

"We have now the Attorney General of the United States telling Congress that it's not against the law for the President to violate the law if his own Department of Justice says it's not. (...)

President Bush has now laid down his most aggressive challenge to the very constitutional authority of Congress. It is a naked assertion of executive power. The founders would have called it tyrannical. His cards are now all on the table. This is no bluff."

He adds a note from one of his readers:

"It's not just that the Attorney General's position is that a DOJ Order makes the subject activity legal but that, as [Congressman] Nadler brought out, there is now no recourse to a judicial test, either criminal (through refusal to prosecute) or civil (through the state secrets privilege based solely on a DOJ affidavit). The DOJ is entitled to take whatever position it wants, however self-serving and unitary, but now there is no avenue for judicial review and so that is the end of the story."
You can watch the exchange between Nadler and Mukasey below. It's crystal clear that Nadler is right. There is now officially no restriction on Bush's power:

I've already written my Senator, the shameful Mr. Schumer, and let him know that I hold him personally responsible for this outrage. His support of Mukasey's nomination has brought undeniable tyranny to the United States of America.

Even more shameful, and undoubtedly the mastermind behind this trampling on the Constitution, the dark lord himself, Dick Cheney, is now free to brag about his administration's inhumanity:
Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday vigorously defended the use of harsh interrogation techniques on a few suspected terrorists, saying that the methods made up “a tougher program, for tougher customers” and might have averted another attack on the United States.[...] The vice president asserted that the techniques used by the C.I.A. were safe and professional...
Oh, how reassuring. We're professional torturers. Can we join the International Association of Nations that Torture People now? Maybe we can team up with Uzbekistan and North Korea at the next IANTP bowling tournament.

These people are criminal and twisted. Get them out of office and then haul their sorry asses into court!

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Reading all the Tea Leaves in China

The big surprise isn't so much that China now ranks as the third most important art market by value, but rather that the country it just displaced was France.

France? Really??? Did Pinault skew the curve all by himself? (OK, so there goes my chance of ever brokering a show at the Pompedieu....)


From
The Art Newspaper:
China is the third most important art market by value, replacing France, which has long held the coveted spot, after New York and London, a leading economist has said.

A report by Dr Clare McAndrew, who runs a research company Art Economics, commissioned by the organisers of The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf), Maastricht, and including both auction and dealer data, found that by the end of 2006, China had already become the fourth largest global art market by value, with a 5% share. The US, UK and France were at 46%, 27% and 6% respectively.

The report did not go beyond 2006, but Dr McAndrew told The Art Newspaper that “the trend has continued in 2007 and I would estimate that China has now overtaken France.” In 2005, China accounted for only 3.7% of the global market, according to analysis from Artprice.com, whereas France was at 6.6%.
From reports of the the auction results in London this week, one would be forgiven for thinking Russia has already lunged up into the top three. From The New York Times:
A geographical breakdown of buyers was telling, with 82 percent European (a term that Sotheby’s said includes Russian as well as British) and only 13 percent American.

While Sotheby’s would not say how many Russians bought art on Tuesday night, their presence was obvious. Mikhail Kamensky, director of Sotheby’s Russia, could be seen clutching a telephone while bidding on behalf of an unidentified client who outmaneuvered three other contenders for Marc’s 1910 canvas “Grazing Horses III,” a scene in the Bavarian countryside. The painting sold for $24.3 million, breaking the artist’s previous record of $20.2 million, set last November in New York. It was the night’s most expensive work.
But what are the conclusions to be drawn from the bellwether auction results? Artinfo.com seems to have struck the gloomiest note in assessing the sales---that's if you don't count MAO ;-p. From artinfo.com:
Set in a climate of shaky global markets, this week’s two key Impressionist and Modern sales in London performed surprisingly well, while Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale on Wednesday evening, despite a near-record-breaking Francis Bacon painting, showed unmistakable signs of the market’s weakening.
So what do the teas leaves tell us: ooooohhhmmmm....I see...I see....indications of a weakening, with the red hot secondary Postwar and Contemporary market perhaps cooling a bit more than other work*, but strong evidence that other collectors (read Russians and Chinese collectors) will indeed pick up at least part of the slack as Americans tread more cautiously. Of course, the pending American contemporary auctions will be easier to read with regards to impact on my business (we're not selling Impressionist works to Russians...yet anyway). Fingers crossed and all that....

*Which should not be interpreted as reason to pass up on great work at good prices in the primary market, mind you. Just sayin'....

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

PS1 Goes Green

Despite my general aversion to 1) standing in line for a drink for an hour, 2) wading my way through crowds of semi-considerate sweat-drenched people in the middle of a sweltering day, and 3) loud, predominantly percussionist music pulsating so out-of-sync with my heart beat, I can feel my old ticker pounding on the ceiling of my chest cavity with a broom handle, I have to admit the last time I attended a "Warm Up" beach party at PS1, I had a truly excellent time.

It took a while to reach inside and awaken my inner hipster, but eventually I was splashing around in the pool, shaking my groove thing (or whatever), and marveling at the transformative capacity of some carefully crafted wood and plastic and water in a concrete courtyard. The "Warm Up" series represents the very best in terms of community outreach by a cultural institution, in my opinion, and PS1 deserves all the
accolades the effort brings them yearly, including:
Voted by Time Out New York readers as the Best Club in 2005 -- December 29, 2005-January 4, 2006 issue

#10 of The 20 Hottest Beach Parties in the world by The Observer (UK) -- February 12, 2006 issue
The series mixes a courtyard installation by the winner of the annual Ps1-MoMA Young Architects Program with mingling, good family frollicking (few people I know get out of their entirely dry), and a world-class line-up of DJs and live performances:
[I]international DJs and live music ensembles [have included]: DJ Harvey, Groove Collective, Lovebug Starski, Afrika Bambaataa, Prins Thomas & Hans-Peter Lindstrom, Mad Professor, Richie Hawtin, Danny Krivit, Trevor Jackson, Francois K, DJ Craze, Charlie Dark, Vikter Duplaix, Fischerspooner, Frederic Galliano, Kid Koala, Arto Lindsay, The Scissor Sisters, Ursula Rucker, Derrick May, Swayzak, Luke Vibert, XPress 2, Danny Wang, and many more.
Typically, the architectural firm awarded the prize runs with the urban beach theme, giving it some twist toward coolness this year or eye candy that year, and so it was with something akin to amazement and sheer delight that I read this morning about the winning proposal this year. The New York Times' Robin Pogrebin has the details:

One can only imagine how the judges reacted when the architects walked in lugging the kind of hulking concrete-pouring cardboard tubes used at construction sites filled with flowering heads of cabbage.

The proposal by Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, the husband-and-wife duo behind Work Architecture, was clearly a departure from previous design proposals to transform the courtyard of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens for a summer. But the urban farm concept — including an abundance of fresh produce and a genuine harvesting plan — was apparently just too darn offbeat to pass up.

“It’s just so unlike anything that’s been done before,” said Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, which jointly sponsors the annual Young Architects Program with P.S. 1. “It’s the first one that’s not canopies or party spaces. In some ways it’s almost in counterpoint to the program.”



Wood and Andraos's proposal is more than just a curiosity, in my opinion. They're possibly heralding a new level of "seriousness in our fun" consciousness that simply has to happen or we'll wake up one day to find we need gondolas to get to work in Manhattan. But beyond the "green = less global warming" arguments, they're interested in a broader (and not so gloomy) vision:

[T]he architects’ creative process started with the more traditional P.S. 1 courtyard concept of an urban beach, focusing on themes like the striped bathing costumes of a 1928 photograph called "La Plage." They moved from there to contemplating "Sous les pavés, la plage" (roughly, "under the paving stones, a better life"), a slogan dating from the 1968 student riots in Paris. Finally they arrived at the notion of "Sur les paves la ferme," meaning, "Over the pavement, the farm."

"We wanted to find what our generation’s symbol would be," Ms. Andraos said, "embodying our preoccupations, our hopes for the world."

In working out their design, the architects also kept in mind the movement from industrialization to postindustrialization, from global to local, from the free market to the farmer’s market, and from sand to hay.
Congrats to the architects! And congrats to PS1 for taking a chance on a project that promises to raise the bar significantly for what art, architecture, and partying can all be about. I suspect next year's proposals will all be more interesting.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stinking Lying Shameless Torturer

Yesterday, during the chaos that was Super Tuesday, the Bush administration openly admitted that it authorized the use of the technique known as waterboarding on three detainees (terrorist suspects). This is in stark contrast to Bush's now-obvious lie in November 2005 that "We do not torture." The administration's pathetic and illogical attempt to reconcile these opposing statements lies in their claim that "waterboarding" is not torture (despite the fact that Attorney General Michael Mukasey admitted he would consider the technique "torture" if it was done to him).

Let me make this perfectly clear: George W. Bush is a war criminal. He should be tried as such. He has soiled the reputation of this country so far beyond anything I could have ever imagined a President would do, let alone try and suggest he was right to do so. If there is one absolute in what it means to be human, it must be that torturing people is wrong. As the International Committee of the Red Cross put it: "The ICRC rejects the use of torture and other forms of ill treatment under any circumstances. It believes the respect for human life and dignity precludes any justification for ill treatment." [emphasis mine]

The administration has carefully surrounded itself with pawns ready to thwart any legal proceedings against it, including the new Attorney General. Regardless of what legal hurdles they manage to throw in the way of the next administration, it is a moral imperative that Americans ensure Bush is called to answer for this crime against humanity.

I have absolutely no patience for the condescending drivel that "these were really bad men," so spare me if you're so inclined to offer it. Torture defines the person conducting it, not the person being tortured, so this is no excuse. Neither is the fairy tale that without torturing them we were putting lives at risk. The true experts on interrogation argue again and again that information obtained via torture is not superior to that obtained via non-torture means, revealing that the only point of torture is torture itself. The evidence that Bush knew he was wrong to torture these suspects lies plainly in the fact that he lied about it to our faces.

Americans clearly can't wait to put the dark nightmare that has been the Bush years behind it. The record-shattering turnouts at the polls yesterday confirm this. But it would be a mistake to let Bush slink off without answering for this crime. It's not about revenge, it's about restoring our reputation. Until we right this wrong, no American is safe. Any enemy country can argue that its national security concerns justify the torture of our citizens, and the world, faced with Bush's example, will be forced to agree. In one fell swoop, Bush has restored barbarism as an international standard. Bin Laden must be laughing himself silly.

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Recession Resistant?

Of course, we're talking London, where the only thing higher than the pound's dominance over the dollar is the optimism and energy in its contemporary art scene, but if yesterday's Impressionism and Modernism auction results are any indication, it's not just contemporary art that's still hot and in demand. From The Guardian:
This week of big sales at rivals Sotheby's and Christie's is being seen as a bellwether, with many predicting the spiralling fine art market will eventually burst. That seems not to be the case quite yet. On Monday Christie's trumpeted the second highest European auction record only for it to be broken last night in a packed room of people bidding on behalf of the super rich.
Of course, on this side of the pond yesterday, the Dow took a nose dive. But while some dealers I know were gasping at the plunge, others (including myself) are taking a wait-and-see attitude. (Not that we have much in the way of options, mind you.)

There's no reason to break out the bubbly just yet, of course. Anyone assuming the recession won't have any impact is a dreamer. But even as we watch for indications that the sky is indeed falling, there are still signs that it's nowhere near the earth just yet:
Over at Bonhams auction house last night the world's first sale of urban art saw a Banksy screenprint of Kate Moss, a pastiche of Andy Warhol's portrait of Marilyn Monroe, fetched three times its estimate, selling for £96,000.
Perhaps speculation that the new global nature of the art market will prevent a 1990's type crash is proving true. As anyone will tell you, attitude is everything here:
Melanie Clore, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe, said the house felt "jubilant" after an evening which had been its most expensive impressionist sale ever; the strength of the sale could be seen in 60% of the 79 lots being sold over and above their high estimates.
"Jubilant" even. Keep the faith folks.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

No Sign of Progress

Might as well begin with the obvious mea culpa: Our programing, despite normally being balanced, has been very lopsided so far this year. It improves with the next exhibition and moving forward. I'll note that even though I was aware of its slant, I arranged the exhibition schedule independent of gender. So after 4 solo exhibitions by men, we have our first solo exhibition by a woman coming up. It wasn't intentional...the the first 4 or the even the switch in the 5th...it's just how it happened. (I'm entering the witness protection program as soon as I post this, so don't look for me.)

Apparently, though, I'm not alone. Those masters of meta data at Chelsea Art Galleries [dot] com (who have recently had a very appealing face lift) have sifted through the text of gallery press releases and found some rather disturbing trends:
In a study of the language in more than 3,400 gallery press releases from 2006 and 2007, chelseaartgalleries.com found that women still are significantly underrepresented, and it appears to be getting worse.

In the press releases sent out by Chelsea galleries in 2006, the words "his" and "he" were 48% more common than "her" and "she". The following year, 2007, the gap had grown to 64%. The same trend holds for the more specific word combination "his/her work". In 2006 "his work" beat "her work" with 38%, in 2007 the difference was 56%.

Does 2008 promise to be better? With only 282 press releases to analyze, it's still too early to tell, but it doesn't look like an improvement - currently the gap between his/him and her/she is 78%.

But wait...it gets worse, separating out the bluer chip galleries (as measured by those who are invited to participate in Art Basel and Miami Art Basel), the study found the disparity only increases the further up the food chain you go:
We looked at some 1,000 press releases, and the gender gap is significantly larger for these [blue chip] galleries. In 2006, it was 93%, and in 2007 it was 152% (e.g. he/his was mentioned 2.5 times as often as she/her). The difference for the galleries that don't go to the Art Basel fairs (and usually represent younger artists), is still there, but smaller: In 2006 it was 33% and in 2007 it was 41%.
There's a fascinating chart with the study that indicates that whereas the word "art" was the most often found word among press releases in Chelsea in 2006, the word "his" ranked first in 2007. One could conclude from this that what's being sold in Chelsea is masculinity more so than art (OK, it's a stretch, but...). Clearly what's being shown more than anything else, though, are paintings. In 2006 the word "paintings" was the 14th most popular among the press releases studied, and in 2007 it was the 15th. No other medium even made the top 32.

What is there to do about the disparity though? I hate to open myself up as the proxy whipping post and suggest folks can beat up on me here for my part in it all, but I can't plead innocence either. I hope by posting this I make up a bit for the lopsided program this season. Things do get better next seaon, I swear.

Image at top: Jennifer Dalton, Art Guide (March/April, 2006), 2006, mixed media (map, colored pins, painted wooden frame), 9.5” x 10.5” x 1.25”

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Time to Choose

When faced with the devil-you-know vs. the devil-you-don't dilemma, the folks where I come from generally choose the better known devil. We're Midwesterners, you see, practical to a fault, and not all that trusting of the visionary types.

Neither Obama nor Clinton is my perfect choice for president. I would have chosen Edwards, had he still been in the race. Still, by this time tomorrow I will have voted in the Democrat primary. Even as I write this, I'm unsure which level I'll pull.

As I see it, the pros for Hillary include the facts that she's brilliant, well-informed, tough, liberal (relatively), and connected. She has impressively substantive answers to policy questions, and clearly she's worked hard to be ready to be president. I believe she can walk in and be ready on day one to run the country. I believe electing her will improve the image of the US around the world. And, to a point, I believe she will run the country well.

The cons for Hillary include the facts that she gets peevish and downright mean under pressure. The dirty political tricks she resorts to when times get tough (what she considers the "fun" part of the game) reveal to my mind that when the sh*t hits the fan, she'll play fast and loose with the truth. In other words, she'll lie as easily as she breathes. She also carries considerable baggage, will perpetuate the highly divisive tensions in Washington (if not elevate them to record levels, which would indeed be quite the accomplishment), and will rally the Republicans around their candidate and fill his coffers with cash like no one else.

In other words, once she gets there, as long as things are running smoothly, I believe she'll be a good president. The road to the White House for her will be undoubtedly bloody, though, and should she be cornered while in the Oval Office, you can expect all nature of underhanded dealings and bold-faced lies to follow.

The pros for Obama include he truly does embody change. (I know Hillary does because she's a woman, but that's as far as her change quotient goes.) Obama's face alone will send signals throughout the world that the Bush era and all its hideous belligerence and arrogance are over. Listening to Obama speak is to believe you might be witnessing the next Abraham Lincoln. He was voted the most liberal Senator (something I see as a pro for him, but then so will the Republican pundits for their candidate), he is liked by moderates and discouraged Republicans (suggesting he really can bridge the partisan gap that's eating away at our ability to move the country forward on critical issues like the environment, healthcare, Iraq, etc.), and he retains grace under pressure (at least much more so than Clinton seems to). Also, it may be unfair to compare, because he wasn't in the Senate then, but he was opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and that's a solid indication of good judgment in my book.

His cons include he's not the wonky wonder Clinton is (i.e., he doesn't seem to dream policy stats and legislative details), he's untested under real pressure, his Healthcare plan is doomed to fall short of reaching universal coverage I'm now convinced (but remains a far cry better than any GOP plan), and despite how powerfully poetic his prose is, I'm not convinced he is tough or patient enough to endure the attacks the GOP has lying in wait for him should he take the White House. His wife has already complained about the strains of the campaign trail, but if she thinks the primary is tough, wait until the big snakes in DC start striking in earnest.

In other words, he's incredibly appealing on paper and on stage, but he's a bit too blank a screen and I'm afraid I'm projecting much more substance up there than really exists. I know this will sound masochistic, but now that we're down to two choices, I wish there were weeks if not months more of debates between them.

But that's not the case. I have to choose tomorrow. If I had to choose this very second, I'd choose Obama. We'll see....

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