Friday, May 30, 2008

A Lack of Faith or Just a Lag in Understanding?

My poor chemistry teacher. She patiently tried to explain the concept to my satisfaction, but eventually gave up and said that, because of the way I was asking the question, it was clear I wouldn't understand the concept until later in the course, when some other things were clarified. For the time being, however, I'd just have to accept what she told me and move on.

Unfortunately for me, such a leap of faith was impossible for my teenage mind, and I don't think I actually learned another thing for the rest of that year in chemistry. This penchant caused me problems in German as well, where the teacher would suggest I keep reading, rather than look up each word I didn't understand, and cull the meaning from context. I looked up each word instead. If I didn't get it, my mind shut down. No faith for you, chemistry concept. Keine Glaube fuer dich, Chemievorstellung (the brutality of that translation explains why my teacher was right to steer me away from my attempts at word-by-word comprehension, btw). But to bullheaded Ed, if the meaning wasn't clear, if I couldn't grasp and tuck away the idea to then build upon it with more complex concepts, my brain would sit down, legs crossed on the floor, with a big pout, and not budge. I'm happy to say I've matured a bit since then (perhaps), but still very much understand the impulse.

This notion came back to me when traipsing through one of my favorite sections of ArtNews: their Retrospective segment, where they group quotes from 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago, generally verifying that the more things change, the more they say the same. From their June issue came this gem:
75 Years Ago
M. Matisse’s most engaging statement was undoubtedly his pat reply to the World Telegram’s inquiry as to the aesthetic perceptions of rich old lady patrons:

"When a painting is finished, it’s like a new born child, and the artist himself must have time for understanding. How then, do you expect an amateur to understand that which the artist does not yet comprehend?"
—“Matisse Speaks,” June 3, 1933
We've already been all over how unlike giving birth creating a painting is, but I think perhaps Henri's second idea here provides insight into what I see as evidence that not only does the general public not give itself enough credit with regards to how much they "get" (or don't "get") contemporary art, but that artists should care more about what other artists think about their work than the public if they're attempting to break new ground or push beyond what they think they know.

But there are two ideas in there, so I'll tease them out. First is the observation that the general public, which is frequently cited as not really getting (i.e., liking) much of contemporary art, might be getting a bum rap on that. Consider the widespread public reaction to Impressionism when it first hit the salons. Critics and amateurs alike were aghast. Today, however, an Impressionism exhibition is almost a guaranteed blockbuster for any museum. Likewise with pure abstraction, which perhaps only a few decades ago was still widely being labeled as fraudulent, but increasingly I hear as cited as casual art lovers' favorite genre of painting. In other words, the public does seem, eventually, to catch up with the artists. Matisse's assessment, then, isn't a condemnation of the amateur, but merely an honest observation that comprehension can take time and if you're not up to your hips in an investigation or practice, it can take you even longer.

The other idea, my not being an artist, represents perhaps a bit of talking through my hat, but I can only imagine how much courage it takes to keep working on a new concept/approach to one's art when there's only head-scratching (or worse) in response by the general public. When I talk with student artists about the importance of building a support network if they want to enter into the art world's gallery system, I nearly always see a bit of resistance to the idea that the most important subgroup within that network should be other artists. "Aren't they my competition for getting into a gallery?" Only if you're making essentially the same work, would be my honest reply, but instead of saying that I focus on how even the best art dealers and curators out there won't be as good a sounding board as fellow artists oftentimes. Letting a dealer or curator, who might have agendas far different from why an artist is investigating unchartered terrain, impact whether he or she continues down that path seem an unavoidable reality of the art world, but without at least comparing such advice with that of artist friends first, I can't help but think the artist is denying him/herself potentially the best evaluation.

OK, so I see I'm rambling. Thank God I don't have an editor on this thing. Otherwise, I might have to go back and make more sense of some of that...but coffee calls.

Happy Weekend all.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New Berensons?

Hmmmm..., I say...Hmmmmm

Two former museum chiefs are heading to New York—and to positions at high-profile contemporary-art galleries. David Ross, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, has become a partner in Albion with Michael Hue-Williams, while Robert Fitzpatrick, most recently director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, has been named international managing director of Haunch of Venison.

“I wanted to work more closely with artists, rather than patrons and trustees,” says Ross, explaining his transition to the commercial side of the industry. Fitzpatrick agrees, describing dealers as having a “passion for art, artists and helping their work become better known.”

Alright, Ed, get off say, what's all this hmmm'ing about?

Well, with all due respect to my friends in museums, whom I have the utmost respect for, I've always gotten this sense from many of them that the commercial gallery system is seen as somewhat, shall we say, tainted, in their circles. This notion is exemplified by nothing so much as the fact that it's widely believed to be harder for a commercial gallerist to become a major curator or director of a museum than it is for a camel to squeeze through the eye of needle. And yet, as we see, the constriction seems to apply in only one direction.

Don't get me wrong, I wish Misters Ross and Fitzpatrick only the best of success and happiness in their new endeavors, it's just that, after all these years of feeling somewhat like the arms dealer at a peace conference when discussing artists careers among curators or museum directors (and admittedly, that might be my own personal insecurity more so than any bias on the part of most of the museum folks I know), it is somewhat reassuring to see a former museum director acknowledging that "dealers [have] a 'passion for art, artists and helping their work become better known.'”

Will we see more migrations from the museum to the commercial side of things? Is this a sign of the times?

Of course, most of my sensibilities about this are perhaps outdated, stemming, as they do from my love of biographies of past art world luminaries. Indeed, the title of this post references one Bernard Berenson (1865 - 1959), the highly respected art historian and Renaissance expert, who had his reputation somewhat soiled by being seen as a bit too entangled with the doings of art dealer Joseph Duveen. To many people, Berenson's reputation never totally recovered, even after the two parted ways. Of course, perhaps Berenson's star got tarnished more because he worked with Duveen via a secret agreement that was exposed during his testimony in a high-profile trial that Duveen had to settle out of court (a collector sued Duveen for claiming, without seeing it, that the Da Vinci she wanted to sell, was in fact by someone else).

I actually think any gallery would be lucky to have former museum staff working for them. The education, standards, and best practices they'd bring would be a remarkable asset in the gallery's efforts to promote its artists. I just couldn't let it pass unhighlighted that a former museum director had justified such a move because "I wanted to work more closely with artists, rather than patrons and trustees." I'll hold my head just a little bit higher among my museum friends from now on. ;-P

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Long Overdue Statement and a Long Way Yet to Go

UPDATE: Daniel Boese, who interviewed the artists for Zitty, provides more details of the unveiling on Included is a quote by gay Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, that summarizes why some of the politics about how late this is, who it's not memorializing, and who else should be recognized, are perhaps missing the larger point: “there can be no hierarchy of victims.” That cuts both ways. Each memorial should remind us of all the victims, whether directly or indirectly.
The last known survivor of Nazi Germany's persecution of gays, Pierre Seel (who had been deported from France to the Schirmeck-Vorbrück camp, by the compliant Vichy Regime), died in November 2005. Pierre's ordeal is well-documented, though, because he wrote a memoir of his life (including how after 6 months of forced labor, he was inexplicably conscripted into the German army [one assumes because in a time of a manpower crisis the Nazis weren't as bothered by his sexual orientation]). Titled
Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel, his account of the camp is as harrowing as any I've read of WWII:
There was no solidarity for the homosexual prisoners; they belonged to the lowest caste. Other prisoners, even when between themselves, used to target them.

[...] But I delay from relating what was the worst test for me, when, in fact, it happened in the first few weeks of my being imprisoned in the camp. It contributed more than anything to turning me into this silent and obedient shadow among others. One day, the loudspeakers ordered us to report immediately to the Appellplatz. Shouts and barks meant that we all quickly got there. Surrounded by SS men, we had to form a square and stand at attention, as we did for morning roll call. The commandant was in attendance with his entire general staff. I assumed he was going to bludgeon us once again with his blind faith in the Reich, together with a list of instructions, insults and threats -- emulating the famous outpourings of his master, Adolf Hitler. But the actual ordeal was far worse: an execution. Two SS men brought a young man to the centre of the square we were forming. Horrified, I recognized Jo, my sweet 18 year old friend. I hadn't previously spotted him in the camp. Had he arrived before or after me? We hadn't seen each other during the days before I was summoned by the Gestapo. I froze in terror. I had prayed that he would escape their roundups, their lists, their humiliations. And here he was, before my powerless eyes, which filled with tears. Unlike me, he had not carried dangerous letters, torn down posters or signed any statements. And yet he had been taken, and he was going to die. The lists were complete indeed. What had happened? What had the monsters accused him of? Because of my pain, I have completely forgotten the content of the death sentence. Then the loudspeakers broadcast some noisy classical music while the SS stripped him naked. Then they violently shoved a tin pail over his head. They set ferocious German shepherds on him: the guard dogs first bit into his groin and thighs, then devoured him right in front of us. His shrieks of pain were distorted and amplified by the pail in which his head remained trapped. My rigid body reeled, my eyes gaped at so much horror, tears poured down my cheeks, I fervently prayed that he would black out quickly. Since then, I still often wake up howling in the middle of the night. For more than fifty years now, that scene has ceaselessly replayed in my mind's eyes. I will never forget the barbaric murder of my love -- before my eyes, before our eyes, for there were hundreds of witnesses..."
It's with a combination of gratitude and renewed anger that I received the news that Germany has unveiled, finally, a monument in memory of the thousands of gays who were tortured and murdered by the Nazis. Gratitude, obviously, for the gesture. Anger, though, because even though the New York Times reports its unveiling matter of factly:
A monument featuring two men kissing was unveiled by Germany in Berlin on Tuesday in memory of thousands of homosexuals who were persecuted, tortured and killed by the Nazis, Agence France-Presse reported. Designed by the Danish-born Michael Elmgreen and the Norwegian-born Ingar Draset, both based in Berlin, the memorial, situated in the Tiergarten park, near the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust memorial, consists of a gray concrete slab about 13 feet high. Inside, at eye level, is a gap filled by a television screen that shows the kissing men [seen above].
The German magazine Der Spiegel notes that even still this monument is controversial:
Even the opening of the monument attracted controversy. Dragset and Elmgreen told Zitty that [Bernd] Neumann, the federal commissioner for culture, refused to allow an image from the video of the two men kissing to be put on the official invitation to the monument's opening. "(The decision) not to print the kiss shows that we still have a problem," Dragset said. "As long as people feel repulsed when they see homosexuals kissing, then something is missing," added Elmgreen, who called the kiss "the basis of the monument."
There are times in life when you simply suck it up and put any uneasiness you have about others' cultural norms on hold and, despite yourself, celebrate diversity as openly as you possibly can. That the federal commissioner for culture, in the context of a monument to gay victims, would refuse to let an image of two men kissing be used for the invitiation...knowing full well that it was bias like his that led to the reason the monument exists...we more than still have a problem: we've made essentially only superficial progress.

Let me rephrase that as bluntly as I can...his uneasiness is exactly what facilitated the rounding up, torture, and murder of thousands of gays. His refusal to accept that gay men kiss, that to us it's the most natural expression of affection, is precisely the kernel of ignorance and intolerance that led so many to their deaths. By objecting to this image, he has convinced me that he would not likely have stood up for the gays being sent to the camps were he to go back in time. And in that way he is as dangerous as the Nazis were.

Does that mean I don't recognize his honest queasiness? Not at all. I do. I wouldn't expect him to volunteer to watch gay romance movies or not object were two men to make out in his living room. I think he should work on getting over that as well, but, I get that if you're not attracted to other men that sexual interactions among men isn't necessarily something you're comfortable with. What I don't get is that he can't simply temporarily deal with that discomfort in order to recognize the atrocity represented by the monument.

I will confess to feeling somewhat ungracious for criticizing Neumann like this. He is opening the monument (and while I think I'm right, it's not exactly generous of me to suggest he would have stood by while gays were sent off to camps). Still, when he's willing to announce that the monument is "also first and foremost an expression of our conviction that in our country there is no place for the discrimination of homosexuals, of people who think and live differently" but still not let the invitation show two men kissing, we clearly have a very long way to go on this issue.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alcohol at Openings : Open thread

We've discussed not serving alcohol at our openings at the gallery for a number of reasons. While in Brooklyn, the main problem was police ticketing our guests who wandered outside with their beverage and talked on the sidewalk. Once they nearly ticketed a high-profile New York art critic, much to my horror, but just before they got to jot down his details, they were called away to some more pressing matter. We posted increasingly alarming notices about the ticketing at our openings, as well, but invariably the police would show up and two or three people would get a fine.

That's not been an issue since we moved to Chelsea (knock on wood), but we've still considered ending the practice (and serving just water or soda). Technically, in most places, I believe, an art gallery is supposed to attain a permit to serve alcoholic beverages anyway, which very few do, and so by not serving any we'd be less open to any problems there. There was a time back in Brooklyn where collectively we galleries approached our city council members to discuss whether that legislation was truly written for spaces that offered free beverages to a small contingent of technically invited guests and only about once every 5 weeks or so, and somehow (I didn't attend the meetings) the police stopped ticketing spaces for not having permits (although they kept ticketing folks for drinking on the sidewalks).

Another reason we discuss not serving alcohol, though, is that abuse of the gesture by guests can really get on your nerves some times. Bambino noticed at one of our recent openings that a guest who kept stacking his plastic cups for each round of wine he was drinking was carrying around 7 of them stacked together. Forget the fact that seven half glasses of wine means he was just getting silly drunk on our dime; what an un-green thing to do when our gallery is perfectly happy to refill a glass.

Of course, in the overall scheme of things, these are petty annoyances, and not really worth much discussion, but I bring them up in light of the news that East Hampton police initiated a crackdown on the practice over the holiday weekend, and the local tabloids have had a field day with the resulting fracas. From the New York Post:
The owner of a high-end East Hampton gallery went from hosting a famed photographer's opening to being dragged from it kicking and screaming during a surprise crackdown on liquor-laced art shows on the East End.

"The police out here have nothing to do, so they come bother our galleries," Ruth Kalb, 67, fumed yesterday, a day after cops busted her soiree and dragged her out in front of 300 stunned guests, saying she didn't have permits to serve alcohol or hold a gathering.

"They came in here with all their muscles. They needed someone to fight," said the eccentric art purveyor, known by her gallery's name, Vered.

Kalb said she told the cops: "I've been serving liquor at my openings before you were born. So don't tell me to stop now."

Kalb was slapped with the summons at around 9 p.m. Saturday after chasing away the first two cops on the scene.
Later, however, Vered [seen above] had her position on the issue validated by the Police of neighboring village Southampton:
The East Hampton art dealer busted for serving wine at her posh gallery has found an unlikely ally just one ritzy ZIP code away - the cops in Southampton.

Southampton Police Sgt. Darren Gagnon said yesterday that his East Hampton counterparts went way overboard when they hauled off 67-year-old Ruth Kalb in handcuffs Saturday night because she was serving her 300 well-heeled guests liquor at the opening of a photo exhibit.

"It's like serving alcohol in your house - no big deal," Gagnon said. "I can't believe they [East Hampton cops] did that. That's crazy.
I would agree that it should be seen as like serving alcohol in your house. I really can't imagine the original law was designed to control or close down a two-hour art opening reception that happens every 5-6 weeks, so I agree with Vered who summarized the East Hampton police's actions as motivated out of boredom.

Then again, as they say, all publicity is good publicity, and Vered has received so much more press for this incident than her new exhibition would likely have gotten had she not been arrested, so....

When I've discussed the question of serving only nonalcoholic beverages at openings, I get an overwhelming "thumbs down" on the idea from friends and colleagues. The most rational of reasons offered tend to focus on the notion that it's a highly artificial gathering of strangers often, and a little libation goes a long way toward making everyone feel more comfortable. Then again, I attend other gallery openings without drinking their booze all the time (OK, so this is my profession and perhaps I not the best test case), but I will admit to appreciating a prop to handle when mingling and having the edge of my day taken off.

The other reason for not serving alcohol, of course, is the expense. We serve a remarkably drinkable wine (many galleries serve wine with a taste you'd only expect to find in a bottle under the kitchen sink), but get it for a good price. As a businessman, though, I do sometimes wonder what the impact of not serving it might be on our bottom line. I know galleries that don't serve any at their main opening receptions, and they seem to be selling art like there is no tomorrow.

Consider this an open thread on drinking at openings and whether the practice is outdated.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Busy Summer for Gallery Artists

As we head into the unofficial start of Summer, when most folks begin to plan for a more liesurely pace, anything but will be the case for the gallery artists this year. Virtually in every corner of the globe, you'll find an exhibition by one of the artists we're working with somewhere between now and the end of September. So if you find yourself in one of these locations, please check out these shows!

Here's the list as it stands at the moment...and a half dozen other shows still have details pending:

Ivin Ballen
Summer Group Show
(Ivin Ballen, Pello Irazu, Richard Rezac and Tamara Zahaykevich)
Tony Wight Gallery
Chicago, IL
June 13 - August 16, 2008

Cathy Begien
California Video
The Getty Center
March 15 - June 8, 2008

Jennifer Dalton
"Cult of Personality: Portraits in Mass Culture"
Curated by Peter Scott, first exhibited at Carriage Trade, New York
Traveling to
Erna Hecey
Brussels, Belgium
September 18 - October 30th, 2008

Yevgeniy Fiks (whose solo exhibition "Adopt Lenin" opens our gallery season in Sept 2008)

"Monitoring Lenin’s Sales on "(solo show)
Curator Andrey Parshikov
Contemporary City Foundation
Moscow, Russia
May 22 - June 16, 2008

16th Biennale of Sydney
“Revolutions Forms That Turn”
Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
Sydney, Australia
June 18 – September 7, 2008

L’impresa dell’arte (The Enterprise of Art)
Curated by Julia Draganovic
PAN Palazzo delle Arti Napoli
Napoli, Italy
May 16 - June 30, 2008

1st Moscow International Biennale for Young Art
Curated by Daria Pyrkina
National Center for Contemporary Art
Moscow, Russia
July 1-30, 2008

Tina B: The Prague Contemporary Art Festival
Curator Victor Misiano
Former Factory CKD
Prague, Czech Republic
September 25 – October 15, 2008

Joy Garnett
"Eden's on Fire!"
Platform Gallery
Seattle, WA
May 8 - June 14, 2008

"Environmental Paintings"
Organized by Lauren Rosati & Herb Tam as part of Exit Art's S.E.A. (Social Environmental Aesthetics) Program.
Exit Art
New York, NY
June 14 - July 12, 2008 (tentative dates)

"Atomic Afterimage"
Organized by Keely Orgeman
University Art Gallery
Boston, MA
September 4 - November 2, 2008

(Title TK)
Organized by Phong Bui
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
Long Island City, New York
June 22 - ?, 2008

Christopher K. Ho
Curated by Denise Markonish
MASS MoCA at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens
Stockbridge, MA
June 7 - August 1, 2008

"Chinese Biennial"
Curated by Koan Jeff Baysa and Pan Xing Lei
Chinese Base and Huan Tie Museum
Beijing, China
August 2 - October 3, 2008

"Busan Biennale" curated by Jung Hyung Lee
APEC Naru Park
Busan, Korea
September 6 - November 15, 2008

Christopher Lowry Johnson

"This Modern World”
Curated by Paddy Johnson
General Electric World Headquarters
Fairfield, Connecticut

David Kinast (whose solo exhibition opens at our gallery June 6, 2008)
"Horror Vacui"
McKenzie Fine Art Inc.
NY, NY 10001
June 12 - August 1, 2008

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev
Tracing Roads through Central Asia: On Traders' Dilemmas And Travelers' Perspectives
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
Apr 18–Jun 29, 2008

"Contemporary Nomadism: Video and still photography"
Gerbert Contemporary
Santa Fe, NM
August 1 - September 8, 2008

Jennifer Dalton, Christopher K. Ho, and Thomas Lendvai
"Made in America"
Curated by Janet Phelps
Peel Gallery
Houston, TX
June 1 - July 31, 2008

And two of our artists are switching caps to curate the summer group exhibition in our space:

"The Shallow Curator"
Curated by Ivin Ballen and Christopher K. Ho
Winkleman Gallery
New York, NY
July 10 - August 15, 2008

Finally, I too will be having a very busy summer, as I have an August 31 deadline for a major project I'm writing (more on that soon). Toward that end, posting will probably be rather light throughout the summer.

Have a safe and very happy Memorial Day Weekend all!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brain Teaser for a Hurried Thursday

Nutso busy today, so I'll have to keep this short. Still, based on an observation a good friend made while viewing the Courbet exhibition that just closed at the Met, I've been obsessed with the following sort of mental challenge--based on those awfully annoying aptitude test questions, such as:

Apple is to Orange as Chalk is to

a) Caboose
b) Cheese
c) Charity
d) Chalkboard

(OK, so that's a bit too British a question perhaps...the answer is B).

Only this time, I'm not supplying the options...the whole of art history is your playground.

Here's the question though:

is to


is to...what?


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bambino's SEE and Be SEEN: Strike II, Visual AIDS Benefit 2008

Guess where we were last night? That's right, supporting one of the most important benefits you should know about and support. The Visual AIDS Benefit. It's not only about supporting your community, but it's about our humanity. And, of course, the benefit is so much fun.

Sikkema Jenkins Senior Partner, Michael Jenkins and curator Javier Romero

This year's benefit was excellent! You could see how much work the committee people put in to support the organization.
We saw tons of our friends (and won't be able to list all of them but here are some): Michael Jenkins and Javier Romero (above), the Mixed Green crew, Margaret and Richard Thatcher, Pavel Zoubok and Paul, Monya Rowe, Ann Price, Rachel Gugelberger, Robert Goff and Cassie Rosenthal, and Simon Watson, and just to name a few.

And of course there were this year's honorees, Tony Feher and Yoko Ono (she looked fantastic!).
Amy Sadao, Yoko Ono,
Tony Feher, Joy Episalla, Jeffrey Deitch, Jeff Koons (I am so proud of myself taking those pictures (with my not paparazzi digital camera), standing next to the real paparazzi guys, with their fancy flashes. My pictures look damnnn good :)

The music was fantastic too, as Nayland Blake served as DJ and made us to shake our booties the entire evening.
There are so many people to thank who supported Visual AIDS this year and previous years. But everyone little bit helps so keep giving.

There was some bowling competition between Jeff Bailey

and Ed:

It was tough :)

Everyone and myself bowled until the last minute. Someone took it really serious and hurt their foot (Monica).

And someone looked fantabolous in her evening dress and bowling shoes, great combination (Monya)!

Congratulations to the Visual AIDS crew, Amy and Nelson, for another very successful and fun benefit!

Benefit Co-Chair and gallerist Pavel Zoubok and Visual AIDS Executive Director Amy Sadao

And another event you should and must know is tomorrow's event at White Columns, the benefit for Momenta Art. I am telling you, you wont be sorry to get the tickets for that price, because the artwork you'll see there is really fantabolous.


Reframing the Arguments on the Orphan Artworks Bill

I've been waiting for all of the (mis)information fluttering about regarding the so-called "Orphan Artworks Bill" winding through Congress to settle somewhat before ringing in. I know there are efforts to stop it before it becomes law, and while I understand the wisdom of preventing something fundamentally cumbersome and/or harmful from taking root, I also like to have a better understanding of something before I join in the effort to derail it. Someone somewhere must think this Bill solves a problem. Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford, summarized the reason Congress is tinkering with the law here, in his Opinion piece in today's New York Times:
Before 1978, copyright was an opt-in system, granting protection only to those who registered and renewed their copyright, and only if they marked their creative work with the famous ©. But three decades ago, Congress created an opt-out system. Copyright protection is now automatic, and it extends for almost a century, whether the author wants or needs it or even knows that his work is regulated by federal law.

The old system filtered copyright protection to those works that needed it; the new system regulates indiscriminately. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that just 2 percent of copyrighted works that are 55 to 75 years old retain any commercial value. Yet the system maintains no registry of copyright owners nor of entities from which permission to use a copyrighted work can be sought. The consequence has been that an extraordinary chunk of culture gets mired in unnecessary copyright regulation. [emphasis mine]

OK, so the main reason I've been hesitant to post about this before is I'm somewhat unconvinced by the stated rationales in the efforts to stop it. What I'm still awaiting is clarity on how this all applies to the visual arts and (because I understand the bold part of the text above) and what a more compelling argument would be for Congress to go back and work harder on it. My overall understanding is that this law is meant not for artworks for which the copyright is easy to ascertain and or apply (i.e., not for famous works) but for those for whom it's unclear...the non-famous orphans. Perhaps the visual arts portion of this can be as easy as submitting a jpeg to a registry for any work an artist doesn't intend to rework in the future, more or less as easily as one updates a website. It's still not clear, but I'm not sure it makes sense to simply expect the worst here as much as it does to focus on making it better. I've seen email campaigns to stop the law with claims that it will "create chaos for the artists community and a field day for everyone else to use your images anyway they wish." Many artists, to be quite blunt about it, should be so lucky. And approaching the issue from this point of view will not be very convincing I suspect. What I think makes sense to focus on here, rather than wild claims that there are greedy exploiters out there just chomping at the bit to make money off struggling artists' labor, is more clarity all the way around. As Lessing noted:
But precisely what must be done by either the “infringer” or the copyright owner seeking to avoid infringement is not specified upfront.
Also, by focusing on the elements of the bill that Lessing notes are clearly unfair, a more compelling argument can be made than those I've read which rely on imagining all kinds of dubious scenarios with highly personal implications (insert image of sinister copyright infringer twirling long mustache). The legislation in its current form seems unfair because :
[S]ince 1978, the law has told creators that there was nothing they needed to do to protect their copyright. Many have relied on that promise. Likewise, the change is unfair to foreign copyright holders, who have little notice of arcane changes in Copyright Office procedures, and who will now find their copyrights vulnerable to willful infringement by Americans.
Again, the cut-and-paste letters I've seen on some websites seem more designed to appeal to the vanity of targeted artists than the problems in the proposed legislation, suggesting (as is one of my pet peeves in such matters) that the effort is more aimed at gaining attention for those circulating the emails, than actually solving the bill's weaknesses. Telling Congress, who has mostly likely never heard of you, that this law will discourage you from continuing to make your artwork (again, which they haven't seen), probably isn't as compelling to them as it might seem to you it should be. Donn Zaretsky has been chronicling the rational objections to the legislation in terms more likely to convince your Congresscritter to reconsider, as well as helping to dispel some of the myths taking on urban legend status at this point, such as:
"One point of disagreement concerns whether the bill would require artists to register their work with commercial databases to get copyright protection .... Holland has used this point to argue against the bill in several articles. The APA used similar language in a five-page position paper published Tuesday: 'All works, professional or personal, published or unpublished, will have to be registered with as-yet-to-be-created private, commercial registries.' No such requirement appears in either bill currently before Congress, and Perlman and PACA attorney Nancy Wolff say the statement is untrue. Both versions of the amendment mandate the creation of private databases of copyrighted works to facilitate the search for rights owners, but registration would not be mandatory for all creative works."
Of course, it doesn't make any sense to wait until a bad bill is law to act here, but unconvincing arguments are probably worse than no arguments at all and there are way too many unconvincing arguments in the form letters I'm seeing circulated. Reframing the argument with two goals--more clarity is needed before the bill becomes law, and more fairness must be incorporated--seems the best use of energy here to me.


Friday, May 16, 2008

The Uselessness of History

This one's a bit wobbly...feel free to dissect...

Even as I hoped it was all just bluster, back in the rhetoric-filled days of 2002, there was a part of me that knew George W. Bush was going to march the country to war in Iraq. I had concluded years ago that each set of generations will repeat the same cycle of ambition - accomplishment - arrogance - entitlement - excess - horror - awakening - corrections - forgetfulness - ambition again, etc. If you study history you'll see it play itself out again and again, with more or less the same outline (and results) each time. And so the question becomes why? With all the evidence that down that road lies death, abuse, corruption, and loss of nearly everything (to some degree) that any country prides itself on, why don't leaders learn from history and not make the same mistakes?
It may be genetic for all I know (I'm serious, I think it might), but it's certainly human nature.

It was with that notion lodged in my head, that I approached the conclusions sculptor James Croak came to in his highly enjoyable review of Judith Collins' book Sculpture Today (Phaidon) on Titled "Duchamp Won, Picasso Lost," Croak's piece offered the following insight:
I once joked with a Brit writer at the Art Basel Miami Beach solstice that I could teach 20th-century art history in four words: "Duchamp won, Picasso lost." Only for amusement, I am sure, he published my wisecrack in the London Financial Times and my inbox began spewing flames as if I had pulled a Christopher Hitchens and smacked Mother Teresa. "Just what did you mean by that?" was the typical query from an atypically civil writer.

Picasso is my metonym for the modernist adventure that sought essentialism through personal exploration and intuition, mostly in flat art -- painting, drawing, photography, lithography and the like. Though modernism was not entirely limited to these forms, the supporting critical theory can certainly be described as such.

Picasso’s antagonist, Duchamp, dumped painting and its attendant verbiage early on, announcing instead a democracy of all objects and producing a new form of sculpture often made of commercial goods. Any insight into an invisible world that we ascribed to an object, he demonstrated, was an arbitrary designation. It would take the rest of us a very long time to arrive at that point, about six decades in all.

But by the 1970s, Duchamp’s triumph was complete. Artists abandoned painting and turned to physical object-making of a distinctly ironic flavor. These objects seemed almost random. Maybe it was something that resembled someone, or not, or that performed a function, or not, or that you could stick in your pocket, bulldoze into the ground or drag from an airplane. It could be figurative, or found, or both, or filthy or shiny, home-made or machine-made.
Folks who've read here for a while will not be surprised that overall I agree with Croak's summary. But it dovetails interestingly with the conversation I had a while back in the studio of a painter. Essentially the question we battered about was "why paint in this era of video and other such more comprehensive media (that include audio, editing, etc, etc.)?" Our conclusion was that there remain certain things that only painting does as well as it does and those are still worth exploring. (More on that later.)

The notion that artists entirely abandoned painting in the 1970's has been disproved by the exhibition
High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, but in a general sense Croak is correct that painting took a back seat in terms of what the powers that be were focusing on. And yet, it never quite went away, it came roaring back in the 1980s, and it has been quite resilient ever since for a medium pronounced dead so definitively and so often.

Why though? Why, even with all the evidence that painting would just be declared dead once again, would a young artist pick up a brush and apply paint to canvas? Could it be genetic?

My overarching conclusion here is that history might be useless in determining the path humans will take. Focused as I was during the protests on what the likely results of an invasion of Iraq might be, it never once occurred to me that what drove Bush to war was perhaps the process itself. His turn to be the hero, his turn to make his mark as warrior-leader, his turn to make his buddies in the arms industry rich beyond their wildest dreams. Indeed, now, I think that it's done because it's the process that's the pay-off. That's the only logical explanation for the fact that, despite what history should have taught us, such actions are taken again and again.

And so it probably is with painting. (OK, so that's a bit disingenuous, there's no "probably" about it, I know, from experience, that the process of painting is exhilarating in and of itself.) But that doesn't explain the viewer's support for painting. With leaders marching off to war, there are proven methods to rally the majority of the nation around your cause, regardless of how clear it might be to some how tragically it will all end. Why, however, do educated viewers keep returning to painting when they've heard the arguments that its relevance is over? I mean, I get why artists would still choose to paint, but the art world (critics, curators, collectors, gallerists) gravitates back to painting again and again as well.

Is that too genetic?


Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Most Expensive Ejaculation ever Auctioned

Putting farce writers out of business is the straight news these days. Last night's contemporary art auction at Sotheby's led Bloomberg's Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff to note:
Murakami's buck-naked, 8-foot-tall ``My Lonesome Cowboy,'' inspired by a Japanese video game hero with a swirling semen lasso, fetched more than five times its $3 million low estimate. At $15.2 million, it may be the most expensive ejaculation ever auctioned. (A Sotheby's spokeswoman said that's one category they don't track.)
But it's in the seemingly illogical patterns emerging that true farce lies:

The evening's biggest casualty was Mark Rothko, whose 1956 ``Orange, Red, Yellow'' drew not a single bid. Estimated to sell for more than $35 million, it was especially painful for Sotheby's, which said it ``owns the lot in whole or in part or has an economic interest in the lot equivalent to an ownership interest.''

On Tuesday, the top lot at Christie's was another yellow- and-red Rothko, which sold for $50.4 million. Rothko's 1950s ``White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)'' held the previous record for priciest contemporary work sold at auction, fetching $72.8 million last year at Sotheby's in New York.

But, as in all great farce, there are reassuring moments of humanity and sanity, indications that there remains some semblance of order to how things work:

Sotheby's sale got a lift from 33 lots from the Lauff Collection, totaling $96 million, more than double the $47 million estimate. ``Provenance and quality,'' art adviser Thea Westreich said, explaining their success.

With a juice and bottling fortune, German collectors Helga and the late Walther Lauffs bought major minimalist, Pop and conceptual artworks in the 1960s and 1970s. They purchased under the direction of Paul Wembers, the influential director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld, Germany. The collection was formerly on loan to the museum.

A few folks expressed disgust in yesterday's thread at the amount of money being spent at the contemporary auctions this week. Bambino, who attended Christie's the night before, noted that even though he understood the prices work was selling for at auctions, it was another matter all the same to see the bids advance in million-dollar increments (who are these people?). I guess I'm just more used to it, though, because I wasn't as taken aback.

The truth of the matter is, though, that nothing we sell is anywhere close to those prices and so my interest in the market remaining as strong as it can as long as it can, of course, is to remain in business long enough to get my artist's work into the right hands so that it will (hopefully) eventually end up prized pieces in museums' collections. The truth of the matter, as far as galleries are concerned, in fact, is that crazy auction prices aren't our goal. (They can wreck havoc on the carefully considered pricing structure and potentially hurt an artist's career.)

I want the auctions to do well, not because I particularly love them (or even respect their goals in all this), but because they're the most public measure of the mood of the market. If they're seen as "alive and well," then collectors are less hesitant to keep buying from the galleries, and we all get to keep doing what we love.

That doesn't mean I won't make fun of the auctions, though. They remain, in many ways, the best farce in town.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gravity, Schmavity...

We only stayed through the first 25 lots at Christie's last night, just long enough to decide we could toast the continued strength of the contemporary art market with a cocktail. Our friend, the irrepressible director of Von Lintel gallery,
Collette Blanchard, Bambino (who was attending his first auction), and I headed out into the crisp midtown air content that the Art Market Deathwatch Cheerleaders would have to keep their pompoms at their sides for at least another night.

Here's how The New York Times summarized the evening:
In an overflowing salesroom at Christie’s, bidders from all parts of the globe were happy to pay top dollar Tuesday night for everything from an abstract canvas by Mark Rothko to a painting of a monumentally fat woman by Lucian Freud.

The auction also included a five-bedroom Modernist house, which was snapped up for a record price.

It was the first sale in a week of nonstop postwar and contemporary art auctions, and although there were often only one or two bidders for a work of art, the offers were high enough to defy recent economic jitters and produce a strong sale.
The "overflowing salesroom" was mostly why we decided we should get some fresh air, but there were also no lots bought in by the 25th (although three would be by the auction's close) and most were respectfully being bought above their low estimate and some far above that, so...we went on to debate politics, disparity in the art world, and other topics the results gave us license to indulge ourselves in. For now at least.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008

The New York Times obituary.


The Generosity of Strangers Open Thread

I'll admit it up front. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for all things Irish. From the opening chapter of Leon Uris's Trinity, in which Finola tells Liam to spread the word that Kilty has died ("Be sure to go to the byres and the beehives and let the cattle and bees know that Kilty Larkin is gone."), to the sheer genius that was the wit of Oscar Wilde, to the awesome certainty in the order of things demonstrated by this hilarious Quentin Crisp quote:
"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?'"
My first love was Irish (we had been together about 7 years when he passed away, about 10 years ago [yes, I'm that old]), and I was best man in the wedding of a dear friend whose Irish clan held the kind of parties in the hotel all weekend that nearly got us kicked out repeatedly.

So it's probably no surprise that I simply adored the charming independent Irish film "Once," which won the Oscar for best song this past year. We only watched it last week on DVD, but I can't get its haunting melodies or simple beauty out of mind. The Oscar-winning song, "Falling Slowly," was one I had heard a few times before watching the film, never quite understanding what all the fuss was about. Then I saw it performed in context and I nearly lost it:

Watching this scene, two things became clearer to me. First, the song is about hope. Second, this scene is about generosity. The guy had only just met this girl, and here they both were sharing through their music, so generously, and both obviously getting as much as they were giving.

But I've got a busy schedule, and so, as I tend to do in such situations, I set out to exhaust my interest by learning as much as I can (as to find something mundane and/or off-putting within the entire effort to break its spell on me) and tucking it safely under my belt where it wouldn't keep haunting my thoughts. In one interview I saw with Glen Hansard on the Today Show (see You Tube version here), I thought I found that mundane thing. In response to receiving a new guitar by a stranger who saw him in concert (it had belonged to her deceased husband), he finally crossed the line and left the realm of inspiration and entered the land of trite (whew, I could move on). In response to the notion that giving is its own gift, he said:
"I'm a real believer in...when something comes into your life, the best way to hang onto it is to pass it on."
"Groan..." my inner cynic thought. (To quote the Magnetic Fields again, "Drag another cliche howling from the vaults.") What a fantasy...what does that even mean? The best way to hang onto it is to keep those who would take it from you at bay.

Then, this morning, I read the Appreciation on the editorial page of the New York Times, that Maura Casey had penned on the reportedly fearless (and unrepentantly atheist) Irish Times editor and columnist Nuala O’Faolain, who passed away at 68 last week:
There was little comfort, though, when she revealed her terminal cancer in an interview last month on RTE radio in Ireland. She confessed that she felt shattered by the pointlessness of it all. “It amazed me how quickly life turned black,” she said. Beauty, she said, meant nothing; she didn’t believe in the afterlife. “I can’t be consoled by the mention of God,” she said. She wished everyone who believes “every comfort,” but, she said, “to me, it’s meaningless.”

Typically, in discussing her impending death, Ms. O’Faolain didn’t cover her experience with the veneer of denial, or even the faintest glimmering of hope. She was heartbroken to leave her apartment in New York, with its yellow curtains and books. “I know loads and loads of songs, and what’s the point of it all?” she said. “So much has happened, and it seems such a waste of creation, that with each death all that knowledge dies.”
And then it hit me. The true fantasy is the notion that you can hang on to anything (of any value) in any other way but passing it on. The day will come when it's time to tell the bees and cows about your passing too, and then what? All that knowledge only dies if you horded it. If you shared it, then it wasn't a waste, because you've spared someone else the trouble of learning it the hard way that you did.

Upon further reflection, it dawned on me that this is why I gravitate to artists. The act of making art has often been described as a gift, but it's a gift that embodies what the artist has learned, his or her knowledge, and encapsulates it in a form that is easy to pass on. In fact, it's made specifically to pass that knowledge on with or without the artist still being here, and as such becomes a gift all the more generous because it's a gift to strangers.

I know I've dived head first into icky touchyfeelyville with this post. Feel free to batter it back to cynicism. If you can.


Monday, May 12, 2008

I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts (or An Exhibition Space's Responsibilities with Regards to Potentially Offensive Materials)

Aware of the truth in Wilde's assertion that all criticism is merely an excuse to turn the conversation to any critique's ultimate subject, the critic, I tend to lead off with a personal anecdote just to get the matter out of the way. In this instance, I'll note that I've been thinking a lot lately about of a series of photographs I selected for the upcoming Everson Museum's 2008 Biennial and the fact that their subject matter might upset some viewers. Fortunately (for me) in that instance, the museum has tons of experience in installing the biennials and will be doing what they feel best (in other words, personally I'm off the hook here).

In the gallery recently, though, we went back and forth on whether to post a notice on the doors warning visitors that one of the pieces in our Central Asian video exhibition contained "mature" material. Of course on the day that I decided the sign was overkill a mother and her 8-year-old son wandered in, just out of curiosity. The boy was fortunately immediately more intrigued by the array of headphones and monitors on the opposite side of the gallery, but clearly enthusiastic about seeing everything in the show, so I quietly let the mother know one of the videos might not be age appropriate, to which she thanked me and quickly took her son out. I still went back and forth on the warning sign though.

Last Friday's post here touched on this question tangentially (there, the offense some took at the nature of the work led protesters to shut the show down in San Francisco), but James Wagner has highlighted a case closer to New York in which the Long Beach Island Foundation for Arts & Sciences has chosen to encircle an installation with screens and post the following message:
The work within these walls may upset or offend viewers. Please use your best judgment in deciding if you wish to view the work.
James explains:

Susan Dessel's sculpture, "OUR BACKYARD: A Cautionary Tale" has been censored by its current host, the Long Beach Island Foundation for Arts & Sciences [LBIF]. She had been invited to participate in its current Artist Residency and Retreat Exhibition, titled "ART CONCEIVED SINCE SEPTEMBER 11". Support from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (NYC) made Dessel's participation in this exhibit possible. On the eve of the show's May 3rd opening LBIF Interim Executive Director Chris Seiz told the artist that he had been advised by some LBIF members that they found the piece “offensive” and were considering ending their support of foundation. In the hours prior to the opening Dessel's installation was walled off from the rest of the gallery. Visitors who now wish to see the concealed work must first step across signage warning that them that the piece may upset or offend.

The artist has released a statement:

"OUR BACKYARD: A Cautionary Tale" was an opportunity for me to re-imagine the world as I understand it: our shared backyard. Despite the expression of dispiriting conditions found in my work, underlying it is a robust sense of hope that it might encourage viewers to consider their own role in transforming the community - local and global - through their actions and inaction.
Dessel describes LIBF’s transformation of the piece as having turned the artist's fundamental intention on its head, since it now represents our containment and continual isolation from the outside world.
The main problem with warning signs, of course, is how they frame the work before the viewer encounters it, setting up a predetermined context in which the viewer should approach it. In other words, the viewer is not permitted to make up their own mind about the work, free of the institution's instruction.

You could argue that all installation decisions, from juxtapositions, lighting, wall text, empty space around, etc. communicate the institution's instruction on how to view the work, but in the context of a "Warning" the expectation is you should approach it with your defenses up. That's unfortunate.

Perhaps most alarming about the LBIF situation is that members were considering ending their support of foundation over the matter. That they would resort to blackmail to express their objections makes me wonder why they would support an arts foundation in the first place, to be quite honest. Clearly there were less drastic means to express why the work was difficult for them. Of course, I assume members support art institutions in order to keep learning and broaden their world view. I'm a bit optimistic that way.


Friday, May 09, 2008

On the Luxury of Self-Righteousness

From the hyperbolic, apparently world-wide, email misleading people about Guilermo Vargas Habacuc's "starving dog" piece to the response by certain members of PETA, In Defense of Animals, and The Animal Liberation Front to the exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute by Adel Abdessemed (titled "Don't Trust Me") that was closed after a coordinated, sometimes threatening campaign to stop it, there seems to be momentum building, under the guise of "protecting animals," to declare artistic explorations of how humans treat animals so off limits that it is, quite frankly, approaching fascism.

The controversy erupted because Abdessemed's exhibition included one installation which included "six video monitors of images recorded by the artist of the slaughter of farm animals at the point of their deaths. These events occurred in a rural community in Mexico where the animals were raised, purchased, and professionally slaughtered." [image above from SFAI's website.]

Artnews blog and others covered the Abdessemed controversy early last month, but now The Art Newspaper has published a thought-provoking (if at times somewhat difficult to follow) commentary by president of the San Francisco Art Institute Chris Bratton:
The response to “Don’t Trust Me” points to an animal rights movement that applies a code—as philosopher Charles Taylor calls it—without moral boundaries, a utopianism so insistent and frenzied that it disregards all constraints on action. Here we move out of the world of censorship to the world of security: condemn your opponents as the authors of crimes. Post photos of them along with home and email addresses. Further cue your constituents with language meant to incite outrage and “direct action”. Caricatures that render them so Other that they no longer even appear as human.

Is it any wonder, then, that the languages of torture, mutilation and murder followed so relentlessly after? This was luridly and violently elaborated in threatening emails, phone calls and letters, all echoing themes of surveillance, control, and violent punishment, addressed to numerous board, staff, faculty, and their families.

Even the most evidently self-authored emails that reached the school had a striking consistency all their own. One referred to “genital mutilation in Darfur”, another to “the exploitation of children in the Third World”, “sex tourism” and many to “pornography”, all as somehow related to the exhibition. One local critic said in reference to the exhibition that responses “to inflammatory materials presented as art are local, not global”. These associative chains tell us otherwise, that in the end this is very much about a world, but one that is seen as absolutely elsewhere, where other people and cultures are understood as savage and sexualised.

The universalising claims of animal rights groups like IDA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals further obscure the highly specific cultural assumptions that underpin this controversy.
Now there are those on both sides in this controversy who exhibited what I'd consider the worst kind of political spin. Many among those supporting SFAI labeled, with out distinctions, the activist organizations as "extremists." Many supporting the cancellation of the exhibition, presumably without seeing it, labeled the video "snuff films." Neither side has cornered the market on objectivity here in my opinion, but the result of the battle was that the exhibition was closed and the rest of us were unable to see the work and make up our minds ourselves because others had decided for us that we shouldn't. That, as a free man, I cannot let go unchallenged.

I have a really simple solution for people who are offended by artwork that explores how animals are slaughtered: don't go see it. Unlike the Vargas piece that was contrived, because it included a live dog in an installation, the Abdessemed work recorded a practice that does indeed happen around the world on a daily basis. In other words, he was merely presenting a truth. Perhaps it's a painful truth for some. Perhaps it's so upsetting that after witnessing the work certain people would change their lifestyles, become vegetarian, send contributions to PETA, or whatever. But there is no question whatsoever in my mind that the mindless violence threatened by those who didn't like the idea of the exhibition is a far greater crime (against humanity, against nature, against reason, against free speech) than the presentation of this work. There was nothing about the protest that would bring the animals back to life, so it clearly wasn't in their defense the activists were working.

Indeed, having traveled to countries where witnessing the slaughter of animals is not only a daily family occurrence, but an act of actual survival, I find the arrogance of those pampered protesters who would close down an exhibition (to what? keep themselves from having nightmares? permit them to continue to imagine these acts are not commonplace? go about their merry self-righteous way without having actually helped anyone in any concrete way) much more offensive than the unpleasant way in which our food dies. At least that reality of life has the integrity of honesty about it. How many of the protesters threatening violence against SFAI staff went off to eat meat or walked away in leather shoes or benefited in uncountable ways from a lifestyle and economic system built on the fact that humans are animals who eat and use other animals because they can. Should the tide of evolution shift to where cows could easily exploit us, I'm quite sure they would.

Of course, there is no end to the corners of such debates that one can flesh out. The potential tangents are mindboggling (because, in short, this topic is about nothing less than the circle of life and death, survival of the fittest, and the search for a higher meaning). Still it behooves any human, regardless of how passionate they are about certain practices, to engage in the debate with respect for human life and freedom of speech. Otherwise, we're less than animals. We're barbarians.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Psst...hey you...wanna start an art collection?

One of the best-kept secrets in New York is the extraordinarily high quality of the artwork available at the Momenta Art benefit each year. It's one of the don't-miss events on our calendar, not only because we love Momenta (and, well, because this year I'm on the benefit committee), but because the atmosphere and format of the benefit is always one of pure joy (ok, so if your raffle number is called last, it might not be "pure" joy,'s still fun!).

Add in the fact that we have scored some pretty amazing artworks in the raffle and virtually stolen gems during the auction portions of the benefit each year, and it becomes impossible for me to understand why everyone interested in building a collection of contemporary art isn't snapping up a raffle ticket and grabbing themselves an auction paddle.

You can see the all-star line-up of works available in the
raffle section (for only $225) here (click link in middle of page). And in the auction section, I must say, the benefit folks have truly outdone themselves this year. Included are fantastic works by :

huma bhabha
carol bove
carteranne collier
jason fox
matthew higgs
laurie hogin
sibusiso mbhele
robert melee
matt mullican
wolfgang tillmans
olav westphalen
white columns portfolio (jeremy deller, trisha donnelly, richard prince, rirkrit tiravanija)
beatrice wood
andy yoder

(psst...the Andy Yoder is a particularly smart buy at the heard it here first).

Momenta has made it
easy for you to purchase your raffle ticket online, but let me encourage you to come to the auction as well, and support this Williamsburg institution and truly one of New York's most important non-profit art spaces for emerging artists.

Event at White Columns
Wednesday, May 21, 5-10PM
Auction: 5-6PM
Raffle: 7-9PM


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Six Links in Search of a Commonality

What do the following stories have in common?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Education by Galleries: The Impact of Art Fairs

I was very pleased yesterday to be invited to lecture at the University Art Museum at the University at Albany, as part of their Art and Culture Talks. A heartfelt thanks go out to Director Janet Riker, especially for the wonderful introduction (any time I'm feeling abused by the art world, I'll remember that generous intro), Associate Director/Curator Corinna Ripps Schaming for the kind invitation to join such an impressive lecture series this year, Exhibit and Outreach Coordinator Naomi Lewis for all the help and insight into making the lecture happen at all, and to Joanne and Pat and the rest of the Museum staff for their help with logistics.

I also have to thank the faculty of the University Art Department for arranging what was truly a wonderful series of discussions with the MFA students whose thesis exhibition was on display at the Museum. Special thanks go Danny Goodwin, Leona Christie, Adam Frelin, and the other instructors and students who made me feel so welcome! Another special thanks goes to Mark Greenwold for his provocative questions during the Q&A portion of my lecture (again, I'll reveal what I really think in my autobiography).

One of the questions Mark asked, though, related to how much collectors know about contemporary art. There's no question in my mind that one of the added values of working with a gallery (and indeed one of the responsibilities of a gallery) is to serve a role in education, not only for the general public, but also for collectors.

Now I'll be the first to admit that there are plenty of collectors who could educate me on a wide range of artists and art history in general. Some collectors are truly brilliant in their own right and can grasp an artist's work intuitively like few dealers can. Others, however, have very busy schedules and so rely on the galleries they work with to do the research and communicate the essentials of the work they represent as part of their gallery visiting experience. Personally, I live for these types of conversations.

Having said that though, one of the issues that came up in the context of the discussion on this topic was education about art during art fairs. Because many galleries are doing more art fairs than ever before and more collectors are purchasing art at fairs than in galleries than ever before, the education part of the relationship between gallerists and collectors has migrated in part to that environment. As with every other aspect of the art fairs though, this means the education part is accelerated and somewhat disrupted by how much else there is going on. It's rare for a collector trying to see an entire fair to have as much time to spend with one dealer discussing an artist as they would in a gallery context.

This is perhaps a secret I should keep, but one of the ways dealers relax after a hectic day at an art fair is to trade "war stories." Who had the most obnoxious visitor that day, who had the most people touch the art in their booth, or (my personal favorite) who got the most unexpected question about their booth or the art in it?

Dealer friends of our have taken to texting their favorite questions around to our circle during the fair. Some classics include:
  • Did you make all this work yourself?
  • Does the red dot on that label mean that piece was judged as best in show?
  • Who are the people sitting at the desks in these booths? (they meant the dealers)
  • (Looking at a piece by Duchamp) That looks a lot like the work of my cousin in Idaho, {insert name here}, do you know him?
Of course, it remains the dealer's role to answer even these types of questions as patiently (and frequently) as possible, but, again, given the pace of an art fair, I'm beginning to wonder about the overall quality of the education a dealer can provide at one. Perhaps this quickened pace is simply another reality of our ever-faster lives and there's no reason to bemoan it (and of course, an art fair introduction is often only that, an introduction...dealers do send lots of of follow-up material to collectors they meet at fairs). But if you combine the pressure to purchase that occurs at some fairs with the smaller window of time in which to learn about the artist, I can't help but wonder what quality of education dealers can truly provide.

Consider this an open thread on the role of galleries to educate the public in general and collectors in particular. (Or, if you prefer, as Zippy once quipped...consider this an open bottle of beer...)

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