Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is Street Art the True Market Bellwether?

Slow news day. Not much happening in the world. Two baseball stadiums are closing for good in New York, Desperate Housewives won the Sunday Night ratings race, and numerologists across the world are getting calls from TV and radio producers asking about the relevance of the number 777...no...wait...seems it's 778 they're interested in. Darn.

Somewhat interesting story on artinfo.com though:
Less than a third of the 270 lots offered at a Lyon & Turnbull auction of contemporary and urban art found buyers this weekend, with works by Banksy and other street artists having particular difficulties, reports Bloomberg.

Dealers said that the reduced demand for street art was a result of worries about the economy and confusion about the authenticity of Banksy works.

"Things are difficult at the moment," said Annabel Thomas, an executive director of the London-based dealers the Fine Art Society. "There's a definite retreat to the blue-chip material."
Indeed, in each boom, so-called Street Art seems to be the last genre to see its prices soar, and (if memory serves me right) the first to see its market turn down. It makes sense to some degree, of course. Being edgy and often highly experimental, Street Art wouldn't be the most reassuring form of art for most buyers. But I'm actually wondering if there isn't a more significant connection here. It seems to me (and, to be honest, I'm too exhausted to look up the numbers and dates so I could be totally talking through my hat here) that we no sooner start to see Street Art show up in auctions than a downturn comes on its heels. This could be an indication of a number of things, if indeed accurate, but the most likely to my mind is that the energy and riskiness of Street Art makes it more appealing to collectors who also take big risks, and who see their fortunes wane the quickest when the economic tides turn.

Then again, this might be wholly obvious to lots of folks and barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that it's a remarkably slow news day, that is.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

To Restore Silence : : Open Thread

Samuel Beckett once noted that "To restore silence is the role of objects." I recalled this observation when reading the final public statement by Mark Rothko, made in 1969, and posted recently on Jonathan Jones' blog at The Guardian. Rothko offered these remarks while accepting an honorary doctorate from Yale:

I want to thank the university and the awards committee for the honour you have chosen to confer on me. You must believe me that the acceptance of such honours is as difficult as the problem of where to bestow them.

When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing; no galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, and consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow. We must all hope that they find them.

We've gone rounds and rounds here over whether having nothing to lose makes for better art. As we look to Congress and Wall Street this week and wonder in earnest whether we're about to have a golden opportunity to put that theory to test, I wanted to juxtapose those two thoughts and see if they might not illuminate the more subtle corners of the debate though.

"I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow." vs. "To restore silence is the role of objects."

Beckett's observation was offered in a novel by one of his typically monkish characters, in a modest room, with only a few furnishings, while contemplating some relatively minor knickknack (if I recall correctly), not your stereotypical contemporary consumer facing a garage full of barely used or perhaps entirely unopened infomercial impulse buys. Yet, still, if objects restore silence, what brand of silence comes from unbridled materialism? (Perhaps a silence akin to that in outer space, where no one can hear you scream.) And if more objects equal more silence, then shouldn't the consumerism rising during Rothko's day have afforded him bigger pockets in which to root and grow? Surely he could afford a larger studio as his paintings began to sell, perhaps far from the city, and a relaxing, contemplative vacation or two, no?

Obviously there may not be an accumulative effect where silence is concerned. The contemplation of an object that Beckett refers to does seem to imply a solitary, one-on-one encounter, representing a distraction from the rest of the world, permitting the mind to focus momentarily. With bigger studios comes perhaps bigger headaches and competing distractions.

My true concern about the supposed silence and resulting growth that a downturn might afford those driven to the artist's life is how much life in general has sped up over the past few decades. The worst economic crisis imaginable isn't likely to result in the collective rejection of cell phones, the Internet, or other accelerating technologies. Indeed, even as the price of travel may keep us at home, that will most likely only result in more time spent logging on and checking out, I would imagine. Of course there could come a time when even home electricity must be rationed (I was spoon fed on apocalyptic scenarios growing up), but we'll all have hand-held, wireless access to the Internet by then.

I do imagine a decrease in consumerism would bring about a decrease in overall verbiage if only because the cessation of nonstop infomercials alone would likely bring about a noticeable reduction in noise, but can our culture truly become more contemplative? I personally can't imagine it. A decrease in distractions might only result in an increase in the volume of our collective screaming.

I'm not really going anywhere with this post...just batting some ideas out of the belfry of my brain and into the blogsophere.

Consider this an open thread.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Garnett in Boston, Motta in New York

Two quick notices on where you can catch gallery artists today.

Joy Garnett will be talking today at the Boston University Art Gallery about how how archives and the Internet are involved in her work. The talk coincides with BU's current Exhibition, Atomic Afterimage: Cold War Imagery in Contemporary Art. If you're in Boston, stop in and say hi to Joy:
Joy Garnett, September 26, at 4 p.m. at the gallery.

Atomic Afterimage
Through November 2 in the Boston University Art Gallery
Located at the Stone Gallery in the College of Fine Arts
855 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, Mass.

And in New York, Carlos Motta, recipient of Art in General's New Commissions Program, debuts the massive Internet archive of his project "
The Good Life" (also exhibited at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art earlier this year).

Carlos Motta
The Good Life
September 26, 2008
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Art in General
79 Walker Street
New York NY 10013


Deep in It

Even though I occasionally use the word (rather than "coincidence," which doesn't have as nice a ring to it), I actually am somewhat skeptical about the concept of a "zeitgeist," as commonly used to mean a particular sense of things or response to conditions that permeates the collective subconscious. Having said that, if our current place and time has a zeitgeist, its icon would unquestionably be a steaming pile of poo. As Elizabeth Kley notes on artnet.com:
Excrement is big this September -- Andres Serrano’s luscious photographs of feces can be seen at Yvon Lambert Gallery on West 21st Street, and a group show called "Shit" is the first exhibition at Feature’s new space on the Bowery. And the artist Sue Williams, now showing at David Zwirner Gallery, has long been involved with poo, as well as blood, semen and vomit. Bodily fluids and solids of all sorts (and the actions involved in producing them) were among her main subjects when she first gained notoriety for her scathing representations of sexual warfare in the early 1990s. She subsequently transformed her gritty depictions of angry encounters into airy abstractions that resemble finicky late works by Willem de Kooning. Allusions to bodies remain, but her colors glow with painstaking finesse.

Williams has now returned to more overt grotesquerie, meticulously rendered in a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss illustrations. Her new paintings, resemble cartoon maps of the world -- polished doodles that metamorphose, upon close inspection, into anuses, teeth, intestines, testicles, eyeballs, fetuses and distorted little facial features.

Scatological imagery comes and goes (if you're excuse the phrase) in art, seemingly more often hand-in-glove with bursts of socially tinged autobiography than social commentary, per se (although anyone with data on trends, please do share). But there is definitely something clogging the system. Artnet.com news points us also to this hilarious site, based on the idea that if Henry Paulson can commandeer $700 billon to buy back the bad investments of Wall Street's Masters of the Universe, surely he can let a few tax payers nuzzle their way up to the trough. From Buy My Shit Pile, Henry:

With our economy in crisis, the US Government is scrambling to rescue our banks by purchasing their "distressed assets", i.e., assets that no one else wants to buy from them. We figured that instead of protesting this plan, we'd give regular Americans the same opportunity to sell their bad assets to the government. We need your help and you need the Government's help!

Use the form below to submit bad assets you'd like the government to take off your hands. And remember, when estimating the value of your 1997 limited edition Hanson single CD "MMMbop", it's not what you can sell these items for that matters, it's what you think they are worth. The fact that you think they are worth more than anyone will buy them for is what makes them bad assets.

Being able to estimate the value of your belongings cuts both ways (in terms of commentary). Consider this so-called G.W.Bush Biography valued at $0.13. Or this recession-inspired money-saving tip for those who thought the living room might look good in green: paper currency is cheaper than wall paper. Some of the entries are a little more high-brow, like this sales pitch for a copy of a Wiemar Republic Studies Textbook:
Amaze your friends by accurately predicting America's future through analyzing the amazing similarities between this period in German history and present day America.
And perhaps my favorite...a hybrid SUV:
Latest "Green" Technology from US Automakers produces it's own shit pile as an added benefit!
Might as well try to laugh...it's as appropriate a response as any other at this point. Have a great weekend all!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Squillionaires are People Too

One passage in Michael Kimmelman's otherwise wonderful review of the traveling Francis Bacon exhibition (up currently at the Tate Britain in London) struck me as a gratuitous swipe at an oft-maligned group of art world participants: people with more money than knowledge of what to spend it on:
Some really appalling late pictures, like a large triptych from 1976, which some squillionaire recently paid a fortune to buy, look horribly overstuffed with ugly heads and tired gimmicks, as if Bacon, worried he had exhausted the empty stretches of color he so often painted, didn’t know when to stop filling the canvas up.
There are two possible reasons I can think of that one would be so cruel to that collector in the nation's most prestigious newspaper: 1) as a training technique, to publicly humiliate the owner into learning more about which Bacons are "appalling" and which are not (or at least learn which ones a certain critic feels are appalling...Bacon, known to edit quite vigorously, obviously thought it was passable), or 2) as an outright dismissal of judgment justified by the collector's inability to learn (in other words, as an assertion that this purchase price didn't reflect a newbie's exuberance as much as an irreversible sense of entitlement or ambivalence).

Left out of either equation, obviously, is any concession that this squillionaire would most likely have been quite happy to pay less of a fortune than he/she did for the Bacon, but that some other obstinate squillionaire kept bidding the damn thing up. Yes, the winning squillionaire could have stopped earlier, and in doing so not offended those who didn't feel the painting warranted such a high hammer price, but that would have applied equally to both bidding squillionaires.

Let's give squillionaires a break, shall we? Due to the roller coaster ride the world's financial markets have seen the past few weeks, most of them are probably now only katrillionaires anyway. Seriously, though, the arrogance expressed in mocking the purchase price of a painting serves no public purpose in my opinion. (I'm not in the secondary market business, either, so I currently have no dog in this race.) I just feel that anyone who spends that much money on a work of art is essentially making a charitable cultural donation and it should be respected as such.

Where that donation ends up serving the public is first in awareness about the artist: "Who is this Francis Bacon?" millions around the world must have asked upon learning what his painting sold for. "I should learn more about him." The piece will likely end up in a museum now as well, because who is likely to think it makes sense to take it back to auction after the New York Times called it "appalling"? (Er...uh...wait...perhaps that was the third possible explanation for the cruelty. Kimmelman is trying to ensure the squillionaire can't flip the piece and ends up donating to a museum.)

There's also a grating classist element to such charges though. God knows I'm happy to stand on my soap box and demand equality for the working and middle classes, but if we're gonna ask squillionaires to carefully consider how they spend their money (because it does impact the lives of the rest of us), I don't feel spending it on art should be high on the list of practices we criticize. Yes, there's an impact on the rest of Bacon's prices and that may make it more difficult for those with more modest means to get one for their museum or private collection, but again, it's not like the winner wouldn't have taken the piece home for less if the other bidder has just quit. (I know there's the possibility that buying "the world's most expensive work of contemporary art" might have appealed to certain types, but, again, it takes two to tango in the auction house.)

Even as I'm writing this, though, I realize I'm going in circles. I guess I just thought it unfair and uncomely to single out that buyer for such public ridicule. Collecting art should be encouraged, being rich is no crime (usually), and if the piece was good enough for Bacon, then, it stands to reason someone else would treasure it.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Art as Defense : Open Thread

There's a jawdroppingly cheeky defense being offered by a convicted murderer in Northern Ireland for what authorities call an attempted murder: That wasn't a crime, it was a performance piece. Artinfo.com has the details:
Michael Stone, a 53-year-old loyalist paramilitary on trial for allegedly attempting to murder Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, has told the court that his November 24, 2006, assault on the Northern Irish parliament, in which he carried explosives and a fake gun, was in fact “an act of performance art” meant to look like a terrorist act, the BBC reports.

Stone says that he was not looking to destabilize the peace process, but instead to help it along by staging a protest against the political deadlock that existed at the time.

Stone was convicted of triple murder and jailed for life for a 1988 gun and grenade attack on a funeral for fallen IRA members. He was released in 2000, under the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement.

He described his more recent attack as "a comic parody of my former self. I would rather be remembered as an eccentric artist that got it wrong in performance art than for my past, when I did some terrible things."
Stone's defense goes so far as to explain his "piece" in artspeak:
He said that each item he was carrying had symbolic significance, such as a sponge inside the butt of the fake gun that was meant to symbolize the "sponging unionists"; a bird-shaped pair of scissors were a "begrudging" symbol of Irish republicanism rising from the flames, and a badge on his jacket was a mark of respect for "fallen comrades."

Stone told the court he tried to keep everything in a "monochrome pallet" of black, white, and gray. "The symbolism of that was as in life, not everything is black and white — my perceived attack is a gray area, that it was an attack of art, an artistic protest."
I understand why Stone may have been released as part of the Good Friday peace agreement, but that doesn't automatically make him a citizen in good standing in my book. He's still suspect for his past crimes and as such not to be given the benefit of doubt in anything simulating additional crimes. All the same, the lad has big steel ones.

Personally, I hope the courts dismiss this defense in crystal clear terms. Crime is crime, even when it's art. We can separate the two for consideration in the court of public opinion, but within the judicial system, there should be no distinction, IMO. Break the law, you pay the price. I know this gets into tricky territory when the law is asinine or murky at best, as in the case of Critical Art Ensemble member Steven Kurtz, but when you bring actual explosives into the Parliament building, in clear violation of the terms of your earlier release from prison, it truly is chutzpah to expect anyone to give you any artistic license.

The other reason I hope Stone is laughed out of court and back into a cell for life is that I can imagine all kinds of future attempts at this defense, like, say when Bush & Co. are finally hauled into court in The Hague to account for their crimes against humanity and violating the terms of the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, the administration is already exhibiting breathtaking hubris by arguing that the reason they can't release photographs of the detainees tortured at Abu Ghraib is that doing so would violate their rights under, yes, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions:
The argument is surprising, of course, because the same administration maintained for years that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to any of the detainees in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. It is surprising because the same administration relied upon its determination that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to justify its use of barbaric and inhumane interrogation methods in the first place. It is surprising because there would be no photos of abuse to request had the government cared this much about the Geneva Conventions before the abuses occurred and the photos were taken.
If they thought they could get away with it, I'm sure they'd try Stone's defense:
Dateline, The Hague, September 24, 2013:

As expected, counsel for former President and war crimes defendant George W. Bush offered what is commonly known as the "Stone Stormont Defense" at the Hague today, claiming that the invasion of Iraq was one massive Buchel-esque performance piece. Bush's lawyers argued that anyone with any sense of art history would easily see the obvious appropriation of Cai Guo-Qiang's work in the "Shock and Awe" initiation of the war, the references to Marina Abramović's work in the spiderhole endurance component of Saddam Hussein's staged capture, and in a particularly daring defense the assertion that images of detainees standing with outstretched arms in black hoods were an intentional anticipation of forthcoming prints by Richard Serra.
OK, so that's a bit too flippant, I know, but as the world becomes increasingly surreal, satire becomes the only comforting safe haven.

Consider this an open thread on art and crime.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Communication Needs

Tuesday's Aside, a (somewhat) weekly post in which I will try to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Anonymous writes:
Please help me with your insight on a situation.

Since working with a gallery over the last 2 years, I am finding that communication is not meeting my needs or expectations. I'm not one to call frequently or take up someone's time needlessly. But when I do call my dealer, it often takes over a month to get a call returned. This is the case even when the agenda is to discuss details for a solo show. I've tried email instead of the telephone, and these also go unanswered.

Is this the norm in the industry? Do dealers typically blow off their artists in such fashion? And if its not the norm, how can I hit the 'restart' button? Or am I best off switching to another gallery?
I can picture any of our artists reading this, thinking "Go on Buster...worm your way out of this one."

The truth of the matter is that there is no norm I know of regarding frequency of communication between artists and their dealers. Those dealers who contact each of their artists daily (believe it or not, some claim to do so) or weekly seem to always be the ones interviewed on the matter, making those of us with less frequent touching-base policies feel like slackers. (B*astards!)

The issue, as you note, though, is meeting your needs. If you need information or confirmation or action taken, and your dealer is taking as long as month (really?) to get back to you, that does represent a problem to my mind. Of course, there are needs and then there are wants. If, for example, you'd like a non-urgent check-in studio visit but that's not convenient for a month or so, especially when the exhibition schedule is full and other artists need the dealer's time, then I'd say perhaps be a bit patient. Of course that should still be communicated to you.

Because each situation is different it's probably not that productive to discuss norms for expectations that might warrant finding another gallery.
As I'm sure you know, most dealers have many artist-clients to attend to (some who want more attention than others) and collector-clients to attend to (some who want more attention than others) but the same number of hours in a week as everyone else, which is no excuse for blatant over-the-top avoidance, especially when you need to discuss the agenda for a show, but each dealer will have their own way of balancing everything on their plate. As in all matters in the partnership, finding a gallery that's a good match for you is the key (some artists would be annoyed to be called everyday, I'm sure, and others would be pleased)...finding a personality and approach that feels right for you.

I'm impressed by your approach, though, looking first for a way to hit the 'restart' button. I know of artists who regularly called their gallery 5 or more times a day (even long before a show) and led their dealers to hit the restart button as well, so it's not an issue that singles out either side in particular.

My advice is to first focus on your actual needs. Reflect on that before setting any ultimatums. But once you're sure you know what you need to feel the partnership is working for you, ask your dealer for a short meeting preferably over coffee or something similarly out of the gallery context. This generally gets anyone's full attention and prompts a bit of pre-meeting reflection on their part as well.

Then at this meeting explain your frustration calmly, professionally (you are seeking a professional response), and firmly. Frame the conversations in terms of your needs, but be honest with yourself about what those are in the context of the dealer's other obligations to other artists, collectors, etc. (i.e., if what you "need" would require the dealer to spend more time or money than could be shared relatively equally with other gallery artists, you probably do have the wrong gallery, because obviously that's not possible). Expect to learn something about the dealer's point of view on this and be willing to listen as well.

I'm going out of my way to emphasize this because I've heard artist-friends insist that constant communication was a "need" when I was fairly sure it was more a want. You don't sound like that's anywhere near the situation for you though, so I'd recommend using exactly the language you're using here. Tell your dealer you'd like to start afresh in how you both communicate, that you feel the partnership has gotten off on a bad foot, developed a few unproductive habits, or however you get the point across without putting the dealer entirely on the defensive.

Then, put them on the hook, subtlely. Ask which means of communication is best, what kind of turnaround you should expect on your questions/requests, and what you should do when that's not going to be good enough. (This obligates them to consider how they communicate and, while giving them latitude, will push them to solve the issue to your satisfaction. Each of the answers to those questions, if direct and honest, doubles as a future commitment.)

If they manage to deflect that approach, then make other recommendations: Can another gallery employee be assigned handling some of your minor needs? Can you schedule a weekly check-in leading up to a show and then perhaps a monthly check-in in between shows (or whatever seems necessary, keeping in mind, again, that by focusing on actual needs you'll make a stronger case)?

Don't insist on any of these ideas. The goal isn't to box your dealer in, but to demonstrate that you're trying to do what you can to feel less frustrated about the communications. Ask your dealer if he/she has any recommendations toward that end. Then assess whether that is good enough.

Good luck.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Reconsidering Connoisseurship

Superdealer and secondary-market legend, Richard Feigen, penned a passionate defense of connoisseurship for The Art Newspaper recently, mourning its "death" and calling for guidelines to help determine what's fake from what's genuine among the "factory"-produced art created by many of today's best-known contemporary artists:
So what constitutes a fake? With old masters, connoisseurs devote themselves to distinguishing the master’s hand from the assistants’, and this can be done, even with objects from the pre-humanist period, when the patronage was religious and strictly formulaic. [...]

Of course there are contemporary artists whose hands are much more present in their work. It would be easy to tell a fake Jasper Johns or Anselm Kiefer even if the artists weren’t around to nail the fakers. Nor have I ever seen a fake Max Beckmann.

But since out of Duchamp’s box have sprung legions of art-makers, some with active factories, guidelines are clearly needed to tell the fake from the genuine. If the artist is alive, his word must prevail. Unless he has gone gaga or been coerced and the decision-making delegated. Or his widow or designee been corrupted. There was even an instance, related to me first-hand, when out of pity for the impoverished Dominguez, de Chirico actually signed a Dominguez fake “de Chirico”.
As much as I appreciate his position, I was a bit disheartened that Mr. Feigen's ultimate argument for authenticity seemed to reside in how much more money one could charge for work whose author had been verified:
In January 2000, a painting attributed to the rare painter, Arcimboldo, was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, for $1.5m. It has never been accepted as by Arcimboldo himself, and it has never been resold. In December 2005, two panels attributed to Bernardo Daddi, estimated at £50,000-£70,000, were sold at Sotheby’s, London for £400,000. One of the pair has now been identified as by Orcagna, an even greater and rarer master.

In December 2006, a painting catalogued as by a Rubens follower was sold in Sweden for $2.4m, then subsequently established as an autograph Rubens and resold privately for four times that amount. In October 2007, a painting estimated at $3,000 was sold in a provincial British sale as a Rembrandt copy for $5m, then fully accepted by the Rembrandt authority and valued at four times the cost. In July 2008, a painting catalogued as by Van Dyck was sold at Christie’s, London, for £3m, but the jury is still out as to whether Van Dyck painted it; there were many who thought not. All of this falls under the canopy of connoisseurship, the “dead” discipline.
Indeed, these anecdotes serve to highlight just how subjective a science connoisseurship tends to be. Furthermore, as incidents from the life of Bernard Berenson (perhaps the most illustrious connoisseur within the past 100 years) demonstrate, even opinions a connoisseur may be willing to swear to in court can change over time.

None of which is to suggest that connoisseurship isn't important, but that the application of such an inexact science will probably always involve suspiscion and that perhaps a new line of thinking about authenticity is needed more than guidelines for establishing "examples where the artist would have approved." Especially as more and more important artists push beyond the object.

Our current project space exhibition by Shane Hope (which got a nice review on Rhizome the other day, btw) imagines a future in which an artwork's media may include materials as unverifyably authentic perhaps (it's hard to tell, most of the materials don't yet exist) as a "Non-rival routing hyper-spatial wormhole in floating sheet of veiny tissue culture" or an "airborne recreational disease." I'm on the record as saying I entirely disagree with the notion that anyone else can declare what an artist presents as his or her work is "not art" and indeed feel that such limited thinking stymies the imagination, so if we could, I'd like to move past that discussion for just this once...especially as there's simply no telling whether a "non-rival routing hyper-spatial wormhole in floating sheet of veiny tissue culture" wouldn't be the single most beautiful thing mankind ever saw...in order to ponder what connoisseurship might mean in such a future.

In addition to "distinguishing the master’s hand from the assistants’," I have always felt connoisseurship included distinguishing a major work from an important artist's minor works. Furthermore, in a larger sense, it involves distinguishing quality between works by different artists. With all that in mind, then, say the wormhole floating in a culture piece Shane imagines is unquestionably an aesthetically excellent work. Like Michaelangelo's David, only the obstinate would argue it's not beautiful. But the damn piece just won't sit still. What does determining authenticity for such a work even mean? (If you really want to give yourself a headache, consider what it might mean if the future artist were an artificial intelligence.)

I realize I'm jumping way ahead of the game here (what with the debate as to whether a readymade is art still playing itself out), but perhaps the current milieu of connoisseurship needs to jump out ahead of things as well. At this point, running to catch up as it is, it's not really serving artists (not that it ever did, but it seems to be acting as a speed bump if you ask me) and increasingly barely serving collectors. Indeed, much of the criteria for contemporary connoisseurship stems from Johann Joachim Winckelmann's tome History of Ancient Art, and as much as I'm proud of my long distant relative's contribution to the field, he did publish the thing in 1764. Perhaps its time for a bold new lunge forward in how we think about such matters.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Life in the USSA

Dateline --Cheneygrad, DC, September 19, 2015

Today in the United Soviet States of America, we celebrate the 7th Anniversary of the Glorious Achievement of the Stealth Revolution. Marking the day that the shadow government led by Chairman Cheney saw the fruits of their sabotaging labor blossom into the world's first entirely peaceful Socialist takeover of a major Capitalist country, we pause each September 19th to reflect upon the genius that made such a historical achievement possible.

Pageants throughout our great Motherland will commemorate the Week of Surprise, in which not only did Chairman Cheney's furtive policies finally cripple the evil capitalist financial system in one fell swoop, but our Glorious Leader took advantage of the pending chaos to spend billions of dollars nationalizing the
Peoples International Group (formerly the American International Group [AIG]). From sea to Soviet sea today, children will re-enact the Freedom Mortgage March, commemorating how Chairman Cheney boldly raided the treasury to free the People from the shackles of the evil McMansion Bank Masters who had enslaved them.

There had been concern that two of the day's most popular closing events might not take place this year. The annual Fireworks Celebration (a yearly gift from our sister nation, the People's Republic of China) was possibly going to be cancelled due to growing concern over China's continual push toward the free market system, but after intense diplomatic urging by Northern Korea, the USSA relented and the celebration is back on. There was suspence as well after it was learned that Hugo Chavez, host of the Annual Straight-faced Reading of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations Competition, might not be able to attend (it just wouldn't be as funny without "Uncle Hugo" making faces behind the contestants). In a last-minute reshuffle of some G8 meetings he was supposed to chair, though, he announced today he will once again be able to participate.

Consider this an open thread on the state of the economy.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wish List Thursday

If necessity is the mother of invention, then why hasn't someone already invented the equivalent of ONIX feed technology for art galleries listings data?

I truly appreciate all the places it's possible to post your upcoming listings on the web, but it's getting to the point that we may soon need to hire an assistant who does little else.

I will give huge (seriously, like h1 header type)

blog love

to the industrious developer who figures out how we can distribute our data via one source to the wonderful folks who host listings.

No, there's no financial reward...you'll do it because you're an art lover, silly.

That's what I wish for today...you?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You...But, When Your Country Comes Asking, Get it in Writing!

Yevgeniy Fiks, whose current exhibition in our gallery has garnered some significant attention, including an artforum.com Critics' Pick by Colby Chamberlain, has another series of work that has haunted me since I was first introduced to it. Most of the paintings in this series were sold before we started working with Yevgeniy, so it wasn't possible for us to present an exhibition of them (although we do have a few in the office) but along side the dialog being stirred up by Yevgeniy's Adopt Lenin project, I have long wished to discuss the issues raised by his Songs of Russia series. As that may not happen any time soon in the gallery, I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss them here.

I'll let Yevgeniy's own words about the series tell the story behind them:

This series of oil paintings is based on imagery borrowed from Hollywood films about Russia made in 1943-1944 at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to garner more support for the Soviet Union during WWII, and to change the opinion of the American public toward the USSR. The films "The North Star" and "Song of Russia" (both by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) and "Mission to Moscow" (Warner Brothers) were essentially pro-Soviet propaganda produced in Hollywood that presented Stalin's Russia in a very favorable light. All three films completely matched both the aesthetics and rhetoric of Stalin's Socialist Realism of the 1930s and '40s. These were essentially Socialist Realist motion pictures -- both in terms of form and content -- and yet, produced in Hollywood and sanctioned by F.D.R. himself.

What makes these films unique is that they were produced in the USA during the Second World War, that is between the anti-Soviet hysteria that followed the October Revolution and the "Cold War" era. These films were made possible only during 1943-1944 when the goals of the American and Soviet propaganda machines coincided. The project "Song of Russia" reflects this forgotten chapter of the history of American cinema and narrates about the artificiality of the process of enemy construction.

What makes these films even more interesting is that after WWII, during McCarthyism and the "witch hunt," it's precisely these films that became the focus of the hearings of the Committee on anti-American activity and communist infiltration in Hollywood in the US Congress. As a consequence, many of the creators of these films were blacklisted for they couldn't prove direct orders of the Roosevelt administration to produce these films.

What Yevgeniy calls "the artificiality of the process of enemy construction" (and its flipside: "ally construction") is something I've always seen as intellectually lazy, opportunistic scapegoatism, and although its political use throughout the world suggests it's seen as an easy way to move or motivate large masses of people, personally I find it so loathsome a tactic as to permanently soil the reputation of any leader who resorts to it. These are harsh words for me to direct at FDR, who has always been a hero of mine, but we saw the inhuman results of this tactic unchecked in the hands of Hitler in WWII, and it buggers (Update: beggars?) belief that Roosevelt couldn't connect the dots and see why it's too uncontrollable a weapon to unleash without taking extra measures to protect those asked to deliver it. In short, why the f*ck didn't FDR leave some "get out of jail free" cards for the artists he asked to serve their country?

Particularly loathsome in this sad chapter of American history (and I simply can't stomach the woman, what can I say) is this trivia bit from the IMDB listing for "Song of Russia":
This film was the subject of inquiry by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in October 1947. Testimony as to the distortions of Soviet life presented in the film was provided by Ayn Rand, screenwriter and author of "The Fountainhead" and 'Atlas Shrugged".
So it's not even that FDR exposed the patriots who heeded his call to this later blacklisting that makes the back of my neck furl, it's that other pathetically self-serving, parasitical artists would lunge at the opportunity to promote themselves through the process. Even if that's unfair to Ms. Rand (and she was simply offering her unbiased opinion), I honestly don't care. She knew what her testimony would mean for her fellow filmmakers and what HUAC was all about.

Even as I write about this and feel the venom oozing out through my text, I do wonder why I still care. This is ancient history, right? Manipulating the masses to hate one group of people, then like them just a little bit, then hate them again...these are obvious tactics to us and we don't fall for that kid's stuff any more, right?

Consider this an open thread.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First Time as Farce

The images in the news yesterday should have made one despondent, and yet they left me oddly numb and then thoughtful. Thousands of homes reduced to flotsam, long lines of Texans waiting for water or food or gasoline, Midwestern roadways now canals of debris, big-ass numbers next to downward arrows everywhere, the logos of insurance companies that use adorable children in their advertising to assure customers they are bedrocks of stability plastered over with text like "Teetering on Bankruptcy," and a roomful of well-heeled jet-setters demurely raising paddles to bid on embalmed farm animals and butterfly paintings.

Not to take anything away from Mr. Hirst as either a businessman or an artist, but the timing of the first day of his ground-breaking auction bordered on the farcical, even as its success must be seen as a triumph of marketing. Of course Damien had no control over the juxtapositions, not having, I assume, the sort of clairvoyance that can predict when financial institutions will go belly-up or Mother Nature will reveal her wrath. And I sincerely congratulate both him and Sotheby's for pressing boldly forward despite the tempests raging around the world, but after seeing the march of Lehman Brothers employees carting away the contents of their desks in boxes and shopping bags, seeing the personal belongings of Texans strewn across muddy yards, and hearing the death toll go up as the stock indexes go down, it did all seem a bit absurd.

Today, of course, is another day. Bambino and I scrolled through the online catalog for today's auction last night, doing the insta-critic "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" lot by lot, and saw a number of gems we'd be very happy to own (if we only had the space for a Zebra in a tank), but the one piece that seemed mysteriously apropos of the day was Lot 203*, a painting of Bill Gates reflected in a shark tank. Being sold on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which truly does remarkable work, the painting reminded me of the titans of industry who, at the beginning of the last century, sought to secure their immortality by amassing a treasure trove of art. Frick, Phillips, Carnegie, and on and on...as the world marched toward the Great Depression, these giants marched toward their eponymous museums.

And thank God they did, of course, for we're blessed by their existence today. But thinking about this did work to soften any sense of inappropriateness about the dealings in Sotheby's I might have had. If the world's wealthy are going to splurge while Wall Street burns, I'd much rather see their money go toward art than disposable objects. And that idea, that one day these art pieces...these artifacts of our current times of turmoil...will reside in a peaceful museum and elicit quiet contemplation, served to make the day a bit less tragic. But no less farcical.

*This link may not work after today's sale.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Open Thread: The Effect of Global Warming on Art Making and Collecting

Bambino and I spent the weekend at the beach house of two wonderful collectors and friends of ours (I won't say who, except to hint that the one has a highly regarded blog that was not named for a current exhibition at the Asia Society), and the topic came up of what kind of art it's possible to keep in an environment where metal will rust in a heartbeat and the relentless humidity will warp the most professionally framed art on paper. Indeed, as any conservator will tell you, there are certain climates in which certain types of art would have a very short shelf-life.

With global warming changing climates around the world, though, I began to wonder what impact that might have on the type of art that gets made or bought. Should Manhattan, for example, become as humid as the tropics, who could afford to house photography in an apartment that gets shut down during the summer. You'd need to keep the AC running all summer long whether you were there or not (not an attractive option with energy costs what they are), or move all your art to storage each summer. Would that impact what you decided to buy after a while?

Far beyond climate-controlling one's apartment year round, the drastic weather we're seeing due to global warming is impacting institutions where they're very careful about the environment their treasures are housed in. No matter how sophisticated your HVAC system is, mother nature can still have her say. Tyler Green points to images of the Menil (which seems OK) in Houston (which was devastated by Hurricane Ike). [Please forgive what might seem an inappropriate focus on art when lives and homes were lost, those people are on my mind this morning as well...thankfully the death toll was much lower than it could have been.] Tyler also was my first source of information for how museums dealt with the terribly flooding the heartland saw this past June. Knowing that more extreme weather is probably in our future, will that impact what museums exhibit certain times of year? Will how easy it is to move certain types of artwork quickly determine exhibition schedules or the willingness of other institutions to lend work to institutions for shows during the hurricane season or flooding zones? Museums have to consider such matters when they're first built, of course, but what if they were built for a very different climate than the one evolving around them now?

Many contemporary artists are not particularly daunted when it comes to using materials in their art that later require considerable care to preserve, but what if warming trends made it nearly impossible to even create types of work and get it to the gallery or collector's house before it becomes their responsibility? What if energy costs make having the AC running round the clock in the studio spaces much less viable, but turning it off would impact your ability to complete a piece they way you need to? Even as I write these questions, I imagine they seems somewhat simplistic if not silly, but I'll put them out there anyway in case folks truly are seeing an impact in their art making, curating, or acquiring habits as things heat up. Consider this an open thread on what impact continual global warming may have on the art you make, exhibit, or purchase, if indeed you foresee any.

Image above:
The EDITT (Ecological Design In The Tropics) Tower is a fuzzy combination of organic and inorganic material. Llewelyn Davies Yeang

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Soul Searching

Next week, Sotheby's is going to auction off 223 artworks directly from the studio of artist Damien Hirst. This bold move into the primary market by the auction house has stirred up quite a bit of commentary, including in forums that I support and participate in (such as Artworld Salon), but as of yet I have not been able to bring myself to openly write on the topic. Oh I've sent a few hotly worded tirades through back channels, but in re-reading any of them I realized I sounded whiny or reactionary or, worse, anti-artist.

Indeed, my biggest reservation in talking about Sotheby's land grab has been that it's difficult to do so without seeming to question whether or not Hirst should have control over his career, which of course not only should he, but I'm on record as encouraging other artist to think outside the box and have singled Mr. Hirst out specifically as someone who's done so very well. Reserving all my criticism then for the auction houses seemed disingenuous though, because clearly this arrangement is something Mr. Hirst is strongly defending as well.

Also keeping my fingers away from my keyboard, admittedly without courage, was knowing that I really wanted to see how the auction goes before commenting. That would be unfair though. If the auction tanks, then my response would possibly come off as a "told-you-so" postmortem, making me seem both cowardly and petty. If the auction does well, then any reservations I had expressed will seem unprescient, unprogressive, and even more anti-artist.

I felt stuck. This is possibly a total game changer, and I couldn't sort out how to express my visceral sense that this was not something the art world would truly benefit from.

Enter the brilliant Roberta Smith. In a review of an exhibition at the newly opened New York branch of the gallery Haunch of Venison (love, love, love that name) she insightfully nails the potential pitfalls of auction houses tiptoeing into the primary art market. Haunch of Venison, you see, is owned by Christie's auction house, and if their first New York exhibition is any indication, then my gut was right...there are game-changing mutations that come along for the ride here. I like to think I'm forward thinking, but embracing the bold new world doesn't mean you leap blindly into a void.

Smith forewarns of her misgivings in the review's opening sentence, but two later observations were what pieced it altogether for me.
Christie’s acquisition of the gallery, announced early last year, raised questions about conflict of interest, but now the arrangement seems almost quaint. After all, next week Sotheby’s will auction off a large batch of new works by Damien Hirst directly from his studio, completely bypassing art dealers, galleries, the viewing (and reviewing) public.
This show should be seen for its high points and a few of [curator David] Anfam’s juxtapositions. But the main lesson here is that it takes more than great art, new walls and a no-sale policy to make an art gallery. Galleries are forms of expression; they need at least a smattering of vision. Absent that, the effect is soulless and corporate.
But even in letting myself cheer at that sentiment, I realized I'm still not addressing why this move is bad for artists. So it's bad for galleries and critics...should artists care? The answer is yes if they care about posterity and whether future generations will feel that the way the art of our time was selected for preservation had any integrity. You see, the strength of an auction-house-backed gallery like Haunch of Venison has a pull somewhat akin to that of a black hole:
More than a third of the show’s 60 or so works have been lent by museums — the Whitney, the Modern and the Albright-Knox among others — which adds a veneer of respectability but leaves one wondering why museums would participate in such a redundant, aggrandizing show. The least offensive answer is that the museums are doing favors for Mr. Anfam, a respected scholar of postwar American art with numerous books and museum exhibitions to his name. Maybe they just want to remain in good standing with Christie’s, or Mr. Pinault. But probably each loan has its own route. For example, Haunch’s international managing director, Robert Fitzpatrick, is the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which has sent Franz Kline’s 1955 “Vawdavitch.” Although about a dozen of the remaining works are lent by dealers, Mr. Fitzpatrick said that Haunch of Venison, at least, is not selling anything in the show. That may be too slender a hair to split.
Again, God bless Ms. Smith.

I know, because I read the comments here, that there are folks who feel even the current gallery system is too corporate and soulless. Some folks simply feel that art is soiled by commerce, and that it's pointless to draw moral distinctions between an art gallery like, oh say, ours and what Christie's is doing with Haunch of Venison. And perhaps, taking a long view, they're right. But without at least the expectation that a gallery is serving the public with risk-taking exhibitions and artist-centric (as opposed to market-centric) concerns determining at least some of the programming decisions, we do lose just that little bit more of soul in the art world.

Personally, I think these days we should cling to all the soul we can.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

All-purpose response to any statement coming out of the McCain campaign

The only professional journalistic response to anything the McCain campaign says until they stop lying about the Bridge to Nowhere, stop lying about Obama's tax plan, stop lying about and Obama's record on the sex education in schools, and the list goes on, is

"Did McCain just make that up?"


Thomas Hussein Campbell?

Culture Grrl's Lee Rosenbaum has a post on her impressions of new Met director Thomas Campbell, garnered from the press conference announcing his appointment. Lee's piece is set up with a heavily loaded headline and selective photo and condescending caption, all of which is fair game for a blog, which, attention spans being what they are, permits a limited amount of space in which to convey an opinion before reader's flee, but then fails to deliver a convincing condemnation of its subject in my opinion.
Campbell's Soup: Met's Director-Elect Serves Thin Broth at Press Conference

Let's get this over with quickly, if not painlessly:

If you're going to hold a press conference, you've got to be willing to say something substantive to the assembled writers.
Based on that set-up, I expected Campbell's answers to the writer's questions to reveal a lack of confidence or unpreparedness, which is indeed how Rosenbaum tries to sell them, but I think she might have missed the more probable reason Campbell's responses were short on details about his personal vision for the museum...he was sitting right next to the outgoing legend, and anything that he stated that might be interpreted as a criticism would be pounced upon by the press and thrown up as disrespect...how dare this relative unknown suggest he knows better than Philippe? Indeed, I sense a hint of unrequited lust for just such an opportunity throughout Lee's post.

I will grant that reporters need a story...that's what they're paid to get, that's what news outlets sell, that's why writers bother to show up at press conferences...and so I'm not disagreeing with Lee's premise, just her interpretation of what she heard.

Here's the first question Lee asked that we're asked to understand revealed a lack of substance:
Rosenbaum: Philippe [in his opening remarks] just spoke about the importance of "renewal" and James Houghton spoke about the importance of your "vision for the future." Can you tell us what your ideas are for renewal and for the future?

Campbell: This a great institution doing many things right and I don't believe in change for the sake of change. But of course I have been here for some time, I understand how things work here, and I do have ideas. But I think the next three and a half months are going to be a period for me of intense listening. This is the time for me to measure my ideas against all the realities on the ground and it would be premature to speak too directly about new developments. I think that's the kind of question to ask me in January of next year.
The key phrase here that reveals just how politically savvy Campbell seems to be (the story Lee missed, IMO) is "a period for me of intense listening." Presidential candidates of late have used this well (Hillary Clinton seemed to have raised it to an art form in her first Senate race). It has the combined benefits of not making you look presumptuous or overly anxious, suggesting you understand that others' opinions are valuable, and letting you roll out your vision on your time table, rather according to the press' story deadlines. "This is the time for me to measure my ideas against all the realities on the ground and it would be premature to speak too directly about new developments," also echoes the way candidates discuss pulling out from Iraq, Obama in particular qualifies each answer to how he'll redeploy the troops with the caveat that the reality on the ground will dictate his decisions. And he's confident enough about his plans that he's offering the press a timetable on which to judge him.

Personally, I'm both impressed and a bit intimidated that Campbell seems so calculating and confident.

His answer to Lee's next question reminded me of the Illinois Senator as well.
Rosenbaum: To what extent can you explain to us your background in administration, managerial [matters] and fundraising? Can you give us a level of confidence that you have that side of the job covered?

Campbell: I've never been a director. Look, I think that the museum that Philippe will be leaving is a supremely well run, well established institution. We're fiscally sound. We're incredibly dynamic in terms of our programs. We have 17 curatorial departments, five conservation departments, and almost as many various administrative departments, and by and large they're all extremely well managed.
The direct, no bullsh*t acknowledgment of his experience (or lack thereof), his command of the facts, his respect for the intelligence of the person he's talking to, even his use of the work "Look" (echoing the confidence of a law professor getting to the meat of an issue), all of these things made me hear this answer in my mind in Obama's voice even before I connected the dots about what it meant. I doubt that Campbell sounds like Barack in real life, but in print there's definitely a similarity.

So Campbell didn't spoon feed the press conference attendees any sensation or scandal. That hardly means there's no story there.

UPDATE: Lee responds and cites some other reports to back her opinion that
"substance was lacking throughout the press conference."

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is the Art World Growing Up Again?

"A touch of gray suits you," my mother told me the last time I was home. I know, I know, mothers have to say reassuring things like that...that's their job, but it wasn't her kindness that surprised me (she's like that), and it wasn't exactly news that I have a touch of gray (I also have a mirror), rather it was the fact that I didn't freak out or feel old before my time or think anything was wrong with maturing that made me pause a moment...and then smile.

I've been around long enough now to know that all scenes cycle through their youthquakes, important development years, rich maturities, and eventually fade to that out-of-touch stage that sparks another youthquake. Even in our earliest days in Williamsburg, though, I could never quite pull off "hip," so I'm very much enjoying what I'm seeing in the art world of late: what I would call a slowing down or more serious tone to things. That's not to imply that there's not still wonderful/important things to be found in hipper, youthquakier, faster-moving quarters of the art world, mind you, but from art consultants to collectors to other dealers I've talked with recently, everyone seems to be exhaling a huge sigh of relief that they can actually reflect a bit more these days. And isn't that the joy (if not the entire point) of art?

If the last decade or so was defined by frantically spanning the globe, I feel the next one will finally take full advantage of the luxury that technology affords us to perhaps travel less but still get as much accomplished. It's partly the economy (and in particular the dollar), I know, but nearly every gallery I talk with lately tells me they're scaling back on the number of art fairs they're going to do in the next year. Fewer overseas, fewer domestically. (Actually, I think this might be less attributable to dealers slowing down than the fact that collectors simply got exhausted from the "if this is Tuesday, this must be Brussels" pace of the year-round art fair season, but the effect is the same...)

And it's not just in the market we're seeing a more mature pace and decision-making take hold. In last week's post on forecasting the new fall season, I noted that I thought, like MoMA's choice of Ann Temkin for their new chief curator of painting and sculpture, the Met would find their new director from within, rather than try to grab headlines and attention with some international celebrity pick, they'd go for continuity and known quality. Well, they still got their headline, but...
Ending months of fervid speculation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reached into its own ranks on Tuesday and chose Thomas P. Campbell, a 46-year-old English-born tapestries curator, to succeed Philippe de Montebello as director and chief executive.

The appointment, effective Jan. 1, was approved in a late-afternoon vote by the museum’s board of trustees after a suspenseful eight-month search that began when Mr. Montebello, 72, announced plans to retire after 31 years in the post.
Choosing a serious director (like, oh, say, choosing a serious vice presidential running mate) is part of the more focused, more tempered sensibility in the air these days. God knows we've had enough recklessness in our government of late, and while a bit of recklessness among artists (the visual arts version of the rock star) is always healthy and often necessary, the cultural custodians (museums, galleries, curators, collectors, writers, etc.) seem to have caught their reflection in the mirror and noticed that acting like they too were rock stars perhaps wasn't the most flattering look for them.

None of which will last for that long. Another youthquake is undoubtedly right around the corner. And while that is as it should be, I, for one, intend to savor the slower pace and the richer conversations I'm having with all the players these days, even the conversations about my younger, more rambunctious artists. It's amazing how much you can get done when you're not trying to keep up with the Jones-ters. It won't last, I know, but this current climate seems to suit me.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Obama-Biden vs. McCain-Palin '08

Now that the major party conventions are over, and I've listened to the speeches, and I've listened to the responses to the speeches, I wanted to outline the reasons I have decided to vote for Barack Obama for President. This will not surprise anyone, I'm sure, but I believe the exercise of explaining one's choice strengthens our democracy. Citizens of other free nations tend to be much more elaborate about why they're choosing candidate X over Y in my experience. Here we watch a few ads, plaster a bumper sticker on our car, and call it a day. Personally, I feel that if you can't tell someone else why you're voting the way you are, perhaps you haven't given the decision-making process the time it deserves. So here goes.

There is one criterion on which someone could sincerely, nonpartisanly argue that McCain is a better choice for working- and middle-class Americans (i.e., the majority of us), and that is in foreign policy experience. Experience, though, as Governor Mitt Romney could be read to suggest recently, is only the means to an end, not the end itself:
Mitt Romney promoted Sen. John McCain's foreign policy experience Sunday, arguing that "judgment comes from experience."
Indeed, it is judgment that counts in a president.

The judgment we could expect from Obama or McCain as president is something we can only truly gauge so far from their first presidential decision: their running mate choices. Anticlimactic as it may have been in comparison, Obama's choice of Senator Joe Biden strongly demonstrates that he took seriously the obligation to choose a running mate who could step in immediately as President should he die in office. Choosing Biden didn't hurt his campaign in any way, but Joe didn't bring in any specific, politically advantageous demographic that Obama needed to court either (scrappy kids from Scranton notwithstanding), so there's no way to argue that Biden was an overtly political choice. He was a mature and responsible choice.

Then we come to McCain's choice. Arguing, as NYTimes columnist William Kristol did yesterday, that "
Character, judgment and the ability to learn seem to matter more to success as president than the number of years one’s been in Washington" as a defense of selecting a running mate without experience, might indeed justify choosing Teddy Roosevelt or Harry Truman, but to extrapolate their success in rising to the challenge to justify McCain's choice opens up an entirely new debate on Palin's character, judgment and ability to learn, and perhaps McCain's as well.

Of those three, character is the only one you can even remotely garner from watching someone make a few prepared speeches. Based on that limited exposure and examining the information it provided, I would say Governor Palin's character is defined by an appealing life story, an impressive ability to balance career and family, an irresistible optimism, a firm belief in Pentecostal teachings, a firmer belief that those same teachings are indistinguishable from what makes for a sound government (even when serving a pluralistic society), and the ability to tell an outright lie into a camera without flinching. All in all, I'd conclude that puts her, character-wise, among the politians I would I would happily exchange pleasantries with about the weather or sports and perhaps buy cookies to support her children's camping group, but would, as a courtesy, avoid discussing religion with and wouldn't trust with a spare key to my house.

As for her judgment, not having seen her answer any tough questions about important issues yet, I'll defer to Senator McCain's opinion of it. But before that, though, let me note what this choice says of his judgment. From what I can tell, his choice of Governor Sarah Palin strongly demonstrates he's willing to take a serious risk, potentially at our expense, and simply hope (because he doesn't have much else to go on) that the Governor will come up to speed on the national economy and international relations in time to lead effectively should he die in office. Palin's record is undeniably thin on such matters, and she hasn't been through a tough national primary in which she was asked to explain her positions on them, and so McCain seems to be asking us to rely on what he ascertained in the relatively short vetting process to be her sound ability to make life-and-death decisions for 350,000,000 Americans. That would be asking a lot, in my opinion.

There is another explanation here, of course, and that is that McCain wasn't concerned with Palin's experience or readiness to step in and be President should he die in office. Rather, he was concerned with bringing in a specific, politically advantageous demographic that he needed to court (specifically, the Right's Evangelical base), making Palin an entirely, overtly political choice. If that's the case, then he is lying to us when he says "She's exactly who this country needs." Sarah Palin is merely exactly who John McCain needs.

The "ability to learn" (Kristol's final criterion) is a booby trap. Compare the education of the one candidate who has arguably less experience than his counterpart (Senator Obama has a law degree from Harvard) with that of the other (Governor Palin has a bachelor of science degree in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho) and even before you come to any conclusions about what that says about their ability to learn you will have mobs of angry faux-populists wielding pitchforks and chanting "Elitism is Un-American." It would be nice if we could honestly discuss whether a J.D. vs. a bachelors in journalism reflected a stronger ability to learn, but alas, in a campaign where race and gender are finally, finally much less relevant, the pseudo-folksy anti-intellectual pose adopted by both cynical political operatives and lazy-ass underachievers who relish in the license that lends them to feel superior without having to work for it still...remarkably...inconceivably...remains a hot-potato issue in this country. Let me say, for the record, that being incurious is not a virtue. It only helps the people eager to take advantage of you convince you that it is.

So back to what we can tell about the candidates' judgment based on their VP picks. It's clear to me that Obama has exercised more maturity and seriousness, more concern for the nation rather than his chances in November, and in that way more respect for "we the people" in his running mate choice than McCain has. As that is the only truly presidential decision they have made thus far, that is a significant factor in my decision.

But there are some other important issues to consider here. The country as a whole is clearly seen as heading in the wrong direction, as shown by the response to this question in a recent poll:

"How well are things going in the country today: very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?"

DATEVery Well (%)Fairly Well (%)Pretty Badly (%)Very Badly (%)Unsure (%)

While I appreciate that McCain and Palin intend to shake things up in Washington, you do have to wonder why the same Republicans who cheered at their national conventions in 2000 and 2004 weren't insulted by what they heard from their candidates in 2008. Seriously, it was as if they thought McCain and Palin were talking about some other party. Someone clearly needs to help them connect the dots here. Let me try:
Dear Republicans, YOU are the ones who have held the White House for the past 8 years. YOU are the ones who have controlled Congress all but two of those years. YOU are the ones who voted more than 90% of the time with President Bush. YOU are the ones whose policies are now seen as needing to be shaken up. YOU...YOU...YOU are responsible for the poll results above. YOU!

And yet, there you were, wildly, giddily, deliriously cheering the promise that these self-labeled mavericks were going to make you change your ways. Uh...why not just change your ways yourselves, if you're that much in favor of it?
The other thing a McCain-Palin administration would bring of course is even more discouragement and mistrust among the world's other nations with regard to how much we've learned about the abuse of power over the past 8 years. Palin, who doesn't have much of a position on Iraq to speak of, other than disagreeing with her running mate about the need for an "exit plan," did offer the following indication of how seriously she would approach the task of restoring America's reputation as a country of ideals and moral principles:
Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights.
As Newsweek's fact-checker pointed out, however:
Obama isn't worried, as Palin said, "that someone won't read them their rights" when it comes to suspected terrorists who are detained by the U.S. He does, however, support the right of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in federal court. That's the same position the Supreme Court took in June in a case called Boumediene v. Bush.
So whereas Obama's stated concern is that, as a nation, we need to comply with our own Constitution (as interpreted by the Roberts Supreme Court, no less), Palin apparently feels that that court decision isn't quite right. Or at least it's wrong enough to be worthy of mockery. (Personally, I would be rather surprised to learn she knows anything at all about what was at stake in Boumedien v. Bush, but who knows...maybe some day a reporter can ask her.)

But more of the same bellicose, anti-human-rights rhetoric and moral ambiguity is apparently what McCain feels we need. Never mind that even our BFF, Britain, is having doubts about our trustworthiness...
Given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committe, United Kingdom, July 19, 2008
...so long as these mavericks are calling the shots in the war on terror, we can sleep well at night, can't we? I mean McCain was right about the surge and all that, wasn't he?
McCain's record on Iraq is decidedly mixed. If the Arizona Republican proved prescient in his calls for a military buildup, many of his other predictions and prescriptions turned out wrong.

Before the war, McCain predicted a quick and easy victory, not a vicious insurgency. He issued dire warnings about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction but didn't read the full 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that showed gaps in the intelligence.
Well, one out of four ain't bad, I suppose. At least McCain's lifetime in the Senate has made him a good judge of the big picture, of who the players are on the world stage. We know because of his own history in Vietnam that he would base decisions such as whether to send our young men and women into harm's way on rigorously informed analysis of what's really going on in the world, right? He's seen war, and hates war as only a soldier can, right? He wouldn't just gobble down the talking points from some neo-conservative think tank when the lives of our fellow citizens in uniform, and the rest of us, were at stake. He'd find out the truth first, right?
MCCAIN: Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction as quickly as he can. The Czech government has revealed meetings, contacts between Iraqi intelligence and Mohamed Atta. The evidence is very clear. (October 29, 2001 to Larry King)
There's no question in my mind that the Republicans could use some quiet time to rethink their political strategies, not to mention their brand. When Hillary and Bill Clinton are approvingly mentioned more times at their convention than George W. Bush is; when the ticket runs on a theme of "change" from their own party's policies; when the only sincere excitement in the arena came from a mostly unknown politician and proven bold-faced liar; it's worse than bad judgment to ask for our votes, it's downright unpatriotic.

The choice is really very clear to me. Obama has demonstrated that he understands what the country needs in a president at this point in history. He has weathered a grueling primary season and still manages to be civil, smart, and true to his values. He chose a perfectly qualified running mate. His very candidacy has already worked to help change anti-American sentiments around the world. And he surrounds himself with talented, compassionate people. He is so much more the right choice for President in 2008 than John McCain.

PS: Anyone thinking I'm overselling the bold-faced liar bit, please watch this:


Monday, September 08, 2008

Bambino's SEE and BE SEEN (September 5, 2008)

Based on what I saw for the past couple of days in Chelsea, it looks like people couldn’t wait for the new season to begin. And it was pretty packed everywhere when we went on Thursday evening to see a few openings, and we were packed as well on Friday for Yevgeniy Fiks’s show, which received tremendous interest from everyone who came for the opening.

The next morning there were people lined up to adopt Lenin (see a few of the early birds above), and it’s going very fast. So for everyone who wanted to adopt during the opening, hurry up before it’s late.

Yevgeniy Fiks is one of the most professional artists there is to work with. You can see some of his other work in the office at the gallery. And you might have seen his other project we showed during Pulse New York Art fair. It's currently in a museum show in Italy, which is suppose to end in summer but because of a huge interest and demand kept being extended. And now is extended until the end of September. Personally I feel close to his work and absolutely love his work. His “Lenin for Your Library?” piece is one of my favorites.

It was lovely to see one of the nicest collectors in art world, Diane Ackerman, at the opening. Ask anyone, and they will tell you how nice and elegant she is always is.

And here is one of "The Chadwicks," Lytle Shaw (whose show is coming up with us next month) with new mom Sally Morgan (from Morgan Lehman Gallery), who just had a baby and look at her! She should be in a magazine, explaining her rules for how to get back in shape in a few months. They also had an opening on Thursday with amazing paintings, which I loved. At first I thought they were photographs...amazingly well painted. Almost sold out show, only 2-3 pieces left. We are excited about their upcoming show next month, which got huge interest with their work in Chicago Art Fair.

Behind Lytle and Sally is Hellen Allen, director of Pulse Art Fair, who is one the most wonderful art fair organizers. We are proud to be part of Pulse this year in Miami! As I mentioned before, Pulse Art Fair is one of the most professional and well-organized art fairs lately in art world. We are so excited about Miami, because Pulse art fair got tons of positive reviews from last year and this year Pulse Art Fair is one of MUST see art fairs in Miami.

One of my newest, closest friends, Eve Sussman, was there. I can’t wait for her new project to finish. She will be traveling soon to keep working on her new interesting project. Wait till you’ll see. I am so proud be a little helpful in her project.

Jennifer Coates (here with a friend) is one our favorites artists, who is having her own opening next week at Kinz, Tillou and Feigen, which I would highly suggest not to miss. We will be there.

One of the smartest curators we know and you should know is Sara Reisman. We love her, and I believe everyone who knows her would say same. And thank you Sara for the compliment last night. Omar Lopez-Chahoud, whom we know and Sara she has worked together was there as well, but unfortunately I couldn’t take his picture. He is another curator you should know.

And here is Shane Hope, whose work is available to see in our Project Space we share with Schroeder Romero Gallery. His new drawings are absolutely fantastic.

OK, that's it until next time. Thanks to everyone who came out on Friday!