Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Price and the Perceived Value of Art: Open Thread

There's a great scene in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous in which Edina buys some art, has it installed in her home, and then invites her boozy friend Patsy over to see it. The scene plays out like this:

The bit in particular that sprung to mind this morning was this exchange:
Patsy: [looking at what Edina bought]: Are you mad?

Edina: Well you don't have to like it, that's not the point, Darling

Patsy: Well how much did this lot set you back?

Edina: Well, I just spent as much as I could, Darling. It cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Patsy: Ah well, in that case, it's fabulous.
The AbFab bit sprung to mind after reading this short article by Anna Somers Cocks, General Editorial Director of The Art Newspaper, entitled: We Like Art Less When Its Price Goes Down. Actually, I think this walking-into-the-room-backwards approach to discussing what folks should expect from the bear market was rather clever of The Art Newspaper, but all the same, it's good food for thought:
Now it’s scientifically proven: we really do enjoy expensive things more. In an experiment conducted by Antonio Rangel at the California Institute of Technology, the brains of 20 volunteers were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while they tasted five different wines costing $5 to $90 a bottle. But Rangel fibbed, telling them that the cheap wine was the most expensive, or giving the same price to two different wines.

The scanner showed consistently that the flow of blood to the part of the brain that registers pleasure, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, increased when the price was declared to be high, not according to the quality of the wine. In case this got attributed simply to the ignorant palates of the volunteers, Rangel repeated the experiment with members of the Stanford University wine club and got widely similar results.

What this does is to explain the effect first described by the economist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 when he noted that certain goods become more in demand as their price rises. Diamonds and luxury cars are an obvious example of this, but so is art, especially contemporary art.
Yes, yes, that's all well and interesting, but here's what I suspect was the true take-away message of the piece, lobbed into the room softly:
Rangel’s discovery will be relevant when the recession hits. Here at The Art Newspaper, we have survived two recessions, 1990 and 2000, and we know that a fall in the art market follows a bear market, but always with a certain time lag (in the past this has been as long as nine months, but we think the cycle will speed up now).
Of course, I might be reading too much into the fact that the article was short and didn't seem to provide much to support its headline...and Anna did wrap it all up nicely, even coining a phrase in the process:
The speculators will try to unload their art, but will have difficulty doing so because the art market not only falls but freezes, except for the rarest and most widely admired works. This is for two reasons. The thousands of people who still have money to spend choose not to do so until they are certain that the market has bottomed out. But they are almost certainly also affected by what we should call the Veblen-Rangel effect from now onwards: they actually find works of art less attractive as their price goes down.
But whether the point was to open up a discussion about the 800-lb. gorilla in the room or to merely explain why folks should be conscious about the irrationality of the "Veblen-Rangel" effect, it does offer a good launch pad for a discussion about perceived value. What in particular I'm curious about (having just worked an art fair) is: If art is less attractive when its price goes down, why do some collectors work so hard to get as big a discount as they can?

Just kidding. I understand the difference.

Consider this an open thread on the connection between price and the perceived value of art.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 25, 2008

Two Don't Miss Events This Weekend in New York

Not much time as the fair is opening now. If you're in Chicago, do come by to see us in the NEXT art fair. If you're in New York, however, I wanted to encourage you to go visit the artists having their (always great) Open Studio at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Space Program this weekend. Our very own Sarah Peters is participating in the residency at the moment, so don't miss out seeing her lastest works. Here are the details:
The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation
The Space Program 20 Jay Street, 7th floor
DUMBO, Brooklyn
Open Studios
Reception Friday, April 25, 5 – 9 pm.
Open Studios Saturday, April 26, 2 – 6 pm.
& Sunday, April 27, 2 – 6 pm.

Also, it's never too soon to start making your top 10 list. The Momenta Benefit Preview opens this weekend.
momenta art
benefit 2008

preview at momenta
359 bedford avenue
brooklyn, ny
april 26 – may 17
reception friday april 25, 7-9 pm

preview at white columns
320 w. 13th street
new york, ny
(entrance on horatio st.)
may 20 – may 21 12-6 pm

event at white columns
wednesday, may 21, 2008
auction: 5-6 pm
raffle: 7-9 pm

ticket price: $225 each
$50 discount if purchased before may 5
tickets may be purchased through our
Don't Miss 'Em

Labels: ,

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forecast: Windy, with a Chance of High Sales

OK, so that is perhaps the cheesiest headline I've ever written. But I've got killer a sinus headache due to the bountiful blessings of Spring and the allergies that brings (that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it).

Posting will be light this week, as tomorrow we head off to participate in the NEXT Art Fair in Chicago. Having done pretty well in Art Chicago last year (and having had a blast being there); seeing as collectors I know who attended last year reported having a great time and are going again; and seeing as the stock market is proving to be a fiesty ol' bastard, I'm optimistic about how the fair will go. It will be interesting to see how doubling the number of galleries in the Merchandise Mart will impact traffic and sales, but...fingers crossed.

We're bringing a trio of projects for our booth this year. Hot-out-of-the-studio new pieces by Ivin Ballen (here's a preview):

A hilarious and brilliant new installation by The Chadwicks (Jimbo Blachly and Lytle Shaw) dealing with 17th Century Dutch interiors painting's obsession with foreground floor debris:

And some gorgeous new work by Rory Donaldson (whose solo show opens in the gallery the week we get back):
Please do stop in our booth and say "Hi" if you're visiting the fair. Regular posting will resume next week (I'll try to do something later in this week, if my schedule permits).

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Don't Boycott the Olympics

Of all the mistakes Jimmy Carter made while President (and although I really like him, he did make a few), the one I always felt was the most misguided was boycotting the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980. There is no doubt that his heart was in the right place. The Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan was a travesty and human rights disaster, and the US had every right to want to ostracize the USSR because of it, but choosing the Olympics as one of the platforms on which to do so was to play politics with an event designed to transcend politics.

First and foremost, choosing the Olympics as the place to score political points is unfair to the athletes for whom waiting another 4 years means very likely missing the chance they've worked so hard for their entire lives.

Secondly, choosing the Olympics as the place to score political points is lazy. Taking advantage of all the money and sweat and training it took the countries and their athletes to get there and to make it into the universally televised, worldwide platform that it is, is to piggyback on the dreams of not only the athletes but also their families, friends, and communities. Indeed, if you were truly committed to the cause you say outrages you so much that you simply must use the Olympics to make your statement, you'd be out there doing your own damn organizing to get the message out in every other forum available. In other words, you wouldn't need to co-opt the Olympics and exploit the efforts of people who want to compete, represent their country, do their small part to spread tolerance and understanding, and perhaps participate in promoting worldwide peace through their individual example of what the true spirit of humanity is all about.

Finally, what Olympians are working so hard for is a place in history. To win the Gold or break a world record. To be the first from their country to even place or compete. These are the dreams that lead athletes to sacrifice everything for years. To deny them a shot at a place in the history books just because lazy politicians and activists who can't find their way to get their message out otherwise leach onto the Games is unforgivable to me.

Indeed, it's history itself that show us how empty and meaningless (and therefore unfair and counterproductive) such gestures truly are. Did the American Boycott of the Moscow Olympics end the war in Afghanistan? Seriously, did it even contribute to it? It did squash the chance to compete in the Olympics for a wide range of Americans who earned their shot to do so, though. It was a foolish, hollow gesture.

More than that, history shows us that a hated enemy today can be an ally in a few years, and so denying someone their shot at making it into the history books over a temporary political situation is myopic. Moscow in 2008 is perhaps still somewhat unwelcoming to American goals and objectives, but would anyone suggest we boycott the Olympics there today if they won the campaign to host again? No. So what we see from our current point of view is that 1) the Boycott in 1980 did little if anything to halt the atrocities in Afghanistan, 2) we are now on much more friendly basis with Russia anyway (and now we occupy Afghanistan), and yet 3) a generation of athletes for whom 1980 was their window of opportunity were denied a shot at glory and history.

I note all this because today we have misguided folks calling for a Boycott of the 2008 Olympics in China. Yes, there are awful policies supported by the Chinese government and yes it's right for people to be outraged by them, but using the Olympics as a pawn in these struggles is lazy, myopic, and cruel. China is certainly much better on human rights issues today than it was 20 years ago, and it's a safe bet that as they rise in economic dominance (and wish to have more say in the more influential private clubs reserved for those nations who don't have such awful records) that they will become even better in the next 20 years. Perhaps that's not fast enough for some people (I can't blame them entirely), but as this contemporary state of affairs too will pass, it's entirely unfair to deny the athletes ready to grasp for their dreams the opportunity.

I feel passionately about this because the Olympics to me represent hope. Not only for a world in which people go to war less because they've seen how much they have in common through such worldwide events, but hope that the host country will be impacted by the event and its people will become a little more tolerant, a little better acquainted with people they thought they were right to hate, a little more inspired to travel and see more of the world, and as a result their leaders will become a little more empathetic and perhaps more concerned about what the world thinks of their actions. To my mind, regardless of the current political climate, it's entirely counter-productive to boycott hope. Hope is the one essential element of change. Fighting for change while squashing hope is asinine.

There are other, more appropriate platforms on which to take a stand. Using the Olympics to do so is lame.


Friday, April 18, 2008

The End of an Artist-Gallery Relationship, from Both Sides

This is one of the posts I know, even before writing it, that I will most likely regret, but when the stars align as they have this week, it's tough to ignore the indications that it's time to open a forum and let the chips fall where they may, so to speak. Two pieces, one on a blog, one in The New York Times, appeared in the past few days that both deal with an under-discussed art world issue from opposite points of view: the end of an artist-gallery relationship. Both are eloquent and insightful, both written by people whose humanity I trust, and both add up to a picture in which the "humanity" of the art world both takes a hit and yet in the end reveals itself to be admirable, IMHO.

The blog post appears on Tire Shop, written by artist Nancy Baker, and is a generously considered essay on what it felt like to lose her New York gallery, "whose name I won't reveal, although it does begin with a W."

Yes, if you're still not sure, my gallery begins with a "W," and although I'm truly sorry that my decision to cut back our roster was so awful for Nancy personally, her blog post is a true service to artists and gallerists alike. (I've always adored Nancy--she's a true mensch in every sense of the word and a great writer--and I was waiting for this exact post on her blog.)

Even though I won't go into specifics with regards to specific artists here, I will note for those who wonder how I could be so heartless that the decision to cut back our roster (we stopped working with 6 artists last year) came at what was a difficult time for me personally, being somewhat overwhelmed after having just moved into Chelsea and just bought out my former partner, and slowly realizing that I simply didn't know how to move forward with the program we had built together. I felt paralyzed, spent countless sleepless nights in a panic, and in the end felt I had to take care of myself (emotionally and professionally). Which is perhaps ironic, because it's that degree of selfishness that we on the gallery side of the coin often associate with artists who leave their galleries for greener pastures. Like those discussed in the article by Roberta Smith in The New York Times today. It's titled "Dear Gallery: It Was Fun, but I’m Moving Up":
To interested onlookers, such parting of ways can be as unsettling as the sundering of a marriage of old friends. First you hear that the artist has left one gallery for another, or just left with no place to go, although new attachments often pop up suddenly. The news may come like a bolt from the blue or after months of rumors, courtship and offers that can’t be refused. The change may seen insane, or make perfect sense. The word sellout, however quaint these days, may be bruited about.

Some months later you receive the announcement for the artist’s first show under, well, new management, in a grander setting, with more lavish trimmings — perhaps a catalog and a pricier price list.

That announcement is like an invitation to a second wedding. It’s official; get used to it. Lots of people — the spurned dealer, other artists, longtime intimates or admirers — look on with mixed feelings while quietly parsing the event down to the last detail. They may wonder how “the work” looks in “the space”; what degree of rebranding (for artist and dealer alike) is involved; and who is or is not on the guest list for the post-opening dinner.
You should hear dealers bitch about those "disloyal" artists who move up the food chain. Each such move sends shock waves through the back offices of Chelsea. And yet, knowing some who have moved on (a few from our roster) to still be wonderful human beings, I take them at their word that in the end they did so because they had to take care of themselves, emotionally and professionally.

But where's the humanity in all this? Why, in an industry that still prides itself on being predominantly built on handshakes, do people feel screwed so frequently? Part of the reason may be that few folks in the art world ever worked in the cut-throat corporate world, where the notion of loyalty seems quaint. Companies merge, and thousands get pinkslipped on a constant basis. Decisions are made so far above the pay level of those affected that the idea of hurt feelings and upturned lives seems ridiculously irrelevant.

In the more mom-and-pop shop nature of the art world, though, there's no one that far above anyone. Every dealer knows each of his/her artists personally, and the good ones do feel sorry when things don't work out and try to ease the transition as best they can. Every artist understands that leaving their gallery will be difficult for them (it will can cause the gallery to have very unhappy collectors who were on waiting lists and lots of unpleasant questions to answer all the way around), and the considerate artists do leave as gently as they can. Believe me, this is much more humane than the way such partings are handled in other businesses, and that fact that it is such a big deal (as evidenced by the two pieces noted above) reflects well on the way business is done in general in the art industry in my opinion.

None of which truly makes it less awful when it happens to you (as either artist or dealer), though, I know. There is nothing I can write to conclude here that comes close to being as gorgeous and uplifting a sentiment, though, as how Nancy ended her post:
I still have to get up in the morning, and continue my career. It's not a bad one, I have some good things going, and my father's immortal words "this too shall pass", although hideously, unbearbly cornball, reminds me that this life is just one jangled thread of noise away from the big dirt sleep. So I'm picking myself up once again, and I'm looking forward to another walk on the wildside.
Consider this an open thread on the gallery-artist relationship. Do, also, please understand that I will not discuss private matters about specific artists.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Seeking Accurate Information

There's been about a zillion hits to my blog from stories in a host of languages, but mostly Russian for some reason, because Regina Hackett was kind enough to link to my posts about the Guilermo Vargas Habacuc's "starving dog" piece. I appreciate the traffic, even if it seems in some quarters that I approved of this vile idea.

Still, today, from London I get an email from a dear friend so offended by this notion that she asked me to assure her I would never let such a thing happen in my gallery. {{{How did I get roped in this????}}} She forwarded me a hyperbolic email with a link to a petition. The email insists that if people don't act, the artist will do this monstrous piece again:
Let's STOP HIM!!!!! the prestigious Visual Arts Biennial of the Central American decided that the 'installation' was actually art, so that Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel action for the biennial of 2008.
Here's the site with a petition she forwarded me a link to. My Spanish is not so good, but it seems to be objecting solely to the presence of Guillermo Habacuc Vargas in the 2008 Bienal Centroamericana Honduras as a response to his earlier "starving dog" piece.

From here I get even more confused, though. The article at the top of this petition site links to an article about the 2007 Bienal Costarricense de Artes Visuales (Bienarte), in which Vargas apparently presented a piece titled Jony leyendo y explicando (translation anyone?) Here's the image of that piece the article included:

Doesn't seem to be the dog piece.

Can anyone see (or report) any evidence that Vargas has been invited to repeat this piece?

Piecing this altogether, I come away with confused-at-best understanding that Bienarte is a multi-country (moving), multi-year event (anyone?) and that perhaps Vargas included one piece in the 2007 part of it, but might actually include the dog piece in the 2008 piece?

Honestly, I've never seen so much misinformation about an artist in my life. Can anyone help me here? I do think there are folks out there milking this to bring attention to themselves, but I would actually sign a petition to stop Vargas from repeating what I feel should be seen as a criminal piece.

UPDATE: At the risk of offending those for whom the central cruelty of the original idea outweighs the tangential issues (like whether petition creators are milking this issue for their own purposes), I have to share this classic image forwarded me by Conscientious's always insightful author, Joerg Colberg, who, for the record, is an avid animal rights advocate.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ethics in the Air (Museum-Market Coziness Edition)

Just as we've been all over the ethics of journalism and criticism in the arts, The Art Newspaper presents a very level-headed and carefully worded primer on the issues of ethics in museums' role in advancing the financial value of art work they exhibit. Written by Adrian Ellis (director of AEA Consulting), the piece outlines the fairly well-established general best practices for the staff and board members of museums:
[M]useums need, axiomatically, to be able to make decisions about acquisitions, whether bought or donated, and about the choice of works to borrow and display, free from pressure from third parties who may stand to gain from any increase in their value or the value of related works.

Obviously, there may be difficulties when those third parties are also responsible for the governance of the museum itself: that is, when they are also first parties. Museum boards are unsurprisingly filled with collectors who should, and usually do, formally recuse themselves from decisions that are likely to have an impact on the value of works that they own; most obviously, the decision to seek to borrow and display a work for a specific show, or the decision to acquire or de-accession works that have a relationship to their own holdings.
Ellis illustrates the issues with a good example of why this is important:
[I]f the Museum of Modern Art, New York, (MoMA) buys a Lawrence Weiner painting, then that’s good news if you happen to own one. And the more closely related your painting is to the MoMA’s, then the better news it is—most obviously, if it is painted during the same period; of the same quality; in the same medium; and the same size or bigger—the greater the impact of MoMA’s decision to acquire it will be on the price of your work. All other things being equal—which, of course, they rarely are—the greater the standing of the museum, then the greater the impact of its actions on the value of affected works.
Where it gets more nuanced, however, is where it gets more interesting and more akin to the kinds of issues that we discussed regarding critics. Ellis summarized two such "grayer" issues as such:
[S]hould museum staff be free to advise board members (or other collectors) on what they should be acquiring themselves, and should those board members who are also active collectors be free to acquire works informed, in effect, by the insider knowledge that they are making the same bets or judgments as the museum on whose board they serve?
[A]rt museums tend to object when a work on loan is “sold off their walls”. And when the whole exhibition is sold off they are seriously upset. Collectors benefit from a loan to a museum when the work’s value is enhanced and the loaned work is subsequently sold at a higher price than would have been possible without the provenance and public relations boost that the exhibition loan furnishes.
Examples cited of this include Saatchi selling works from the blockbuster Sensation exhibitions that rocked London and New York, "Alan and Simone Hartman’s collection of Chinese Jades displayed at the Boston Museum of Art in 2003-04 and subsequently sold at auction," and most recently Acquavella's acquisition of a contemporary Chinese collection after it had been shown at the Louisiana Museum (Denmark) and Israel Museum (Jerusalem). Of course, as the author acknowledges, the circumstances affecting any collector's need to sell their collection can and will change, but Ellis argues that museums must get "firmer assurances about intentions than they currently do" to avoid being played.

Clearly, in this age where collectors are calling more and more of the shots, that's easier to say than accomplish. Moreover, with precedents like Eli Broad's decision to change his mind about donating his collection on the eve of LACMA's grand opening of a museum named after him (and some of my friends who work in museums are still reeling from that), the degree of trust between collectors and museums is perhaps seeing some strain. Still, I have to side with Ellis and note, in particular with the newer museum trustees and board members, it's important that museums are clear about what the ethics guidelines are/should be with regards to using museums as marketing tools. Let the bad apples serve as cautionary tales and not be seen as the "way things are done." The museum's long-term reputation is more important than the momentary gain of bending the rules.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On Anti-Intellectual Politics

There's a notion in the US and increasingly abroad (see this article by Michael Kimmelman in today's New York Times on France's new president) that there's something noble or endearing or perhaps merely more honest about politicians who naturally relate to the "average person" (or however one must phrase that imagined stationary segment of the population this week so that it doesn't do double duty as a condescending term [see: irony]). This quality is praised (and is certainly cultivated by spinmeisters) as if it were some indication of true empathy that will prevent a leader from turning his/her back on the average person once in power.

In this era of sound-bite campaigning, this feigned quality most frequently exhibits itself in the form of anti-intellectualism: hence campaigners use folksy terms and nicknames or reference some low-brow local attraction or go bowling or drinking in a pub, so they're hopefully seen by the voters as just like them and, above all, not too smart. You're allowed to be smart. Street smarts or "common" sense are OK, but being "intellectual" is a problem.

Indeed, "intellectual" has come to connote "too smart," suggesting you're out of touch with the values of (again, who? average people? common people? those making less than 100,000 a year? what term works here that isn't as insulting as it is supposedly worth emulating?) the majority? of voters. Further, being anti-intellectual rallies the press to your supposedly populist side (it doesn't take an intellectual to understand the press' interest in keeping everyone a champion of the lowest common denominator; just watch the commercials that follow their reports on the campaigns).

It's time someone calls this charade what it is, though.

But let's start with a few clarifications. There is a significant difference between being intellectual and being an intellectualist. Intellectualism (like Islamism or Christianism) is an extreme. (Just as anti-intellectualism is.) Any "ism," by definition, is a fundamentalist point of view and an overindulgence, IMHO. I wouldn't want an intellectualist (someone who sees intellectualism as the absolute truth/way [i.e., someone who thinks learning is more important than doing]) to be president. Likewise, however, I wouldn't want an anti-intellectualist to be president (again, that is). I would, however, hope that we as a nation agree that it's a good idea to elect the brightest among us to serve as our leaders. I would hope that we want to elect someone with intellect. Someone smarter than our enemies. Someone who can figure out how to get us out of jams. Someone who's curious enough to read a report that lands on his/her desk describing how a terrorist group is determined to strike within our borders, for just one example.

In fact, for me that is the essential and laudable aspect of being intellectual: an insatiable curiosity. Without curiosity, a leader is likely to be too lazy to plan appropriately (like, oh, say, to handle an insurgence in a country you just invaded) or check in with his/her staff to ensure they're doing their jobs or ready for an emergency (like, oh, say, a hurricane). In this sense, being curious simply means you're driven to keep learning; you'll use study, reflection, and speculation to solve problems or plan for events. That happens to be the definition of being intellectual as well.

So here is where this popular anti-intellectual stance reveals itself to be fraud. The current President's poor popularity ratings are the direct result of his lack of curiosity, his lack of using enough reflection and/or speculation to be adequately prepared to expect the insurgency in Iraq or handle the aftermath of Katrina. In other words, the President's popularity ratings indicate Americans don't really want an incurious leader. They do want an intellectual leader. (They just don't want to elect someone they think won't relate to them once they're in power.)

In terms of what's happened to Obama this past week, let's not confuse the two issues. Whether Obama will be able to relate to the "average" people of Pennsylvania if he's elected is certainly a valid question. Whether or not he's too intellectual to be president is a moronic interpretation of this question. Personally, I think his years of working to help underprivileged citizens of Chicago, despite the call of high-profile law firms, is a good indication of whether Obama will forget the needs of "average" people once he's in office.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Robert Smithson of Our Time : Open Thread

I'm in Syracuse today, jurying the 2008 Biennial exhibition of regional art at the Everson Museum of Art. The building itself was the first museum designed by I.M. Pei, and was dubbed a "a work of art for works of art" when it first opened. I have a lot of work to do today, so I'll keep the post short, but don't let that keep you from being verbose.

The Juicy Feud Friday Post led to where Catherine Spaeth asked an interesting question that I think should be its own thread, so I'll throw it out there:
notice how when you reach for an example of an artist who writes, it's Donald Judd? Can't we admit to a nostalgia for the early years of Artforum? Avalanche? etc.? Is there a Robert Smithson of our time? Who do you think that is?
Consider this an open thread.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Juicy Feud Friday

In the March-April issue of FlashArt, there's a short article I was invited to write (they don't post the article on their website, unfortunately). In it I tried to deal calmly and rationally with the issues raised by the Tyler Green--Christian Viveros-Fauné controversy. Knowing, and greatly admiring, both of the main protagonists in this incident, I tried to avoid discussing personalities in rounding up what I saw as the more interesting aspects of ethics, criticism and journalism (the last two of which I'm not convinced are the same).

I hereby acknowledge how futile my feeble attempt to facilitate a graceful endnote to the issue has proven.

Jump to the Brooklyn Rail's March issue, where James Kalm poured a nice gallon or two of petrol on the ambers by writing:
Most bloggers cheered, hailing Green for nailing an influential critic, and dealing Viveros-Fauné his comeuppance. Many members of the New York critical community just grumbled and circled the wagons. Some blamed the new pusillanimous management at the Voice for folding so fast. The final results, other than driving thousands of eyeballs to Modern Art Notes (Green’s site), and giving the fingers of countless bloggers a thorough workout, is yet to be seen. For anyone with local experience, the art world is and always has been nothing other than one giant knot of conflicting interests, whether political, financial, institutional, professional, sexual, or pharmaceutical. As a fan and champion of both the art blogosphere and the New York scene, I’m conflicted. Yes, it’s great to see the real world take action when prodded by the virtual, but, call me a chauvinist, I don’t think out-of-towners possess a realistically sensitive view of the subtle relationships that make up this particular milieu.
Mr. Green responded with a letter to the editor, which is published in the April issue of the Brooklyn Rail:
I appreciate James Kalm’s attention to the ongoing shift in arts journalism from dull, academic, little-read art magazines to nimbler, smarter, internet-based publishing as discussed in his March, 2008 article “The Ethics of Aesthetics.” Unfortunately his article was riddled with errors and sloppy reporting.
There's a good deal of classic snark in Tyler's response, including this gem:
(As part of this Gotham-centric harangue Mr. Kalm confesses that he is a chauvinist because he thinks that people who don’t live in New York are too clueless to write about New York. Finally I agree with him: he is certainly a provincial chauvinist.)
But the fur really flies when Mr. Viveros-Fauné replies, also published in the April issue of the Brooklyn Rail. He begins with what is essentially my argument [edited to include only the point I'd make in all this]:
People read critics for their insights and judgements.... The record, and a fine one it is, of people having more than one interest in the world of culture is legendary: from Rimbaud to Pound to Kenneth Tynan to nearly the entire NY Review of Books to, say, Robert Storr (a writer, an art commentator always, and recently the head of the Venice Biennial, an event with nuclear effects on the market as opposed to the two new young fairs I contribute to).
But then Christian unleashes with the sort of writing that drove me to admire his talents in the first place (even as he steps right into the center of personalityville):
The idea of his absurd posturing as some kind of crusading policeman of the art world couldn’t be more risible, except a not-very-acute if well-intentioned editor-in-chief of VV bought it. Appointing him watchdog of the art world would be like asking Roy Cohn to watch a kindergarten class in Costa Rica. What’s more obvious even is that, like Hilton Perez (or maybe, come to think of it, Hilton Perez crossed with Elliot Spitzer), blogging for Tyler Greene aims principally to effect one single change above all others: to promote Tyler Greene, whose sole, obsessive, one-note, pulingly censorious idea recently had him objecting to the participation of folks like Jerry Saltz and Peter Schjeldahl at an Obama rally. Really! Now what can you say about that? That Greene is for people expressing their opinions, political, artistic, or otherwise? Or that he’s the Mickey Mouse version of a bully, squealing to high heaven for a fight in the hopes that the full playground will actually protect him from the effects of one.
Just the other day I was complaining to someone that there are no great public battles in the art world anymore (nothing like the classics we still see among literary figures, such as the feud between Wolfe and Mailer). With no well-defined camps beating each other up in successive addendums to their manifestos, a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking the entire system took Rodney King's plea to heart and decide to just all get along.

The fact that this feud is about criticism and not art doesn't make it any less juicy to my mind. It's all very good food for thought and classic snarky writing. Knowing both men have much more pressing matters to attend to in their lives, I don't actually wish it to continue...that is, unless they promise to keep it as fresh and funny. Just so long as no one puts an eye out.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Creativity, Dementia and Gallerinas (Again) : Not Necessarily Related

So I wanted to see what I might figure out by comparing two articles on creativity and illness. One from the Washington Post was forwarded to me by George of FutureModern (thanks George!) and deals with how creative expression helps people recover from illness and such:

The approach is based on the assumption that incorporating music, visual art, writing and performance into clinical care can increase feelings of well-being and even improve health -- an assumption that medical researchers are beginning to recognize the need to test with evidence-based studies.

Growing belief in the healing value of the arts was on display last month at a symposium at New York's Museum of Modern Art titled "The Value and Importance of the Arts in Health Care." Participants -- physicians, hospital administrators and artists -- were as upbeat as if they were promoting a miracle drug: Integrating the arts into health care is in vogue, said Leonard Shlain, a laparoscopic surgeon in San Francisco, "because it works."

The other I stumbled across in the Health section of The New York Times and it deals with somewhat the a form of dementia seems to actually increase creative output in its victims:
The disease apparently altered circuits in their brains, changing the connections between the front and back parts and resulting in a torrent of creativity.

“We used to think dementias hit the brain diffusely,” Dr. [Bruce Miller, a neurologist and the director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco] said. “Nothing was anatomically specific. That is wrong. We now realize that when specific, dominant circuits are injured or disintegrate, they may release or disinhibit activity in other areas. In other words, if one part of the brain is compromised, another part can remodel and become stronger.”

But we're getting ready for the next art fair (by which I mean the NEXT Art Fair) in Chicago, and so I am too pressed for time to do the comparison-contrast myself at the moment ... but, all means, feel free to see if you find any connections.

Besides, a reader calling themselves "Once a Gallerina" left such a great comment on the "Don't Hassle the Gallerinas" thread, I thought it deserved its own post. I agree with virtually everything Once a Gallerina notes here. I might be a bit more sympathetic to the frustration of artists seeking representation (although not at all sympathetic to those who think they should try to muscle their way into one), but otherwise, this made me smile in that painfully knowing way:
It's amazing to read these comments from people who never were in that position. I once worked as a front-desk person at a fairly well-known Chelsea gallery. I did not have trust funds, etc...and I needed that money. I quickly figured out that it wasn't for me. But I learned a lot about the less-gossiped about aspects of the art business.

The most amazing thing to observe is how truly rude visitors can be and how megalomaniacal so many people are. The gallery management was temperamental and contrary to overall perception, reception is where you sit, but the actual job has very little to do with it. I was also not allowed to leave the gallery for lunch, ever. I am not kidding, at least three times I day there would be a person **demanding** a solo show, a meeting with the director, a teenager asking why he couldn't just "get one of these exhibitions" you do, a request to drop off "portfolios"...people would get very angry, really. At a certain point, you are able to spot the people who are coming in with these kinds of requests. A lot of gallery visitors are not as informed about the gallery system as one would think. Others have transparent agendas.

All of the above would be especially angry that a "little" person would get in the way for their dreams of grandeur. I would always alert the staff if the big collectors were in, curators, museum directors, etc...**that** is the audience the galleries cultivate in order to make sure the artist's work can be seen for the long term.

As for Eric's request for catalogues, are you kidding? Galleries are not going to give away catalogues, only if the press person is writing articles on their artists. That makes sense, don't you think? Galleries work to show and contextualize artists part of it means spending their energy and resources in a focused manner. If every visitor got the attention they wanted, there would be very little accomplished at the end of the day.

People seem to think that galleries are awash with endless amounts of money ... that's not necessarily the case. There is really high overhead.
Consider this an open thread on creativity, dementia and gallerinas--not that I'm implying any connections there, mind you.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Obama Fundraiser in Chelsea Tonight!

Tonight, at Alexander Gray Gallery, there's a fundraiser for Senator Barack Obama. Details below:

Wine, Art and Change

Please join

Ann Marie Gardner
Alexander Gray and David Cabrera
Gillian MacKenzie

in our support of Barack Obama at an art gallery reception.

Wednesday 9 April 2008, 6-9 PM

Alexander Gray Associates
526 West 26 Street, Suite 1019
Between 10th and 11th Avenues
New York, NY

Suggested donations of $150 and up to the Barack Obama Campaign.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Better MFA Thesis Exhibition Experience?

Last year I endured a fair bit of grief (most of which I still don't quite understand) in response to my decision to present a short exhibition of work by graduating MFA photographers. To my mind, it was easy. The students had asked charmingly if I would host it, I know it was fun for them, we tried to be careful about context and arrangements, and it was educational (despite what some readers here argued). To epitomize the passion of some of the opposing views, there was this:
Looks bad, anyway. I'm curious what the other artists you represent think. I know it would make me cringe.

Actually, it already makes me cringe.. . it would probably make me vomit with anger.
It never got much better than that, either. (Sidebar: I can't let this opportunity pass to note that this statement now brings to mind what Sartre once wrote, that what you vomit must surely already be within you, so I'm not sure the "anger" noted here was entirely caused by the exhibition, but....).

I'd still support commercial galleries presenting MFA work in carefully structured contexts (i.e., being clear these are students, that they approached the gallery, that the gallery is taking time to share information and insights with the students about the gallery system, etc....what more real-world seminar is there out there for those students interested in how it all works?), but having been bloodied somewhat for my efforts (and having a full schedule already), I won't be doing so this Spring.

Besides, at the recent Pulse Art Fair in New York, I learned of perhaps an even more informative exhibition idea that still gets the students out of the same university/community galleries that they've generally already worked with (not that there's not tons to learn in those, but as MFA candidates preparing to head out in to the wide world, it's good that they get as broad an experience elsewhere as possible, IMHO). And, to silence the angry critics, it's not at all commercial. The fabulous photographer and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago instructor Brian Ulrich told me about the program and passed along the following details:

German and American photography at the Chicago Cultural Center, April 19 – July 6, 2008 and the Werkschauhalle, Spinnerei, Leipzig, May 17–June 14

Three Hours Between Planes: Contemporary Photography from Leipzig and Chicago presents the work of eleven young German and American artists using photography, who received training at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (Academy of Visual Arts) of Leipzig.

The photography, video, and installation work in this exhibition presents a new generation of artists: Jill Frank, Sveinn Johansson, Lilly McElroy, Stefanie Kiwitt, Elise Rasmussen, Chelsea Tonelli Knight, Andreas Schulze, Scott Wiener, Stefan Fischer, Dominique Koch and Jan Sledz.

Moving away from the monumental photography of the 1970s, these artists focus on the common place, on personal observations, and on the irony of the everyday.

Three Hours Between Planes will be on view at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Michigan Avenue Galleries, from April 19 to July 6, 2008 with an opening reception on Friday, April 25, from 6-8 p.m. A companion exhibition is showing concurrently at the Werkschauhalle at the famous Spinnerei complex in Leipzig, May 17 – June 15, opening May 16, 2008.
As much as I enjoyed our exhibition and know the students learned something through it, in hindsight I'd have to say that, had I been exposed to this MFA exhibition model, I would have recommended to the students approaching me that they try organizing this type of exchange exhibition instead. I'm sure there's more work (and more to learn) in organizing it than there was for a commercial gallery show, and so it's probably less likely to happen for some groups of students, but it's clearly 1) not "tainted" by commerce; 2) a chance to collaborate with other artists in a real-world group exhibition context (artists other than the same ones they've been exhibiting/studying/partying with for years); and 3) a chance to travel further than they would to Chelsea or another commercial gallery district.

I'm not sure how popular such an approach might already be at US universities, but as this is the first I'm hearing of such a venture, I'm hoping, quite frankly, that many other universities would consider similar approaches to making their MFA candidates' final exhibitions so memorable and educational. It might also lead to a bit less anger-induced vomit out there.

UPDATE: Our friend and fellow gallerist Leigh Conner of Conner Contemporary Art in DC has been hosting annual invitational exhibitions to highlight the work of fine art graduates of Washington / Baltimore area college art programs for over 7 years now, dispelling the myth that gallery exhibitions for graduating art students is some new trend spurred on by the recently hot art market.

Labels: ,

Monday, April 07, 2008

More Evidence that the Answer Is "No" : Open Thread

In her current solo project at Dumbo's Smack Mellon space, Jennifer Dalton has a piece that serves as an "Insta-Survey" (you can see Jen talk about the exhibition in a video on Smack Mellon's site). Visitors are asked to choose Yes or No to the following question: "Are Times of Recession Good For Art?"

As I'm sure will surprise no one, I voted "No." Times of recession are not good for art, in my opinion. Of course, we've been all over this question on this blog with some arguing that too much money in the art market tends to make the art more boring as younger artists (in particular) get swept up in producing to meet demand rather than gestating or working through their ideas thoroughly enough, or something like that. [UPDATE: Don't miss this round-up of a MoMA-hosted ADAA panel discussion titled "Is The Killer Art Market Killing Art?" on Joanne Mattera's blog.]

But two recent articles by the husband-wife super critics of New York, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith, seem to indicate that there's a flavor to this question that isn't only important to consider, but, much more importantly, vindicates my point of view. Specifically, once you conclude that times of recession are good or bad for "art," the next question becomes "whose art?"

Although I still believe the jury is out on whether hot art markets are good for up-and-coming artists, I'm pretty sure now that hot art markets can be very good for artists who've been overlooked. Indeed, in his January 24th article that included a review of a show by one of my favorite contemporary painters, Joyce Pensato, Jerry stated it perfectly:
One of the good things about the supposedly evil art boom—setting aside for the moment the notion that it may be destabilizing right now— is that underknown mid-career artists are getting second chances at recognition.
Then today in The New York Times, Roberta writes a glowing review of the current exhibition by Doris Lee at D. Wigmore Fine Art. Who and where you ask? That's precisely my point:
[The exhibition includes] around 50 paintings, gouaches and drawings by Doris Lee (1905-1983), an artist whose name initially rang no bells at all. Ms. Lee’s sophisticated fusion of folk and modernist painting ran the gamut from Grandma Moses to a rather prim Abstract Expressionism. The arc was clearly intriguing, as was D. Wigmore Fine Art itself. It is in a building on Fifth Avenue near 57th Street along with other galleries known to me. Inside, it looks like something that Douglas Sirk might have dreamed up. Three trim desks sit squarely in the exhibition space, and the paintings are hung cheek by jowl on brass rods descending from the molding. Deco-ish high-gloss South American rosewood paneling here and there radiate an impossible sheen.

If D. Wigmore Fine Arts struck me as a place where time had paused a bit, that may be because history, as you think you know it, becomes unsettled here. Ms. Wigmore is one of several New York dealers who mostly represent estates of mid-20th-century artists who are suffering from at least momentary neglect.

Since she began handling the Lee estate in the mid-1980s, she has mounted around 10 shows of the artist’s work. Ms. Wigmore’s view is that while her artists may never again be part of the current scene, they can always re-enter history.

My central argument here is still technically unproven, I'll admit. Essentially I'm attributing the ability of overlooked artists to "re-enter" history to the fact that there's so much money about in the art market that galleries can afford to highlight them (which can also be read as the galleries have run out of inventory on their other artists). That doesn't seem to be the case with Wigmore, who focuses on such artists, though, but I'm pretty sure the amount of money about helps that mission too. I'm also leaving out museums or not-for-profit spaces that might on their own take a fresh look at a previously overlooked artists, but there again, the hotness of the market impacts the number of people lining up to become trustees (i.e., donating money) and helps expand their capacity in this regard as well.

So given all that evidence, I'll conclude that I'm more right than wrong and smugly move along to getting myself a cup of joe. Consider this an open thread on overlooked artists, re-entering history, and the impact of the market conditions on both.

See image at NYTimes: “The Violinist, Woodstock” by Doris Lee.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 04, 2008

Interest-Free Loans to Buy Art

I'm not entirely sure what to make of a proposal made in the French Parliament yet. In response to the news (after an Artprice survey) that France had fallen to 4th place (China replaced them at 3rd) in sales of art, the French government is proposing interest-free loans (up to $10,000) to less wealthy people toward the purchase of art. The idea is designed to entice private individuals who might otherwise think they're not rich enough to start buying art, as well as, obviously, to help younger artists with price points in that range.

From the BBC [via]:

Banks providing the loans will be compensated through tax breaks for corporate art patronage.

Small businesses, too, are to be given greater tax incentives to buy art works and auction houses will be modernised.

An independent study by art market experts Artprice showed France with 6.4% of art sales worldwide in 2007.

China has 7.3%, Britain 29.7% and the US 41.7%, according to the survey.

Figures suggest the French art market is growing at only 13%, compared with 36% globally.

Apparently similar programs have been introduced in Britain and The Netherlands. This description of how the UK's "Own Art" program (which Bill Gusky blogged about last month) is working in Scotland lays out the details, including who's eligible (on both the buying and selling end):
Own Art offers interest free loans (typical 0% APR) of £100 to £2,000, which are repaid in regular instalments, making it easier for people to buy high quality contemporary art and crafts. By encouraging sales in a wide range of visual art and craft including painting, sculpture, photography and ceramics, Own Art aims to encourage new buyers and patrons of contemporary art and develop the visual arts economy through increasing sales, which will benefit both galleries and artists.
The following is a bit eyebrow-raising though:
Galleries are selected by an independent panel which assesses each application based on certain criteria including the quality of work on sale, their professional relationship with artists, the quality of exhibition space and the knowledge and training of staff.
I mean, I can see where that might prevent con artists (if you'll excuse the obvious irony of that term in this context) from opening up a space and raking it in with bogus crap. But then again, who's to decide ultimately what's bogus or crap if not the purchasing public?

The list of galleries participating in this program in London includes some top notch spaces, I must say, but I also noted a good number of obvious omissions, making me wonder whether the program is pointless for some galleries (i.e., they don't have work for sale in that price range) or whether there might be some downside to the program that makes it less interesting for them. Londoners? Can you educate me here?

But back to my originally stated uncertainty about this. I'm not a raging free market nut by any means, and I appreciate that one goal of such programs is to help emerging artists, but there's a little voice in the back of my head saying there's a longer-term side effect of this that will possibly do more harm than good. Also, I'm also not so sure the nationalistic pride component that's driving France to this measure isn't antiquated in the global market.

If nationalism has to play a role (because that's what politicians do), then rather than put energies into making it easier to buy or sell the art France is producing (which, quite frankly, can be seen as somewhat insulting on one level...the notion that French artists needs a government program to help them compete), why not put the money into promoting it to a wider audience instead? To be blunt, I think the reason France slipped to #4 has more to do with China's relentless promoting of their art (and culture in general) than any discernible difference in quality among collectors.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Visual AIDS Web Gallery

Max-Carlos Martinez (our gallery's Associate Director) and I have co-curated this month's Visual AIDS Web Gallery. Titled "Red, White & Blue," it mixes politics with passion (how surprising for us, no?). The depth of the slide archive at Visual AIDS made our choices much more difficult than I had originally thought it would, but Nelson and Amy were such a pleasure to work with, we enjoyed the entire process. Here's the opening of our curatorial statement:
Given the commotion of the current Presidential campaign season, the cacophony of the highly contentious times in which we live, and the strong range of emotional associations of the three colors that characterize our nation's patriotic symbols, choosing "Red, White & Blue" as the theme for our Visual AIDS Web Gallery seemed an instantly obvious choice as we approached the slide archive. Running with the trilogy concept, we decided to choose work that included 1) "Red, White & Blue" as subject matter; 2) one or a combination of the colors as a formal device; or 3) one of the colors as a predominant emotional cue or metaphor.
The artists whose work we chose include Ronald Casanova, Joe DeHoyos, Donna Haggerty, Reynold Hauser, Bryan Hoffman, Nancer LeMoins, Fran Lewis, Marc Lida, Eduardo Mirales, Joe Monroe, Frank Moore, Luna Luis Ortiz, Tara Popick, David Reyes, Daniel Roberts, James Romberger, Rene Santos, Hugh Steers, Ferenc Suto, and TRET.

Please visit the Web Gallery, and while you're at it, save the date for the 3rd Annual Visual AIDS Vanguard Awards Spring Benefit, Strike!, which this year honors Yoko Ono and Tony Feher. Bambino and I had a blast at this event last year and highly recommend it.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"I Dream of the Stans" : TimeOut New York's "Best in Video"

TimeOut New York has selected our current show, "I Dream of the Stans: New Central Asian Video" as this week's "Best in Video" exhibition. I know it's time-based and all that, but if you're in the hood, please do stop in to see this show. It is looking like it's going to travel to a few other locations (not all in the US, though). We, needless to say, are very proud of this show.


Don't Hassle the Gallerinas

Sung to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (with sincere apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber):
Don't hassle the Gallerinas
The truth is they don't disdain you
For what they suffer
Ensconced in Prada
Their compensation
Borders on nada
Jan Hoffman has penned a charming profile of today's gallerina. Published in the Fashion section the Times on Sunday, I've just only happened upon it.

We discussed the reasons people misread the attitudes of the gallery staff who face the public. Back in 2005, I suggested:
If a gallery goer knows what they're looking for, or is genuinely interested in learning about the work, they'll get past the gallerina and on to the director or someone who can help them, with no problem. If all they want to do is vent about how much they hate contemporary art (and it's stunning how many people interested in that will punish themselves by going to galleries), the gallerinas develop the necessary skills to respond accordingly.
Although her article focuses on fashion and posturing, Hoffman more or less reveals the same sentiment:

[Alexis Rose] and other gallery assistants throughout Chelsea defended their seeming frostiness. For them it is almost protective layering, a zone of privacy emanating from harried young women who are on display, even as upper-echelon staff work in back rooms.

On Saturdays, they are barraged by people dashing in from the street looking for restrooms; who, when denied access, can turn nasty (“Do I have to spend $2 million on a painting just so I can use your bathroom?”); and sniggeringly pose that war horse of rhetorical questions: who buys this stuff?

The answer, in case you're curious, is "No." Only after spending $6 million do you earn restroom privileges. $2 million might get you a paper cup, but don't push it.

I've heard so many people discuss the issue of why gallery staff seem standoffish over the years, but never has anyone been as direct about it as Hoffman is in the following:

Assistants hold the public at arm’s length because, frankly, that’s not where the gallery’s clients come from. Top dealers, who must manage an artist’s career and cachet, are exquisitely selective about buyers. The public is almost irrelevant: encouraged to look and buzz loudly, but that’s about it.

“A gallery is not like a retail store,” explained Ms. Plummer of Lehmann Maupin. “For every 100 people who walk in, maybe one-half of one person actually buys something. It’s rare that collectors even come to the galleries — it’s mostly art advisers. And they have appointments.”

So should the buzzing-but-not-buying public feel used? Shouldn't they expect a certain degree of access for their role in spreading the word?

I think the equally direct response to that is they do get an incredible degree of access, as galleries are entirely free. Regardless of how much it costs to produce the exhibition, no one is collecting entrance fees. If a gallery can't afford a steady stream of passersby trudging through their offices to tie up their restrooms, I think it's entirely disingenuous of those denied access to protest as if they've been profiled and maligned. The cheap restaurant down the street posts a sign saying "Restroom for Customers Only" (meaning, most certainly paying customers). Are folks denied things in a gallery truly so surprised?

I'll go one step further here and admit that you don't have to buy $6 million of art to gain restroom privileges in most galleries. Being a regular visitor will most likely do. What galleries can't afford, honestly, is for folks who don't care about what they have on the walls to decide their facilities are simply the most convenient for them. In our building, for example, another business in the area who didn't want to let folks use their restrooms told the steady stream of people asking them that they should sneak into ours. This led to a parade of folks coming and going, so to speak, all day until we asked one of them why they thought this was appropriate. You didn't want to be the guy in that other business I spoke to when I learned the truth.

So give the public-facing gallery staff a break as you make the rounds. Treat them like you understand the types of questions they get all day, the situations they have to handle, and you'll probably find, perhaps over time, that they'll recognize and appreciate seeing you.

UPDATE: I guess I see things too much from the gallery point of view. As Eric, rightly, points out in the comments, most folks reading here would not be the same people likely to abuse gallery staff. And Joerg takes objection to the notion expressed in the article that gallery receptionists ever have justification for boorish behavior:
Maybe it's because I am so immensely old-fashioned that I expect anyone who I ask a simple and polite question to give me at least an equally simple and polite answer. It's what is called basic manners or common courtesy. And for me, courtesy does not depend on who one is talking to. Imagine someone asks you for directions on the street: Would you base your decision on whether to give directions or not on what the person looked like? Clearly not (hopefully, that is). So yes, you might be busy "e-mailing jpegs of artwork to collectors, writing news releases, updating a gallery’s inventory or simply ordering lunch for the staff" or doing whatever it is you're doing, but still that doesn't mean that you're somehow absolved from the rules of courtesy, which, after all, provide the basic glue that makes living in large groups possible.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sell, Sell, Sell !!!

Just kidding....April Fools!

Image: William Powhida, Market Crash, 2007, pencil, watercolor on paper, 31 x 24 inches, private collection.