Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't Even Think About Not Voting

I don't care what polls you blue your state sure you are that your vote won't make any difference this long the lines busy your life cold or wet or snowy or hot or humid or windy or muggy or foggy it is hung over you tired you cynical you frightened you worried about the economy you unsure he's experienced enough you anything you are.

Come this Tuesday, if not before, complete your civic duty and cast your vote. If it takes all freaking day...cast your vote. No excuses! This time it really does matter. It will probably be close. Do your part!


The Shelf-life of One's Creative Center

Ken Johnson pens a wonderful review in today's New York Times of Rembrandt-contemporary Jan Lievens (whose work is featured in an exhibition at The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC). As precocious early on as he is all-but forgotten today, Lievens' life paralleled Rembrandt's:
Early in their careers the two painters worked closely together. They had the same teacher, Pieter Lastman; they painted each other’s portraits; they explored similar subjects; and they influenced each other’s styles. Over the years many of Lievens’s paintings were misattributed to Rembrandt.
Indeed, Rembrandt bought and hung one of Leiven's paintings in his home. This one, I believe:

[image remove]

According to Johnson's review, though, this one was about as good as Leiven seemed to get. Having created the remarkably accomplished piece here (given his total of 15 years on earth):

he seemed to sputter and spin rather than live up to such promise. Johnson notes:
As he matured, however, Lievens did not sustain a clear path of development. Instead he pursued a variety of styles and genres. He painted many tronies — quasi portraits of stock characters — which were popular at the time. He was good at portraying old, bearded men with soulful eyes, and a profile of a young girl is striking for her glowing blond hair.
Ken notes that despite how catchy some of the pieces are, simply by walking down the hall at the museum to their Rembrandt rooms, you'll see the difference in accomplishment:
[Y]ou will see how much painterly vivacity and psychological complexity is missing from Lievens’s works. His self-flattering self-portrait from the early 1650s turns to fluff when compared with Rembrandt’s miraculous, eerily lifelike self-portrait from 1659 in the museum’s collection.
So, the big question becomes...what happened and what can other artists learn from this story? Why did Rembrandt age well like a good wine, while Lievens seemed to have squandered raw talent? Ken throws out a few possible explanations:
Did premature success throw off his development? Did he diversify too much? Was his peripatetic life a distraction? He lived in London for three years in the 1630s and in several different cities in the Netherlands after that, and he was always in financial distress.

Maybe he had a personality disorder; one of his patrons noted in a letter that he had “so high a conceit of himself that he thinks there is none to be compared with him in all Germany, Holland, nor the rest of the 17 provinces.”
When I started reading the article, my first thought was that maybe Lievens was simply unlucky, timing wise, in the way that Salieri was unlucky to have lived in Vienna at the same time as Mozart. Indeed, listen to a piece Salieri composed today and it will strike you that had the Viennese not had his simply sublime contemporary to compare with him, he might have been heralded as the greatest composer of his age. (Which raises another question about whether that's enough to secure a significant place in history or whether we graviate toward the timeless greats and eventually ignore those only great compared with their contemporaries...another thread perhaps.)

Lievens, though, apparently was no Salieri. Taking Ken's word for it (because I haven't seen the exhibition), something seems to have never quite happened for Jan:
Whatever might have been wrong, ultimately the problem is not that Lievens was not as good as Rembrandt. It’s that after his meteoric start, he seems to have lost touch with his own creative center.
But that brings me to another question (one for this thread): is an artist's creative center something that we expect to last and stay in touch with, or can it burn bright and then fade, never to be regained at such an intensity again? If it's meant to last a life time, then, that would suggest every artist should get better with age, which doesn't seem to be the case in any field. That, then, suggests that creative centers might have a shelf-life.

Which leads me to wonder what can be done to prolong that shelf-life, which leads me to the notion of finding a muse, which leads me to wonder if what I've always assumed might be just an excuse among perverted older artists to dote on beautiful young people isn't in fact a very natural means of extending one's creative center, making it somewhat less unsavory. Of course, a muse need not be jailbait. A muse need not be a person at all. Perhaps Picasso et al. can still be considered dirty old men for not looking deeper for a muse less likely to bring them into conflict with customary statutes or at least morals. But I digress...

What (I'm asking you artists mostly) else can be done to sustain one's creative center?

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Assemble Your Own Aphorism

Here's an interesting intersection of three articles/blog posts I read this morning. I'm sure, with enough time on one's hands, a pithy little aphorism could be assembled by weaving the threads running through them.

First stop is Jonathan Jones' blog on the Guardian. Jonathan quotes Art Review's 2008 most powerful man in the art world, Damien Hirst, ranting about art dealers and the market:
Art is about life and the art world is about money although the buyers and sellers, the movers and shakers, the money men will tell you anything to not have you realise their real motive is cash, because if you realise - that they would sell your granny to Nigerian sex slave traders for 50 pence (10 bob) and a packet of woodbines - then you're not going to believe the other shit coming out of their mouths that's trying to get you to buy the garish shit they've got hanging on the wall in their posh shops ... Most of the time they are all selling shit to fools, and it's getting worse.
Second stop is an interview on Art World Salon with Canadian-born, London-based sociologist-turned-journalist, Sarah Thornton, whose new book, Seven Days in the Art World, is described by AWS Founder András Szántó as follows: it "documents the frenzied peak of the recent art boom ... just as that boom appears to be sputtering out. Some would call this bad timing. In fact, it’s a stroke of good luck. It puts Ms. Thornton in the enviable position of having captured an epic chapter in art-world history in its entirety." The part of the interview that forms part of this post's experiment is:

Some say “art business” is an oxymoron. How do you see it?

You have to be willfully romantic to see “art business” as an oxymoron. Important art is always made by people with more profound goals and intellectual ambitions than simply making money. I also believe that there is little straightforward correlation between long-term artistic and economic value. But, even before Warhol, art and business were inextricably entwined.

What is the single greatest popular misunderstanding about the art market?

That it is not about the art.

Final stop is this news item on The Art Newspaper:
Damien Hirst is to work with the dealer Emmanuel Perrotin and is planning an exhibition in his Paris gallery in April 2010. This is a surprise return to the dealer who hosted one of Hirst’s first solo shows in 1991—and claims to be the only dealer never to have made a profit from the artist.

“Everyone has written that Hirst wanted to bite the hand that fed him,” said Mr Perrotin, referring to the artist’s decision to bypass his dealers by going straight to auction at Sotheby’s in September. “But there’s a difference between asserting a bit of independence and turning your back on your dealers.”

Any takers?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In a Nutshell

[via TPM]


Everything in New Orleans Is a Good Idea

I was offered an opportunity to go to New Orleans recently that unfortunately I was unable to take advantage of. A small part of me was actually somewhat relieved. I haven't been back since Katrina. The city is already overloaded with bittersweet memories for Venice, it's one of those magically unworldly places in my much better than mankind usually manages that it makes you believe in God. Truly, of all the cities in America to let go down like that...without marshaling every last resources we had to try and save it...suggests to me that this country more than lost its way during the Bush let its soul get lost in the wilderness as well.

Some of what was lost is being regained, though. Through art, no less. This Saturday, New Orleans is opening what's being billed as the largest exhibition of contemporary art ever held on American soil: Prospect.1 New Orleans, and I suspect the spontaneous parades will be plentiful:
On November 1, 2008, Prospect.1 New Orleans [P.1], the largest biennial of international contemporary art ever organized in the United States, will open to the public in museums, historic buildings, and found sites throughout New Orleans. Prospect.1 New Orleans [P.1] has been conceived in the tradition of the great international biennials, and will showcase new artistic practices as well as an array of programs benefiting the local community. Over the course of its eleven-week run, Prospect.1 New Orleans [P.1] plans to draw international media attention, creative energy, and new economic activity to the city of New Orleans.
Folks in New York have been talking about this star-studded biennial for months now, some skeptical, some in awe of the energy going into the effort. From an article in the New York Times today, you get a sense that the organizers have more than pulled it off...they've created something truly important:
Dan Cameron, the impresario behind Prospect.1 and a former senior curator at the New Museum in New York, said that as he was planning the biennial, a friend frequently reminded him of a quotation from Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles”: “Everything in New Orleans is a good idea.”

Prospect.1, Mr. Cameron said, is “just 81 people running around with good ideas, and basically everyone they meet goes, ‘Oh yeah, sure, I’ll help.’ ”

“It is American,” he continued, “but it’s no longer what we think of as American — it’s drop what you’re doing and go do what your neighbor’s doing.”

This is, after all, the city of spontaneous parades.

Mr. Cameron said he was careful to select artists for the first Prospect who would attract critics and collectors but were not divas whose expectations might exceed the abilities of a first-time exhibition on a shoestring budget of $3.2 million.
Prospect.1 has a blog as well. Check it out here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bill Burton is a God

Finally, someone who can effectively stand up to the psuedo-journalists they have read GOP talking points on Fox News. Simply brilliant:

Not Megyn Kelly's finest moment. [via Sully]


The Chadwicks in "Time Out"

TimeOut New York's Jane Harris responds to our current exhibition by The Chadwicks:

What happens when a sculptor and a professor of literature get together to make art? If they’re Jimbo Blachly and Lytle Shaw, the result is something very kooky. Posing as the fictional editors of the equally fictitious Chadwick Family Papers, their collaboration, “The Genretron,” offers one weird spoof on the convoluted world of academic minutiae.

Described in the press release as a family of “eminent connoisseurs, sea captains, naval engineers and amateur historians,” the Chadwicks are apparently obsessed with the Dutch Golden Age, though little hint is given as to why. Instead, viewers first encounter a gorgeous set of etchings, “Foreground Floor Debris,” that depict still-life objects coupled with nonsensical texts. Out of hand, the pan falls from its purpose, features Vermeer’s famed checkered floor scattered with utensils directly above those very same words. A video displayed on the same wall shows a dollhouse-scale diorama of an old Dutch tavern, in which Blachly and Shaw pop up and down like Punch and Judy, their giant hands tossing tiny cups and chairs as Shaw reads a homophonic version of a verse by the 17th-century Dutch humorist and poet Jacob Cats.

If this isn’t arcane enough, the titular panoramic installation of Dutch landscape motifs—made of chicken wire, plaster, wood and paint—will surely leave you scratching your head, especially since the space given over for viewing it is deliberately cramped. Likewise, a group of landscape sketches feels like another piece of an absurdist puzzle. In the end, entertaining as it is, Blachly and Shaw’s conceit may be too realistic for anyone but a Dutch scholar to understand.

You really should stop in to see these gorgeous etchings and the Genretron. Even if there are understandable gaps in your Dutch scholarship. :-)

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Established Prices Never Die, They Are Just Discounted Away...Or Are They?

An art dealer stakes his reputation, in part, on being correct about the market value of the work he sells. In addition to not wanting to see clients who learned they overpaid coming back unhappily, there is an ethical obligation to pricing appropriately. Even more than that, however, there are potentially long-term implications for the market of any given artist should collectors conclude that her prices were artificially set too high. Dealers can't easily avoid unpleasant conversations about this either. Especially at art fairs, when after three or four intense days of seeing collectors pass at pieces and/or tell the dealer straight to their face that the price is too high, the pressure to reconsider how to price it will be considerable. Indeed, collectors who have been waiting to purchase a piece will wait for prices to drop, but collectors who paid the top prices will be angry if they do.

Hence the conventional wisdom has been that you can't lower established prices for art work. This will be a hot topic in the coming months, especially as the globalization of the art market and increase in total volume and market focus of the art press recently has raised awareness of what artists' prices really are. Josh Baer is already all over it. From The Art Newspaper:
With the high prices for younger art “established” by a speculative market where can they go, relative to demand, but down? But galleries never lower their primary prices, so these works will sit in gallery storage racks—with zero revenue-flow for non-brand name dealers. I call this the death spiral for art: sinking prices and sinking demand. [emphasis mine]
Or so the thinking goes. But we've never seen a situation like the one we're in before. Sure there have been slumps in the art market...long and painful ones...but never when the playing field was as broad or so many people were involved as they are now. Who's to say new rules aren't appropriate? Some dealers seem to think they are. From a Bloomberg news report on the Frieze Art Fair:
Some dealers appeared to have lowered prices. At London's White Cube, a richly enameled painting by Anglo-Indian star Raqib Shaw was on hold at 575,000 pounds. In June at Art Basel, a similar-sized work by Shaw sold for 750,000 pounds.
Damn reporters and their strong long-term memories! :-)

The question for the dealer here, of course, is how to address the pissed off collector who paid 750,000. There are multiple factors that influence the price of a work of art, size being not the most important among them. But still, a drop of nearly 1/3rd will likely not go unquestioned. As noted above, all of this plays into a dealer's reputation. If you're known to not stand by your prices, why would people continue to buy from you? Or so the thinking goes.

What if, however, there were a way to simply work with the pissed off collector. Being up front and honest about the market. Noting that the price they paid made total sense at that time and that now, to keep this artist's market alive (and keep this artist's studio practice flourishing) a corrections will be necessary. Rather than try to disguise the fact that prices have dropped with slight-of-hand discounts, perhaps being bold and transparent about it is indeed the most ethical approach.

During what Bambino calls my Sunday "bullshit chat shows" yesterday, I repeatedly watched a commercial with Charles Schwab who must be getting the most vicious sort of hate mail these days. Imagine how much his clients have lost over the past month. In the commercial, the man whose name is synonymous with investing explained calmly that as nightmarish as it can be to patient at time like these, cycles come and go, and the tortoise wins this race too. Perhaps the same advice is how to address the pissed off collector who paid 1/3rd more for a painting. Knowing that eventually the art market will cycle back up again, there's no reason not to expect a good artist's prices to regain any losses, but that here and now, the most surefire way to cripple that artist's market is to keep the prices as high as they were. In other words, by getting the collector to participate in the continuation of the artist's market, rather than focusing on a momentarily downturn in pricing, both dealer and collector continue to protect their investment. And, of course, in the meanwhile, the collector still gets to enjoy a fantastic work of art.

Then again, I'm not Charles Schwab...and I've religiously kept our artists' prices at their true market consider this free advice worth exactly what you paid for it.


Friday, October 24, 2008

The Unbearable Anxiety of Waiting

So we were at a fabulous art party the other night, free food and drink, important collectors everywhere, awesome art all around, and yet all I remember from the evening (did I mention the free drink?) was a conversation with an artist who was nearly beside herself with anticipation. She asked me, noting the blog, what my opinion was, and I rattled on a few moments about the economy before realizing that she had assumed I knew she meant: What was my opinion about whether Barack would win or not?

I tried to be as reassuring about that outcome as I had tried to be about the economy initially, but I read the polls...I know it's close...and I've witnessed an absolutely unfathomable outcome in the previous two presidential elections, so to tell you the truth (sorry Jane), I'm not entirely sure. Yes, some polls show him way ahead, but we've learned that those are essentially fortune cookies aphorisms (occasionally they coincide with reality, but you'd have to be daft to believe they're truly prescient).

And to be entirely honest, it's difficult for me to focus on much else other than the outcome either. It's become such an obsession that I'm dreaming about the election and find myself checking the political blogs more than I do the stock market during the day. While on the Huffington Post recently, I saw Larry David is suffering from the very same obsession:

I can't take much more of this. Two weeks to go, and I'm at the end of my rope. I can't work. I can eat, but mostly standing up. I'm anxious all the time and taking it out on my ex-wife, which, ironically, I'm finding enjoyable. This is like waiting for the results of a biopsy. Actually, it's worse. Biopsies only take a few days, maybe a week at the most, and if the biopsy comes back positive, there's still a potential cure. With this, there's no cure. The result is final. Like death.

Five times a day I'll still say to someone, "I don't know what I'm going to do if McCain wins." Of course, the reality is I'm probably not going to do anything. What can I do? I'm not going to kill myself. If I didn't kill myself when I became impotent for two months in 1979, I'm certainly not going to do it if McCain and Palin are elected, even if it's by nefarious means. If Obama loses, it would be easier to live with it if it's due to racism rather than if it's stolen. If it's racism, I can say, "Okay, we lost, but at least it's a democracy. Sure, it's a democracy inhabited by a majority of disgusting, reprehensible turds, but at least it's a democracy." If he loses because it's stolen, that will be much worse. Call me crazy, but I'd rather live in a democratic racist country than a non-democratic non-racist one.
I think Larry is right that regardless of who wins our lives will go on, so long as you consider sleeping in a cardboard box under a bridge some sort of life (sorry, I broke my fearmongering rule again). But in all seriousness (seriously) I'm not so sure my faith in this country stands much of a chance if McCain wins. I've never seen an American political party that needed to spend some quiet time rethinking its values as much as today's GOP. In their endorsement for Obama for President, the New York Times succinctly spelled out why:
The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.
With that as your party's legacy, if you truly were pro-American, you would withdraw from the race voluntarily. At the very least, you would purposely sabotage your own campaign. You would pick a running mate so entirely unqualified that you could blame her for what you yourself hoped would be your party's loss...hmm...wait a minute...maybe McCain is truly pro-American.

Is it Nov 4th yet?


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Recessions come and recessions go, and even if the current one (I know, it's not yet official in some arcane statistical sense, but...come on) lasts longer than any of us would like, there's little doubt this too shall pass. What will linger though are the consequences of choices made based on short-term thinking and fear. (As noted on several occasions, I can't stand fearmongering, and the politicians trying to use it to get themselves elected should be summarily, publicly mocked as cowards.)

As illustrated by the Administration's lame excuses for ignoring the Geneva Conventions and civil liberties laws, ideals are codified to ensure we remain our best selves when times get tough. It's easy to live up to ideals when everything's peachy. Your best self is the one that emerges through a crisis. Keeping your priorities clear is the surest means of doing that with honor.

A test of a nation's priorities is being played out in Britain at the moment. Having just lost in their effort to keep two Pietro Cipriani statues in the country (the Getty purchased them for an undiclosed amount, reportedly at least $10million though), the next big test comes in the form of two Titians. From the New York Times:
In a parallel effort to prevent the departure of masterworks from Britain, the National Gallery in London and the National Galleries of Scotland are seeking to raise about $165 million to acquire two Titian paintings, “Diana and Actaeon” and “Diana and Callisto,” Reuters reported. Both paintings are being sold by the Duke of Sutherland.
Called by one source one of the best 50 works of art in the world (nice fodder for another post), the thought of losing "Diana and Actaeon" is eliciting some powerful responses from British artists:

"To lose this vivid, action-filled tone-poem of a painting from our public collections would be "like the Louvre not having the Mona Lisa", according to the National Gallery curator Carol Plazzotta. And a host of Britain's most prominent artists, from Sir Peter Blake to Paula Rego, are in passionate agreement.

Plazzotta was referring to Titian's Diana and Actaeon, which will be lost to the nation unless £50m is raised by the end of the year. She was speaking at the National Gallery in London as the work, which has not left Edinburgh since 1945, was reunited with its companion piece, The Death of Actaeon, for the first time in 200 years.

Speaking in support of the public appeal, Blake said: "This should be thought of separately from the recession. We shouldn't be thinking of not doing this when there is so much money in the art world, so many rich people."

Patrick Brill, better known by his pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, echoed him: "If we can spend £50bn on nationalising our banks, we ought to be able to nationalise this painting for £50m."

I'm sure there are museums around the world who would love to acquire these, and while it's hard for me to really insist Italian paintings belong in the UK, seeing how much they mean to the British is enough for me.

Postscript: I'm not entirely sure the NYTimes is correct in stating that both paintings are being sold by the Duke. I've found other evidence which indicates that The Death of Actaeon has been owned by the National Gallery since 1972. Nevermind.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Greatness Takes a Village : Open Thread

Note: I wish I had the clarity of mind to do this subject justice today, but my sinuses are off the charts and the totally ineffective remedies I took to, well, remedy that situation are morphing in my brain into a cloud of ... enough me out here...tear this one apart.

I was thinking a bit more last night about the sense I got from some of the comments on the "Opening up the Sophistication Speakeasy" thread that some folks are less convinced than I that everyone (and I do mean everyone) should play a role in the dialog surrounding contemporary art and that it behooves those involved actively already to be more inclusive rather than exclusive, regardless of what one may view as the motivations of the "strivers."

Why that seems important to me was a question I let rattle around in my head a while until my mind landed upon the old adage that in "the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Settling for the limited wisdom or ruling capacity of the one-eyed king, rather than seeking a cure to the nation's blindness, strikes me as an apt parallel to settling for a semi-literate population when it comes to the arts. If you could cure the nation's blindness, you might find that not only can you do much better than the one-eyed king for leader, but even the one-eyed king would then be challenged to do better by the example of those around him reaching their increased potential.

I had forgotten about this train of thought until this morning, when reading Jerry Saltz's lovely review of MoMA's current Van Gogh exhibition "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night," it struck me that all of us lose something incredibly important, because its potential is so incredibly fleeting, by settling for a semi-arts-literate society. From Jerry's review:

Set aside the show’s muddled logic, the cheesy Andrew Lloyd Webber title and the pretend rationale that this is anything more than an excuse to bring in crowds. The Night Café and The Starry Night still emit such pathos, density and intensity that they send shivers down the spine. Whether Van Gogh thought in color or felt with his intellect, the radical color, dynamic distortion, heart, soul and part-by-part structure in these paintings make him a bridge to a new vision and the vision itself.

"Colors of the Night" clicks, despite all its flaws, because it is compact. Comprising only 23 paintings, nine drawings and a few letters and books, it reminds us that small surveys can deliver more punch than windbag blockbusters. In the first of its four sections, "Early Landscapes," we see flat-footed work by the self-taught late bloomer, revealing that Van Gogh, like Pollock, was one of the least naturally talented artists ever, that he virtually willed himself to greatness. From there, we see his progression through work painted while Van Gogh lived with his parents and versions of Millet’s The Sower. Finally, in "Poetry of the Night," Van Gogh begins soaring, as he finds his own style. [emphasis mine]

So my thinking here goes something like this: Say there had been no Millet or his painting The Sower. Moreover, say there had been no Gauguin or other apt contemporary judges of van Gogh's work in his day. Certainly those things in and of themselves would not have prevented van Gogh from willing himself to greatness, but if he had simply floored all the other artists and indeed the entire world with the work he had done while living with his parents, what would have propelled him further? His own assessments, perhaps, sure. But I think there's a cumulative social element to talented people reaching further, pushing themselves, and actually reaching greatness.

Consider why artists from all over Northern Europe flocked to Italy during the Renaissance. It wasn't enough for Dürer, for example, to wow the Burgermeisters of backwater Bavaria (forgive the geographical illiteracy...I'm a slave to alliteration). Not when he knew his work could be measured against the best work being produced in Venice by some. The culture in late 15th Century Venice, the dedication to greater discernment that flourished there, influences opinions about quality to this very day. Golden Eras will ebb and flow, of course, but when the money's there (and until recently it was here), a great deal is lost to all of mankind if the people spending that money don't know enough to demand better art. I think it takes a concerted collective effort to create an atmosphere in which those gifted enough to achieve greatness are pushed to do so.

OK, so I can see some problems with this line of thought for java. Consider this an open thread on whether the sophistication within any given society increases or is irrelevant to whether an artist in the society will reach further in his/her quest.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Opening Up the Sophistication Speakeasy

I've been selling art long enough now to have noticed an interesting shift in approach among certain collectors, people who are extremely smart and often captains within their industries but whose interest in fine art is new for them. Several of them I've known had an identifiably reflexive need to demonstrate their knowledge when it was clear they were seeing only a portion of the issue at hand. This impulse is something I get instinctively. I feel the same way when talking among political insiders or literary insiders or people who've traveled more widely than I have. It's human nature, I understandable reflex when in most other realms of your life you are expected to voice your opinions authoritatively.

Several of these collectors, though, I've also seen eventually relax in their quest for knowledge about contemporary art and come to realize that they'll not only learn much more by acknowledging what ideas are new for them but that without their authoritative armor blinding them, they'll see that the seemingly threatening insiders are actually highly approachable and just as eager to learn things, even about fine art, from them. When I see that happening, I know this person has become a true collector and is no longer just in it for social-climbing reasons.

I thought about how this change in approach takes time to happen when reading Nicolai Ouroussoff's review of the Chanel Pavillion, designed by Zaha Hadid, which has made its way to Central Park:
Designed to display artworks that were inspired by Chanel’s 2.55, a quilted chain-strap handbag, the pavilion certainly oozes glamour. Its mysterious nautiluslike form, which can be easily dismantled and shipped to the next city on its global tour, reflects the keen architectural intelligence we have come to expect from its creator, Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who lives in London.

Yet if devoting so much intellectual effort to such a dubious undertaking might have seemed indulgent a year ago, today it looks delusional.
Of course when plans for building the Pavilion first got underway, there was no reason to suspect its arrival in New York would coincide with Capitalism's existential crisis, so that last charge is a bit opportunistic, but it's hard to come to the defense of such an elaborate advertising gimmick. Still, as much as I generally admire his writing, there was an observation that Mr. Ouroussoff makes later in this piece that struck me as particularly ungenerous.

The Chanel Pavilion may be less convoluted in its aims [than Rem Koolhaas’s SoHo Prada shop, which opened 3 months 9/11], but its message is no less noxious. When I first heard about it, I thought of the scene in the 1945 film “Mildred Pierce” when the parasitic playboy Monte Beragon sneeringly tells the Joan Crawford character, a waitress toiling to give her spoiled daughter a better life, that no matter how hard she scrubs, she will never be able to remove the smell of grease. We have been living in an age of Montes for more than a decade now. For strivers aching to separate themselves from the masses, the mix of architecture, art and fashion has had a nearly irresistible pull, promising a veneer of cultural sophistication.
And here's the problem. Those "strivers" can fall into two categories: those who truly are just posing and have no desire to eventually participate earnestly in the dialog and those who may just be reflexively wearing their armor until they relax enough to see how to do so. I don't think I can immediately tell them apart when they're at that stage, and I doubt Mr. Ouroussoff can either. But he's willing to lump them altogether, dismiss them as parasitic sneering poseurs, and potentially convince those who might otherwise go on to contribute significantly to the arts that the elitist snobs running that world aren't worth getting to know.

In my opinion, it's better to give all the "strivers" the benefit of the doubt in hopes of permitting those who would naturally join in the dialog do so on their terms rather than checking for IDs or secret passwords at the door. This requires opening up the sophistication speakeasy to the general public. We do this easily enough in museums. We do it easily enough in galleries for the most part too. I'm happy to answer any question about the art we have up so long as I sense that it's sincere. In fact, I live for those moments when someone who isn't initiated in the art world feels compelled to ask about a work in our space. It doesn't get much better than that. When I sense they're posing, I answer their questions all the more carefully.

I don't mean to give Mr. Ouroussoff a hard time about this. I understand that he's right about the symbolism of the Pavilion, given what's going on in the world, but there is a tendency I feel in making such observations to reach all the way back to try to find the source of such issues that ignores how many people on their own private path to participating in the arts might get pushed off the passageway by doing so. Ours is not an age of "Montes" (that's not exactly that catchy a metaphor, is it?), it's an age of remarkable range and intersections of interest, some of them superficial, but many of them staggeringly productive and fascinating. Ours is also an age of unprecedented opportunity to join in the dialog via travel and the Internet. The critics play role in this dialog by reflecting on where it seems lame, where it seems important, and where it seems fresh, to help keep the rest of us honest, but I cringe to think they're passing judgment on who should or shouldn't be participating based on what might be little more at any given point in time than a temporary defensive posture.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Quick Links Monday and A Modest Proposal : Open Thread

Still trying to catch up with something, but here are three quick links to things folks sent me over the weekend (and one that appeared just today). UPDATE: Yes, yes, yes, this first entry is a parody. My bad for not knowing that wouldn't be obvious:

1. Damien Hirst sets new auction record with ‘Investment Banker in Formaldehyde' [h/t SDP]
A piece of art by Damien Hirst has set the new record for a single item at auction. The piece entitled ‘Oh Shit’ fetched £2.3bn after frantic bidding by an anonymous investor. The work, which features a Merrill Lynch employee suspended in a tank of formaldehyde secured the highest price yet paid for a single piece of banking history. [...] Meanwhile, Hirst’s agent said he was delighted at the amount raised by the sale of his latest work. ‘Although we’re a bit worried about where he should deposit the cheque.’
2. Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity? [h/t E.H.]
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”

A few years ago, an economist at the University of Chicago named David Galenson decided to find out whether this assumption about creativity was true.[...] There is no evidence, Galenson concluded, for the notion that lyric poetry is a young person’s game. Some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers. Others do their best work decades later. [...]

The examples that Galenson could not get out of his head, however, were Picasso and Cézanne. He was an art lover, and he knew their stories well. Picasso was the incandescent prodigy. His career as a serious artist began with a masterpiece, “Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas,” produced at age twenty. In short order, he painted many of the greatest works of his career—including “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” at the age of twenty-six. Picasso fit our usual ideas about genius perfectly.

Cézanne didn’t. If you go to the Cézanne room at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris—the finest collection of Cézannes in the world—the array of masterpieces you’ll find along the back wall were all painted at the end of his career. Galenson did a simple economic analysis, tabulating the prices paid at auction for paintings by Picasso and Cézanne with the ages at which they created those works. A painting done by Picasso in his mid-twenties was worth, he found, an average of four times as much as a painting done in his sixties. For Cézanne, the opposite was true. The paintings he created in his mid-sixties were valued fifteen times as highly as the paintings he created as a young man. The freshness, exuberance, and energy of youth did little for Cézanne. He was a late bloomer—and for some reason in our accounting of genius and creativity we have forgotten to make sense of the Cézannes of the world.

3. Museums Fear Lean Days Ahead
“We know there’s a storm at sea and we know it’s going to hit land and it could get ugly,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s director. “But we don’t know how hard it will be or when it’s coming. So we are trying to make educated guesses.”

As a result, the museum instituted a temporary hiring freeze last week as well as a 10 percent cut in its general operating budget that will be revisited in December.

Across the country directors like Mr. Lowry are bracing for the effects of an economic crisis that could change everything from the size and kinds of exhibitions a museum presents to the acquisitions it could afford and the merchandise it should offer in its shops.

A Modest Proposal

And we're back at Link #1...If MoMA is seeking new merchandise for its gift shops, might I suggest that rather than stopping with just an investment banker, Mr. Hirst consider working with a few AIG executives, a de-regulating Senator or two, and perhaps a taxidermied Texan about to officially have as much free-time on his hands as he's apparently been taking anyway the past 8 years. Yes, yes, I know Mr. Hirst's prices aren't exactly gift shop friendly, but I'm assuming subject matter weighs in pricing, even among his works, no?

Consider this an open thread on the market, genius, late-bloomers, and laughing rather than moping about it all.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Only Reason This Race is Even Close

An anonymous comment on the thread Fiasco notes the following in response to reports that people in the crowds at Sarah Palin rallies were yelling things like "Kill him" and "terrorist" in response to her declaring that Obama "is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America":
Ed, the secret service went over those tapes and questioned agents there. The crowd was saying "tell him" and "tell them" NOT "kill him". So maybe the crowd was not as fanatic as you think.
While that may be the case for this one rally, the following video of people lined-up to enter another Sarah Palin rally in Johnston, PA, leaves no doubt that the crowds are spewing some of the nastiest, most hateful, and racist rhetoric with no obvious shame or concern about how it reflects on them or their candidate:

This level of blatant racism and dangerous anger will be the birthright of a McCain/Palin administration. If they think they can just shut it off after they win, they are bigger fools than they must think we are to expect us to accept that Palin is even close to qualified to run this country.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

What We Need Now

Not much time...just thought this was pitch perfect. [h/t J.D.]


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Crazy Busy Week

I'm going to have to take a break from blogging this week to wrap up some work that simply must get done, which is kind of too bad really, as I'd love to delve into this article by Benjamin Genocchio on artists who use and/or abuse documentary principles:
Artists also complicate traditional assumptions about documentary imagery by restaging, rehearsing, or simply evoking past events for the camera. Matthew Buckingham’s “Will Someone Please Explain It to Me, I’ve Just Become a Radical” (2008), consists of 12 photographs of the interior of a building at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where in 1967 a sit-in against recruitment on the campus by Dow Chemical, manufactures of napalm, used in bombs during the Vietnam War, ended in a violent police action against the protesters. The artist invites us to project our own thoughts onto these now empty interiors.
Don't let my schedule stop you though...I'll moderate comments remotely, but won't be able to post again until next week...

See you then.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Krugman Wins Nobel Prize for Economics

Congratulations Professor Krugman!!!!

In the darkest days of the Bush administration, your column was one of the only steady beacons of light. I know precious little about "trade theory," but I know your bravery and honesty in the face of the barrage of bullsh*t the Bush administration was throwing at the public helped me stay hopeful when it looked like most other people had lost their minds.

Personally, I'm very happy for you.


Poster Boy, Part II

The artist known as Poster Boy (discussed here) dropped me a line to say he was happy to see the dialog on that thread focused, in part, on radical dissent. He pointed me to an interview (Part 1; Part 2) in which he expands upon his process and objectives. This part in particular seems relevant to the ongoing dialog here:

Can you explain your choice to remain an anonymous/elusive artist of subversive street art?

I try to remain anonymous/elusive, contrary to what some people have said, for three reasons and one of them is definitely not because of Banksy. One, what I do is pretty illegal. Two, because of Cindy Sherman. Her work addresses issues of identity in and out of the realm of art. I’m addressing issues of identity through my many alias’s/personae. Poster Boy is just one of the identities that I show and create under. The last being that I don’t want just one person to be Poster Boy. I’m hoping this trend of poster art snowballs into a movement for many people. No authorship. No copyright.

What I also found very interesting is that the process was born out of economic necessity. The only materials costs Poster Boy incurs are for the $0.50 razors he uses. He's also clearly aware of the precedents for this work:
I’m not the first to mess with posters. I’ve always noticed torn posters and Sharpie art in the subway. I wanted to combine the two. By using the ready-made imagery/text I’m able to subvert these corporate advertisements and use them to my advantage. People have done subway poster art for years, but I definitely upped the ante in NY.
But perhaps the most intriguing, if not entirely clear to me, idea he offers about his work is in response to whether it's territorial...marking certain areas as belonging to him:
Territorial, yes and no. I don’t want the poster art to be territorial in the macho sense. It’s probably why I don’t sign any of them. I think fucking shit up is good. There is creation in destruction. I just want to reclaim the intellectual territory that the media has taken.
To my mind, Poster Boy is still working through a series of ideas, but doing so quickly, on his feet, and with a grand sense of humor. Humor, again, I believe, will be the key to the transitional artwork that leads us out of the current malaise. Humor and, perhaps, anger, but definitely humor.

Image above (from might not seem as obviously collaged if you don't know the original. This might be a good example of the pieces Poster Boy says don't get taken down right away because the MTA doesn't recognize they've been vandalized. Many of his alterations are remarkably unnoticeable without close inspection, leading me to wonder how many people leave the subway accepting his message, unquestioning it, just swallowing it, as we do so many other messages.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Mad? Sir, You Don't Know Mad

As I noted in the last post, Governor Palin (and John McCain) are actively agitating the crowds at their rallies to help them project their valid anger over the state of the nation onto Senator Obama instead. The Washington Post explains:

In recent days, a campaign that embraced the mantra of "Country First" but is flagging in the polls and scrambling for a way to close the gap as the nation's economy slides into shambles has found itself at the center of an outpouring of raw emotion rare in a presidential race.

"There's 26 days and people are looking at the very serious possibility that there's a chance that Obama might get in, and they don't like that," said Ian Eltrich, 28, as he filed out of the crowded sports complex.

"I'm mad! I'm really mad!" another man said, taking the microphone and refusing to surrender it easily, even when McCain tried to agree with him.

"I'm not done. Lemme finish, please," he said after a standing ovation. "When you have Obama, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there going to run the country, we have to have our head examined.

"It's time that you two represent the rest of us. So go get 'em."

The crowd burst into loud chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Standing at the center of the crowd, McCain and Palin drew on the crowd's energy as they repeatedly trained their fire on Obama.

"Senator Obama has a clear radical, far-left, pro-abortion record," McCain said after being asked about the issue.

I've had enough of watching these idiots scramble about looking for scapegoats, any scapegoats, to avoid owning the hard facts of their lives and their past choices. Rather than admit to themselves that the President they elected...that the policies and leadership they voted for...that the philosophies and resentments they've willingly bought from Rove and his ilk have miserably, woefully, historically failed them...rather than having the honor, self-respect, or balls to accept their mistakes, they're flailing about looking for someone else, anyone else, to blame.

Let me tell you, my fellow frightened Americans: You think you're mad? You don't freaking know mad.

Mad is watching you morons who put this joke of a spoiled frat boy in the White House in the first place, because you're too self-absorbed to take the time to understand his economic policies were not designed with your best interests in mind, now pretend his legacy isn't on your hands. Mad is watching conservative pundit after conservative pundit now sheepishly admit they might have misjudged the wisdom of the Iraq war; the wisdom of rampant deregulation; the competence of Rumsfeld, Paulson, Gonzales, Rice, Bernanke, and Bush himself; the wisdom of the accepting that undemocratic powers would not be abused eventually; and the wisdom of thinking wedge politics wouldn't eventually drain their movement of the brain power needed to keep moving it forward.

Oh, I know, even as I write that that I've likely proven your point. Pointy-headed Eastern elite types spouting gibberish ain't who you want running things or lecturing you. So let me talk to you as the Midwestern boy from a down-and-dirty steel town that I am:

You broke it, you dumbfu*cks. You broke the American Dream. You let some blue-blooded snake oil salesman put on a cowboy hat and smirk, adopt a Texan drawl he picked up after years of being educated on the East Coast, hoodwink you into electing him. You have been had! And now all of us are going to pay for YOUR mistake. For once in your self-centered, self-entitled lives, OWN what you've done and make amends!

Bush has never had any interest in how you'll get by when the sheriff comes to evict you. He never has had any interest in how you'll pay the hospital bills when you lose your job at the plant. He has never had any interest in how to rebuild your community when mother nature devastates it. He never has had any interest in what you'll live off of when you retire. He's spent his entire 8 years in the White House lining the pockets of his rich friends in the oil and defense and energy industries. He bankrupted the country to do so. He stole your children's future and, like trained monkeys being thrown doggie treats, you shout "U-S-A! U-S-A!" in response. Open your eyes. You have been swindled!

The only thing more idiotic than all that is how now you're willing to believe that electing two people selling more of the same will somehow bring a different result. And why???? Because voting for the Democrat will amount to admitting you were wrong. Well, here's the hard part: You were wrong! You were horribly, unforgivably, and selfishly wrong to elect that man in the first place.

And you're wrong about McCain and Palin too. Seriously, why on earth would you think that voting for a team whose economic policy boils down to giving even more of your tax dollars away to big corporations (when they're not violating the very tenants of conservatism, that is) will somehow make your life better? Why? The only thing that really trickles down is sewage, and you're wallowing in it.

I know, I know...that Democrat is scary. He's black. His father was a Muslim. He might secretly be a terrorist. You don't think you can trust him. That's nice. Your unfounded, uninformed phobias are going to damn the rest of us to an ever-more nightmarish economic hell.

You think you're mad??? Imagine how the rest of us are going to feel if you manage to elect "I voted with Bush 90% of the time" McCain and the economy goes from horrible to catastrophic? When his temper gets us into yet another war we don't have the money for? When thousand more young Americans die because McCain can't control his innate anger long enough to outwit our enemies without resorting to bomb and tanks?

Seriously, you had your go at this. You elected that dumbf*ck because he looked and sounded like someone you'd want to have a beer with. Look where that got us. You think you're mad? I blame YOU for this mess. That's right. YOU voted for this incompetent fool. YOU bought the Rovian Snake Oil. YOU thought it was more important to hate gays and immigrants and abortion than to ensure the President was up to the job. YOU, YOU, YOU got us into this fix! The trillions of dollars that evaporated from our retirement funds, the pending impact on small businesses like mine, the tarnished image of our country around the world, the utterly immoral way that Bush has tortured detainees like some third-world dicatator. All of this is YOUR fault. You elected him, TWICE!!!!!, and so YOU are responsible!

Now, YOU have to rise above your petty biases and latent racism and help get us out of this mess. I don't care how seriously you feel Obama's associations with Ayers or Wright require you to vote against your best interests...look at the two of them in the debates. One of them is thinking on his feet, focused on the Middle Class, surrounding himself with smart people, able to prioritize, and gets it instinctively, because he came from nothing, saw his mother fight the insurance companies as cancer killed her, and still fought his way up through the system. HE, my friends, is the American Dream. And he's very likely our last chance to restore it for the rest of us in our lifetime.

So send that pitbull back to Alaska...let Senator McCain continue to do what he does so well in the Senate...and elect the new guy. Seriously. He's been through the most greulling campaign I've ever seen in my lifetime and he remains calm and focused. He's truly incredible. More than that, we need him. We're in deep sh*t, and we need someone who will put our interests first, not the oil companies'. They had record profits last year...they can stand to tighten their belts for a few years while the rest of us get back on track.

We know you're mad! The problem is you're not being honest about who your angry is rightfully directed at: Bush and yourselves. Don't drag the rest of us down further because you can't take a good hard look at what you've done to get us here. Be better than that, this time. Vote for change.



If you've never heard it, you owe it to yourself to listen to this priceless classic. Ira Glass's 1997 interview with an amateur actor on what delineates a bad night on the stage from a total fiasco delved into the exquisite point at which a crowd shifts from pulling for the actors on stage to turning on them completely. The interview was described by a diarist on Daily Kos not long ago this way:
The host, Ira Glass, chats with an amateur actor on the difference between a real fiasco and a bad night. Audiences, they decide, root for actors to have a great evening. A great evening for actors means a great evening for the theater-goer who has paid good money for a good time. Paradoxically, a glitch or two during a performance usually makes the audience root even harder for the actors to have a good show. But a certain point - a tipping point - enough goofs and the audience gives up on the show and they turn on the actors. The audience actively roots for the actors to goof up more.
Indeed, in the interview, they discuss how the audience becomes just short of blood thirsty. Perhaps they subconsciously decide they'll get their money's worth from this production if they have to take a bite out of the actors' hide to do so. In the end, the night will still have been a total theatrical disaster, but at least the audience will have contributed to, rather than been the victims of, the meltdown.

I was thinking about this when it dawned on me that the mood in New York seems to have shifted from one of palpable panic last week to a remarkably numb sensation about the economy this week. It's almost as if we're at that tipping point where it's clear no financial wizard is going to swoop in and save this situation. There's no reason to go on pretending things might reverse themselves and tomorrow all will be back to normal. We are witnessing a true fiasco, and we have stopped rooting for the actors---Paulson, Bernanke, Bush, etc.---and are approaching the point at which we're now simply expecting them to screw things up even more.

There's anger out there, no doubt. You see it in the crowds that Governor Palin seems to willingly work up into a frenzy (and why not, if she succeeds in creating a furious mob that will carry her to the Vice Presidency, she can always resort, once she's in power, to shooting the rabid citizens still foaming at the mouth from Air Force Two's helicopter). But there's also, at least temporarily, a strange calm. As if the whole thing is so surreal you can't help but watch it in stupefied wonder.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to see the economy worsen just for the absurdist entertainment value of it. I realize folks are already seriously hurting, and there's plenty of pain in store for the rest of us. It's just I can't bring myself to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the theater any longer. I've paid for my ticket, I certainly want something for my money, the actors unquestionably suck, and it's foolish to imagine they'll get it together at this point...what else is there to do to make it all less of a loss than to sit back and relish in just how badly they can continue to f*ck it all up?

Oh, have I mentioned. Vote for Obama.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Chadwicks Present "The Genretron" @ Winkleman Gallery, Oct. 10 - Nov. 8, 2008

The Chadwicks
The Genretron
October 10 - November 8, 2008
Opens October 10 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

A reproduction of the Chadwicks’ famous Genretron will go on public view, for the first time, October 10th at Winkleman Gallery in New York—637 West 27th Street in Chelsea. The jewel of Chadwick Manor, The Genretron is a panoramic model built by the Chadwicks in the nineteenth century for the close study of Dutch landscape painting. Viewing from the central oculus, the Chadwicks used the surrounding diorama to immerse themselves in the physical atmosphere of their favorite landscapists—Hobbema, Ruisdael, Van Goyen, Van der Neer, Van Ostade, and many of the lesser shipwreck artists. This kind of immersion was crucial for their eccentric and little-known treatises on landscape aesthetics and genre painting, like Foreground Floor Debris (which hangs concurrently in the gallery).

Still largely unpublished, this theoretical writing sheds light on the extreme values the family brought to the appreciation of Dutch painting. In one of the latest and most strident of these works—The Onanist Cloud—the Chadwicks wrote of seventeenth-century Dutch art as the definitive moment in which landscape painting “vomited up the tyrant Christian landlords” who had until then “monopolized space with their tired stories.” The effect of these stories in the painting, to the Chadwicks’ way of thinking, had “contorted surrounding bodies into doctrinal registration machines whose gestures bureaucratized time.” For the Chadwicks it was Dutch painting that cleared this situation away, providing “infinite reservoirs of liberatingly mundane sequence”—freed from “managerial psychologies shown ‘absorbing’ heroic narrative messages, or simply undergoing History with a capital H.” The Chadwicks wrote of liberating mundanity not because they sought to avoid the ‘big issues,’ but because they found those issues precisely in art, like Dutch genre painting, that dispersed rather than packaged narrative—opening it to an infinity of paths and itineraries.

Though the Chadwicks hardly need an introduction, still the family is not as well known now as it was from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, when its prominent role both in polite society of London and in greener colonial outposts like New Amsterdam brought family members constantly before the public eye. As eminent connoisseurs, sea captains, naval engineers and amateur historians, the Chadwicks amassed one of the great collections of nautical figurines, genre paintings and difficult-to-attribute manuscripts in Western culture. Held privately at the family estates for several centuries, this material is now finding its way before the long-curious public. This is a process overseen by the conservator J. Blachly and the literary historian Lytle Shaw, editors of the Chadwick Family Archive—principal overseers, also, of the current Genretron reconstruction.

For More Information Contact
Winkleman Gallery
637 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
T: 212.643.3152
F: 212.643.2040

Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 11 - 6 PM


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Search for True Selflessness in Art Making

Back in high school, when I was first developing my personal opinions about the meaning of art, when art seemed the most noble of human pursuits and as such I projected all manner of highfalutin ideals upon it, it had occurred to me that the only truly selfless art (i.e., art not designed to profit the artist in someway) was the art an artist never showed anyone. The admittedly muddy reasoning went something like this: the act of showing one's art is inextricably linked with seeking some pre-determined response, whether approval, or outrage, or anger, or money for its exchange. Each of these responses would amount to a "profit" of sorts to the artist. Knowing what you wanted the audience of a work to feel or think or do in response, though, would inevitably lead to manipulative choices while making it. Such choices would always require the artist to weigh their effectiveness as manipulation (whether toward emotional response or desire to purchase) against how sincere she felt about them. Sincerity would therefore always be under attack. Eventually it would have to lose out or at least be weakened.

Since then, I've come to believe art is more about communication than anything as self-contained as a perfectly selfless expression. I've also realized just how expensive it is to make, and why selling it is not only OK, but actually beneficial to a range of people, including, of course, the artist. Still, there's a part of me that admires the faith of the true believers still striving for that ideal that I championed in my youth. True believers like Poster Boy, whose subway poster collages (we see them mostly at the E/C stop at 23rd Street) range from hysterical to truly inspired at times. New York Magazine's Brian Raftery has more:
It’s a Thursday evening at the 23rd Street C/E station, and Nicolas Cage is undergoing an involuntarily face-lift. As commuters wait for their train, the subway-art manipulator known as Poster Boy stands in front of an ad for Cage’s Bangkok Dangerous, razor in hand, and traces a circle around the actor’s eyes, nose, and mouth. Cage’s face peels away as easily as a trading-card sticker, and Poster Boy carries it down the platform, where he’s been hacking away at a hot-pink poster promoting MTV’s high-school musical The American Mall. He’s been rearranging swatches of color, text, and body parts to alter the movie’s title (now The American Fall) and tagline (“Love and Dreams for Resale”). Poster Boy slices out the Mall moppet’s head, replacing it with Cage’s appropriately stunned expression. The entire process takes less than ten minutes.

Since January, the 25-year-old has manipulated about 200 underground posters, turning MTA stations into his own public galleries. His pieces are conceived on the spot, and while most subway-poster vandals limit themselves to all-caps obscenities, Poster Boy’s improvised mash-ups recall both the cut-and-paste aesthetic of old punk-show fliers and the fake ads that appeared in circa-seventies Mad magazine: In his hands, AT&T skyscrapers are turned into flaming World Trade Center towers and Heath Ledger becomes a ghostly anti-drug pitchman. Most of his work disappears quickly—MTA employees have even ripped down his work before he’s finished—but you can see it on his sporadically updated Flickr account.

I was delighted to learn a bit more about the vandal who makes our commute home so entertaining, but I was reminded of an interview with another street artist when I read Poster Boy's thoughts on purity in art making:
Poster Boy—who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous (vandalism is, after all, a crime)—has intentions that are surprisingly high-minded. The die-hard Fight Club fan hopes to start a decentralized art movement, one where anyone can claim to be Poster Boy. “No copyright, no authorship,” he says. “A social thing, as opposed to being an artist making things for bored rich people to hang above their couch.” That such a crusade might encourage vandalism doesn’t bother him. “Where I’m from, if you go by the book, it’s a very slow process to get what you want,” he says.
On first read that seems very laudable. Seriously, the medium is true to the ideal. Not only do other people come along and tag Poster Boy's work, but, as noted, the MTA frequently destroys it before anyone gets to enjoy it. However, the very last idea there made me wonder: "to get what you want."

In this context, of course, we can project that what Poster Boy wants is a decentralized art movement, but there was a profile of "Andre the Giant" posters-creator Shepard Fairey in the New York Times the other day that made me question what it is Poster Boy would want after he's been at it a few years. Although he's still working to plaster his posters in public, Fairey is also selling work in galleries for as much as $85,000. (Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.) But street art purists have taken to calling Fairey a "sell out" and even defacing his work. In discussing such reactions, and defending the income he makes from his work, Fairey noted, “I hated being under anyone’s thumb when I was younger and now I’m not, through my art.”

As any corrupt government in the world can tell you, one of the easiest ways to quell a revolutionary is to orchestrate making him wealthy. With something invested in the system (i.e., something to lose), even the staunchest revolutionary oftentimes comes around to the ruling class's way of thinking.

None of which is designed to impugn Poster Boy's current motives. He may be that rare breed of revolutionary who can't be bought. I don't know. I don't think selling his highly inventive work would make him any less of an artist worth watching (and no, that's not an offer for an exhibition). But I do think knowing what you want, really knowing that is, often takes more than a few decades to sort out.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What Makes for a Good Museum Director? Part XIII

Remember back, in 2000, when those in certain sectors of industry were so excited about the fact that George W. Bush would be the nation's first President with an MBA? Ahhh, the administrative and business sense he would bring to Washington. The bipartisan objectivity and bottom-line reasoning that would guide his deciding, reaching across the aisle, surrounding himself with competent and wise people. Solid business objectivity would, finally, be the principle guiding the nation. And why else would surrounding himself with competent and wise people matter unless of course he listened to them, unless he encouraged them to speak their minds, unless he welcomed dissent...[via Sullivan]

According to senior administration officials who learned of the encounter soon after it happened, President Bush looked at the man. "I don't ever want to hear you use those words in my presence again," he said.

"What words, Mr. President?"

"Bad policy," President Bush said. "If I decide to do it, by definition it's good policy. I thought you got that."

The advisor was dismissed. The meeting was over.

OK, so that didn't work out exactly as planned. Still, not all that long ago, we heard similar expectations and excitement about museum directors. Having a background in business administration, and especially fund-raising, was seen as much more important for an institution than a focus on some antiquated art of another era. Movers and shakers only need apply. Just as in politics, attitudes in the museum world seem to be shifting though. The ArtNewspaper's Anna Somers Cocks explains:

It must be so tiring, just standing around all day, and having to wear a horrid hat,” someone said to me at quite a sophisticated dinner party shortly after I became a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I realised then that lots of people did not have the faintest idea of what a curator does all day long, and, despite the huge rise in the popularity of museums over the last 30 years, they still don’t.

This was clear from the general surprise at the news last month that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had appointed its curator of tapestries to succeed Philippe de Montebello as director — surprise that was immediately qualified, it has to be said, by respectful remarks about Thomas Campbell’s scholarly achievements and his popularity with his peers, yet astonishment at the unfashionableness of his subject area, and that the job had not gone to someone with a proven record for virile management and fund-raising, or, alternatively, to some modernist who would “drag the museum into the 21st century”.

This appointment comes a few months after another scholar was appointed to a top job, Nicholas Penny to the National Gallery in London. He knows about old masters, rarely in the media now that contemporary art commands the big bucks, and sculpture, even less in the public eye.

Two swallows don’t make a summer, of course, so it would be premature to say that this proves there is a widespread reaction against the last two decades’ obsession with an MBA vision of museums.
Anna points out this trend to highlight why curators make good museum directors, but I want take advantage of her observations to step back just a bit further and look at why MBAs don't necessarily make good museum directors, again. Of course some museum directors with business backgrounds are doing very fine jobs. But I think that's because they also saw clearly the mission of their institutions, and most definitely not because all lessons taught at Wharton are universally applicable.

Indeed, the fundamental problem, whether in the halls of government or galleries of arts institutions, of letting business principles guide decisions boils down to a fundamental difference in mission. The ultimate mission of any commercial enterprise is profit. But the ultimate mission of government is to serve and protect the people. The primary mission of arts institutions is to educate and/or preserve society's treasures. Profit is simply not a fundamental part of their central missions.

It requires extreme focus and discipline to charter the waters of business and consistently bring in profit for a business. It also requires an equally clear focus to keep an arts institution on course in its mission as the world around it changes. I've yet to meet the person capable of sustained and clear focus on two such divergent goals, though. By mixing those goals, as some have attempted, both will always be watered down eventually. More than that, however, there is no conceivable way for such twin goals to remain on the same track indefinitely. The factors impacting them operate on very different cycles. Furthermore, the underlying philosophies that drive them evolve at different rates. Anna puts it perfectly:
[The strength of the museum] is built up over generations because museums are in it for the long haul, independent of boom and bust in the art market.
Many MBA's right now are clearly (and understandably) re-evaluating what it is they thought they knew about how business works. The decisions they'll need to make over the next few years, adjusting to a different sense of the limits of the free market system and what role regulation should play within one, will require some serious soul searching I would imagine. Not so for museum directors, though. Yes, less donor money may be heading their way than it was a year ago and that may lead to temporary cut-backs, but little else has changed in their central concept of what it is they do or how to go about it.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Vote Like It's Your Duty

I wear my political leanings on my sleeve and on my blogroll, but the truth of the matter is in any other system than the one we have, I would most likely be an independent. I understand many of the arguments conservatives make on some issues, and I happen to greatly admire a number of conservatives I know. I think I'm right about most issues, but the truth of the matter is I think it's not as important that you get it 100% right each time as it is that you participate in the process. In my opinion, not voting is not an option. Ever. It's a dereliction of civic duty, and if I were in charge it would be legally punishable just as skipping out on jury duty is.

Craig Ferguson had this wonderful rant a few weeks ago in which he mocked all the efforts to making voting "sexy." You know, the "Rock the Vote" style efforts to persuade folks to drag their sorry asses out of bed early one day every four years and earn the right to call themselves Americans. I completely agree with Ferguson on this. Selling the vote is the wrong approach. Voting is not a lifestyle accessory. It's not a status symbol or membership. It's not supposed to be fun or easy. It's a duty. You do it.

I've heard all the lame, lazy arguments for why people don't register and vote: The system is corrupt. There are no real choices. This isn't a real democracy. Not voting is my way of protesting. My vote doesn't matter anyway. My candidates never win. Boo hoo. Poor you. Something you do doesn't instantly gratify you. Implicit in the "my vote won't change anything" argument is the notion that their vote should count more than other people's do. If they truly believe that they should run for office and represent the rest of us on legislative matters. Otherwise they're deluded and anti-democratic.

I know it's popular to conclude that those who don't vote, don't have a right to complain. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I do think those who don't vote are so stupid that whatever it is they complain about isn't worth paying any heed to anyway. The one real opportunity they have to impact how things get done, however tiny that impact may be, and they willingly forego it? Why should anyone take their complaints seriously. They're a joke.

Every election cycle some candidate will claim that this is the most important election of our lifetime. Not since the Great Depression has that been actually as true as it is now in my opinion. Not voting this November is simply unconscionable.



For those artworld political junkies out there, be sure to check out PollTrack. explains:
As if we needed more proof that the art world was eagerly watching the current elections, two of the art world’s most indefatigable political forces, SoHo art dealer Ronald Feldman and curator and art historian Maurice Berger, have launched, a new website designed to track the contemporary political campaigns, interpret the results of the many polls of voters, and predict the results of the elections.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Wall Rockets, Collecting Lenins, and Debate Re-ax

Inspired by the neoDadaist placards Greg Allen posts about, found outside last night's Vice Presidential debate, and realizing that any rational response to an increasingly absurd world must be irrational, I've given up sequiturial structure and thematic groupings for today and will make no attempt to find commonalities between the items below. (Eh, who am I kidding? It's just another hodgepodge of topics.)

Opening Today, 11 am - 3 pm
WALL ROCKETS at the FLAG Art Foundation

Our very own Jennifer Dalton joins an incredible line-up of contemporary artists responded to the work of living legend Ed Ruscha in this group exhibition curated by Lisa Dennison.

The FLAG Art Foundation is pleased to announce our third exhibition, WALL ROCKETS: Contemporary Artists and Ed Ruscha, curated by Lisa Dennison. The title of the exhibition refers to a painting completed in 2000 by Ed Ruscha, arguably one of the most innovative artists over the past four decades. WALL ROCKETS: Contemporary Artists and Ed Ruscha will include works by a large number of international artists whose artworks, whether directly or indirectly, have been influenced or inspired by Ruscha’s iconic style.

Ruscha’s oeuvre consists of painting, drawing (made in both conventional materials and others including gunpowder, blood, and chocolate), printmaking, photography, and artist’s books. One of the first American artists to consider the role of consumerism in art and culture, Ruscha references the American landscape—particularly that of Southern California—as a reflection on the urban experience, and explores the complexities of language as a form of visual imagery. Through photography, painting, and sculpture, WALL ROCKETS: Contemporary Artists and Ed Ruscha will illuminate the effect of Ruscha’s legacy on both his peers as well as a younger generation of contemporary artists.


Amy Adler
Noriko Ambe
Kamrooz Aram
Tonico Lemos Auad
Conrad Bakker
John Baldessari
Jeremy Blake
Mark Bradford
Delia Brown
Jeff Burton
Peter Cain
Ingrid Calame
Peter Coffin
George Condo
Will Cotton
Jennifer Dalton
Thomas Demand
Amie Dicke
Iris van Dongen
Sante D'Orazio
James Esber
Dan Fischer
Tom Friedman
Barnaby Furnas
Francesca Gabbiani
Kendell Geers
Ewan Gibbs
Joe Goode
Joseph Grigely & Amy Vogel
Nir Hod
Jim Hodges
Dennis Hopper
Roni Horn
Barbara Kruger
Cary Kwok
Inez Van Lamsweerde
Louise Lawler
Robert Lazzarini
Graham Little
Mads Lynnerup
Marco Maggi
Florian Maier-Aichen
Robert Mapplethorpe
Christian Marclay
McDermott & McGough
Jean Luc Moerman
Paul Morrison
Richard Patterson
Richard Pettibone
Richard Phillips
Richard Prince
Alessandro Raho
Charles Ray
Ugo Rondinone
Danna Ruscha
Ed Ruscha
Eddie Ruscha
Tom Sachs
Thomas Scheibitz
Michael Scoggins
Ken Solomon
Billy Sullivan
Juergen Teller
Yuken Teruya
Robert Therrien
Fred Tomaselli
Jim Torok
Rosemarie Trockel
Keith Tyson
Aya Uekawa
Julia Venske & Gregor Spanle
Mark Wagner
Lawrence Weiner
Terry Winters

Calling all Lenin Adopters
Today and tomorrow are your last days to collect the Lenin memorabilia from Yevgeniy Fik's solo exhibition, Adopt Lenin. According to the contract, any work not collected by 6:00 tomorrow is returned to the artist. Of course anyone showing up with your contract can collect your piece on your behalf.

UPDATE: Don't miss this great response to Yevgeniy's show by Catherine Spaeth or this wonderful review by Paddy Johnson.

Reactions to last night's Vice Presidential Debate
Weeks ago actually, I recognized in how Governor Palin's path to the debate was shaping up the same pattern the GOP handlers had used in 2000 with then-Governor Bush in lowering the nation's expectations about their candidate. It's virtually identical really and kind of brilliant. So long as the candidate doesn't self-implode on stage, the GOP hacks and pocket pundits can later declare the event a success. I told my friends to expect her to do well (anyone who had watched her gubernatorial debates would know Gov. Palin is good at them).

Having said that though, it still felt like I was watching a talking-points robot regurgitate, admittedly while smiling, the prepared speech someone else had written for her. Dotting her answers with folksy colloquialisms didn't make them any less vapid in my book. One answer in particular strung together just enough cliches to eat up her time without her having to actually answer the question. Asked "Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?" Palin answered
Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.
What it demonstrated to me is that Palin reflexively tries to bluff her way through situations where she's not well informed. I know that during a debate she can't actually use one of her lifelines, but is it too much to expect someone running for an office to be able to talk intelligently about what that office is? Founding...Fathers...flexibility, huh? I know it sounds folksy, but it's gibberish. Biden answered the question plainly, so any American could understand: "The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress." But then Biden himself understood the question, which remains the key difference between the two candidates, and why one is remarkably more qualified than the other to be Vice President.

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