Friday, February 27, 2009

The New York Art Fairs

Blogging will most likely be light round these parts next week as the art fairs come to the Big Apple. Despite the economic situation and expectations that this year will be less frantic than previous years in terms of activity, there are some interesting developments in the landscape that have folks who pay close attention to these matters intrigued. None the least of which is the addition of a Modern component to the heretofore only contemporary fair, The Armory Show. Competing with the ADAA's Art Show (held last weekend) formula by mixing the two, this expansion strategy would be easier to judge in terms of effectiveness in a better market, I suspect, but we'll see.

Paddy has a map and additional information on all the fairs (it's so much more manageable in New York than in Miami), but let me extend a "personal" invitation to come visit us a the PULSE New York art fair, if you're making the rounds. In addition to their spiffy new website, the extraordinary PULSE team has assembled a record number of large-scale projects at this year's event (including one by our own Jennifer Dalton!). Here's a preview of what we're presenting this year:

Two years ago, our solo booth debut of work by Ivin Ballen at PULSE New York was a huge success. It led to multiple group exhibitions throughout the US and Europe and solo shows in New York and Detroit, for which Ivin received a rave review in the March 2008 issue of Artforum magazine. This year, we are pleased to present a spectacular new body of Ivin's three-dimensional trompe l'oeil paintings:
Ivin Ballen
Untitled (2 rectangles)
2008
Fiberglass, Aquaresin, acrylic, absorbent ground,
gouache
35" x 37" x 3”
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At last year's PULSE New York, we presented the highly acclaimed piece by Russian-born artist Yevgeniy Fiks, "Lenin for Your Library." This was followed in the gallery by Yevgeniy's solo exhibition "Adopt Lenin," at which visitors could take any of the Lenin memorabilia on display at no charge, so long as they signed a contract obligating them to never profit from its resale or gifting. Fantastic reviews of this exhibition appeared in January 2009's Art in America and many other publications. We are pleased to present this year an installation of Yevgeniy's portraits of contemporary members of the Communist Party USA. Begun in 2006, when the notion of nationalization and governmental socialist interventions in the US seemed absurd, these unironic paintings today resonate with a new urgency and relevance:

Yevgeniy Fiks
Portrait of Sheltreese McCoy (Communist Party USA)

2008
Oil on canvas
36" x 48"
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Joy Garnett's solo exhibition in the gallery this past year received glowing reviews in TimeOut New York and artforum.com to name but a few. For PULSE New York, we present a selection of new paintings based on photographs of the China Yangtse Three Gorges Project. Joy explains the relevance and urgency of this subject as follows: "The project has grown to become one of China's worst environmental nightmares, contributing on a massive scale to erosion and pollution levels, and adversely affecting fault lines, the vitality of wetlands, fish populations, etc. It has nevertheless become a model for similar proposals from countries on other continents, providing a high profile stage for global one-upmanship." As with all her work, though, Joy 's take on such subjects of violent natures results in a gorgeous group of expressionsist paintings that reveal the role photography plays in forming our collective consciousness:



Joy Garnett
River (3)
2008
Oil on canvas
26" x 32"
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This year we are also delighted to present a special installation offering a sneak peak at Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation's next major film, "White on White: A Film Noir." Featuring a section lifted straight out of Eve's studio, storyboards, video clips, and polaroids, this installation offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at how her films are made. We'll also feature the gorgeous first photograph from this new body of work.



Eve Sussman
Yuri's Office
2008
Digital C-Print
30" X 22.5"
Edition of 10, Plus 2 APs

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They're selling very quickly, but should we have any left, we'll also bring Andy Yoder's fabulous new multiple, All Your Eggs, part of the Compound Editions series we're producing with Schroeder Romero Gallery:



Andy Yoder
All Your Eggs
2009
4.25" x 7.25" x 7.25"
23 carat gold, clay, wood, excelsior, and shredded U.S. currency
Edtion of 100, plus 10 APs.
Published by Compound Editions.

And, because we love it so much, we're also bringing the last of Andy's fabulous cast brass chairs available (of a series of 5). Created during his residency at the Kohler Institute, this sculpture is suitable for outdoor or indoors (although, the brass makes it considerably heavy).



Andy Yoder
Side Chair
1995
Cast brass
37" x 19" x 19"

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And finally, we're delighted to present as a special project at PULSE New York, circling the entrance to the fair this year, Jennifer Dalton's light installation This Is Not News. First presented at her 2006 solo exhibition at the gallery, this 100-foot-long work documents the disparity of opportunity in the US art world between men and women artists:


Jennifer Dalton
This Is Not News (gallery installation view)
2006
5 strings of 100 light bulbs, ink on colored paper, string
Dimensions variable (each string 101 feet)
Edition of 10, plus 1 AP

Please stop by and say hello if you're at the fair!

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Christopher Lowry Johnson @ Winkleman Gallery, Feb 27 - Mar 28

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “What We Call Progress Is This Storm,” our fourth solo exhibition by New York artist Christopher Lowry Johnson. In this new body of work, Johnson explores the intersections of modern Americana and American painting through the central themes of ruin, renewal, and remembrance. With imagery sourced in symbols of “modern living”—skyscrapers, satellite images on “Google Maps," suburban neighborhoods, and city scaffolding—Johnson’s richly-layered, mosaic-like paintings blend somber palettes with complex, built-up surfaces resulting in works that convey an intense sense of contained agitation.

Each painting in this new series is a deliberate consequence of imposing on it multiple possible frameworks; the residual history of its surface helping to determine the eventual form of the picture. From the ruins of earlier efforts a new framework is revealed, one that is not as rigid but precarious, more human. The simplest grids are thwarted, subtlety shaken from their rigidity, in some works suggesting that precise moment just before a total implosion in controlled demolitions. Johnson’s images are derived from his contemplating places known and felt, some only half-remembered but from a memory of them like no other. These paintings seem to conjure older forms, modernist and optimistic while simultaneously functioning as an efficacious portrayal of contemporary anxiety.
“Where a chain of events appears before us, He sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet...But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm." ---Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
Christopher Lowry Johnson received his BFA from the Pennsylvania State University and his M.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and reviewed in TimeOut New York, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Contemporary magazine and featured in Harper’s magazine and the book by John Waters and Bruce Hainley, Art: A Sex Book.

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or info@winkleman.com

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another Bout of Counting Angels on the Head of a Pin

This one will probably go nowhere, but I'll throw it out there all the same, suspecting that there's something here worth tossing about:

In thinking through the issues raised by the news that Annie Leibovitz has borrowed about $15m to firm up her personal finances and put up "as collateral the copyright, negatives and contract rights to every photograph she has ever taken or will take in future until the loans are paid off," I was reminded of a quote I had read on a Starbuck's coffee cup:
"The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life."

--- Anne Morris
This quote came to me as I began to wonder how knowing someone else held the copyright to the work you were making right now might impact its quality.

It's a silly question in some regards, I know, as Ms. Leibovitz is by all accounts a total professional, but I can't help but imagine that knowing someone else holds the copyrights to what you're creating would change how you, the artist, feel about it. And whether that shift in your personal relationship with the work would show some how.

And then it occurred to me, recalling that quote, that it might actually be somewhat liberating and possibly lead to her most accomplished work yet. Why? Perhaps because her inner critic is given license to make the work to satisfy someone other than herself, and there would be less self-doubt involved.

I'm not thinking all the clearly this morning (sinus problems, don't you know), so I'll turn the keyboards over to you fine folks. The thread is on what relationship, if any, owning the copyright of one's work has on how the process of making it.


P.S. For more on this topic today, see Conscientious.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Boom Is Dead...Long Live the Collections

A very polite young woman called me a few weeks back and asked whether I could hold for Milton Esterow. I was somewhat sure it must be a prank call, but sure enough within a few moments I was speaking with the legendary editor and publisher of ARTnews magazine. Some folks get starstruck talking with movie actors or lead singers of famous bands...I tend to buckle at the knees in the presence of publishing giants and was like "er...yes sir...uh...thank you sir...." (...not quite ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille).

Truth be, we had a lovely conversation. Mr. Esterow was charming, gracious and generous as we chatted about a few blog posts that we had all hashed out a while back about buying art during a recession (see parts I and II here). In the March 2009 issue of his magazine, Mr. Esterow kindly mentions that topic amid predictions by a wide range of dealers, curators, museum directors, and collectors on how the art market will fair in 2009:
"It’s the best time to buy,” said Don Rubell, who with his wife, Mera, is on the ARTnews list of the world’s top 200 collectors.

“I’d buy till it hurts right now,” said Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

“If you’re liquid, this is the time when there are bargains,” said Michael Findlay, a director of Acquavella Galleries in New York.

“There are unbelievable opportunities,” said William Ruprecht, Sotheby’s chief executive officer.

What’s going on? Where have these folks been lately? After all, the Wall Street bankers, the Russian oligarchs, the hedge-fund poo-bahs, the casino tycoons, and the Asian billionaires no longer have so many billions. It’s no secret that the art bubble has burst.
The truth of the matter is, if you have the means, now is an extraordinary time to add some serious heft to your contemporary art collection. And there's a class of sophisticated collectors who know this:
“The real collectors are still buying—but less,” said Pierre Levai, president of Marlborough.

Raymond J. Learsy, a prominent New York collector with his wife, Melva Bucksbaum, agreed. He said, “I’ve always felt that the art market marches to a different drummer than financial markets. People who are really interested in art are a little bit like smokers. You just can’t give it up. It becomes intrinsic to your life and you go and delve into resources that you might not have thought you had to continue collecting.”

Rubell told me that some of the best pieces in his collection were bought during the last recession. “It takes courage to buy at a moment like this, but you get rewarded very much,” he said. “Things are available now. There’s more negotiating going on. Buy pieces from artists who are totally established, who have a track record, or buy from very young artists. There’s always a new generation of artists coming up.”
The article is chock full of great long-term insights and advice on navigating the current market. Anyone collecting, or thinking of starting, should not miss this piece.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Quick Thought For a Busy Monday

"Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America's spirit."

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Becoming a Symbol of Your Era

It seems like forever ago now that art world pundits were gobsmacked by the recession-mocking success of Damien Hirst's direct-to-auction sale of what (at least, for most other artists) looked like a life-time of inventory. Seemingly destined to become synonymous with the boom art market itself, Mr. Hirst's sale spawned predictions that, in retrospect, bring to mind the joke about the fortune cookie that read "Your strength lies in your continued belief that what you just ate was indeed duck." Predictions such as:
A statement by Hirst said that “the future looks great for everyone”. Ollie Barker, the Sotheby's specialist who helped to plan the sale and was the auctioneer, said that his team was overwhelmed by the response and was expecting further artist-led auctions.

“We don't know where this is going to lead to in the future. This company is 250 years old and this is the first time we've worked with a living artist in this way but it is bound to present further opportunities.”
But it hasn't taken long for the hero of New Bond Street to reap the rewards that seem to always await the symbols of one's own era, especially when it all goes pear shaped: Mr. Hirst has become "the" art world target in this winter of discontent.

From Madrid, we hear of Eugenio Merino's tasteless statement:
Spanish artist Eugenio Merino shocked visitors at ARCO, the Madrid International Contemporary Art Fair, with a graphic sculpture that shows art world bad-boy Damien Hirst shooting himself in the head, Bloomberg reports.

"Hirst is always trying to think of ways to make his art the most expensive," the artist told Bloomberg. "If he killed himself, then the value of his art would increase a lot."

The work, called For the Love of Gold, in a riff on Hirst's $100 million diamond-and-platinum skull called For the Love of God, shows the artist kneeling with a Colt 45 pressed against his temple. The silicone figure uses real human hair and glass eyes and is wearing a skull T-shirt. It's housed inside a tank similar to the ones Hirst has used for his works that preserve animals in formaldehyde.
See here for an image.

And from England, even more backlash:
A collective of British artists has come to the aid of Cartrain, a 16-year-old artist who was forced to forfeit £200 ($284) in profit to Damien Hirst after the art-world superstar threatened to sue the teenager over the use of an image of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God.

According to the Independent, the creators of the Web site Red Rag to a Bull, who include Jimmy Cauty, a former member of the band The KLF; Jamie Reid, the designer of the cover for the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen single; and artist Billy Childish, have produced a series of limited-edition prints that mock Hirst's copyright claims to the diamond skull.

"Unlike Cartrain and his gallery, we are not intimidated by lawyers, and if an injunction is issued, we will simply ignore it on the grounds of freedom of speech," Cauty wrote to the Independent.

The prints, grouped under the title For the Love of Disruptive Strategies and Utopian Visions in Contemporary Art and Culture, include various depictions of the infamous skull. One of them shows a man with the skull for his head reading a book titled A Guide to Copyright and Intellectual Property Law.
See here for some images.

The collective does offer this disclaimer, mind you:
"We would like to point out... that although this appeal was focused on the Hirst vs Cartrain episode, it was intended to be a creative exercise that mocked and exposed the idiocy [of] an overbearing and thoughtless approach to copyright control that creates fear and censorship in the arts," the creators wrote. "It was and is not a critical crusade against Damien Hirst as an artist or the nature and degree of his success."
...suggesting it's not the man or his art that's being targeted, but rather what he's come to symbolize. Then again, Jamie Reid was quoted as calling Hirst a "hypocritical and greedy art bully," so there is a bit of personal resentment at play in all this.

I'm sure Damien can brush off the feedback; he built his empire on sheer grit and street smarts. Then again, the downturn is still young.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Coming Braver, Newer, More "To The Point" World

C.P. posted a comment on a thread the other day (I think it was posted on the wrong thread, but nevermind) that resonated with me and confirmed something I suspected years ago. I noted in the Art in America November 2007 blogger's round table (see here for more info) a while back that I had no idea where blogs would be in 5 years, but I suspected they had a shorter lifespan than was apparent at that time. C.P. wrote
i thought whether to post this or not but...
with all due respect i do think blogs have had their day. what comes next, well, anyone's guess. probably something more to the point, or less -- less to do with hierarchy.
The irony to this observation is that you see signs everywhere that the blog phenomenon is much better understood by the population at large (references to how bloggers influence opinions are now strewn throughout the plot lines of popular TV shows, journalists cite blog posts as commonly as they do other sources these days, and the condescending pot shots we saw regularly just a few years ago in some quarters have been more or less muffled). But I see the truth in C.P.'s statement and have to agree with that prediction of what's coming next.

On a personal note, I see this as entirely too bad. I love this format, but then that's probably because it suits my own temperament. Having said that, I should note that the "more to the point" prediction stung a bit (especially when coupled with the fact that Art and Perception singled out this blog as an example of how wordy many art blogs are :-(
We cannot so easily invest the effort to be concise. Long-windedness is thus a typical feature of blogging. Just look at Ed’s blog.
But my personal preferences aside, other art bloggers have already begun incorporating the more-to-the-point technology that is leading the way toward a leaner, meaner communication machine on the Internet. Tyler Green was the first arts blogger I've seen to incorporate his Twitter feed into his blog (for anyone not already on Twitter, this New York Times piece on its potential is a great primer); and Paddy Johnson is, as usual, way ahead of the curve in cutting through the hype and kindly explaining how this technology is, you know, useful to real people:
The larger point to take home here is that online tools that make sharing easier tend to be most effective. And Anyone who’s used the Internet for any length of time will come to that conclusion too.
But the most intriguing, "to the point" use of technology, in terms of a dialog about art, that I've seen recently is being led by an unlikely writer. "Unlikely" only, perhaps, because he doesn't even have a blog (then again, perhaps that helps here), but he's set the conversation speed on hyperfast and instinctively tweaked the medium to truly phenomenal effect. I speak, of course (for those who've already seen this), of art critic Jerry Saltz and his staggering ability to generate dozens and dozens of comments on Facebook's "status" feature with a single, to-the-point, often brilliantly poignant observation.

A recent "status" Jerry posted, for example, generated 91 comments from the following 2 sentences (not sure how to link to this actually...anyone?):
Jerry spoke to a room of people last night that think the art world is MORE unethical than the Stock Market. Love lift me back to the art world where I belong.
Of course, contributing to this mass response is the fact that Jerry has nearly 3,000 Facebook friends and that as perhaps the most high-profile of what I'd call the truly pro-artist writers around, his opinions (and favor) are highly sought after. But none of that can take away from his ability to concentrate so much to talk about into so few words. Another few examples of recent statuses include:
Jerry Saltz is against “The New Seriousness.” Art will do what it does. Irony is a form of laughter; no one should wish any form of laughter to die. Go away Purity Poli.
and
Jerry is disgusted by self-appointed Savonarolas demonizing the art world as if it were one thing; demanding that artists get SECOND jobs (and work in hospitals).
and
Jerry thinks now is not just an end but also a big beginning; that now anyone can do anything they want (provided each of us find ways to be poor in style).
Back in my first post of the year, where I wrote about my predictions for the art world, I had noted:
I suspect publications with only one art critic will benefit greatly from those critics also voicing their opinions via other, perhaps less-formal channels, to permit these (non-edited) critiques to balance out their formal contributions. Blogs are one such channel, but other (less time-consuming channels) are being used effectively by writers for this as well.
It was Jerry I was thinking of then and he's only getting stronger in the medium, in my opinion. I'm not sure whether this has, as C.P. predicted, "less to do with hierarchy," but it certainly feels fresh and exciting.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reframing the "Real Price" Issue

A friend of mine who owns a highly respected, much bigger gallery than ours shared a frustration the other day. With the economic downturn in full swing, the auction results dismal, and certain other dealers announcing baldly at large events that they're offering up to 40% off the work in their obviously way-overpriced inventory (believe me, it's obvious), collectors who want artwork are constantly sharing their apprehensions about what they call "the real price." For dealers like my friend (and I) who have always been very conservative in pricing our artists' works (because we're working with emerging to mid-career artists and know how important it is to keep the prices realistic), this question is doubly discouraging because not only does it lead collectors to ask for discounts that would put us out of business almost as soon as selling nothing at all, but because the actions of certain other (obvious) dealers confuse collectors, we're left having to try to convincingly reframe the issue before we can get back to selling the work we represent.

So, in the interest of saving lots of time later, that's what I'd like to do now. Open up a discussion, explore the issues, and see how this might be more productively discussed.

What I assume most collectors mean by "the real price" is actually the real value of an artwork. In that sense, it's a legitimate question and can be addressed by a frank discussion about how the artist's prices have (or haven't) advanced over the years...where the work has been placed...what upcoming exhibitions will contribute to the artist's reputation, etc. etc. And the collector can decide whether they then agree the value is what the dealer says it is or not.

If on the other hand, what they mean is what is the real price you're willing to let it go for, then we have a frustrating situation because openly implicit in that question is either that the dealer has intentionally overpriced the artwork (which they may not have intentionally done, even if the market suggests the work is too expensive) or that he/she is now expected to let it go for less than its value to make a sale. Both of these are a problematic baseline for negotiating a sale (because both are insulting to some degree...hence the dealers' frustration) and both represent a short-term gain over a long-term opportunity. The problem, for collectors, when beginning a conversation with an insult is that it can trigger a stubborn pride in the dealer and leave you with fewer options than you might have otherwise had to get a good deal.

Now everyone knows that it's a buyer's market at the moment, which means that more likely than not you will find dealers willing to offer some discount on the work you want. That, in my opinion, is how to begin the discussion productively for collectors and non-insultingly toward the dealers. Rather than starting a negotiation with, "Well, I'm not sure how to know what the real price of her work is with all the confusing signals at the auctions and what I'm hearing from other dealers..." consider an approach more like "How's business these days?" to which you can judge the forthrightness of the dealer by his/her answer (believe me, it ain't what it was a year ago for the vast majority of dealers and if they say anything other, you have your answer). Having established that it's a buyer's market, you can then respectfully ask "Well, in that case, what can you do for me on the price for this work?" The answer will vary, of course, but in general this negotiation will proceed more cordially and, for the collector, more productively. (Remember, it's not all about this one purchase, but your access to future work as well.)

Times are tough, those still supporting the arts deserve the thanks of everyone, and now is the perfect time to establish strong relationships with the dealers working with the artists you like. Suggesting, based on other, non-related factors, that you can't be sure the price they offer you is "real"is not the best way to strengthen that relationship. Approach the issue from a question of value. What justifies that price? This is a question a dealer can answer without feeling the need to defend their integrity. In the end you still have to decide what's right for you and your collection, but there's no need to inadvertently offend someone in the process.

I can see several contradictions throughout this piece already, so I'll open the thread to your takes on the matter:

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Monday, February 16, 2009

The Perils of Sateen Dura-Luxe :: Open Thread

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Bluebeard, a fictional Abstract Expressionist painter named Rabo Karabekian has a major setback when his most famous work of art, "Windsor Blue Number Seventeen," which had been hanging in the very public lobby of a major corporation, literally falls apart. The unconventional paint he used to make his masterpiece, Sateen Dura-Luxe, eventually pulls away from the canvas to his career-shattering embarrassment. A whole series of melodramatic misfortunes follow, but it all points back to his failure to predict how this paint would hold up over time.

A similar situation, or at least the potential for it, was brought to my attention the other day and it led me to wonder just where the responsibilities for owning up to the repercussions of experimenting with new materials and/or processes begin and end. I was told the story of two collectors who were intrigued by the work of a young artist using a new process in creating his paintings. None of the works in this series are more than four years old at this point, but there's enough interest in the work that a recent exhibition of it sold very well. These collectors, having had work they purchased fall apart before, asked the dealer how archival these new works are. The dealer assured the collectors that they had nothing to worry about.

Eventually these collectors selected a piece by this artist that they wanted to buy. Again, they asked about the longevity of the works, and again the dealer assured them that the piece would be fine. OK, the collectors said, we'd like that to be stated in the terms of sale. They wanted a guarantee. The dealer went back to the artist with this request and, to make a long story short, eventually both the artist and the dealer decided not to guarantee the work, not even for a limited period of time. The collectors passed on the work, but know that later someone else purchased it. This raises a whole spectrum of questions, none the least of which is why a dealer would insist a work will be fine without agreeing to guarantee that.

Any dealer and most artists can tell you that the most unexpected things can happen with artwork over time. Art is made of materials that age and, with age, change...there is nothing to be done about that. This is a reality that keeps an entire industry (conservation) fairly busy. The question to my mind is never whether a work of art might change, but how the dealer and/or artist stand behind it.

Different media have different expectations of course. No one expects a work on delicate rice paper to last as long as oil on linen, for example. Art made of food or other perishable materials will decay within a shorter period of time. There's no getting around it. The issue isn't longevity, per se, but providing accurate information to who is purchasing the work.

Personally, I feel it is the gallery's responsibility to be able to speak authoritatively on how long a work of art is likely to remain in the state a collector buys it. If the work is designed to survive only 3 years or to have some component of it replenished, all of that needs to be spelled out carefully and truthfully. Contacting conservators for accurate information on longevity and likley restoration costs/processes is simple enough.

But what about the artist's responsibility here? A dealer can always give a collector their money back, should a work disintegrate unexpectedly or unacceptably, and in doing so keep their reputation intact, but if word gets out, it's the artist who stands to really suffer. Even by phrasing it that way ("if word gets out"), I'm betraying what I personally feel is indeed the responsibility of the artist to become an authority on just how archival their materials and/or processes are. Again, it's fine if work has a short shelf-life (so long as that's conceptually sound), but it's not at all fine to my mind for an artist to say, essentially, "I don't know...buy it at your own risk" (unless, again, that contingency is an integral part of the work). Especially when experimenting with new materials, accurate information is IMO the responsbility of both the artist and the dealer. What it costs to get an conservator to research the longevity of a piece is money well spent when the consequences can be irreparable harm to one's reputation.

Consider this an open thread on the artist's and dealer's responsibilities, for work in any medium (even paintings still fall apart).

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Friday, February 13, 2009

4 Quick Items: New Compound Editions from Andy Yoder; Press; More Press; and a Possible Call for Images

Compound Editions is pleased to announce a new multiple by Vermont-based sculptor Andy Yoder! Andy Yoder
All Your Eggs
2009
4.25" x 7.25" x 7.25"
23-carat gold, clay, wood, excelsior, and shredded U.S. currency
Edition of 100, plus 10 APs
$100.00 each

Visit the Compound Editions blog for more information.

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Speaking of Compound Editions, the inaugural project by Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida, Our Condolences, Vol. 1., has received some fantastic press, including:


New York Magazine, 12/15/08
Art + Auction, February 2009
Art in America, February 2009

Many thanks to the kind writers at those publications for their stories!
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Speaking of press, our current exhibition, "Things Fall Apart," curated by Joy Garnett and featuring the work of Stephen Andrews, Paul Chan + The Front, Mounir Fatmi, Yevgeniy Fiks, Joy Garnett, Susan Hefuna, Christopher Lowry Johnson, Carlos Motta, Renata Poljak, Susan Silas, was selected as an Editor's Pick by Artinfo.com. You can read Jillian Steinhauer's thoughtful response to the exhibition here.

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And finally, speaking of thoughtful, I received a very interesting suggestion by artist Mark Creegan the other day in response to my decision to take down the hot links to images in previous posts (a work in progress) and wanted to put his idea out there for feedback. Mark's email was sent the same time I was experiencing a sense of nostalgic melancholy going back through the old posts here. I used to do a series of posts titled "Artist of the Week," which was a nice opportunity for me to highlight various artists outside our gallery program. It was much easier to do that back in the days when were were moving from Williamsburg to Chelsea, and I had more time on my hands. But I miss the opportunity to use the blog to provide a bit of promotion for artists who we're not currently working with. In comes Mark with a potential solution to both issues:
I had an idea that perhaps you could have some artists illustrate your posts. You could send out assignments to several artists who sign up and you pick the best one for that particular post. Of course that would mean you would need to know the post topic before hand which may get complicated but i thought it would be kind of fun.
Mark insightfully highlighted the central complication here (I often don't know in advance what I'm going to blog about), but in thinking about this I realized that I do blog on a number of topics fairly regularly and perhaps the "assignments" could reflect those. Here are the most popular tags among the topics here:
  • art market
  • politics
  • art criticism
  • art museums
  • art appreciation
  • selling art
  • gallery-artist relationship
So the idea would be to send via email (I'll set one up specifically for this purpose if the feedback suggests it could work out to a mutual benefit...please do not send images to my gallery email, it's full enough already) a jpg, no more than 72 dpi or 300 pixels wide, of an original drawing or photo of your making to illustrate one of those themes. I'll ask that you include a copyright notice and "Courtesy of" text at the bottom of the image and send me a link to some site (one please) that has samples of your other work. This way I'll have a library of approved images with permission to use them to illustrate posts here, you can get a bit of an audience you may not have already, and anyone can link back to your other work as your payment (because there won't be any $$$ exchanged, just to be clear).

Let me know if you see problems and/or potential here. If enough folks think it would be fun and fairly straightforward, I'm happy to work out any of the devilish details.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ethical Apples to Oranges

In reading through Michael Wilson's entertaining recount of the recent debate on whether "the art market is less ethical than the stock market" (sponsored by the Intelligence Squared US series at Rockefeller University and featuring Dealer Michael Hue-Williams, collector Adam Lindemann, Christie's deputy chair Amy Cappellazz, Chuck Close, Jerry Saltz, and dealer Richard Feigen), it struck me as odd that none of the participants were reported as pointing out that the central assumption of the debate makes no sense. (Disclaimer: you can download the entire transcript in PDF format from the Intelligence Squared website; I have read parts, but not all, of it [it's 83-pages long].)

But let me back up. The word ethical is defined as "being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, esp. the standards of a profession" and, yet, as Michael reported:
Feigen, up first, argued that the art market is relatively unethical because it lacks regulation and offers buyers little protection.
But, according to the definition, the art market can only be seen as "unethical" if those practicing in it do not adhere to the rules or standards of the profession already in place. Whether or not the market lacks regulation compared with some other market is irrelevant to this question. Only after regulations are imposed or self-imposed by those in a profession can you use them to then measure ethical behavior.

The closest any of the participants seemed to have come in acknowledging this was when Cappellazzo said, “I don’t think regulation ensures ethical behavior.” Otherwise they seemed to see the question as either moot
Close, speaking next, attempted to redirect the debate by arguing that the value of art is not determined by money at all (a point that earned him a ripple of applause) and that the ethics of its marketing were therefore somewhat moot. Even if its financial value can be manipulated, he argued, its long-term significance comes from artists rather than buyers and sellers.
or apparently to be determined by anecdote rather than data:
Hue-Williams, just off the last plane from a snowbound Heathrow, steered things back to the nitty-gritty with a recollection of having been stiffed on a potential big-deal purchase in his early days.
None of which is the participants' fault, if you ask me. The debate was poorly framed. In his introduction to the debate, the Chairman of Intelligence Squared U.S., Mr. Robert Rosenkranz, noted:
[T]there are bad apples in every basket. But that’s not really the thing that interests us and why we picked the language of this debate.

It’s really the ethical issues revolving around two ideas. And one idea is secrecy and the other idea is manipulation.
The problem with framing the debate this way is that it already asserts (the validity of which seems to have gone unaddressed) that how professionals in the art market handle secrecy and manipulation can be/should be judged by comparing it with how professionals in the stock market handle secrecy and manipulation, despite the lack of regulations in the former. Rosenkranz does go on to ask the questions that logically must come first, "Should those kind of practices be illegal?" but the answer seems to have been pre-decided as "Yes" in the framing of the debate.

Rosenkranz asks eventually the question that would have been a better central question, in my opinion: "[D]oes the art market operate in a generalized sense with high ethical standards or not?" But to ask if the current market is ethical or not by comparing standards of secrecy and manipulation with those now in place (but not always so) in the stock market is to measure the ethical behavior of one industry with regulations on such matters to the behavior of another without those regulations. In other worlds, apples to oranges. This is highly problematic in my opinion if your audience is then leaving the debate with a conclusion about how un/ethical the professionals in the unregulated market are. Until you have regulations in place, you can't do that.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Appreciation

Gallery owners returned from their summer vacations this year to a stark new reality about the market, their livelihoods and that of their artists, their cash flow, and all those plans they had made, both professional and personal. So too had much of the world, I realize. However, for an industry that relies on consumer confidence much more than non-luxury industries do, for an industry that had grown to unprecedented heights based on a cultural embrace of the most conspicuous of consumption, this seemingly overnight national thriftiness was indeed a rude awakening.

Observers of the industry have predicted dire outcomes for a large percentage of art galleries, and indeed over the past few months the economy has claimed some truly stellar spaces, but I wanted to take just a moment to note how very impressed I've been with both the resilience and the resourcefulness of most of the art dealers I know in handling the economic crisis. In a world in which behemoth corporations like Lehman Brothers, Circuit City, and Washington Mutual have gone belly up, in a city in which restaurants and clothing stores and other vendors of things people need to survive are closing left and right, in a world in which everyone is re-evaluating what their true needs vs. wants are, the surprising story isn't how many art dealers have decided to pursue other interests, but rather how many are fighting tooth and nail to stay open.

More than that, as countless out-of-town collectors who visit New York galleries every few months or so, as well as collectors who live here, have told me recently, New York galleries are putting on fantastic exhibitions this season. Across the board, from Williamsburg, to the Lower East Side, to Chelsea and Uptown, the galleries and their artists are bringing their A-Game to the public. It's a great time to go gallery hopping (a past-time that's free, mind you), and because that's corresponding with the economic downturn, I've had to wonder why that's the case. Perhaps it's a sense among those involved that it's important to put on your best show. Perhaps this sense of higher quality is simply a natural result of years of plenty reaching their fruition. Whatever the reason, though, I tip my hat to those artists and dealers who continue to forge forward and hang tough. It is not easy, I can tell you.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A few apologies (now with comments)

Despite having been told by various people that one of the main ways I include images to decorate the posts on the blog is not kosher, I've stubbornly maintained that that was a matter of debate and continued to use the "hotlinking" method (whereby I pull an image into this blog with a link from its original source). I've since been convinced that this is indeed not defensible and so hereby apologize to those who I dismissed, those whose images I've linked that way, and you readers as well.

I'm currently in the process of systematically removing every image linked this way from the previous posts. In some instances, in which the image was simply a decoration, I'm deleting them altogether. In others, where the image is important to understand the text, I've replaced the hot link image with a simple link out to its original source. In other places, you'll still see images that I'm hosting here on the blog and have express permission to use.

There are more than 900 posts on the blog at this point. I've deleted the hotlinked images on more than 500 of them now, but this process is taking some time. Please bear with me as I work through them all.

Moving forward, I will not continue this practice (of course) and again apologize for the stubbornness and arrogance that had led me to ignore those who told me it's not proper.

UPDATE: I tend to think it's best not to turn comments on for mea culpa threads, as I don't wish to seem as if I'm encouraging people to speak up for me. Rather an apology should be offered and not discussed, only accepted or rejected. Dragging it out is self-serving to me.

However, Julie Sadler asked something in another thread that strikes me as a worthy discussion here, so I'm turning comments on:
The question that I have is WHY did Ed remove the pics from the blog? And then not allow comments on that post>>?
Cuz I am extremely curious about this and have checked back to this post every 2 hours to see why he did this.
WHY do I care?
Because I do this all the time. And sometimes, when I am illustrating a point, I even do a (heavens!!!) screen shot. My intentions are not in any way linked to copyright theft, and I am sure Ed's aren't either. My blog is entirely ad free and altho I post my own stuff, I mostly use it as a tool to promote the art of collage. So, if I go and post a pic of someones' work, AND list the gallery at which it will be showing (along with a link to the gallery), AND the times of the show, AND the artists website link I am doing Wrong cuz I posted the pic?? Somehow just text seems pretty uninviting for a visual art show. By not putting in sample pix, how would a user even know what the show was about?? Any of these questions won't matter if Ed has a legal reason to believe that posting linked pix is bad. I am dying to hear!

Why this change Ed? Is there something I need to understand better here about my own blogging? Am I at "risk"?
(I apologize if the answer is obvious and I am not just getting it. Sometimes I think living upstate has dulled my senses)
There are two issues here I believe. Using images to decorate your blog posts and how you do that. Sometimes I'll take an image, alter it somehow (for comic effect or to illustrate a point) and the post it to the blog by uploading into my system. Other times, out of a sincere belief that it actually was more honest about where you got the image (because anyone could follow it back and out of admitted laziness/sloppiness), I used an href link to pull the image into the post, such that (and this is the issue that escaped me and eventually convinced me to stop doing it) it consumes the bandwidth on that original website. There's no excuse for my refusal to see why that's poor form. I'm just stubborn that way.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

New Must-Read Art Blog

Add to your list of vital commentary on the art world, the new Huffington Post blog authored by Jonathan Melber, co-author of the soon-to-be-released book ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (written with the ever-charming Heather Darcy Bhandari).

Jonathan's first two posts are both keepers:
As a lawyer, Jonathan's opinion on the AP/Fairey case is worth a read, including this food for thought on the issue:
Fairey didn't harm the commercial value of Garcia's photograph--he vastly increased it. Danziger Projects, a contemporary gallery in New York City, is selling a limited edition of the original picture, signed by Garcia, for $1200 each. (The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston has already bought one for its permanent collection.)

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Talk About Biting the Hand That Feeds You (with UPDATES)

Freedom of expression cuts both ways. Just because you're free to express your opinions in no way obligates people who learn of those opinions to continue to view you in the same way they might have before they knew how you feel. If, for example, you say or do something hateful toward a minority who thought you were an ally, any claims you might have had on their allegiance are immediately made null and void until which time you satisfactorily explain why you deserve their former esteem.

Such is the reality rather quickly dawning on painter/critic Maureen Mullarkey, I suspect.

Ironically, on the same day that Andrew Sullivan noted how little impact there seems to have been in response to a map pinpointing the people who had donated funding to the purely hateful Proposition 8 that passed in California in November, someone forwards me this story:
A New York artist known for her colorful canvases of drag queens and gay pride parades gave $1,000 to help pass California's ban on same-sex marriage.

Maureen Mullarkey, 66, made her sizable contribution to the National Organization for Marriage's "Yes on 8" fund in June, a Daily News review of campaign records found.

The Westchester County woman was one of tens of thousands who poured a total of more than $40 million into the coffers of Proposition 8 support groups - money that helped convince California voters to overturn an earlier court decision granting gays the right to marry in the Golden State.

Questioned outside her home in tony Chappaqua - the same town where Bill and Hillary Clinton live - she refused to discuss her donation last night.

When asked how she could have donated money to fight gay marriage after making money from her depictions of gays, she just said, "So?"

"If you write that story, I'll sue you," she said.

On her Web site, Mullarkey says gay parades are a "marvelous spectacle" and "assertion of solidarity."

"It is an erotic celebration loosed for a day to keep us all mindful that Dionysus is alive, powerful and under our own porch," said Mullarkey, a former art critic for the now-defunct New York Sun.
I won't point you to Mullarkey's work. She's gotten more than enough support from gay art lovers, IMO. I will point out that she's inadvertently opened up a more damning critique of her work than the notion she's exploiting a minority for her own financial gain: by exoticizing a group of citizens she clearly feels are second-class, her work can truly be defined as promoting bias. She does offer this lame defense that it's only fair to share:
"Artists are not in the habit of imposing ideological conformity on one another or demanding it from others," she said. "Moreover, regard for individual gay persons does not require assent to a politicized assault on bedrock social reality and the common good."
"Regard for individual gay persons"? You mean how "normal" people might anthropomorphize a pet and project similar feelings on them they would otherwise reserve for their own species? Regard like that?

Ms. Mullarkey is, as noted, fully entitled to her opinions, as are her gay collectors who may now see the works they paid for as contributing to their own public belittlement and oppression.

UPDATE: Joanne Mattera responds from a personal point of view (she has known Ms. Mullarkey for years); Joe My God knows someone who has bought one of her paintings and will be asking him about this news (love the fact that one of his labels for the post is "assholism"; and Brian Sherman provides more details on Ms. Mullarkey's defense of her donation.

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The Influence of Location on Medium and Scale

Posting the advice links the other day prompted a new round of questions from artists, some in the threads (which I'm still working through and will try to get to) and some to my email (which I probably won't respond to because of time constraints and the fact that those answers won't reach as many potential people who might have them). One question that was included in a list on a thread, though, has been on my mind recently so I wanted to open up a discussion about it:
Should individual artists modify their sales and publicity strategies based on the nature of their work, their geography, and their stage of career? [emphasis mine]
There's a great deal to discuss regarding the influence of geography on artwork (and sales strategies), from the obvious (the light you get where you work or the forms in the landscape around you influence how you see the world) to the practical (the cost of studio space where you live influences how large you can afford to work), but one of the questions that comes up again and again in our gallery deals with medium choices (among the artists working in various media). In particular, as we've had a few exhibitions showcasing video from artists in Central Asia, the question of "why video" is frequently asked.

There are two reasons for this, in my opinion. First is that it's rather difficult and very expensive to get sculpture and paintings over here from the remote centers where artists live in Central Asia. Second is the sense among Westerners (including myself) that the dialog around sculpture and paintings throughout the region remains somewhat frozen in the concerns of Modernism (blame tends to fall to the Soviet art schools and lack of travel artists who grew up in the USSR had the means to afford themselves). As a result, few folks outside the region are all that interested in the paintings and sculpture being created there (a harsh opinion, no doubt, but I've heard it repeatedly). The video and photography, on the other hand...well, interest in the West only seems to grow and grow.

Getting back to strategies based on geography, then, add a third question: distribution. This is not such an issue when an artist's work sells for so much that shipping costs are negligible, but for emerging artists, it probably makes sense to exhibit/sell the larger, harder to ship work closer to the studio. Otherwise, you're losing far too much in shipping. This is not a hard-and-fast rule by any means (you can take a long-term view on your sales potential that justifies a higher percentage of proceeds gobbled up in shipping early on) and of course the collector buying work will pay to ship it from the gallery to their location, but it's often not possible to price work such that the cost of shipping from the studio to the gallery makes any business sense. I know this may sound like something a dealer should just take care of to many artists, but in this economic climate particularly, you're at a disadvantage in trying to find gallery representation if you're presenting this losing business proposition as a condition of working with you.

So what strategies can you work out if you're an emerging sculptor working in large bronzes, living in Iowa, but wanting to show in New York? One obvious choice is to build an exhibition in New York with one large piece that showcases the best of the larger work and use that to sell other work (via photos) that you don't ship until the collector buying them is involved to pay the shipping costs. (I can now hear some collectors asking..."HEY, why are we the fall guys for this scheme? I only buy art I can see first," which is undoubtedly a potential flaw in the plan, but the reality is the collector will pay for shipping one way or another...either openly as I'm describing or via raised prices in the retail price [and then still to ship to the work's final destination], so we might as well all work together to keep total costs down).

Another option is to bring the mountain to Mohamed. In other words, create a system whereby you (and/or your dealer) have interested collectors come to your studio. If you live somewhere hard to get to, it probably makes sense for you to do some research on comfy local hotels and/or other points of interest (local museums, events, concerts, great restaurants, etc.) to help tempt potential collectors to make the trek (your studio visit may only last an hour or two...what are they going to do with the rest of their time after having come all that way?). Playing travel agent may not be your lifelong ambition, but it's unquestionably better than losing your shirt on shipping.

On the flip side, if you live in some place where your studio rent is expensive, the likelihood is so is that of the apartments/homes of your potential collectors (meaning those 14' paintings you're cranking out by doing most of the work in your hallway probably won't find a home anywhere close to you). If your goal is to get into the collections of locals (always a great way to help promote your work, as it conscripts them into the cause), you have to consider what they can afford to install in their homes.

I'm realizing as I'm writing this, that I haven't actually answered the question...rather only blathered about a few paragraphs. Perhaps I don't understand the question. What issues dealing with geography and sales strategies are artists having to solve?

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation

I've had a request to consolidate the various threads we've hashed out over the years geared toward offering advice to artists seeking gallery representation and working with one. As I get individual requests from time to time myself, I figured finding them all would be time well spent. Here, in no order of when they were written, but rather of seeming chronological importance, are 10 threads I think include helpful information for any artist wanting to learn how to navigate these waters. Thanks to all the readers whose comments make them as useful as they are:
  1. Selling solo vs. working with a gallery
  2. Tailoring your resume for an art dealer
  3. Studio visit strategies
  4. Getting your foot in the door
  5. Mistakes to avoid in finding the gallery right for you (the one-size-fits-all myth)
  6. My very best advice for approaching a gallery
  7. The logic behind the 50/50 split
  8. Communicating with your dealer
  9. Dealing with over-protective dealers
  10. Notes on ending a gallery-artist relationship
I'll add a link in the blogroll to this master list.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Renewing Support for the Arts in the US: Low-Hanging Fruit

As widely reported (including on NPR's website):
The authors of [Obama's] stimulus package ...have included $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $150 million for infrastructure repairs at the Smithsonian.
In a package of almost a trillion dollars, one would assume aiding a sector of the economy that employs 5.7 million people (according to Michael Kaiser, head of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) with such a small percentage of the funds would not raise many eyebrows, but once again we see that Conservative thinkers in this country have never seen any public money spent toward preserving those jobs that couldn't be used as a wedge issue to further their agenda:
"There is absolutely no way this will stimulate the economy," argues Brian Riedl, a senior federal budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation. He believes funding for the NEA — like several other items in the stimulus package — will not grow the economy.

"The only way to increase economic growth is to increase productivity," Riedl says. "Government policies that make people and workers more productive will increase productivity. But simply borrowing money out of the economy in order to transfer it to some artists doesn't increase the economy's productivity rate. It doesn't help workers create more goods and services, and it won't create economic growth."
For those who may not know them, the Heritage Foundation has opposed the use of any public funding to support the arts in the US--an argument they have every right to advance---but do so by cherry picking highly controversial works and suggesting there is a "true" art (and what one must assume is false art). They also insist that they aren't "anti-art" just because they oppose public funding. How vehemently they oppose it, and the arguments they make in justifying their opposition, however, undercut that insistence.

Side note: how informed their most vocal critics of NEA funding are is well illustrated by the hysterical irony of this statement in a piece by Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D., opposing Terrence McNally's play "Corpus Christi":

Know how you can get the government to fund religion? Produce a play depicting Jesus as a practicing homosexual and call it "art." [...] Don't confuse my opposition to the NEA as opposition to the arts. I'm just saying that true art will survive without federal handouts. The NEA didn't exist before 1965, but that didn't stop Tennessee Williams and Frederic Remington from blessing us with their works. [emphasis mine]
er...uh...where to begin?

Whether or not the additional funding for the NEA makes it through the transparently politically expedient opposition by the conservative wing of American politics, there is new hope that some progress can be made in using government (our government) to structure our laws in ways that are less hostile to the arts. Recently on the Art Newspapers website, David Ross, former director of the Whitney Museum, ICA Boston and SFMOMA, offered 10 immediate steps that the Obama administration could take toward renewing the arts in the US. Many of these are items we've discussed before, but never as a unified approach to hopefully moving past the culture wars. Mr. Ross explains the context for his 10 suggestions:
Restoring health to the American cultural community is but one of a vast and daunting set of tasks confronting President-elect Obama. And the success of this plan will depend on a number of factors, including the dedication and generosity of many individuals across the country, as well as the willingness of American artists to do their part in the re-building. But I believe that by implementing these suggested policies and actions, President Obama would provide the impetus and infrastructure upon which the rest of us could bring about critically necessary and truly meaningful change.
Here, for our input and/or debate, are Mr. Ross's recommendations:
1. Support the tax code amendment currently in the works that would give artists tax incentives for donating their work to public museums, and fully restore the tax incentive for gifts of appreciated property to museums and other non-profit educational organisations.

2. Re-establish a programme employing artists in a wide range of cultural institutions.

3. Revive and rebuild the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, de-politicising their processes, and providing them with budgets necessary to support the American cultural community. Nothing less than annual appropriation of $750m (as opposed to $290m today) is needed.

4. Create an independent study of the operating expenses of our museums and libraries, and then fund the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) sufficiently, so that the core costs of our museums and libraries can be properly met. (The same should be done in support of reinvigorating the infrastructure of our institutions of music, dance and theatre.)

5. Invest in art and music education for all school pupils, and ensure that these efforts are coordinated with the increased spending in direct artist support, as well as renewed institutional infrastructure and programme support.

6. Rebuild a new Arts America programme to allow American artists, musicians, dancers and writers to serve as cultural ambassadors and help rebuild the image of the United States around the world.

7. Simplify and expedite the process for obtaining (de-politicised) visas for visiting foreign artists, musicians and academics.

8. Restore direct federal and state grants for artists, musicians and writers (including critics).

9. Establish either a cabinet-level Secretary for Art and Culture, or at the very least, create a White House arts advisory office to coordinate and show presidential support for American culture.

10. Create an emergency bailout fund for cultural institutions in dire need during this current credit crisis. At least $250m will be necessary, but this is a drop in the ocean when compared with the value these institutions return to the nation as a whole. This single act will affirm to all that the federal government will not stand by and allow these great resources to falter.
I don't think it's likely that a cabinet-level Secretary for Art and Culture will be realized (this after talking with a journalist friend covering the Obama campaign and who's spent many years in D.C. covering politics), but then again, as the new President has noted, nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change, so it kind of depends on us, doesn't it?

Which of these actions would you speak up for?

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