Monday, November 23, 2009

These Are Still Your Days

Andy Warhol didn't invent Americans' obsessive lust for fame. Jeff Koons didn't invent the banality of our collective desires. Damien Hirst didn't invent the inanity of the global art market. Each merely observed and then pointed such out to us. Whether they did so via art that is good or bad is the appropriate point at which to critique their work, not IMO their respective subject matters.

And yet, we often find criticism of these artists suggesting they were somehow responsible for such ills. As if they were socially required to condemn, rather than reflect, what they saw around them. As if they were required to lead the charge in correcting these human conditions.

That's one hell of a lot of transference, in my opinion.

I had a conversation with a retired gentleman over the weekend, who has done quite well for himself, travels extensively, and can be squarely described as a "man of the world." He grew up in New York in the 40s and 50s and was rather insistent about how back then we collectively had higher standards and a finer appreciation of quality, but how now few people understood anything about anything meaningful or well-done. He refused to engage in the contemporary dialog about art or culture because it all seemed so infantile and exasperating. He knew what was good and could continue to mine the works of an era gone-by for the sustenance his soul needed, but he didn't have the patience to weed through the new for the few nuggets among the dreck.

He didn't actually use the phrase, but his argument rang in my ears as "In my day, they created better art than this nonsense being exhibited today."

I barely know this gentleman, so I didn't press the issue (it wasn't the place), but I later thought next time I see him I'll share that, to my mind, this is still his day. The world may not look anything like it did when he was growing up, and events may have knocked some of the bright-eyed optimism out of all of us, but we are still here and this is our world (warts and all) to make sense of. The art they created "back then" may indeed be better by the standards used back then, but each generation gets the art it gets. Plenty of folks in the 1940's pooh-poohed the works of Rothko and Pollock, and before them, plenty sucked their teeth at the thought of Picasso. In other words, what among the work being made today is valuable to society must be measured by up-to-date standards...standards that truly reflect their time.

Indeed, the notion that one period of art represented a true pinnacle usually correlates with the point at which things "clicked" for the person identifying that pinnacle, much the way that most people's musical tastes seem forever influenced by what they liked during their high school or college years. That is, unless that person remains engaged with the growth of such art forms and, moreover, remains engaged with the developments of society and human history at large.

Things keep changing, whether we like it or not, and clinging to some point in the past like a barnacle on the butt of history, regardless of how glorious the world seemed back then (and believe me, the longer you live, the more you realize that any "glorious" era you were lucky enough to live through was relative to your unique position...the world always more or less sucks for most people at any given time) only serves to fossilize your opinions and their helpfulness to others still engaged.

I suspect more than a few folks will disagree with where I'm going with all this, but in thinking this through it has dawned on me that this is why I have stood firm in my conviction that the New Museum exhibition that's causing so much controversy is best judged on its merits as an exhibition, rather than on standards that seem to represent some era that has passed and isn't coming back. The world has changed. This exhibition is merely one more piece of evidence of that. And trying to shut it down seems so reactionary to me. Judge it on quality...rip it to shreds if it deserves it then, but I'm not yet convinced by any of the arguments that its presentation represents something so antithetical to who we are today that we need to throw the baby (the potential value of bringing this collection to New York) out with the bathwater.

The arguments that I've seen against it boil down to:
  1. "Marcia wouldn't like this show" : And perhaps she wouldn't, but ...God rest her soul...she's not the director now. The museum MUST be of its time to be New.
  2. Public money shouldn't be used to potentially make a rich person richer : It's hard to argue against this one, but an art exhibition seems a oddly minor example of this when we have billions being abused in much more offensive and destructive ways that don't have any such obvious benefits for the public. Transparency is required (and being given) by the museum here, and that already puts the exhibition at a disadvantage in terms of getting a fair shake critically, so I think this one is a bit of a draw.
  3. Shows of this ilk represents a shift in the power structure (away from the individual, and especially the artist, and toward the oligarchy) that must be stopped: I would suggest that it represents a return to previous power structures that will continue to cycle back throughout all of human history and that shouting against it is like shouting against the tide. Besides, the most meaningful responses to this, to my mind, must come from artists. William Powhida's response is priceless (and ironic, given how much he owes to Koons), but even that is a summary of what mostly non-artists said in response. Not that their opinions aren't a valuable part of the dialog, just that if the issue is the empowerment of artists, then, well, artists must lead the charge.
Personally, I think the world has changed and I'd rather have honest insightful reflections of it than bury my head in the comforting sands of yesteryear. I'm willing to wait to judge whether this show will prove to be a valuable addition to the exhibition landscape. If it is, then I'm willing to applaud the New Museum for charging, through the criticism, into the brave new world. If it fails, then I suspect we won't see much more like it anyway.

In short, I simply don't like the idea that there is a "right" way or a "wrong" way to present art. So long as there is transparency, and a sincere desire to focus on the work, why not let a museum dedicated to what's "new" (even if it's not pretty) offer honest reflections of that? Private collections have outpaced many public collections in terms of the depth and focus of their contemporary art collections. The market is known to be influenced by museum exhibitions. The collection is known to be of very high quality. This show is being marketed as a new way to bring such work to the public. There seem to be no non-transparent parts to this...if we assume the intended audience knows all this (or will learn all this through the exhibition), the show seems to be uber-timely. If an institution's mission includes showing us how the art world truly looks, then this show is consistent with that mission, no?

I don't wish to ignore what's right before my eyes in hopes of returning to some relatively "better" point in history. I'm still right here, right now...and want to see what the changes are for myself. I'll be relentlessly honest in my criticism should the show suck or not live up to the institution's sales pitch. But I want the chance to judge that for myself.

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56 Comments:

Blogger joy said...

Ed, thank you for this smart, measured, thorough post. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I wish I could have written this -- it may just have to be reblogged.
;-)

11/23/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Tatiana said...

With anything archetypal, you pretty much have to run the course -- so in terms of your conversation with the gentleman, we are in an 'acne' stage of development, art-wise...and eventually, the pimples will clear up and a 'clearer complextion' will arise (in his eyes, perhaps).
I agree - you cant only look back and swoon about yesteryear -- and yes, the more current, the more risky and the more shocking -- but that's always the case. So Mr. Midwestern Gentleman, just bear with the blemishes -- a little ointment should clear it up in a couple years ;)

11/23/2009 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

I agree that openness is a virtue. Some fabulous work is being done now as is trash. This has always been the case. Even individual artists have to wade through the mistakes to reach the gems. Culturally this is equally true.

I haven't seen the New Museum show featuring a single collector's exhibition. The shows I have seen there were not always my taste and I am glad of it. Exposure to new work is always good. And my opinion/taste has shifted because of the experience.

It is also true that some collectors have remarkable collections. What some of us lament is that museums are mounting more and more shows based on a single collection or on celebrity. I wonder how much of this is due to budget cuts. Museums are bureaucracies and curators have to wear multiple hats when budgets are constantly reduced. Showing a collection is easier on some levels than spending the hours doing studio visits and gallery visits to put together a different kind of group show. And having a non art world celebrity as curator or artist brings a level of publicity museums can't usually attain otherwise.

11/23/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Is it just the music we listen to that's influenced by our early years? How soon are one's basic tastes formed? The art I didn't like forty years ago, as a teenager, still doesn't appeal to me.

11/23/2009 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed, What a nice essay, I couldn't agree more.

Today is sombody's "good old days"

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone...

11/23/2009 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

What debt does William Powhida owe to Koons? I'd think it's more Barnett Newman and Andy Kaufman. Though you can go backwards to Vaudeville and caricaturists in Europe...come to think of it Jeff Koons owes a huge debt to Duchamp who owes a huge debt to the "tableau vivant" which was a popular entertainment in Paris.

Welcome to showbiz.

Yes Celebrity is an issue as Mery Lyn points out. We Artsy Types(C) live in a world of Niche Markets(TM) and are thusly concerned. How does concentrated celebrity help the outsider in a world made of silicon, exactly? Was "Younger Than Jesus" supposed to be helpfull to emerging artists? because it ignored huge swaths of the art world
(even some youthful parts) just as the WHitney Biennial tends to represent Chelsea only, with whole rooms dedicated to galleries.

*****

"Whether they did so via art that is good or bad is the appropriate point at which to critique their work"

Well obviously it's ok to make work about whatever you want, from the artists perspective, and to make work that isn't "about" anything -part of the problem with academicism and the market is that work has to be "about" something other than whats in your head at any given moment - but if you think differently then here's my argument:

We don't need work that mirrors society so much as work that offers an alternate reality - that is, critical work is modernism devouring itself and that we have enough critical tools with a sufficient sharpness to work with. If anthropologists aren't overly ocncerned with creating new ways of combatting ethnocentrism, why should artist be concerned with creating new ways of being self reflexive?

When the New Museum claims to be the "new" it certainly has a lot of gaul, showing established players (as WP diagrammed with the help of his Menshevick croneys) with tried and true formulas(self reflexive ad nauseum), doesn't it? Let Rome burn!

11/23/2009 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What debt does William Powhida owe to Koons?

It is the Koonsian model of being an artist that Bill is most lampooning...acting like a star in order to become a star, referring to oneself in the third person, etc...without Koons, Bill's critique would be less immediately recognizable.

11/23/2009 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Yes, these are indeed his/our days. One of the mistakes that we all tend to make as we grow older (other than to look back with blinders on) is to think of our values and tastes in opposition to what is current rather than to see relationships (and even opposition is a relationship).
In a few years, I will be teaching freshmen who will have not known a world without the internet. The way in which they engage the world, its media, information, and communication will be radically different than mine due to difference in experiences. But there will always be values shared and those that don't can be seen in relationship to each other and understood as contingent to a particular experience. There will be no effective way for me to pass on my values (essentially saying "In MY day..") without understanding theirs and seeing where things intersect in dialog.

11/23/2009 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

thanks for the clarification Ed. I think there are a lot of artists who do the "celebrity artist" schtick, if not intentionally....

SOme artists seem to have no self awareness to speak of, even trained ones, which is odd.

Koons, who in interviews comes across as psychopathically calm - a consumate businessman - utterly without guile, an illusion to be sure.

But Koons owes a huge debt to the much derided, lampooned and celebrated Salvador Dali, whom Koons admits as a formative role model.

Too much self awareness will cripple an artist - every act becomes painfully self conscious and thus full of effort. This is a problem with "theorizing" your art - a practice encouraged by academics but discouraged by many studio artists.


I wanted to work in arrested development (meaning core personality) in relation to visionary or "outsider" art somehow, too.

I know the New Museum isn't the "visionary" art museum, I guess is what I'm saying.

11/23/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't think it was the art that people were upset about or even so much that it's the art of a private collection, but that it is the exhibition of the private collection of a museum trustee curated by the main artist from the collection coming directly after the entire museum show of another artist from the collection, who shows at Gavin Brown, as do four(?) other artists who have had solo shows at the museum in the last two years, Gavin Brown being the same gallery the husband of the museum curator belongs to.

It's just too much, and on top of that it is at a museum founded on principles so different.

11/23/2009 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your handy summary is the accumulative conclusion of several other critiques, anonymous...but, as such, a somewhat inflated description of any individual's outrage. (I don't disagree that altogether is looks problematic, but would only note that one can list the questionable actions of any institution in comma-delimited form and make it sound like "too much".)

Having said that, though, your summary is exactly what I think truly reflects the times we live in. If the entire exhibition were the creation of an artist, as critique of the system, my guess is we'd see universal applause.

And perhaps I'm mixing the two. Perhaps I'm giving the institution the latitude I would an artist and that's not appropriate.

I still think it's worth taking the museum at its word and judging the value of the show to the public based on its strength, though.

11/23/2009 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher/Mark said...

The least interesting thing about the New Museum show that has everybody bovvered, as it were, is not the relationship of the collector to the highly "incestuous" world of the art-world (which has been true for decades plus) but it all sounds like a show we have already seen three times elsewhere.

11/23/2009 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"your summary is exactly what I think truly reflects the times we live in."

That's right Edward. Anonymous is summarizing a circle jerk, a common practice that so many non-practitioners have suffered the consequences of recently, both in and out of the art world. I find it repulsive and inexcusable, no matter how practical it may seem.

a different anonymous

11/23/2009 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous is summarizing a circle jerk, a common practice that so many non-practitioners have suffered the consequences of recently, both in and out of the art world.

I have no idea what you mean there. Sincerely.

Can you elaborate? Who are the non-practitioners here? How have they suffered?

11/23/2009 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"it all sounds like a show we have already seen three times elsewhere."

Christopher/Mark are right.

Could it be that the GP is as capable as Koons of curating, if only virtually, their own meaning?

Why would I care what Koons does with his shopworn chess pieces? The grand master himself?

I may be speaking for an effete few, the ones who take celebrity with a bag of salt and an appertif, but listen, doesn't art have pretentions to exclusivity and refinement?

Whos streets? Our streets!

11/23/2009 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I think these times are great times to make fine art as far as possibilities are concerned.
The relevancy of "new" fine art in the debate of culture as a whole is more problematic, and the great fine artists of yesteryears might have been doing something else than fine art if they lived through our generation.


As far as the New Museum's coming up show, it sounds to me more like
a show about the past than a show about today. It's fine with me if people want that. It doesn't imply that it will be a bad or boring show, but if it is, and the New Museum still prefers to indulge in more of this, it will simply open opportunities for "new" stuff to happen elsewhere.

Cedric C

11/23/2009 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Ed,

Before I say anything else I think the operative word you used in differentiating my work from Mr. Koons' is "critique." Otherwise, I'll respond in measured manner later, when I've fully thought through the vast, vast chasm that divides our work and trajectories. I don't plan on ending up being known as an artist who designs yachts for his billionaire pals. I'd rather be alone eating dirt in a cave with a notebook and some pencils.

As someone who has mounted a show by Yevgeny Fiks, "Adopt Lenin" that thoroughly called value into question, I am surprised that you are giving the Museum a pass on a show so intertwined with the production of social and economic value. In fact, your gallery's program has been more consistently difficult than the New Museum's. My Lenin is hanging above my kitchen sink as a reminder of the limits of my debt to Koons.

-William

11/23/2009 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

The disclosure of a conflict of interest does not preclude the existence of the conflict.

11/23/2009 05:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ahh, and from the earliest comments here I was beginning to think this might be rather simple to get away with. I stand happily corrected.

William,

Whether your trajectories will be so vastly different is probably best left to historians, don't you think?

You both offer critiques that serve as both subject and means, continuously blurring the distinctions between what you're observing and what you're becoming (we've talked about this danger in your work)...and while I have faith that you'll continue to walk that tightrope as skillfully as you have, thus far, I think as your production resources increase you'll find that perhaps Koons isn't quite as easily dismissed from that vantage point (happy to tell you more about why in private...requires sharing too much).

Dalen, I would agree. But not putting the conflict out there front and center creates a sense that one was perhaps trying to hide it. That is certainly worse, no?

I'm not sure how much more transparent the museum could be about this, but am willing to entertain suggestions.

11/23/2009 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"I think as your production resources increase you'll find that perhaps Koons isn't quite as easily dismissed from that vantage point (happy to tell you more about why in private...requires sharing too much).

Everybody has their price right?

Remember, it is still sex, even if you call it art.

11/23/2009 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger patsplat said...

It is the type of art that is triggering the current critical reaction, rather then the conflict of interest.

Without a permanent collection, the New Museum has always depended on the willingness of collectors to loan work to enable exhibitions. The lack of a collection also led (intentionally) to institutional support for Conceptual Art. The thing about this show isn't that a collector is lending the work, it's that the work is a collection of banal objects.

Jeff Koons is most successful and subversive critic of the sanctified space of the art world. His work is Lite Conceptualism, celebrating popular culture and indulging in decadent materialism. This exhibition of the most vitriolic reaction to the Conceptual Art movement -- the movement the New Museum helped propel in the first place -- is a bold and interesting move.

11/23/2009 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Ed,

By trajectories, I mean the kind of art we make respectively, not how any of it is judged in a historical context. Clearly, we also have very different reads of what exactly Jeff Koons is up to. I'm glad that Leah Ollman was able to draw a distinction between the character in my work and my secondary role, apparently, as the maker in her review.

I would love to continue this in private. Do tell.

11/23/2009 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Stan B. said...

There's an old fighter's axiom that states you're only as good as your opposition. And while waxing nostalgic accomplishes little, one could say that artists such as Warhol or Picasso were as innovative as they were reflective of their times, as opposed to a Koons or Hirst who are as exploitative as they are reflective.

I really don't have a dog in this one, but one can't rule out history altogether. Has rock done anything of significant note since the early eighties? I suppose some would say, yes. And in thirty years many of them will be asking what has the medium (pick your choice) done since the turn of the century?

11/23/2009 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger Hayward said...

Agreed that the New Museum is demonstrating a public transparency unprecedented by other institutions. It is exactly the reason for the backlash however. Typically this information would not be disclosed so forthrightly and as such should not be taken for granted here.
It should be accepted however that in response to such transparency is a feedback loop aimed directly toward their curators and directors. And if it really is a matter of principle for some people, you always have the choice of not paying the admission and not supporting the show. As how it should work in an environment of openly disclosed information.

11/23/2009 10:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm an abstract painter, i like conceptual art, i really like jeff koons (sad his train is derailed), i don't see how the museum is demonstrating exceptional transparency, i do think the museum is demonstrating exceptional hubris, i'm not "outraged", it's worth ridiculing.

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,commas!

go powhida!

11/24/2009 01:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

i don't see how the museum is demonstrating exceptional transparency

What more could you ask for in that department?

11/24/2009 07:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great perspective on this debate is mirrored in Ross King's "The Judgement of Paris" where we see Messenier (the big money maker of the day who no one now remembers) versus Manet, the wanna be outsider trying to get "in." It's the liveliness of the debate on what images are compelling that remind us the art community is alive, well and injecting vitality into the culture.

11/24/2009 07:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

And yet, we often find criticism of these artists suggesting they were somehow responsible for such ills. As if they were socially required to condemn, rather than reflect, what they saw around them.

About a year ago Germaine Greer attempted a defense of Hirst with exactly the same angle: the artist is crass, but the times are crass, hence the artist is a perfect reflection of the times. One is of course free to condemn one's diseased times as well as its symptomatic artists, and l'Affaire Joannou is a perfectly gangrenous opportunity to do so.

He refused to engage in the contemporary dialog about art or culture because it all seemed so infantile and exasperating.

He is correct in his assessment, and the New Museum proved him right in its response to Tyler Green in the Art Newspaper. It's a parade of self-importance revealed through trite, reflexive phrasing. Joannou's is "one of the finest and most original collections of contemporary art in the world," "preeminent," "extraordinary." The work therein is "some of the most powerful, challenging art of our time." They characterize the laundering of the value of this private collection at taxpayer expense as "an artistically and intellectually significant project." They boast that they "have never shied away from difficult art, provocative subject matter, or important issues of the day." (In an especially rich choice of words, they say that Joannou will "allow great works from the Deste Foundation to cross the ocean" as if they were the Ghent Altarpiece.)

David Thompson has been has been covering the Arts Council-funded project of a woman who will spend 24 hours trying to coax herself into an epileptic fit, and its apologists resort to the same twaddle: important, challenging, surprising, transgressive, exciting. These are the terms of the "contemporary dialogue" and it's not so much dialogue as circus barking - stock phrases yelled repetitiously from the podium to get people into the tent.

an art exhibition seems a oddly minor example of this when we have billions being abused in much more offensive and destructive ways...

As if the detractors to this wretched display were previously unconcerned with greater iniquities, and suddenly and surprisingly decided to protest against this relatively minor scandal. Sorry, but worse and greater scams in the world don't justify this one.

11/24/2009 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

One is of course free to condemn one's diseased times as well as its symptomatic artists,

Condemning one's times is a choice, as is taking the position of not assuming your condemnation will automatically make things better. It's the role of politics to make things better, in my opinion, and of art to help us make sense of things, which requires seeing and understanding what's really going on. With things as complicated in the world as they are, I'd prefer artists simply show me what they see and let me decide how to respond. I get enough moralizing from cable news.

He is correct in his assessment

His assessment, as noted, covered "all" contemporary art, meaning he was as willing to toss out yours with the bathwater as well. Surely, there's some position in the middle you'd rather applaud.

As if the detractors to this wretched display were previously unconcerned with greater iniquities

If you'd continued the quote just a phrase longer, though, you'd have gotten to the essence of my comparison: "that don't have any such obvious benefits for the public." There are obvious benefits to the public in not having to travel to Greece to view this collection. This is not as lopsided an exchange as it's being made out to be. The question of venue is an appropriate one; although I am, again, willing to hold judgment until the exhibition takes place, feeling that the framing of this show as an "intellectually significant project" (which is in keeping with the museum's mission, IMO) cannot be disproved in the abstract, and that the potential here is interesting enough for me to be willing to have my portion of the tax dollars supporting it go toward it. One voice among many, I know, but that's how I vote.

11/24/2009 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

There are obvious benefits to the public in not having to travel to Greece to view this collection.

I am not even slightly interested in providing that "benefit" to the public. Regardless of what work ends up getting included, this is yet another effort to propagandize the importance of Jeff Koons, whose involvement ought to clarify the emptiness of this entire exercise, except that too many people have invested in that emptiness as if it were some kind of creative triumph. Really, you've laid out the shell game in certain terms:

...what among the work being made today is valuable to society must be measured by up-to-date standards...standards that truly reflect their time.

If the times are debased, then there's no honor in meeting its standards, and no sense in adopting them. Standards that can be rearranged at will to justify any sort of funny business are no standards at all. When "challenging" and "important" become clichéed markers of artistic quality, that's exactly what has happenned. Gagosian's Web page for Koons says, "Jeff Koons' artworks rarely inspire moderate responses, and this is one signal of the importance of his achievement." With standards like these, a critic can't win. Which is the point.

Make no mistake - the New Museum is attempting to stifle debate, not elicit it. We're not being asked to evaluate the importance of this work - we're being subjected to propaganda in which its importance is already presumed as fact. I happen to agree with you that the exhibition ought to be evaluated on sight and in person. I would go further by saying that Joannou turning the New Museum into a vanity gallery may very well result in a satisfying, serious exhibition. My point is that for doing so, the New Museum should be taxed proportionately at least as heavily as I am. I can hire apologists to extol the importance of my work as well. Should you be forced to pay for it? There's something fundamentally unfair about this whole arrangement apart from the work involved.

11/24/2009 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gerard said...

Nice sentiments and a lot of observations that I'd file under "Isn't It Pretty to Think So." Alas, none of it obviates the plain fact, evident to the senses, that much of what passes as "new" are has a higher component of crap slapped in it than we've ever seen before.

11/24/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I am not even slightly interested in providing that "benefit" to the public.

Your vote is another "no" then. Fair enough.

If the times are debased, then there's no honor in meeting its standards, and no sense in adopting them.

At what point does rejection of one's one time become its own sort of nihilism though? Seriously. You're here now. Rejecting the world won't automatically open up some parallel universe you can hop over into. It will only marginalize you. No one has the power to change things in all this that artists have. If the standards are substandard, then make the work that demonstrates that.

With standards like these, a critic can't win. Which is the point.

I'd agree. It is and should be the point. Why should a critic wish to win or lose? To be relevant, a critic must offer an opinion of quality that resonates with his/her readership. I don't see how winning or losing plays into that. Persuasion is another matter, of course, but then we're presuming we all win. Not just the critic.

We're not being asked to evaluate the importance of this work

I personally don't care what they're asking. I'll evaluate the importance of it on my own terms regardless. I would encourage anyone else visiting the show to approach it with the same relentless skepticism about how "artistically and intellectually significant" a project it is, as well.

There's something fundamentally unfair about this whole arrangement apart from the work involved.

Ahhh, fairness. Yes, there's something fundamentally unfair about our government spending trillions to search for nonexistent WMD while pocketing millions in insurance lobby donations to ensure HMOs can continue to kill the patients that challenge their profits.

I mention that to put things in perspective here.

NuMu cannot both argue that this exhibition is "an artistically and intellectually significant project" and tell the donating collector to pay for it, leading me back to my fundamental position that the appropriate response is to judge the exhibition on its quality.

11/24/2009 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

that much of what passes as "new" are has a higher component of crap slapped in it than we've ever seen before.

You could hear that same sentiment voiced during any time since the late 1800's, though, Gerard. And most likely before then as well. Which doesn't make it less true, but does make it somewhat besides the point.

There is no doubt that "most art sucks" and always has. The question is, again, do you throw out the baby with the bathwater, or try to sharpen your own acumen in assessing quality in what's new in conjunction with remaining engaged in the course of human history? The good contemporary artists are way ahead of the rest of us...judging them by outdated standards is pointless in my opinion.

11/24/2009 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

From a purely curatorial standpoint, there are no valid reasons to argue against the NuMu exhibition of artworks from the Dakis Joannou collection.

Everyone is allowed to disagree aesthetically and to hate the exhibited artworks, but this is no reason why the exhibition should not be mounted.

Everyone is free to disagree with the importance of Dakis Joannou's collection, but as a collector he made both a financial and personal commitment to support certain artists by acquiring their artworks. By its very nature, art collecting is an act of exclusion, the collector's taste includes certain artworks and by default excludes everyone else. It's no fun to be excluded.

As far as ethical issues go, I haven't heard anything other than innuendo and vague aspersions from people with little or no understanding of either the business, financial or political side of the art world. This whole issue in nothing more than yellow journalism run amuck.

So, let's have the NuMu show us the art from the end of the 20th century, and than let's put it to rest.

11/24/2009 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

From Lao-Tzu to Seneca, if there's one thing upon which the wise agree, it's that marginalization is the price you pay for living according to your essential nature. One of the challenges of the good life is to live according to perennial principles in a manner that is appropriate to one's situation. That requires the rejection of the follies of the moment. Don't be so sure that it doesn't open up a parallel universe. In Tous les matins du monde, Marais relizes that we make art because one has to leave out a glass for the dead.

Sorry for not being clear: I didn't mean "win" as literally as you took it. Instead I meant that most of the contemporary art standards are designed around the obviation of criticism. The Gagosian blurb sets things up so that both the priase and the ridicule reaffirm the importance of the work. This cynicism is deliberate and market-driven, and it's hardly contained to Gagosian.

Again, the presence of bigger scams in the world doesn't excuse this scam.

NuMu cannot both argue that this exhibition is "an artistically and intellectually significant project" and tell the donating collector to pay for it...

Most of these museum boards require huge donations for membership, and even so, I rather suspect that the donor will pay for more than a few expenses here. The donor's involvement isn't the problem - it's my involvement as a taxpayer in the shaping of contemporary art history in a way that harms my interests.

11/24/2009 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The USA peaked 50 YRS AGO. Rock n Roll in the 60s and 70s. Painting /Sculpture ?
Motion PictureS ?

11/24/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

"... in a way that harms my interests."

Selfish sonofabitch, what about my interests, and my neighbor's interests?

11/24/2009 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

By all means, George, support whatever effort you find worthy. Don't oblige your neighbor to do as well.

11/24/2009 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

So we'll be less surprised or less likely to make a fuss about future such collaborations, because after all, that's just the way things are, so we better get used to it? The sanction of the victim is being sought here.

I'm all for leaving the past in the past. I feel now more than ever that the past is destroying itself behind us, and the future is forever shifting away, just out of reach. But that does not mean we should embrace corruption which exists in the present and make it S.O.P. Let's reach for strength of character, in ourselves and in others.

11/24/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

I should properly attribute the phrase "sanction of the victim" to Ayn Rand (as used in Atlas Shrugged).

11/24/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

"The USA peaked 50 years ago..."

LOL, This is what my friends and I refer to as the geezer gap! The first part of Ed's essay directly addresses this observation and illustrates why it occurs.

I believe there is a cyclical aspect to how the culture develops. It is bi-generational in timespan, roughly 40-50 years. Since it is related more to the accumulation of power than news, it is less susceptible to the increased rate of information in a modern media society.

This generational cycle leads me to suggest that we have entered another period of cultural change akin to what happened in the 1960's. Of course it won't look like the 1960's because the world is so different today.

The world population has more than doubled since then, and this alone assures that the way the culture develops, the way it finds its new music, art, fashion and architecture will be substantially different. It is unlikely we will see monolithic stylistic developments in any of the arts for the sheer reason that there are now so many more artists, they will never agree to go along with the program. (the NuMu debate is a case in point)

Further, a new generation of artists and patrons are just now entering the workforce. A generation which has always had the internet, video games and untold diversions which don't know about. All these things, these cultural inputs, serve to shape the developing brains of our youth up to roughly the age of twenty. It's more than knowledge, it's hard wired.

The new art will not only be created by the twenty somethings, the internet generation, but also by their collectors with the same cultural roots, they will choose what they love to support. It's not an idea that is all that revolutionary, really more of just an observation of what actually happens over time. Each new age has it's own fashions and tastes.

11/24/2009 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

As far as ethical issues go, I haven't heard anything other than innuendo and vague aspersions from people with little or no understanding of either the business, financial or political side of the art world. This whole issue in nothing more than yellow journalism run amuck.

So, let's have the NuMu show us the art from the end of the 20th century, and than let's put it to rest.
- George

Maybe you should try reading sometime. Who are you listening to?

This prompted the association, which accredits but does not regulate museums, to issue guidelines for exhibiting borrowed objects, stressing “transparency, intellectual integrity and institutional control,” Mr. Ledbetter said. While the New Museum is not accredited by the association, all museums are considered to be bound by its standards.

The guidelines stress the potential for conflicts if board members become lenders, Mr. Ledbetter said. He offered these “cautionary flags”: a show devoted to one collector; a show in which the collector is a board member, donor or underwriter; a show in which the museum gives away or pools curatorial judgment with the collector.

“Any one of those things can be managed,” he said, “but when you layer them on top of each other, it’s more complicated.”

The New Museum show raises all the association’s cautionary flags except one: Mr. Joannou is not underwriting the exhibition.
-NYTimes
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/arts/design/11museum.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=new%20museum&st=cse

There's nothing vague about the ethical guidelines suggested by the American Association of Museums. There's never been any legal questions or even any ethical obligations, just some guidelines to steer museums clear of this mess.

11/24/2009 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

So we'll be less surprised or less likely to make a fuss about future such collaborations, because after all, that's just the way things are, so we better get used to it? The sanction of the victim is being sought here.

Make as much fuss as you like. Don't let me stop you. All I'm saying is don't expect everyone to consider your fuss more interesting/relevant than what the exhibition might potentially reveal.

As for the so-called victimhood here...really? The tax dollars issue aside (again, I think it's a matter of opinion on whether this is a bad use of that), how is anyone being victimized?

11/24/2009 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The art Game: Art has one of the most Byzantine business models of any luxury item, it is unique in the world of business.

Like any business, the art market has a producer, the artist, and a consumer, the collector. The ultimate goal is to use commerce to move the art object from the artist to the cultural repository, the museum, without having it end up in the trash bin.

In a contemporary culture where most objects seem to be disposable the art object aspires to be preserved rather than discarded. The higher the monetary value placed upon an object the greater probability it will be preserved. Therefore, the art market works by exploiting the artist and buying the artwork at a low price. It is then traded it among the interested parties until it's value is high enough for it to be preserved and as a result it is removed from the marketplace. Artworks which fail in the world of commerce are eventually discarded or otherwise lost.

The art market has been undergoing radical changes for two reasons. One is demographics, the US population is double what it was 50 years ago (world pop doubled since 1969) and is four times what it was in 1900. It is more than just a simple arithmetic increase which is occurring, because it appears there are certain points of critical mass where the artworld grows faster then the raw population increase. The second factor has been the enormous increase in wealth world wide. The number of billionaires has increased by over 500 times since 1985.

The increased capital flowing into the art market has been sufficient enough to cause distortions in pricing and raise some questions about what actually goes on in the commerce activities that occur with an art object between the studio sale and the final museum resting place. I believe it is worth paying attention to the commerce process, including ethics, but also realizing that the goal is always to make the art object so valuable it will be preserved.

As for this discussion, in the bigger picture it's irrelevant and in five years it will all be forgotten.

11/24/2009 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

All I'm saying is don't expect everyone to consider your fuss more interesting/relevant than what the exhibition might potentially reveal.

Perhaps I am guilty of pre-judging.

But are you saying the ends may well justify the means?

how is anyone being victimized?

I'm speaking of a closed-loop system which creates $ value from those tax dollars and just recirculates it in the upper echelons. If that sort of system is quietly accepted, it may become the status quo. The excluded collectors and artists are victims, as well as the taxpayers and if the art is bad, the viewers.

11/24/2009 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Viewerslikeme said...

So inbreeding is now cutting edge? I'll never be able to keep up with you New Yorkers. I mean it goes on in my mid-western burg (explaining the large collection of photorealisitic flower painting in the local museum and the dearth of other contemporary art) but we don't brag about it. Funny too because you have so many artists, so many museums there to choose from - but I guess that is part of what makes the closed loop so attractive, and me so provincial.

Cathy

11/24/2009 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

The involvment of Jeff Koons is legit. It will be interesting to read his opinions on other artists of his generation (assuming a text will accompany the exhibit).

Jeff Koons should have his own museum solo, but it should be at the Guggenheim or another of the biggies. It would only work if Koons and collectors were generous in lending pieces because I doubt museums are rich enough to buy a lot of Jeff Koons. Hence, for some types of art, collector involvement is a necessary thing.

But to assume all great art exhibiting should involve collectors would be a big mistake. There is great art that collectors simply ignore. Even a dealer sometimes face great art and think "this is great, but I can't sell it". I want pure art criticism to remain a viable option for an artist's success, as much as plain popularity (reaching the mass before the collector, or even bypassing this careering need to be "collected").


Cedric C

11/24/2009 07:46:00 PM  
Anonymous james said...

Ed, I love what you write in the first eight paragraphs of your post, but I have no idea how you think they might in any way support the argument with which you follow them (or how they even relate to it).

You switch from talking about art to talking about the money, power and institutions which preside at the top of the system, through which most people experience art, and to which even artists themselves must pay heed. You tell us that however that money and those institutions operate it's the genius of the times which we are seeing, and only retired gentlemen who complain about everything getting worse and worse would question it.

Disclosure: I believe I'm a retired gentleman.

11/24/2009 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

An interesting thought experiment regarding any given project is to imagine forcing someone to help pay for it upon pain of imprisonment, which is taxation in a nutshell. Basic civic needs, like paved roads and water mains, pass that test. The display of Dakis Joannou's property does not.

I'm speaking of a closed-loop system which creates $ value from those tax dollars and just recirculates it in the upper echelons. If that sort of system is quietly accepted, it may become the status quo.

It already is the status quo. The only new development in this case is the lack of discretion. Joannou has made it plain that he answers to himself on these delicate ethical matters, and you'll be relieved to know that he has given himself the all clear.

11/24/2009 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You tell us that however that money and those institutions operate it's the genius of the times which we are seeing,

I purposely avoided calling any of the indicators of our times "genius" though James (I think, where visual art is concerned, that recognition takes time for all but the most gifted of observers). And I certainly didn't describe the NuMu exhibition that way. I'm simply intrigued by their marketing pitch, feel it's quite daring and very much of its time, and that it's always better to approach such claims with a modest degree of open-mindedness.

I guess I should be a bit more direct here, as my attempts at subtlety have left me defending something I don't believe in my heart is a good move on NuMu's part.

Here it is, in a nutshell. NuMu is insisting, consistently, that they are serious about this exhibition representing an "artistically and intellectually significant project." That's quite some claim for what looks like a vanity exhibition.

But I honestly don't believe that premise can be disproved in the abstract. Insisting they can't try to deliver something "artistically and intellectually significant" is to interfere with their curatorial autonomy. Insisting one doesn't care how artistically and intellectually significant it might turn out to be strikes me as incurious.

Neither is a position worth taking to prevent yet another vanity exhibition, should it only turn out to be such, in my opinion, leaving me convinced that the only thing to do is go see the exhibition and judge it on its artistic and intellectual significance. Should it somehow (and I'm skeptical as hell) transcend the vanity exhibition it looks like, well, then, I'll be the first to applaud NuMu's efforts.

only retired gentlemen who complain about everything getting worse and worse would question it.

I could have easily used an example of a younger person who feels all contemporary art is infantile and exasperating (including a few kind enough to comment here), but I just so happened to have had my conversation with this gentleman spark my connections on this topic, so I mentioned him instead. It certainly wasn't intended to be ageist.

11/24/2009 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Most of my online acquaintances in the financial world tend to be right of center, sometimes far right. This opinion about deficit reduction popped up in a recent post by one of them. Everyone has their own ax to grind and would like to pick and choose what we get as "government services" Certainly they must know something I don't.

1. Sell all non-essntial Fed owned buildings and land for
whatever we can get.
2. Cut salaries of Congress.
3. Scrap new health care legislation .
4. Eliminate Dept. of Energy.
5. Eliminate National Education Association.
6. Eliminate foreign aid.
7. Eliminate National Endowment for the Arts.
8. Get rid of the EPA.
9. Cut the time Congress is in session and turn off the lights.
10. Eliminate all Czars and other non-essential personnel.

11/24/2009 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What more could you ask for in that department?"

i'm not mistaking the obvious for transparency. what, like if it wasn't billed as the joannu collection no one would have known?

it's fabled!!!!!!!!

11/24/2009 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm not a conservative, and my list of cuts would start a little differently.

1. End every military operation taking place outside of US borders. Close all foreign bases. Redeploy all patrolling missions.

2. Shutter the IRS.

3. Legalize all drugs and free all nonviolent drug offenders.

Anyone who wants to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts but maintain (even expand!) our military projects abroad is not serious about their fiscal conservatism, and you can tell your right-of-center friends I said so.

On the other hand, I find that liberals, particularly liberals in the arts, have rather lofty and tendentious ideas about art as a public good - so much so that even this obviously self-serving example under discussion may arguably qualify as promotion of the general welfare. That is perverse and offensive. And the New Museum, whilst spouting progressive bromides about "challenging" work, is mounting another tired defense of the establishment position on contemporary art in a manner that stands to benefit all the billionaires concerned. Bully for them, but let's not make the public underwrite this as if it were access to drinkable water.

11/25/2009 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

LOL, I guess we need to blame mother nature for having so many different kinds of nuts.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone...

11/25/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"Ahhh, fairness. Yes, there's something fundamentally unfair about our government spending trillions to search for nonexistent WMD while pocketing millions in insurance lobby donations to ensure HMOs can continue to kill the patients that challenge their profits."

Obviously I think there are somepeople who think (as franklin mentions) that art *should* mirror society, so as to reflect something or other.

But art is sufficiently self reflexive at this point, at least in the insular world of the educated - far better to be visionary than reflective, better to have an atom splitter than more mirrors.

When does reflection become mere maginification? Apologetics?Complicity?

Truth to power!

11/25/2009 07:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this sensible analysis. It's the only one I've encountered.

12/06/2009 06:59:00 PM  

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