Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That Shining City

Of all the human constructs, it seems to me that none is as perfect a metaphor for democracy as the city. Forced to share limited space and resources, bound to bump into each other eventually if only within rigid class structures, the citizens of a city are exposed willingly or not to the tell-tale realities of each others' lives in ways that those in suburban settings often are not. This familiarity breeds contempt at times, no doubt, but it also breeds a bond the likes of which we witnessed in New York after 9/11 when for a few weeks at least it was immediately clear to us all how much we depended on each other. How much we were alike.

Related to this notion for me is the fact of all the cities I've visited in the world, my favorites tend to be those with dense, organically grown centers, like London, Istanbul, Venice, and Porto. Rabbit warrens of winding streets and layer upon human-built layer of structures, the evidence of history and its very, very messy path forward. Among my least favorite cities in this regards are those designed by a visionary architect and beholden to certain aesthetic standards (think DC or Chicago). They have individual gems of buildings and their own charms, for sure, but getting lost in their labyrinthine streets and feeling yourself traveling back through time isn't among them. And while they undoubtedly capture the essence of democracy in certain parts (like the Mall or Millennium Park), overall they feel too new to me, like a wine that needed a little more time aging before you uncorked it.

Halfway around the world, but not that far from where Bambino's family owns a farm, China is currently hellbent on destroying one of the world's most authentic city-as-history centers in Kashgar. In what is a blatant effort to assimilate the Uighur minority of Western China, the government is bulldozing over ancient mud brick, courtyard homes that have defined this amazing culture for hundreds of years, removing thousands from their family home into soulless apartment buildings.
"They want us to live like Chinese people but we will never agree," said a 48-year-old woman in a red jacket and brown head scarf, who declined to give her name. "If we move into the government apartments, there are no courtyards and no sun. Women will need to cover up to go outside and we will have to spend money to finish decorating our rooms. This is our land. We have not bought it from the government."
I know, of course, all the arguments about safety and supposedly better services, but I find it amazing to watch the innovative way in which dense city centers are built out, with the population struggling to find creative ways to update and modernize within the constraints of preserving their heritage. Blending the two as best they can, rather than flattening it all for economic or political expediency. The latter is clearly not something the people who built such centers want...it's generally the solution by government officials who live elsewhere or developers. In that way, it's wholly undemocratic. [To learn more about the Uighur's fight to preserve their heritage read here.]

Much of this stems from the luxury of being able to be romantic about places I don't live, I know, and so it was that I found myself reluctantly agreeing with much that Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in his recent article Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time Is Now.

With their crowded neighborhoods and web of public services, cities are not only invaluable cultural incubators; they are also vastly more efficient than suburbs. But for years they have been neglected, and in many cases forcibly harmed, by policies that favored sprawl over density and conformity over difference.

Such policies have caused many of our urban centers to devolve into generic theme parks and others, like Detroit, to decay into ghost towns. They have also sparked the rise of ecologically unsustainable gated communities and reinforced economic disparities by building walls between racial, ethnic and class groups.

Correcting this imbalance will require a radical adjustment in how we think of cities and government’s role in them. At times it will mean destruction rather than repair. And it demands listening to people who have spent the last decade imagining and in many cases planning for more sustainable, livable and socially just cities.
Reviewing some of the best ideas for restructuring and revitalizing New Orleans, Los Angeles, the Bronx, and Buffalo, Ouroussoff notes how "half-century ago American engineering was the envy of the rest of the world" but increasingly we're seen by the rest of the world as aging and decadent. (Personally, I'm kind of comfortable in aging and decadent places, but I do see that our infrastructure in the US was permitted to lapse into nearly criminal disrepair during the Bush years [a real outrage, in my opinion, because if any President had the opportunity to turn a crisis into a bold new vision for rebuilding America it was Bush].) Obama's stimulus plan provides plenty of opportunity to revitalize, but I am less gun-ho about just sticking shovels in the ground than Mr. Ouroussoff seems to be:
President Obama has a rare opportunity to build a new, more enlightened version of this country, one rooted in his own egalitarian ideals. It is an opportunity that may not come around again.
I don't want to miss the opportunity either, but I'd like some guiding principles to be in place first. Egalitarian ideals can't override heritage or history. Not without at least discussing it. Mr. Ouroussoff points to a plan in Buffalo that preservationists are resisting for example:
The Homeland Security Department is planning to expand an area at the entry to the Peace Bridge to make room for new inspection facilities and parking. That plan would require the demolition of five and a half blocks in a diverse working-class neighborhood with a rich architectural history, from late-19th-century Italianate mansions to modest two-family homes built in the 1920s.

Local preservationists argue that protecting the city’s historic neighborhoods is fundamental to the city’s survival. Pointing out that bridge traffic is steadily shrinking, they are pressing the government to upgrade the train system and dismantle parts of the elevated freeway to allow better access to the riverfront. Not only would they like to see Olmsted’s late-19th-century vision restored; they would also like to see it joined to a more comprehensive vision for the city’s future.

At this point there is no concrete plan to counter the government’s, but the potential is great. The city’s architectural fabric is rich. It has an active grass-roots preservation movement. And few sites better sum up the challenges of trying to save a shrinking city. I for one would love to see what a talented architect could accomplish if his imagination were given free rein over such a promising site.
A talented architect given free rein is fine in a vaccuum, but I'm sure the Chinese retained a talented architect in Kashgar as well. Grass-roots preservation movements shouldn't be the only counter-balance to the ambitions of the all-powerful Homeland Security Department.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 30, 2009

Three Grumpy Thoughts on the Salander Case

1. 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). I know it's fun to feel you're right in there doing some real reporting on the big issues of the day for once, but that level of wanton hyperbole is so-o-o-o-o pre-Obama. A moratorium on the "Madoff of the Art World" one-liners, please.

2. When did our law schools stop teaching the whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing and replace that with drama classes instead? I've seen more reasonable rhetoric during a cat fight on America's Next Top Model than we're seeing from top prosecutors' indictment press releases/conferences lately. From Fitzgerald's utterly outrageous pre-trial descriptions of former Governor Rod Blagojevich's actions to Robert M. Morgenthau's stand-up comedy-worthy press conference about Salander (“'Why sell it once when you can sell it three times?' Mr. Morgenthau said at a news conference.") why even bother with a trial? Just let the angry public at the bastards. Mind you, if I had been swindled by a dealer for millions of dollars, I'd be plenty upset, but I'm not sure I'd want Don Rickles prosecuting the case.

3. Stories like this bring the morons out of the woodwork, as evidenced by this comment on the New York Time's article:
being a member of the "art world" in new york should be a crime in the first place. i'd like to see some legislative action to confront this problem
Really? Some legislative action? You mean like the laws against fraud already on the books, you know, the ones under which Salander has been indicted and will be prosecuted? Legislative action like that? (The adults have this one under control Sparky, you can return to watching cartoons or playing your Gameboy or whatever you were previously occupied with.)

I'm off to get some clearly much needed java.


Friday, March 27, 2009

You Know Times Are Bad When The Irish Lose Their Sense of Humor

In what, from this shore, seems a sad and shocking over-reaction to a prank, an Irish artist is facing possible jail time for creating unflattering nude portraits of Brian Cowen, the Irish Prime Minister, and allegedly hanging them in the National Gallery of Ireland and Royal Hibernian Academy. With his listed "offenses" sounding like they were dredged up from laws written during the Middle Ages, Conor Casby (reportedly a shy secondary school teacher in Dublin) could reportedly be prosecuted for "indecency, incitement to hatred and criminal damage." (OK, so if he sank a nail into the wall of the national galleries, I can see the "criminal damage" charge, perhaps, but "incitement to hatred"? Really? Is the ego of Brian Cowen as fragile as all that?)

From the London Times [via artinfo.com]:

The offending artworks set out to mock Mr Cowen, better known by his nickname Biffo, which stands for “Big Ignorant F***er from Offaly”.

One, which was smuggled into the National Gallery, pictured the Irish leader on the toilet holding a toilet roll. It remained on display for 20 minutes before security took it down.

The other painting, portraying the Taoiseach holding a pair of blue and white Y-fronts, was hung in the Royal Hibernian Academy.

The success of the stunt seemed to provide a welcome respite from the barrage of gloomy economic news, but the authorities took a different view.

Here's an image of one of the paintings:

And here's a photo of the Irish Prime Minister (which I would be much more inclined to press charges for, if I were him. At least the painting is clearly satire [both images from the TimesOnline website]):

Even more disappointing than the fact that the Taoiseach (the Prime Minister of Ireland) is so unable to laugh at himself that he's apparently permitting this abuse of power is the fact that the RTÉ (Ireland's national tv and radio broadcast system) received such a displeased response from the Taoiseach's office that they later felt compelled to issue an apology for the lighthearted way they originally reported the story. (How dare they act, you know... Irish, and find the humor in it?)

Again, from the London Times:
[The apology] was in stark contrast to the jovial tone of the offending news story of the night before, in which the newscaster said with a straight face that the Taoiseach was “not thought to have posed for the anonymous artist”.

The apology prompted fevered discussion on blog sites, with much criticism of RTÉ and the Garda Síochána - the police - as well as caption competitions for the offending paintings. Michael Kennedy, a member of the Irish Parliament for Fianna Fáil, the ruling party, which Mr Cowen leads, insisted that the RTÉ report was “a gross insult to the dignity of the office of Taoiseach”. He called on RTÉ's director-general to tender his resignation.

However, Fine Gael, the main opposition party, said last night that the affair was “more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Ireland in 2009”.
I must agree with Fine Gael on this one.

Lighten up Mr. Cowen...your over-reaction is making you look much more the fool than those portraits ever could.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Artist of the Week (Possibly Fortnight) 3/26/09

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

---William Carlos Williams

A poet I went to college with once pointed to Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" as his epiphany point, the poem he had read early on that helped flipped the switch and illuminate for him what it was that poetry does, what it is about. Poetry remains the art form that entirely humbles me. It's as close as we people get to having any means to convey reality, in my opinion...as close as we get to having just a peek behind us, out into the daylight from where we stand in the cave, before being forced back to contemplate the shadows on the wall. This is a particularly American (or at least not universal) interpretation of poetry, I realize, but I'm comfortable with that.

Nearly every photograph I see by Chicago-based artist Melanie Schiff has that quality to it, a Williams-esque call to see things as they really are but purposely tinged with an admittedly human awkwardness. In that way, Schiff seems to be very generously trying to help us have our own epiphany moments.

Any number of the works in her first solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta's Gallery in Chicago illustrates this, but the one that did it for me...the one that flipped some switch in my head was this one:

Melanie Schiff, Untitled (cases), 2005, digital c-print, 30" x 37", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

Schiff is known for her playful approach to using light. But she's also known, as was Williams, for using everyday objects to make her point. In the press release for her first exhibition at Kavi's they note:
The moments she addresses are quiet and waver on the edge of a constructed poetic narrative and an instant found by chance. Her investigations and use of natural light through windows and objects such as empty CD cases and light fixtures form prisms of color and phenomenon of light and shadow. One might point to magic or alchemy as a starting point of her work, though these moments of chance and mystery infiltrate the commonplace detritus of an event including scattered beer cans, bottles, books, records and personal effects revealing what could be seen as a spiritual happening through a series of mundane objects.

Melanie Schiff, Emergency, 2006, digital c-print, 28" x 19 3/4", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

Bambino and I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Melanie's work in Kavi's storage room a few years back. Seeing these pieces in such a context, amidst all the tools and packing materials commonly found in galleries' back rooms, amplified my ability to understand how Schiff seems to be asking the viewer to see the world around them.

In addition to using everyday objects as her subjects, portraiture is another important part of Schiff's work. Where I find the work particularly irresistible is where she combines the humor and playful use of light with (self?)-portraits:

Melanie Schiff, Spit, 2006, digital c-print, 30" x 33", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

As also noted in the first show's press release, "[t]he eye of the woman photographer is extremely present in Schiff's" work. Indeed, in the text about her work for the 2008 Whitney Biennial, which she had been invited to participate in, the curators tell us:
Schiff was strongly influenced by feminist performance artist Carolee Schneemann, and her vivid, bodily mode of self-portraiture frequently bears the traces of kindred spirits like Ana Mendieta and Valie Export—in Mud Reclining (2006), the artist depicts herself as a muckcovered odalisque stretching languorously in a tropical landscape, evoking both the former’s Siluetas and the latter’s Body Configurations series—or Hannah Wilke, whose body appliqués are jokily reconceived as a pair of raspberry pasties in boobberry (2003).

Melanie Schiff, Mud, 2006, digital c-print, 30" x 30", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

Indeed, humor and a playful spirit seems to win out in Schiff's work over the drier sort of insights you find among some other photographers mining the same veins these days. The level of access that adds to her work is brilliant in my opinion. This piece, for example, always makes me smile:

Melanie Schiff, Neil Young, Neil Young, 2006, digital c-print, 30" x 40", edition of 3 with 2 AP's. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

According to her CV on the gallery website, Melanie has another solo exhibition coming up in Chicago in 2009 (I assume next Fall). Some of the newer images on her artist's page suggest she's working more in portraiture these days, even when (as she frequently will) the subject's face is obscured and the body is more of a formal device than personality. These two gorgeous and quietly charming pieces are good examples:

Melanie Schiff, Last Lagoon, 2008, c-print mounted and framed, 50" x 60". Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

Melanie Schiff, Untitled, 2008, archival inkjet print, 49" x 40", edition of 5. Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission.

I'm very much looking forward to the new show.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Art/Work Artists Worshop : Tonight @ McNally Jackson

Last-minute notice for a don't-miss event:

Wednesday, March 25, 7:00pm

Workshop: Top Ten Things Every Artist Should Know

Taught by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, authors of Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (Free Press)

McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince St.
(b/t Lafayette & Mulberry)
New York, NY 10012


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How the Humanities Can Save America

Many people in the art world know Raymond Learsy as a scholar, author, collector, and the quintessential gentleman, but for years he's also gained quite the following as a blogger over at the Huffington Post. While many of his posts deal with economics and energy (he is, after all, a former commodities trader and the author of Over a Barrel: Breaking Oil’s Grip on Our Future), he recently offered one of the most eloquent (and patriotic) arguments for preserving the humanities in our universities that I've ever read:
America's greatness as a nation has had many pillars. The industriousness of its people, the braveness of it soldiers, the fervor of its visionaries, the national sense of shared community and destiny, its ability to right its wrongs, to name but a few. Yet paramount to our pillar of nationhood has been our understanding and reverence for the humanities and the great lessons of the human mind and the experience of history, the formative dimension of classical thought and instruction. No, not everyone was or has been a classicist, but our founding fathers were immersed in their text and learning. It formed their character and was instrumental in forming the new nation.
Mr. Learsy has been a critic of the Bush administration, but he's hardly a Neo-socialist Leftie (he was a Reagan appointee to the National Endowment for the Arts). In this blog post, he simply makes the connection between competence and curiosity and how a perpetuating of our current lack of emphasis on the collective history and life lessons that the humanities provides surely damns us all:
Given the implosion of what had been solid American values, that in recent years has mutated to the ugliness of rampant irresponsibility, self interest, greed, and civil and criminal fraud that have become the root cause of the financial meltdown, a renaissance and respect for the humanities that has in the past steered the nation to greatness are more urgently needed now than ever.

One need only go back to the Bush presidency to understand what lies ahead for a nation unschooled nor caring about the great texts, lessons, and values of history, art and literature. Here was a presidency of stubborn self-righteousness tempered by only a cursory understanding of the nation's tradition in the humanities. It was the presidency of a single-dimensioned man, forging through his mandate without the building blocks nor the strength derived from the past knowledge of the full spectrum of human experience which are the great lessons of life, to be tapped for wisdom, strength and guidance. Not in a single moment was this presidency able to invoke the brilliance of the English language and its profound well of inspiration and elucidation. The culture of others was too often misunderstood or simply not considered, and the guidance of mythologies past (what benefit might a rudimentary knowledge of the Icarus myth have wrought?) with their lessons through the ages were simply ignored nor ever learned at great risk in blood, treasure and morality to the nation as a whole.
President Obama's press conference last night was described in this morning's New York Times as mostly a response to how "balky senators from his own party [have begun] carving some of the signature proposals out of his budget." With fears of their own political fates, should the Obama plan backfire, nudging them toward making cuts, these Democrats (most still desperately in need of spine implants) must keep their butcher knives away from education and in particluar away from the means to support humanities programs. (To be fair, the Democratic chair of the Budget committee, Senator Kent Conrad, has noted his plan maintains Obama's plans for eduction).

But a commitment to "education" is not enough. Now is the time for a renewal of our commitment to the very ideals and belief systems that founded this country and, I believe, that can save it. As Mr. Learsy noted:

As millions of dollars are being funneled to educational institutions throughout the land it is essential that the humanities not be ignored. That in some form or other they become basic to any degree of study. The rootless morality of current years cannot be allowed to continue. Not to impose conversion, but simply to teach that it is there, and that in the history of this nation there exist a set of values that constituted our founding and from whence those values were carried forward for more than two and a quarter centuries, and became core to the shaping of the nation's character. That without the respect and commitment to the humanities, the grimness and obduracy of the Bush presidency will become the paradigm for the evolution of the nation's future destiny. And that must not happen!

Labels: ,

And the Winners Are....The Lawyers!

Three, no scratch that, four developments within the art world within the last year point to the fact that even as the economic downturn negatively impacts artists, collectors, galleries, museums, and publications alike, these are not likely to be the least lucrative times for arts attorneys. Whether hired to write/review the newer, stricter contracts you're likely to see between 1) artists and galleries or 2) collectors and museums or hired to enforce the terms of contracts either 3) verbal or 4) written, it looks like legalese will be flowing through the industry like champagne used to. I refer, of course, to the following cases:

1. Whereas an artist of Damien Hirst's stature could get away with eliminating the middleman and taking his art straight to auction (see this Wall Street Journal summary of the issues that raised), as I've noted before, this move is very likely to lead to tighter terms that take this potential into consideration in artist representation contracts with galleries. It's not in the gallery's best interests to build an artist's market just to have the artist cut them out down the road. I haven't heard of any new representation contracts with tighter reins just yet, but then again, most galleries are focused on staying afloat at the moment (which doesn't bode well for how generous the terms will be they'll offer new artists coming in either). Mr. Hirst may have had impeccable timing for himself, but I don't think he did the next generation of artists who'll be signing representation contracts any favors.

2. As Rose Art Museum director Michael Rush noted at the X-Initiative Town Meeting last Thursday (again, see James Wagner for a summary), the Brandeis University Board's decision to close the museum so they could sell off its "permanent" collection without any "ethical issues" getting in their way, will undoubtedly lead collectors considering donating work to museums to only do so under much stricter conditions. Ensuring they have airtight contracts that will prevent greedy entities that control the museum from later flogging their gifts in fire sales won't make sorting out the terms for such donations any easier for collectors or museums, but it will help some attorney's bottom line.

3. Dealers suing collectors will not make dealing any more cordial, but, it seems it's here:
[via artinfo.com] "Mary Boone Gallery is suing an Ohio collector in an attempt to compel her to complete her purchase of a painting, Artnet reports.

Mary Kidder, a trustee of the Columbus Museum of Art, first saw the painting in question, a piece by Will Cotton, at Mary Boone's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2008. The work, Ribbon Candy, was priced at $50,000, but the gallery sold it to Kidder at a discounted price of $32,000, "in recognition of Kidder's prominence in the art world and the gallery's desire to do business with her.""
From artnet.com comes my favorite response to this news:
What are the prospects of the lawsuit? Well, you can never tell, though New York attorney John Koegel suggests that the gallery’s argument contravenes both ordinary commercial practice as well as regulations covering purchases for more than $500. "To make a contract of sale binding," said the lawyer, "it has to be in writing." One might note, as well, that it must be hard to stay in business on deals that net a mere $2,000."
4. But dealers aren't the only ones with lawyers.
[also via artinfo.com]: Florida collector George Weiss is suing Christie’s over an unpaid guarantee of approximately $40 million, Bloomberg reports.

Weiss offered Francis Bacon’s Study for Self Portrait No. 1 from 1964 at Christie’s November 2008 Postwar and Contemporary Art sale in New York. But the lot, which had been expected to bring in the evening's highest price, died without any actual bidding at $27.5 million.

According to a complaint filed last week in federal court in New York, Weiss claims that Christie’s failed to follow through on its guarantee, citing “the changed climate of the art market.”
As I've noted before, when buying art stops being fun, you can expect far fewer people to do it. Having said that, at dinner last night with friends who spend a good deal of time in Europe each year, it came up that collectors there are less likely to be super-wealthy. Unlike in America, where many people only come to collecting after they've purchased multiple homes or that third sports car, middle-class to lower upper-class Europeans buy original art (within their means, of course) even if they rent their apartments. It's more of a personal priority there, as opposed to a "what else are we going to spend all that money on" type luxury it is here.

Rather than becoming all the more litigious (a highly unfortunate American tendency), I wish the US art industry could focus more on building a broader market among less affluent Americans. More art in more homes could support more artists and galleries...all these lawsuits are only serving to scare folks away, I fear.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Three Ideas Sewn Together Into an Open Thread

Among the most poignant observations made at last Thursday's Town Hall Meeting at the X-Initiative (a well-attended panel discussion and public Q&A about how the art world is coping with the global economic crisis [see this excellent summary by James Wagner]) was that by the soon-to-close Rose Art Museum director, Michael Rush, who noted how during the boom all anybody in the art world talked about was money and how, now that all that is over, all we seem to talk about is money.

Yesterday morning, watching the Chris Matthews' show segment on the pending demise of dead-tree newspapers, he noted that one of the most immediate casualties of the end of print will be the richer texture of our information gathering afforded by the peripheral articles that catch our eyes and lure us in. That doesn't happen anywhere near as much as with online sources he suggested, and he and his panel of middle-aged journalists noted how the layout of newspapers had trained us to look beyond just the stories we're inclined to focus on. They also mentioned how the younger generation of new consumers (those 18-35) get so little of their news, if any, from print that they are not trained to consume in this organic way at all. I can think of counterarguments to that suggestion (such as the way links serve to shoot folks off on tangents while reading news online), but when I heard that, I wondered whether we're so conditioned to talk about money when we talk about art that it will take a bit of retraining to learn to focus on the art again.

Finally, in her Culture Blog in The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins discussed the widespread skepticism among UK artists to the planned series of 12 artist commissions to be awarded for works placed throughout the UK as part of their Cultural Olympiad project. Titled somewhat ironically Artists Taking the Lead, the project asks for proposals and will award the 12 winners £500,000 each to realize their contribution to the London 2012 Olympics landscape.

Not all the artists in the UK are skeptical, mind you. And who can blame them, that's a serious chunk of change, but among those who have expressed doubts are Grayson Perry and Patrick Brill:
What if you wanted to create something really filthy about McDonald's, say, an Olympic sponsor? Would you get to make it? Or is the desire really for clubbable, Anthony Gormley-like public artworks that won't scare the horses? It is the condition of artists to rebel, after all – and this set of commissions has an air of officialdom that would seem to militate against that impulse. Patrick Brill, who makes art under the name Bob and Roberta Smith, thought that "for £500,000 you could put the Manor Garden Allotments back" - referring to the plots whose gardeners were notoriously evicted to make way for Olympic Park.
I'm actually not a firm believer in the myth that it is the "condition of artists to rebel" (I think it's the condition of artists to show us things we can't see clearly for ourselves, if anything, and that simply sometimes requires rebelling, but...that's for another thread), but it was Bob and Roberta Smith's response (see Pierogi's site for some of Patrick's work) that sparked a ray of hope for me. What a freaking awesome idea.

Of course, unlike another famous British artist who has trained himself to exploit the greed of others, Mr. Brill has trained himself to see the absurdities in life...absurdities like the idea that there is £5.4 million available to encourage artists to "take the lead" by submitting proposals that councils will approve, but not enough to avoid displacing an allotment garden that had been there more than 100 years (see here for more on the controversy).

So, what do I take away from this? I've been as guilty as anyone in talking about money here more than art...something I intend to correct, in part, by re-instituting the Artist of the Week feature later this week (it might end up being the Artist of the Fortnight, but we'll see...). It will take some training on my part (I don't have as much time now as I had when I regularly wrote that series, so I need to find more efficient ways to do it, but...), though. Richer efforts always do, but then they are their own rewards as well.

Consider this an open thread on what can be done to refocus the dialog on art.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Baseline Issues for the "How to Get a Gallery" Question

Each time I discuss how artists can best go about getting a gallery, this issue comes up. In response to yesterday's post, Zipthwung wrote:
This whole discussion makes me want to vomit. Artists grovelling for shows? Where is their pride? Gallerists baiting artists into groveling for shows? The opportunity for abuse is obvious, and happens.
There are two baseline points I'd like to make about this before I address the abuse issue.

1. Not every artist needs or should even be affiliated with a commercial art gallery. The system works really well for some and not at all for others. Because many commercial art galleries are good at generating press for their artists and exist to place work in prominent collections, though, I think there is a somewhat misguided view among younger artists in particular about how essential getting into a gallery is for their careers. It can be, but there are plenty of artists with galleries (even very high-profile galleries) whose careers are no better off (in fact sometimes worse) than many artists without galleries that I know. The key is to find a gallery that's a good match for your art and aspirations, NOT to find any gallery at any cost to your pride or goals. If no gallery is well suited for you to work with, then find other means of pursuing your dreams.

2. The notion that dealers (or anyone in the industry with power) expects or wants artists to grovel is a misinterpretation of the harsh realities that a) what they really want from artists is for them to make the most compelling, important artwork of their generation. They want artists to awe them, inspire them, teach them, and uplift them. Believe me. When it's well understood that an artist is doing that, the industry is all too happy to grovel at their feet. For the legions of artists not yet doing that, well, the other harsh reality is that b) you have a phenomenal amount of competition.

The advice I offer, which directs artists to consider what they can do on an interpersonal level to get a leg up on their competition for the limited slots in the gallery system, is not at all meant to recommend "groveling." It is meant to suggest, though, that artists approach this with the same formal courtesies they would a job application/interview. If you were applying for a position on the faculty at an art school, I don't think calling up the dean who has never heard of you and insisting that she call you back when she has an opening would endear you to her.

So to recap: Galleries are not the magic ticket to stardom and riches...they are but one option in the spectrum of venues by which artists can exhibit their work and hopefully advance their careers. If that venue seems a good match for your goals, though, the single easiest way to get a gallery is to make artwork so compelling that dealers beat a path to your door. Full stop. When that's not working out for you, though, don't take it personally that you're only one of dozens, if not hundreds, of artists approaching the dealer who said he wasn't looking at the moment. He's trying to make things happen for the artists he's already representing, trying to pay the bills, trying to get that review, trying to get that curator to stop by, and in this current climate just trying to survive himself....

About the potential for abuse. It's real of course. To help arm artists against it though, I'll refer back to baseline issue #1. A gallery is not Valhalla. It's not as if, to realize your dreams, you simply must do whatever it takes to get into one.

At the positively packed Town Meeting at the X-Initiative last night (hat tip to Elizabeth Dee and Lindsay Pollock for providing that opportunity for the art world to air some of its anxieties about the current state of things), Superdealer Jeffrey Deitch mentioned the legendary Times Square Show and pointed to all the empty store fronts in Soho and encouraged the artists in the audience to produce exhibitions in them. He garnered the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.

My point is there are other options out there, many of which are totally in the hands of artists themselves. No one needs to submit to abuse. When it's clearly uncomfortable to pursue the opportunity to work with a gallery, stop and look elsewhere.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two Recessionary Shifts in Attitude: One Good, One Not so Much

As one of my all-time favorite blogosphere smack-downs goes: The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but I've seen enough evidence of two seeming trends in the art world since the recession began in earnest that I wanted to mention them and see whether others have noticed the same thing or have a better understanding of why they seem to be happening now, more than expected or more noticeably than before.

The first is reports from arts-related benefits and charity events that expectations are being surpassed left and right. We've heard that some non-profit spaces and charities in New York and even from around the world have had their "best year ever" at benefits recently (this Paris-based event is simply the last to report raising much more money than they expected). When I think about why this might be the case I land on two possible reasons.

First is that while conspicuous consumption is suddenly bad form, conspicuous charity is undoubtedly always smiled upon and we've been programmed to spend on something...anything. Second is that perhaps it's easier now to make a compelling argument that the money is truly needed. Cutbacks in government funding or institutional grants are well known, so the non-profit spaces and charities truly do now depend upon the kindness of private citizens.

Whatever the reason, this is clearly heartening news. I don't doubt that it's not universally the case and certain spaces still need your help, though, so don't let your conspicuous charity competitive spirit wane at all (among the upcoming benefits in New York you should consider supporting is the 2009 Art in General Spring Benefit, March 31, 2009...feel free to add others to the comments section).

The other trend I've noticed (and had confirmed by other dealers) recently is a much more aggressive and, seemingly out of nowhere, clueless approach among unrepresented artists seeking gallery representation. Whereas we had been getting about 1-3 artists a month who clearly had no idea how best to approach a gallery either send us a package or email, now we're getting 1-3 a day calling us up and insisting we give them a show. And we're not the only gallery reporting this.

Recent classics include an artist who called and when I said that if he insisted on showing us his work, although I had noted we're not currently looking at new work, that he should email me jpgs (rather than just bring his work in), asked me how to spell "winkleman.com". (Did he even know what gallery he had called? I wondered). Another artist asked politely whether we were accepting submissions, to which I said not at the moment, which she wisely picked up on represented an opening and asked whether that meant we would be looking again in the future, to which I said yes, probably in a few months, to which she lost all credibility by asking, "Will you let me know when you are?" Mind you, I had no more information about this artist (or whether she's right for our gallery) than you now have and yet she expected me to take her number or email down and alert her to the fact that we were looking again? I politely (or so I tried to be) let her know the notice would be posted on our website when the policy changed.

Friends who own galleries have also reported a recent uptick in very clueless and surprisingly pushy approaches. It seems as if someone somewhere advised a large group of artists to simply call each gallery (any gallery) listed in Chelsea and not take "no" for an answer. Or maybe hard times are simply making certain people more desperate. I don't know. I'm here to tell them though that they're wasting their time (and my time) with such approaches. Recession or not, the way to get a gallery to consider your work has not changed. I've described in detail my best advice on how to approach a gallery here. It still very much applies. Don't make me any more grouchy than I am already, OK?

RELATED: Joanne Mattera recently offered some wonderfully solid and detailed advice on how NOT to approach a gallery.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fisking Maureen

Whenever I think about what is really at the heart of the "gay agenda" in America...what it is we're after or hoping to do in our battle for equality, I always come back to the symbolism of what happened in a spontaneously gathered crowd in San Fransisco after the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas (which resulted in the striking down of all the laws that had permitted law enforcement agencies to arrest and imprison adults found having sex in their own homes just because they were of the same gender). What struck me, rather profoundly I don't mind sharing, was one small but very revealing gesture that occurred during the SF celebration:
In a gesture of gratitude for the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law, gay-rights activists lowered the huge rainbow flag that always flies over the city’s Castro District and hoisted the Stars and Stripes in its place.

Members of a local American Legion Post made up of gay men unfurled the American flag, then saluted and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” as residents marveled that a goal they had been seeking for so long had been realized.

It's important not to skip over the fact that those who unfurled the Stars and Stripes were gay Veterans, but more important is what this impulse tells me about the core of the "gay agenda." The goal is inclusion, to be seen as Americans, as equals. The goal is to live our lives with dignity and be recognized as no better and no worse than our fellow citizens in the eyes of the law.

Which brings me to the essay that artist and writer Maureen Mullarkey wrote about the admittedly horrible way certain people within the gay community responded to the news that she had donated $1000 to help strip away the legality of gay marriages in California. It's important not to skip over the fact that Maureen lives in New York, but more important is that she is most certainly entitled to express her political views in any legal means she chooses to and should not be subjected to death threats or harassment as a result.

No, instead, she should be subjected to a good old fashioned fisking (with a "k", Maureen, don't get too excited). Maureen's article, The New Blacklist, appeared in the 03/16/2009 issue of The Weekly Standard.

Now before the fisking begins, I must note that the choice of publication here suggests to my mind that Maureen is not interested in getting her fellow art world insiders or the gay community to see things from her point of view. She has written for William Kristol and Fred Barnes' magazine before, but if she were truly trying to reach and/or educate those who responded so harshly to her donation (rather than just lash out at them), she might have considered a rag not so well known to be hostile toward both groups. Then again, most other publications have basic thresholds for logic, balance, and fairness...none of which are in obvious supply in her article.

She begins:
Strange times we live in when it takes a ballot initiative to confirm the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
California had redefined marriage as the union of two adults regardless of gender through both its courts and its legislature. This had not been done lightly or without years and years of open discussion and debate among its citizens. What's strange here is, again, that Maureen lives in New York. That she felt compelled to get involved in the lives and politics of people thousands of miles away from her is a strong indication that this is not about what people do in California to her, but about her life as well. How it's about her life remains a mystery.

She continues:
Stranger still when endorsing that definition through the democratic process brings threats and reprisals.
I would strongly agree with her about the threats. No one anywhere has any right to intimidate or harass her because of her donation. Reprisals, on the other hand, well, it depends on what we're talking about. If, for example, she expects gay and lesbian members of the art world (a small circle in which people rely on their network of friends to help further their careers) to continue to treat her as if they didn't know she considers their relationships less valid than hers, to forget they now do know that and embrace her as warmly as they had before, well...I'm sorry, but there are valid social and interpersonal reprisals here. We have the right to consider you part of the problem now. As our enemy in our battle for equality. You invited that animosity, Maureen, not us. You can't expect us to continue to treat you as if you were our friend. You've revealed your true feelings through your donation and, to be honest, that hurt us. We don't trust you now and probably never will again. And you own that fact.
In November, the San Francisco Chronicle published the names and home addresses of everyone who donated money in support of California's Proposition 8 marriage initiative. All available information, plus the amount donated, was broadcast. My name is on that list.
As I've said before, if that's a problem for you...having your name listed under which causes you donated to...you might reconsider whether you should have.
Emails started coming. Heavy with epithets and ad hominems, most in the you-disgust-me vein. Several accused me, personally, of denying the sender his single chance at happiness after a life of unrelieved oppression and second-class citizenship.
Well, you did participate, personally, in denying him something you take for granted. I don't mind asking you to consider whether you could be as blasé as you are about his complaint if the shoe were on the other foot...if the validity of your marriage was subjected to the opinion of people who lived across the country. Say Californians donated money to have your marriage made null and void. Would you simply accept it and move on with your life, or would you be hurt and upset?
Some were anonymous but a sizable number were signed, an indication of confidence in collective clout that belied howls of victimhood.
Or an indication of their belief that their cause is just. Something, again, your complaint that your name was made public suggests you have doubts about.
New York's Gay City News asked for an interview because I was "one of only four New Yorkers who contributed more than $500."
Those bastards! How dare they ask you for an interview...why the nerve of it! What's newsworthy about an artist who's painted gay people being one of only four people in a state of nearly 20 million people to donate over $500 for an initiative thousands of miles away? How dare they do the simple arithmetic to figure out the incredible unlikeliness of that and then ask you to comment? Your extreme political rarity is your business.
I ignored the request, trashed the emails, and forgot about them.
As is your right. I won't deny it.
But the West Coast bureau chief of the New York Daily News did not forget.
As is their right.
One night in early February, I drove home to find two cars, two men, waiting for me, unannounced, in the dark. Reporters for the Daily News, they were publishing a story on me and Prop 8 the next day and wanted a live quotation. Serious interviews are arranged ahead of time. Besides, I had filed enough newspaper pieces on deadline to know that copy is well into the can at 7 P.M. This was intimidation, not fact-gathering.
I have nothing to say about this really...I wasn't there...I think it's still dark rather early in February, and perhaps there was nothing odd or intentionally intimidating about reporters asking questions...but then again I wasn't there. I do know that the Daily News is hardly a bastion of gay rights militancy, and so the guilt-by-association Mullarkey is projecting here is disingenuous but...I wasn't there...perhaps the reporters were gay rights militants.
Where is the story, I asked, if I have not said anything? The response was: "We have documents." Sound familiar?
Uh..."'We have documents.' Sound familiar?" So the reporters were what? Gestapo? KGB? McCarthyites? What exactly is the implication here? Again, there's no indication at all that the reporters were gay or even gay friendly. All we have is a very underhanded, intellectually dishonest implication that they were motivated by revenge. The editors at the Weekly Standard didn't object to this lapse in journalistic integrity?
For half a second, I thought of saying that Prop 8 left intact all the legal advantages of civil union. It took nothing away. But I was too surprised by having been singled out. After a few heated words--none of them equal to what, in hindsight, I wish I had said--I went into the house.
Ahhh...the old, "I was actually thinking benevolent thoughts about the minority, like I want you to know I often do, but...because those reporters had surprised me by asking me questions...I wasn't able to actually share those thoughts...and now I'd like to just gloss over what I actually said" argument. A true classic. Let's revisit her actual words, just for old time's sake, though, shall we?
"If you write that story, I'll sue you," she said.
And we're back to the theme of being happy to have your political donations mentioned publicly...it's a good rule of thumb in knowing when to write a check or not.

Next day, I discovered in the Daily News that I am known as a painter of gays and lesbians; gay activists felt betrayed by my contribution. It was a sparse article. The only accurate quotation to appear was a sentence cribbed from my own website, which seems to be the "document" from which the story was spun. (The sentence, from an old interview about a gallery show of my paintings, referred to New York's gay pride parade as "an erotic celebration loosed for a day to keep us all mindful that Dionysus is alive, powerful and under our own porch.") Compensating for the interview that never took place, the reporter constructed an exchange over the question he obviously wanted to ask but never got the chance. The article reads:

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

I'll admit the Daily News article is sparse, and in that way sensationalistic, but is Maureen actually denying that she was asked the question and asserting that the reporter is lying? I think the Daily News editors, if not their lawyers, might want to check into that. So too might those at the Weekly Standard. Is Maureen also denying she said "So?" in response to something...and if not, what was that question? For all her assertions that she's setting the record straight...she's only generating even more mystery.
Set aside the non sequitur. The question was an undisguised indictment that triggered a barrage of virulent mail and threats of blacklisting.
As much as I agree that that question was loaded, I still feel the issue is a valid one. Maureen has argued that she made very little money from the sale of those paintings, but she is nowhere on record as objecting to the interpretation that her paintings represented her support of the gay community. I have heard of at least one that was purchased by a member of the community.
Suddenly, I was "a vampire on the gay community" who should be put out of business. As one note put it: "Your career is over, you nasty piece of s--. F-- off! WHORE!"
From this point on in the article Maureen begins her descent into self-identified victimhood. Yes, those are unwarranted comments, but they are clearly also cherry picked for effect. I don't doubt the comments were alarming and awful to receive, but, again, I see no indication at all that Maureen attempted to understand why the news of her donation would elicit such anger. I invite her again to contemplate how she'd feel toward any Californian who donated $1000 to strip away the legality of her marriage.
To make sense of this, backspace to the early '90s and a series of paintings I exhibited called Guise & Dolls. It was a singular body of work based on images from New York's annual carnival, the gay pride parade. I could have used a New Orleans Mardi Gras or Munich's Fasching, but Manhattan was closer. At times funny and poignant, the parade was also--in the age of AIDS--tinged with sexual danger. The spectacle of it made a splendid analogy to the medieval danse macabre.
We could debate the distinctions in intent and political context between Mardi Gras and the Gay Pride Parade, but Maureen could have singled out any number of images from that annual festival to paint, such as the brave parents marching to help make the world a little less frightening to their gay children or the heads bowed, many of them with tears streaming down their cheeks, during the haunting moment of silence, but she chose the so-called sexual danger to focus on. Fair enough. That's her call. But it is in and of itself a political decision. And a slightly confusing one if we're to accept her current assertions.

By painting the very healthy-looking, flamboyant subjects that she did (see here), the supposed commentary on the dangers of AIDS is tenuous at best (I'll admit there is a somber tone to most of them and one includes a skull, but most are absent any such symbolism). To my eye, most of these paintings look nonjudgmental. Yes, there are men in dresses, but in my life you see that all the time. Perhaps in Maureen's circle in Chippaqua such images are immediately understood to be condemnable, but the notion that these were cautionary tales is not supported.

From here she attempts to insert quite some distance between her intent and the gay community's interpretation of her paintings:
Festive misrule and the politics of carnival, deeply rooted in cultural history, are a compelling motive for painting. Think of Bruegel the Elder's Fight Between Carnival and Lent. The flamboyant Dionysian heart of the gay pride parade was the subject of Guise & Dolls, not homosexuality itself and certainly not any policy agenda. A public event free for the watching, it is staged to provoke audience response. I responded with a suite of paintings; they bore no relation to my prior or subsequent work. All suggestion that I "make a living on the back of the gay community," as my mail insisted, was a hysterical fantasy brewed in the grievance industry's fever swamp.
The parade is staged to celebrate and educate and possibly help liberate through making closeted gays understand they are not alone and their desires are not something they should be ashamed of, not to "provoke audience response." (Seriously, Maureen, the parade is not about you.) Most of the paraders could immediately and totally blend into the crowd by simply stepping onto the sidewalk. And most of flamboyant paraders are only too happy to dress up and party down that way in places very far from 5th Avenue. It's called "Pride." And the message is that we don't intend to hide who we are. That's only provocative if you expect or demand the opposite.
But no matter. I was up there now with Halliburton and Big Oil, a class enemy. The brownshirts came out in force. Within 24 hours, the "story" spread from one gay website to another, even to Vancouver ("Typical greedy American bigot"), France, and Belgium. My home address and email were repeated in comment sections in which readers egged each other on to "make the bitch pay." Militants trawled for editors and gallerists I had worked with to warn them that "the Gay Community is looking at our adversaries and those who may support them." (One former editor blind-copied me his exchange with an aspiring storm trooper who threatened a boycott for those "having an association" with me.)
For someone objecting to being called names and having hyperbolic responses flung at her, you certainly don't practice what you preach Ms. Mullarkey. The "brownshirts?" You mean Hitler actually did invent a time machine and sent his legions of thugs to the future to harass you? If we're trying to set the record straight here and be reasonable and all...I must assume that's what you mean. Or is "brownshirt" and "storm trooper" simply your nicknames for any gay activist in any context? Further evidence that your insistence you're not a bigot is self-delusion at best and an outright lie at worst?

I will note again that you did nothing to deserve such vehemence, but despite how poorly the anger was expressed, you did invite it through your donation and hence public support of taking something beautiful for hundreds of Californian couples away from them, people you would very likely never cross paths with in your life. (How an artist of all people, someone I assume is empathetic, can do that is quite frankly totally beyond me. I guess I have a lot to learn about artists still.)

Reprimands flooded in, all based on the false premise that fat slices of proprietary gay imagery were being creamed off the urban spectacle for my personal profit:
This line of reasoning seems directed at the central question of fairness here: Should Maureen be singled out for criticism because her actions are hypocritical? Her answer seems to be no, they're not hypocritical because she didn't make that much money off the gay community and therefore owes them nothing. In retrospect, given that the title of my first blog post on this topic accused her of biting the hand that feeds her, I'll apologize. She clearly is not a friend of the gay community, never intended to be seen as such, never intended to sell those paintings to gay collectors who would interpret them as pro-gay, and therefore cannot IMO be criticized for being hypocritical.

She can be criticized for being a drama queen though. Her article continues to present in rapid-fire a hodge-podge of unrelated criticisms of her. After reading them three times, all I can gather is they're presented en masse to demonstrate how irrational those who wrote to her were...and to make Maureen seem saintly in comparison. Emboldened by her self-anointed martyrdom, though, Maureen then makes the same mistakes she took all her detractors to task for and offers a wholly irrational defense of her position:
[M]y opposition to same-sex marriage does not originate in the pew. However much sympathy, affection--indeed, love--I have for certain gay persons, "gay marriage" burlesques a primal institution rooted in nature. Marriage, as a unique bond between male and female, predates all politics and religious doctrines. And no one has to believe in God to see social anarchy, with children adrift in the wreckage, at the end of the same-sex marriage road.
Where to begin?

With the obvious I guess: Despite how much love you think you feel for certain gay persons, I am willing to bet at least some of them deep down resent your position here. The arrogance of asserting your superiority over them in this fashion must be intolerable if they have any self-respect at all. The fact they don't say so to your face is a gift you should deeply appreciate.

Now for some history you clearly never learned: The "primal institutions" predating even marriage include slavery. Widespread practices predating marriage include kidnapping women from their families, procreation by rape, and other practices I am sure we would both agree were immoral and right to be outlawed by civilized peoples, no?

So what changed people's opinions about such practices? A growing respect for the importance of protecting the rights of the individual. A belief that all people are created equal and have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But that's only the foundation of where your thinking is muddy. If your argument against modifying our collective definition of marriage is that there's a traditional component we must respect, why not insist on preserving polygamy, arranged marriages, dowries, outlawing divorce, and other components of marriage that have evolved over time? Your selectiveness here is telling, whether you see it or not.

Of all your arguments, though, this is the most deluded: "And no one has to believe in God to see social anarchy, with children adrift in the wreckage, at the end of the same-sex marriage road."

Uh...look around you, Maureen...straight people have managed to set millions of children adrift in the wreckage of their marriages with no help from gays whatsoever. In fact, the most laughable part of the entire anti-gay-marriage argument is how "sacred" the institution is supposed to be. I can live with my partner for decades and still not garner the same social status as a drunken man and woman who got hitched on a whim in Vegas. No one has to believe in God to see that social anarchy is permitted, if not endorsed, by the majority here for clearly selfish reasons that do nothing to take into account the needs of children. In other words, take the plank out of your eye before you point at the spec in mine, my dear. Unless you're sending $1000 to initiatives designed to outlaw divorce in the US, you are a hypocrite.

Maureen then shares some more of the offensive email she got...you know, the kind of sentiments I'm sure most of those writing her would describe as "a few heated words--none of them equal to what, in hindsight, I wish I had said." She follows that with:
Until now, donating to a cause did not open private citizens to a battery of invective and jackboot tactics. While celebrities sport their moral vanity with white ribbons, thousands of ordinary Americans who donated to Prop 8 are being targeted in a vile campaign of intimidation for having supported a measure that, in essence, ratified the crucial relation between marriage and childbearing.
Once again, there is a very important difference between donating money to causes you don't want anyone to know about and ones you're happy to advertise with white ribbons. Do some soul searching on that fact, Maureen, please. As for the "crucial relation between marriage and childbearing," my gay friends with children will be delighted to hear you think they should be able to marry. I think so too.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Getting Ready for My Arts Blogosphere Spring Cleaning

Anyone who's tried to click through it will have noticed that my blogroll is in need of a tune-up...I'm working on getting around to it. But there are a few developments in the arts blogosphere worth noting all the same:
  1. Regina Hackett (as soon as she wakes up on the West Coast...no pressure, mind you :-) ) will launch today her new online home (her previous gig at Seattle's P-I was a victim of the seemingly imminent implosion of most dead-tree press). Part of the Arts Journal network, Regina's new blog is called "Another Bouncing Ball."
  2. A growing list of intimidatingly long interviews (including one with yours truly) is just one of the reasons to check out Qi Peng's site on the Salt Lake City Fine Arts Examiner. The most recent chat, with artist William Powhida, is among the most interesting I've read with Bill.
  3. I'm meeting later this week with someone to discuss the potential of blending video with arts blogging, but I see we won't be the first.. artist Jonathan Gitelson is already ahead of us on that front. Jonathan's approach is a curated series of YouTube videos, but clearly there's a zeitgeist about.
  4. And finally, Canadian gallerist A.K. Collings' new blog Neurartic is off to an impressive start, blending art, design and even neuroscience. I'd recommend checking it out.
Feel free to add any new twists or turns in the arts blogosphere you know of.


Monday, March 16, 2009

He Out-Bopped the Buzzard and the Oriole

Finally got the chance to catch up on some museum shows yesterday. Not easy during art fair week or installation weeks, but Bambino, our dear friend Ondine, and I stopped in to see the Jenny Holzer exhibition at the Whitney (someone should set up a camera at the 4th floor to record how many jaws drop as new visitors step off the elevator). The exhibition is gorgeous, heartwrenching, and so ingeniously installed you know even as you're walking through it that you'll have to return at different times of the day to really experience it all. Next we dashed off to MoMA for the Martin Kippenberger exhibition, another triumph in my opinion, and another I'll need to return to, this time because of how dense it is. (We were dashing because we had tickets for the stunning Russian version of 12 Angry Men at Film Forum...talk about a day of sensory overload).

And so it is, in this multi-tasking, up-to-downtown traversing, culture consuming world we live in ... to really take it all in you'd need helicopters and machines that slow down time...so you do the best you can and promise to return.

However, over the weekend, I also read what I think will become a new baseline in discussing how interconnectivity technology will impact how we view art. Ben Davis offers a paradoxically thoughtful response to his seemingly frantic Twittering of the New York Art fairs on artnet.com:
The experience [of an art fair] is one of colliding with people, having fragmentary conversations, being acutely aware that artworks are products in motion. Above all, it is an experience of registering fleeting esthetic impressions that jump out of the chaos and then melt back into it, like so many electrical signals shooting across your brain. . .

In other words, it sounds like a job for Twitter!

Yes, it's a handy conceit for reporting on yet another gaggle of fairs, but Ben's observations stuck with me as I saw dozens of visitors at MoMA and the Whitney snapping images and forwarding them on their iPhones:
Despite spending half of my time either slouched over my phone or thrusting it at things to take a picture, I have to say that I felt empowered to just inhabit the experience of being at the Armory week fairs in a way that I was not when I was trying to straddle being either a journalist or a critic at previous installations.
Here's the thing. Ben argues (accurately, in my opinion) that Twittering at a fair makes total sense, and even notes the important contextual difference between that venue and others:
The "as-it-happens" effect of Twitter adds something to your perspective as a writer -- it’s nice to give yourself license to cover artworks in their present, instead of squinting at them and abstracting them from the fair setting ("how would this look at the Whitney?")
But I found myself tempted to Twitter at the museums...if only as an experiment. This impulse was thwarted by the power of the exhibitions (as I pulled out my iPhone rounding a corner, another Holzer piece stopped me in my tracks and I abandoned the idea), even as other viewers were busy snapping photos and texting.

Ben reported a similar experience at the fairs, and it makes my chest swell with pride (really it does, feel it) that it was at our booth at Pulse:

As I turn my own experience over in my head, however, the moment that stands out for me is my encounter with an installation by Eve Sussman at Winkleman gallery.... The work consisted of a sort of countertop display of overlapping photos and texts. It was unclear immediately what I was looking at, except that it represented some kind of elliptical storyline. Dealer Ed Winkleman later told me that the pieces are connected to Sussman’s upcoming film, White on White: A Film Noir, an "experimental thriller" by Sussman tying Malevich’s esthetics to the Russian space program.

A heady project by a celebrated artist -- that’s really enough to produce some quick copy. But in the moment, confronted with the density of the actual object, I froze, trying to sum it up. And then I didn’t, moving on in search of something more immediately Tweet-worthy.

OK, so what's a dealer to do with this analysis?

We've brought plenty of Tweet-worthy art to fairs (it's a fun place to debut work that works well when multitudes are viewing it at the same time). And, yes, we've brought work to fairs that a certain high-profile New York art critic (who shall remain nameless) said to my face was the type he never stopped to view at fairs because he didn't have that much time. (Grrr....).

And so, for me, this changes nothing really, except perhaps adding some useful new vocabulary to the art fair lexicon. "Do you think we need to balance the booth out with something Tweet-worthy?"

What I am really curious about is how this might impact viewers' and collectors' experience. If everyone starts Twittering the fairs, what will that do to the already accelerating conversations and (G-d forbid) ability to close sales!?! ("Yeah, we're interested, but we're gonna wait to see how many responses our Tweet on it gets before deciding.")

Labels: ,

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th Open Thread

I'm still knee-deep in reviewing the copyedits (see yesterday's thread)...it's fun, but somewhat time-consuming.

Knowing that when today's date coincides with a Friday, it's traditionally considered an ominous sign, though, I thought I'd see what might develop in an open thread about awful mishaps in the studio and/or gallery...what's the worse thing you've ever done (and wish you could have blamed on the calendar)?

Among my many mishaps, one that was actually just a near miss was tripping with a glass of red wine in my hand at an opening (at someone else's space) and just barely not drenching a pure-white paper sculpture (by an artist who's prices are above $50K at the point). We don't serve red wine in our gallery any more for that very reason.

Feel free to share...regular blogging to resume next week.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Deadline

My publisher will kill me if I blog today, as I'm supposed to be turning in my answers/responses to the copyediting on my book (shameless plug)...bad writer.

Don't let that stop you from carrying the dialog further though. A few topics to consider:
  1. If it's a day of the week that ends in "y" that means Shepard Fairey must be having legal problems of some sort.
  2. Jonathan Jones blames the demise of Western culture on shopping. (Er, OK, so he blames it on Warhol, but...)
  3. We've talked here about how to buy art in a recession, Adrian Ellis discusses how museums can fund-raise in a recession at the Art Newspaper.
  4. The most inspired and truly gutsy response to the recession I've seen is the effort spearheaded by our friend Elizabeth Dee in opening up the nonprofit space X. Congrats to Elizabeth and entire X team! (anxiously awaiting the X website...)
  5. And last, but not least, a true New York treasure (and one of my favorite arts writers and people in general), Gary Indiana has a new book out, The Shanghai Gesture, (which I haven't read yet, because no one's presented me with a signed copy...hint, hint...Birthday fast approaching here...just saying). But you can read James Gibbons fabulous review of it on Bookforum.

Labels: ,