Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 New York Art World News Stories of 2009

If you'll indulge me just a bit (this format isn't my forte I've found, but it's fun and apparently that time of year again, so...), I'll give this my best effort. Here are what I would call the top 10 New York Art World news stories of 2009, selected in terms of entirely unscientific, anecdotal evidence of how frequently they came up at cocktail parties and such:

10. The art market turns away from that light at the end of the tunnel and returns to consciousness...only to find it's still in intensive care. Despite nearly universal relief that things picked up a bit in the fall of 2009 (after what can be described as a Spring and Summer sales season straight out of Edgar Allen Poe) and what turned out to be a surprisingly festive and even fun Miami, the art market in New York isn't a rosy picture of health just yet. At the end of 2009 we still see that art fairs are struggling, the auction results were pale reflections of their former selves, and despite the total number not being as high as predicted some mighty fine galleries called it quits this year.

9. Metropolitan Museum responds to recession with plans to do less with less. After cutting 357 employees from its payroll to help close a budget gap (resulting from a drop in endowment funding), the Met didn't so much announce its upcoming season of programming as mumble it and apologetically scurry away. As L Magazine's Benjamin Sutton termed it, the line-up is "Super Boring." Of course, after the past few years, in which the Met had blasted it out of the ball park again and again and again, perhaps we're just spoiled.

8. Notable passings. While the world of entertainment saw a stupefying number of high-profile celebrities pass away in what was termed The Summer of Death, the art world too lost its share of giants and perhaps less known artists, curators, collectors, historians, etc., just as worthy of respect and consideration. In no particular order, this year the art world lost the following : Nancy Spero, Peter Forakis, Jeanne-Claude, Evelyn Hofer, Amos Ferguson, Ruth Duckworth, Dietrich von Bothmer, Nat Finkelstein, Charles Seliger, Michael Mazur, Tony Rosenthal, Michael Martin (Iz the Wiz), Aldo Crommelynck, Sir Michael Levey, Hyman Bloom, Tyeb Mehta, Thomas Hoving, Larry Sultan, Roy DeCarava, Robert M. Murdock, Irving Penn, Don Fisher, Dina Babbitt, Barry Flanagan, Olga Raggio, Vivien Raynor, Ray Yoshida, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Delford Brown, Ernest Trova, Willoughby Sharp, Coosje van Bruggen, Louise Deutschman, and Robert Colescott.

7. Dash Snow dies of drug overdose. Probably because it's always shocking when someone so young dies so unexpectedly, the death that seemed to send the biggest shock waves through the New York art world this year was that of 27-year-old Dash Snow. Whether you loved or hated his work, there was no denying that his rebellious nature and energy added excitement to the scene.

6. Glenn Beck, Art Historian. Too unimaginative, apparently, to drudge up any new boogie men boogeymen to scare his audience into submission (and, as a paid spokesperson, to steer them toward peace of mind via purchasing gold in these times of uncertainty), blow-hard Glenn Beck instead turns to his favorite fantasy time (you know the America that only exists in Hollywood films and Beck's delusions) and teleports a favored boogeyman from the 1950s (the communist under the bed) back into Fox viewers' living rooms. He gets a scare-the-bejesus-out-of-the-heartland two-fer by inferring (just asking questions, mind you) that arguably communist iconography in the art at Rockefeller Center reveals a threat to our way of life and just so happens to indict Fox competitor NBC who are headquartered there. New York art critic Jerry Saltz was so incensed by Beck's transparent scaremongering that he encouraged the gold-hawking blabbermouth to curate an exhibition of "Degenerative Art." No word yet on whether Beck will accept the challenge.

5. The Obamas' Art Choices (and the wingnuts' response). What should have been a wonderful way to encourage national pride and interest in visual art (and for the most part seemed to have accomplished just that), also turned political as the President and First Lady made public their desire to decorate the White House with a selection of artworks that reflected their tastes (including Rothko, Ruscha, Albers, Johns, Morandi, etc.). Also in the initial list, though, was a work by Alma Thomas that was an appropriation play off of a Matisse. Displaying truly epic ignorance, right wing pundits launched a campaign to (distract from their lack of leadership ideas) have that choice reconsidered. The White House did eventually send that Thomas painting back, which upset the other side...which was clearly the right wingnuts' intent all along.

4. Performa outperforms. Everyone took their hats off to RoseLee Goldberg and the Performa crew for an extraordinarily successful biennial of new visual art performance. Perhaps the timing was right to refocus on un-commodifyable art, or perhaps the Performa folks just worked really hard to put together a fantastic program of strong work that took over the city, but the rave reviews for this year's effort poured in from all over. All of which seemed to prove that Goldberg was right when she declared before it all began that ""There is no such thing as an intellectual or artistic recession."

3. Surviving the Recession. Panel discussion after panel discussion, article after article, and surveys and entire blogs were offered, all geared toward helping folks in the arts and creative world survive the recession. Unlike beer or prostitution, which are apparently recession proof, the way that art industry types earn money (yes, insert your prostitution jokes here) is by convincing people to buy things they (and their accountants) know they don't actually need. After a rather unsettling period during which collectors were unsure how much they were worth, let alone how much they now had to spend on art, more clarity seems to have returned. (See number 10 above, though, as to why the
Veuve Clicquot will still flow a bit less freely at parties celebrating this year's end.)

2. The Salander case (and especially)- Madoff comparisons. I'll quote myself here (even though this story has cooled off a bit over the past few months): "Journalists of the art world: please do the math: Bernie Madoff is to Larry Salander what AIG's losses are to your personal 401(k)." Although there was plenty to be pissed about if Salander owed you money, the amazing array of news sources who lazily relied on a wholly out-of-whack comparison shorthand for their ledes on that story was more of a sad commentary on the lack of originality in contemporary journalism than anything approaching relevance. Madoff took his investors for
49.9 billion dollars...Salander took his clients for $88 million. That's a difference of more than 49.8 billion dollars. And yet, even in the art world press (where we have a right to expect a bit of original thinking, no?) we saw this used. I mean, it's not like I can't see the's just that I can't see why arts journalists weren't embarrassed to regurgitate the same line used in so many other accounts of the story (let alone in horridly racist accounts like this one).

1. The NuMu Controversy. Not much more needs said here about that than to point you to the highlighted text in the #2 choice from Jerry Saltz's "Best of 2009" list:

Wishing you and yours the warmest and happiest of holidays! See you next week!



Blogger zipthwung said...

Nice post, good work, now turn the knob to 11 and listen to the video fireplace crackle.

12/23/2009 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger The Blue Eyed Critic said...

Great Post. Thanks for all the information and the reminders!!

12/23/2009 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Look away now.

12/23/2009 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous laraine said...

8. Carl Plansky of Williamsburg Paint,

12/24/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

Thanks for the truly inspired list. Nice to have a good laugh, even one of recognition. Check out Christopher Knight's write-up about the Mao Christmas ornament scandal in the White House. It too is priceless.

12/24/2009 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Personally I'm not convinced the Met's lineup is "super-boring" at all. Those Indian miniatures for example could be fantastic. What's one of the best shows I saw at the Met this past year (and still on through February)? The Chinese cinnabar sculpture show, with the huge screen as its centerpiece that I hope forms part of the permanent collection. But how many people have known to climb up to the third floor in the Chinese wing to see it.

Again personally I'm more incensed at the way the Met sacked those 357 employees. But I guess they had to pay for that Duccio thingie somehow. Now that was "super-boring."

12/28/2009 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Adam I Zucker said...

The loss of Irving Kriesberg and Grace Hartigan should also be included in the notable passings in 2009. Both were unique and important individuals in the art world.

12/28/2009 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger jamm said...

Hartigan, oh yes.

12/30/2009 06:14:00 PM  

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