Friday, May 29, 2009

Museum-Sponsored Films

It's a bit tricky to get to the bottom of this story for me, not reading French all that well, but there's enough chatter out there and the issues are interesting enough to toss it out and discuss all the same.

In yesterday's post on films dealing with art as it affects families, I noted that "Summer Hours" (by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas) was "sponsored" by the Musee D'Orsay. At first I had heard that this was a deal by the museum, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, and that all the filmmaker had to do for the money was include the museum somehow in their storyline. My first response to this was "Good for the D'Orsay." How refreshing to see an institution connect the dots like that.

In "Summer Hours," though, we see selections from the D'Orsay collection used as props. My first response to that was "Yikes...any manner of mishap is likely to happen on a film are they protecting those works?" But my second thought was that this was actually a somewhat questionable, if sophisticated, product placement: you can get money to make your film, but you have to place objets from our collection in prominent locations throughout the story.

Turns out, though, the situation is a bit more complicated. A comment on a film blog offered:
It's a strange story, as there was the idea of a Musee d'Orsay omnibus film (I think) with Assayas, Hong Sang-soo and Hou Hsiao-hsien doing each a part. This fell through because politics interfered and told the museum they were not allowed to sponsor films. The filmmakers, however, simply went ahead and secured financing in other ways and then turned up with three masterpieces (haven't seen the Hou yet, but everybody says so and I am most ready to believe it). (The latest Tsai, Visage, now shown in Cannes, actually *is* sponsored by the Louvre, though. Make of that what you will.)
Then a still confusing comment by Assayas explaining the story in this interview on WNYC in which he says
"It started as a commission of the Musee D'Orsay...and they wanted cinema to be associated with the celebration of their 20th anniversary. And so they asked filmmakers from all the over world to contribute segments to what should have been like one collective feature, and so I was the French filmmaker...and I started working on it...[but] I was disturbed by the subject. I liked the idea. I was just... [interviewer: "People giving the old pieces in their collection to a museum rather than keeping it for themselves?"] Yes, that's the story I started... [interviewer: "Which becomes only an element later in the film and I'm not sure that the Musee D'Orsay is 100% happy with the process as you depicted it."] Well, it's...I was a little nervous about it when we were shooting, because they have been nice with us. You know, they are not financially involved with the film. The feature has lived a life of its own...Basically they allowed us to take artworks out of the museum. They lent us pieces they never know, just really supportive."
leading me to conclude (although it's not stated overtly as such) that the relationship Assayas developed while working on the never completed composite film opened the door to getting selections from the museum for Summer Hours.

But what if a museum did wish to promote itself through film, just as a car manufacturer or a soft drink maker does. Is that a problem? They buy ad space ...why not buy it in films? Of course there still is the issue of safety (I cringed while watching a character in the movie wrap a Corot in bubblewrap), but is such a concept an issue or an opportunity?

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

How Art Is Tearing Families Apart : Open Thread

Saw two films in the past week that took "art as a family affair" as their theme. Both were very memorable for different reasons.

"My Kid Could Paint That" has been around for a while (thank you Netflix!). Although it touches on some of the same debates that play themselves out here occasionally with regards to what we consider "art" and includes a lengthy and rather impressive interview with the New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, it mainly serves as an exposé/mystery about whether 4-year-old Marla Olmstead is the one true author of the abstract paintings that were (are?) selling at astronomical prices, or her father is. I was fairly convinced her father (or someone) must have at least "polished" a few of them based on seeing footage of her painting...there's no indication (even in the extended footage presumably showing her work out some ideas that seem far advanced for a pre-kindergarten-aged child) that she could have achieved the finesse we see in some of the other works. Or so it seems in the film...who knows.

What intrigued me more than the central mystery though was how the family, even the kids to some degree, were seduced by the "art world." Or perhaps it was the world of celebrity as it meets the art world. You saw even the mother, who was more protective and skeptical than anyone else around them about what this was doing to their daughter, clearly grow into the part of being famous. I suspected throughout that it was the father's burning desire to see his own work (which you suspected was the work he was letting his daughter take credit for) end up in major collections. At one point when some "expert" suggested you could hang one of these works in the Museum of Modern Art and no one would know the difference, the glee on his face seemed more satisfied than shocked. But again, who knows.

The other film (and I highly encourage anyone who can to see it [the New York Times called it a "masterpiece"]'s playing at the IFC Center in New York) takes the authenticity and genius of its artist, the fictional French painter Paul Berthier, for granted. "Summer Hours" (or "L'Heure d'été") takes place long after Berthier has passed away, but the English version of his catalogue raisonné has just been published and there is a multi-city, multi-country retrospective pending that validates his importance in case we have any doubt from the snippets of work we see (which is really only a single drawing and a few notebooks that look entirely too fresh to my eye to be real, but...).

[Much of the description below might be spoiler-esque...consider not reading if you plan to see the film, which, I know, I'm sue me...or better yet come back and read after you see the film]

But the impact of Berthier's accomplishments on his family, and in particular on the lives of his niece/secret lover (it is a French film) and her three children (by another's not an Appalachian film) is long lasting. Although the film doesn't focus on this too much, you do get the strong sense that none of the children (adults with full lives of their own when the film opens) could live up to the greatness of their uncle in their mother's esteem. The oldest brother becomes an economist whose controversial books are too complex for anyone in his family (his mother, his lovely wife, etc.) to understand. The designer daughter flees to New York and seems to have bad luck with husbands/boyfriends. The entrepreneur younger son takes his wife and children off to seek fortune in China. When they get back together in Bertheir's amazing country home, where they grew up, to celebrate their mother's 75th birthday, none of them can seemingly escape quickly enough.

This film is such a rich tapestry of life and all its messy ups and downs (truly, virtually each scene is full of insights and little moments that take your breath away), but the part that keeps haunting me is the scene after the birthday party, when the mother sits alone in the dark in her museum of a home, left exactly the way it was when the hidden love of her life passed away, and tells her housekeeper/friend Eloise that she will die soon and that when she does she'll take with her all manner of memories and secrets that no one else should care about. But that what will remain are these objects...these vessels (the rare art deco furniture and paintings [Corots, Redons, etc.] that fill the house)...these will live on to mark the time and place, the lives and love that had raged in this house. Indeed, many of these objects end up in museums; despite their mother's wishes (and that of the eldest son) the three siblings eventually agree to auction off the art and sell the house.

One of the later scenes of the film has the oldest son and his wife walking through the Musee D'Orsay (which interestingly [and this is another thread] sponsored the film) where their artist-uncle's Louis Majorelle desk has been installed, only to be yawned at by gaggles of tourists with cell phones attached to their ears. The couple also pass by one of their uncle's vases in a case, and the son somewhat melancholically muses on how these objects were so much more "alive" when they were part of a home. (I couldn't help but think that's a nice problem to have [seeing the priceless objects you grew up with in a major museum], but....)

The final scene has the eldest son's rambunctious teenage daughter and son throwing one last beer blast with their friends in the house before the new owners move in. It's a joyful scene with blaring music and dancing and motorcycles roaring in the otherwise idyllic French countryside. While some viewers I know came away seeing it as upsettingly irreverent, this infusion of youth seemed to me the most optimistic moment of the film. It did give me pause though when the 17-year-old daughter wanders away with her boyfriend to a field where she had picked berries with her grandmother, and it becomes obvious that she would have preferred her family to keep this property. She describes a painting a her great uncle had painted in this spot and you realize that what you had assumed was a kid who could care less about any of the things her grandmother had so treasured was actually someone who longed for that connection in her life.

Consider this an open thread on the impact an art career can have on an artist's family.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NYFA Panel Discussion on How the Recession Has Impacted the Art World

NYFA videotaped the panel discussion I participated in a little over a week ago. It included some exceptionally useful information for artists in understanding the impact of the recession on the institutions created to promote their work, including a commercial gallery.

NOTE: We had had an opening the night before (and it was early when this was taped)...I point this out as an explanation of my slightly catatonic demeanor...and haggard appearance.

Assessing the Recession, a panel discussion from NYFA on Vimeo.

Revenge of the Clones: Open Thread

In a recent studio visit with Shane Hope, who has an upcoming solo exhibition in the gallery, I was introduced to a concept (OK, so in every studio visit with Shane I'm introduced to dozens of new concepts, many of which require reading a few dozen texts to even partially understand) that seems to have relevance to the latest publicity stunt scandal involving YBA bad boys Jake and Dinos Chapman. The concept revolves around the notion of a "singleton," the restriction to a unique or limited number of copies of something/someone who would potentially cause harm if permitted to exist in more copies. Although this remains science fiction in terms of humans, it's a fairly common notion in software engineering. The essence of the concept is that even though you can make copies, sometimes it's perhaps best not to.

Enter the Chapmans [from The Independent, via]:
Dinos Chapman claims he and his brother, who shot to fame in the mid–1990s as part of the Young British Artists movement, have recreated Emin's famous tent, entitled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995.

The original artwork, which comprised a tent with pictures of people Emin had slept with inside, was destroyed in 2004 when a fire tore through a warehouse in east London. Emin turned down a £1m offer from the Saatchi Gallery to reproduce her work, arguing it would be "morally wrong" to recreate a destroyed work of art.

But the Chapman brothers clearly think otherwise. Dinos Chapman said at the Hay Festival that Emin's tent had already been made and they risked being sued if they showed it in public.

"Who says you can't remake something," he said. "We've remade it for her. She's threatened to sue us if we show it, but we will anyway. We were thinking about doing a limited edition and selling them at Glastonbury."
The Chapmans have a history of remaking others' art (as well as their own), but either through clever PR or sincerely through the notion that they're not talking about appropriating, but bluntly recreating a work whose author wished it not to be recreated, they've managed to tweak enough noses this time to get their names in the papers again.

Personally, I'm not sure there's any real news here. I think there are interesting ideas with regards to where the copying might lead, though. Should Penelope Bottompincher-Smythe of East Anglia then decide to remake the Chapman's remake of Emin's piece, and then Hans Copendurstenhager remakes the Bottompincher-Smythe piece, and so on, does the Chapman's piece end up being any less significant (assuming it currently is significant, if it actually exists)? Of course, Ms. Bottompincher-Smythe and Herr Copendurstenhager don't currently have the reputation the Chapmans enjoy, so perhaps Jake and Dinos' copy remains "superior" regardless of the countless clones that spring up, but that would be a boring confirmation of the lingering strength of the 20th Century cult of personality problem. Surely, cloning eventually wears away at brand integrity, no?

The Independent submits:
But if the tent has been remade, it raises ethical questions over whether an artist should copy and elaborate on another artist's work.
Actually, I think the Hitler drawings piece by the Chapman (which is what the Independent is referencing by "elaborate on another artist's work" [read here for more info]) are more interesting because of how they elaborated on them rather than the mere fact that they did (see L.H.O.O.Q. and Erased De Kooning). In other words, if it does raise ethical questions, I suspect they've been repeatedly discussed for almost 100 years now. That doesn't mean there's a pat answer to them yet, but, again, this doesn't strike me as "news."

Legally speaking, I think this gets interesting in the details though. Under current law, it's clear that Emin owns the copyright to her work, but once it doesn't exist anymore, does it automatically become "intellectual property," or, by not remaking it, would she lose the copyright? If not, then, before the fire, did it exist as both intellectual property and tangible property, or was the fire the demarcation point? Perhaps this is clear as well. I don't actually know (IANAL).

But back to the singleton idea. What if Emin's piece had not been destroyed. Would things change here? I suspect legally they would, but that seems to be an evolving line of though. But what about ethically? Here I suspect we're still somewhat stuck in the past.

I loved the bit in the new Star Trek movie (spoiler warning...don't read this if you don't want to know a central plot line) in which old Spock, who has traveled back in time, suggests to young Kirk that he cannot be seen by his younger self without havoc ensuing throughout the universe, but then later reveals that, of course, there's no harm in that happening. This was a major advance in popular science fiction, in my opinion; a leap away from the disasterbatory* thinking that dominates so much of that branch of culture.

Likewise, the idea that co-existing copies of Emin's tent would automatically cause any rips in our collective ethical fabric seems speculative at best to my mind. There may be financial repercussions, but I refuse to equate that with ethical concerns without at least giving it due consideration.

Consider this an open thread on whether there truly are ethical issues involved in copies of artwork.

*Another concept Shane introduced me to. Definition:
Disasterbation (derived from masturbation), is the process of idly fantasizing about the possible catastrophes that technology and the future may bring. Considering such possibilities as ecological collapse, full-scale war, complete totalitarianism, a grey goo scenario, or computers taking over and killing all humans. All this is done without really any thought paid to the likelihood that these cases can occur, or considering any possible solutions and/or preventions to keep them from occurring in the first place.

It's taking on a wholly pessimistic view of the future, by only being concerned about the negative, about the worst possible scenarios, with little to no attention paid to the positive possibilities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Call for Artists: "Re-Accession: For Sale by Owner"

The FLAG Art Foundation is seeking artists who, had the economy not taken the nose dive it has, would currently have gallery representation in New York. It's a generous, intriguing idea for an exhibition. Details below:
The working title is "Re-Accession: For Sale by Owner" and it is being co-curated by Philae Knight and Amanda Steck. We are specifically looking for artists whose galleries have closed or down-sized due to the current economic circumstances and are thus left without representation in New York.

We will also consider artists who almost had representation and whose window quickly closed due to current constraints. As always, nothing will be for sale given FLAG's non-profit mission, but if artists would like, we will provide email, website or other contact information on the checklist for anyone interested in following up after seeing the show.

If you have any artist friends or know of someone who is appropriate for this show please have them send jpeg submissions with title, medium and dimensions to Stephanie Roach, FLAG's Director, at as soon as possible but no later than Monday June 8.
If you've never been to the FLAG Art Foundation, I can tell you, it's one sweet exhibition space with a world-class list of exhibitions under its relatively new belt.

As I always advise artists considering any space, do your homework and go check it out in person first. Their current exhibition is a gem by one of our favorite young curators Stamatina Gregory. It's titled "Vague Terrain: Analogues of Place in Contemporary Photography."

Also, do yourself a favor and follow their e-mail submission procedure (i.e., don't take your work there in person) if you're thinking about submitting work for this show.


Business Cards for Artists

On the "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation" thread a reader asked:
Hi Edward, Thank you for the "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation" resource. What do you think of artists using business cards with images like those at I don't mean the mini cards just regular sized cards with the usual information on one side and a quality image of your work on the other side. I see how these could be seen as unprofessional in other careers. But what about visual artists? Thanks for your thoughts.
OK, so something about this question made me wonder whether it was written by someone affiliated with the company (might just be pre-caffeinated paranoia), but there's plenty to bat about within the general topic so I'll thank the reader either way.

A lawyer/collector friend of mine once told me that having a good business card was one of the most effective means by which you can convince people you have just met that they should take you seriously. That seemed a bit overstated to me at the time, but I've since started using a more substantial card stock and design for our gallery cards and noticed that, if nothing else, handing these to people is less likely to lead me to feel like making excuses for their quality. Back in the day when we were just getting started, we used a less expensive card, and who knows what that momentary hesitation/self-doubt ("Is this person making judgments based on the flimsiness of my card?") cost me in terms of making a good impression when meeting people.

Now there's a part of me that wants to say "It's just a card, for Pete's sake...the important thing is that it conveys my personal contact information." But I know myself that after an art fair or reception, when I later empty my pockets of all the collected business cards, I do make subtle judgments about people based on their quality. Having invested in themselves (as a good card suggests they have), I'm more willing to take them seriously in the abstracted context of remembering our conversation or why I took their card in the first place.

OK, so that's about cards for business people, but what about business cards for artists? And more to the point of the question, what about images on an artist business card? For me it entirely depends on how well designed the card is over all as to whether I find using an image cheesy or classy (with classy being my strong recommendation, but perhaps cheesy being more appropriate for your own purposes).

The central assumption here, of course, is that you'd use an image of your own artwork, and so, again, for me it depends on how well that works design-wise. If, for example, you have to shrink an image of your work down to the point that it's barely readable, why bother? If you crop a detail of a larger piece and use that, it could work, but it I've seen that look cheesy more often than not. Then there's those artists who change the image on the card frequently ("Shouldn't my card reflect my most recent series, if not my most recent work?" goes the defense of this strategy). My sense of that is that if you're at the stage of your art career that anyone in the world short of your spouse would know the difference, you probably don't need a business card. Actually, my stronger sense is that if you're doing this, you have way too much time on your hands and that rather than changing the image on your business card every two months or so, you should simply spend more time in the studio making work.

Then there are the "concept" business cards...clever incorporations of scale or shape or materials to reflect something about the artist's work. My first thought at seeing a card like this isn't that the artist doesn't take their business card seriously (such cards are often much more expensive to produce), but that they don't take their art that seriously...having willingly reduced it to a logo or branding giveaway.

For me, the best artist business card is the one that does what a business card should do: convey the artist's contact information in a clear type treatment, as well as convey something about the artist's professionalism (whether that is accomplished via an appropriate image of one's work or not will most likely depend on the work). A business card need not convey anything about the artist's actual work, in my opinion, though. For the vast majority of artists, postcards are infinitely better at conveying that.

My point here (and I think I have one) is that a business card is a professional tool used to convey contact information and make a statement about one's professionalism or lack thereof (either may be appropriate for one's ultimate purposes). It's usually not, to my mind, the best way to represent one's work, though. Don't make it do double duty unless your work is extremely well represented in that smaller format.

As with all such threads, these are my personal opinions and may not reflect those of other dealers, so don't throw out any cards you currently have if they're working well for you.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Press for "White on White: The Pilot (just like being there)"

Jonathan T. D. Neil has offered a stunningly insightful response to our current exhibition on Here's an excerpt:
The kind of art that Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation make often requires a bit of explanation, so bear with me: their current project, ongoing at this point, is titled White on White: A Film Noir. Devotees of art history will quickly recognise that Sussman and Rufus are once again drawing upon a significant work of past art, and in particular of past painting, as – how to describe it? Let’s call them 'datums': facts of orientation that can serve as a reference point with which to find one’s way. For 89 Seconds at Alcazar (2004), the datum was Valesquez’s Las Meninas (1648); for The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), it was David’s 1799 masterpiece of (roughly) the same name; now the datum is Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White from 1918.

The cartography in which Sussman and Rufus engaged for their own White on White involved a kind of nomadic travel through central Asia. As Jeff Wood of Rufus describes it at one point in a dispatch from the Caspian Sea: “This is a research trip. For an art film about extreme combinations. Architectures. Economies. Landscapes. Personalities.” The Rufus Corporation website has been given over to a blog that details some of the travelers’ more bizarre and enchanting experiences, from sharing vodka in the early morning with a pair of freelance hydro-geologic archaeologists in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to bribing their way onto a train heading for Turitam, the rail stop for Baikonur, the former Soviet settlement and location of the Cosmodrome, birthplace of the world’s first space program.
Read the whole's a critique that members of Rufus Corporation say is among the best responses ever written to their project.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Compound Editions Presents...

Compound Editions is very pleased to announce the release of our fourth multiple, Vessel for Safekeeping (Survivalism), by New York-based artist Susan Graham. Each piece is a hand-sculpted and hand-glazed porcelain lacy box containing miniature scissors and a credit card. The box is glazed a smoky white, and the scissors and credit card have pewter and blue glazes.

DETAIL: Credit Card

All of the pieces have variations due to the fact that they were each made individually by hand and that the firing process is organic.

While the edition was inspired by the idea of erasure, the piece Graham ended up making is an enduring representation of financial identity.


Susan Graham has been included in numerous exhibitions in the United States and Europe including recent shows at the Tucson Museum Of Art, John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Michigan; the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, the Sherman Gallery at Boston University, Hunter College Leubsdorf Gallery, New York; the Musee d'art et d'industrie de Saint-Etienne, and the Musee International des Arts Modestes, Sete, France.
Susan Graham
Vessel for Safekeeping (Survivalism)
Edtion of 50, plus 10 APs
$250.00 each
Compound Editions is a collaborative fine art multiples publishing venture founded by Schroeder Romero and Winkleman Gallery.


If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute

An exceptional exchange took place at the screening and discussion at MoMA this past Monday by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (many, many thanks again to Barbara London for inviting them to speak). A woman in the audience (later revealed to be a Russian art historian) asked the Kyrgyz couple why they portrayed their homeland in such a negative light in their work. Paraphrasing is always fraught with projection and faulty hindsight, but her argument went more or less like:
I have been to Kyrgyzstan. I have been to Bishkek [the capital], back when it was Fruenze [its Soviet-era name], and it's a beautiful city. Yet in your work you focus only on the negative. Your point of view is so pessimistic. I think you are misrepresenting your country. Why don't you present it in a more positive light?
Muratbek and Gulnara (M&G) have heard such feedback before (mostly from Kyrgyz diplomats though), and so Muratbek was both prepared and very evenhanded in his response. He began by noting that it was not their intention in their work to present Kyrgyzstan in any particular light. Their practice involved doing sociological research, using predominantly documentary approaches, and then through a collaborative process (that admittedly involved a good deal of arguing between themselves) presenting work that attempted to express what it feels like to be in the places or situations featured in their videos and photographs. The fact that they're particularly good at doing this was confirmed by a Kyrgyz woman in the audience who noted that their 3-channel video "Transsiberian Amazons" took her back to those difficult days just after the Soviet Union collapsed so powerfully that she could literally smell what it felt like to be on such a train ride again.

But then Muratbek said something that elicited one of those responses from the audience you never forget...a cheer-filled applause that virtually burst out triumphantly from M&G's friends and supporters who were clearly somewhat anxious about the Russian art historian's blunt rebuke in such a setting. Again, I paraphrase:
I agree with you that Bishkek is a beautiful city. Of this I know. But I disagree with you that this work is pessimistic. In fact, I feel that it is optimistic. To think that in all these situations, through these difficult times, that art can emerge makes me feel very optimistic.
The duality of hardship and hope is a re-occurring theme in M&G's work. From the somewhat surprisingly calm second half of the otherwise very violent video "Revolution" to the very subtitle of their 5-channel piece "A New Silk Road: Algorithm of Survival and Hope," their work has always acknowledged that difficult times always come hand in hand with the opportunity for a fresh start and hopefully a better future. Coming from a culture that was already ancient when Alexander the Great trekked through does perhaps give you a patient perspective on how cyclical life can be, but I will admit to finding a particularly comforting encouragement in how they view the world.

You hear so much in the news these days about our national "gloom." It's tough right now, for many, many people, and possibly going to get tougher before it gets easier. But the only reason to give up hope is to lose sight of the fact that few of the world's true success stories came about easily or via the path anyone could have predicted. Adversity is often an essential element of eventual success. Be willing to fail spectacularly. There is little else worth doing really.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is All Good Art Private Before It Is Public?

Checking in across the Pond we find a similar debate is being held there with regards to whether or not the public is the best judge of what it likes. OK, so that's a bit of a loaded spin; the real debate is whether or not the public is the best judge of art. (You may recall the rounds we went recently regarding the ArtPrize.) OK, so I'm being a bit misleading once more, in the interest of finding transition that quite obviously just isn't there, so I'll abandon the effort.

The debate is actually whether the public is the best judge of public art.

Jonathan Jones participated in two public debates/events of late and the second one kind of picked up where we had left off:

It's called the Big Art Debate, is staged by the Art Fund and connected with the current Channel 4 series, the Big Art Project. Jon Snow chairs. It asks: Can the public be trusted to choose public art? Grayson Perry and I will argue that no, they bloody well can't. Munira Mirza and Andrew Shoben will argue that they can.

[...]The public artist's lot in modern Britain is similar to that of the portrait painter. In this century, we've fallen in love with public art; every city wants its Angel of the North. [...]It's as if we have, as a nation, turned into the board of some big company commissioning a portrait of the managing director. Or, rather, a bronze statue of John Betjeman, or maybe a gigantic homage to a sprinter like Manchester's B of the Bang (bang and it's gone). Most of the public art we're putting up is worthless.

The best interventions in public space by artists are often confrontational and controversial, from Richard Serra's Tilted Arc to Rachel Whiteread's House. All good art is private before it is public. The secret to finding great art for public spaces[...] is to find talented artists who happen to be interested in working in that arena. Then let them indulge themselves.

I think you can parse the central premise here a bit to where you don't have to limit it to a choice between artists making work on demand that follows common tastes (à la Komar and Melamid's "Most Wanted" paintings, which I know were not conceived of as "Public art," per se, but which remain the best example of how awful art-by-committee can be) and artists dropping work into the public sphere that doesn't take into account how the public actually uses that space (à la Serra's "Titled Arc"). (I feel the public does have some right to have some say about that.)

I think you can imagine an entire spectrum of options that, both, permit artists to indulge themselves and give the public some input into what art they interact with while commuting or picnicking or trudge off to the supermarket. The 4th Plinth project in London is one such example that manages both (although, Jones isn't so fond of that project [and admittedly makes a good argument for how this particular location for public art is flawed], but that still doesn't mean the process whereby artists submit proposals and the public votes isn't the right way to go here).

The advantage to the proposals-and-vote model are several. First, you don't see artist indulging themselves too much (i.e., in this case, wasting money) finishing works that will not be selected for the public location or removed in protest. Second, the public buy-in works to give the piece good word of mouth publicity. Third, you get two good bursts of public interest (during the voting and then visiting the piece they selected to see how it turned out).

There must be other models as well...what are the other possibilities that, again, permit what I think are the two important goals in public art choices: artists able to realize a vision independent of others' input and the public actually happy to see the work installed? Or is all good art private before it is public?


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Masculinizing American Art : Open Thread

It's no mistake I suspect that it took a generation of hard-drinking, womanizing blowhards who'd start swinging their fists at the drop of a hat for the US to finally take serious notice of its own homegrown artists. (I refer, of course, to the Abstract Expressionists.) The tendency to relegate Art to the distaff side of our identity (and hence overcompensate for that with hyper-masculinity) is fully intertwined with our more mythical view of ourselves as wild west cowboys and the widely held opinion that art is for sissies. (This makes it all the more ironic that we see such a disparity in the high-level acknowledgment of women artists vs. that of men, but....) .

This tendency is underscored in many subtle ways, even in the fact that despite how it symbolizes an industry in which "nearly 6 million people make their living [and] contribute[s] more than $160 billion to our economy every year" we still see a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Metropolitan Museum as a job for the First Lady rather than the President of the United States himself. The view runs so deep that even the channels that might help change the perception (i.e., the press) are seemingly designed to perpetuate it, as András Szántó recently noted in the Art Newspaper:
Culture, especially in its rarefied incarnations, has never been a high priority for the mainstream press. Criticism is a strange bird in an enterprise devoted to “objectivity” and mass readership. And news bosses rarely care about “soft” arts stories. They are into “hard” reporting on wars and money and sport—boys’ stuff. [emphasis mine]
Some of this obviously hinges on the central myths of our culture. The fact that art takes reflection to do well and reflection is at odds with the shoot-from-the-hips, take-no-prisoner impulse we admire in our heroes (hence we get Captain Kirk rather than Captain Spock taking the helm of the USS Enterprise) doesn't help, I'm sure. But as artists are the ones best situated to redefine our culture, I can't help but wonder whether the art community isn't most to blame for not changing this.

Even as I write that, though, I realize that "changing this" can have two meanings. First is to replace the hyper-masculine central myths that define us. Second is to change the perception that art is at odds with those hyper-masculine myths. The AbExers apparently related to the myths and wanted to make art that celebrated them. The next generation of American artists (led by Rauschenberg, Johns and eventually Warhol [three gay men, mind you]) largely rejected the myths and their significance though. So perhaps there's an obvious gay vs. straight component at play here we'll have to sort out to get to the point where art isn't seen as something you send the First Lady to represent.

Consider this an open thread on sorting out the issues of why art is viewed as so nonmasculine in the US.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming....almost

I know the blogging has been lame around these parts lately. I plead insanity by route of being so f'ing busy it would have driven me over the edge to add one more task to my day. But things are settling down again and I expect to resume regular blogging tomorrow.

For today, please have a read of this highly entertaining interview by Qi Peng with Jennifer Dalton. It gives you insight into why we love working with Jen so much. Here's a taste:
qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption? Any thoughts on the Obama administration in relation to your viewpoint on history, social identity, and the arts scene?

Jennifer Dalton: I’ve been saying for a while I think that the downturn may be good for art, but bad for people in the arts, not to mention most other people as well. I think a lot of galleries are going to close, and a lot of artists will be hunkering down in day jobs for a while, if they’re lucky enough to have them. I do think that there could be a greater interest among artists in pursuing weird, un-sellable projects and that could be really fun. If you are interested in the stock market and bank situation, you should read or Thomas Geoghegan’s article in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, but beware that you may be unable to control your rage. I remain quite hopeful about Obama, I think he’s certainly our best hope for getting out of this mess, but that doesn’t mean he’ll succeed.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reminder : Modern Mondays at MoMA, May 18: An Evening with Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev

We'd love to see you there!

Modern Mondays: "Where is the cutting edge of the motion picture? Discover it first at MoMA. Building upon the Museum's long tradition of exploring cinematic experimentation, Modern Mondays is the new weekly showcase for innovation on screen. Engage with contemporary filmmakers and moving image artists, and rediscover landmark works that changed the way we experience film and media."

Film Screenings & Events
An Evening with Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev

Monday, May 18, 2009, 7:00 p.m.

Based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and trained in both film and visual art, Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev produce video installations that encapsulate everyday life in Central Asia, and their work has been exhibited at The Art Institute of Chicago (2007), the Venice and Singapore biennials, and Winkleman Gallery, New York. Shot along the ancient Silk Road connecting China and Kyrgyzstan with Western markets, the artists' videos portray the resourcefulness that defines this mountainous, poverty-stricken region. In conjunction with Asia Art Week, this program includes their Algorithm of Survival and Hope (2005), along with other recent work.
The theater entrance is at 11 West 53rd Street.


Friday, May 15, 2009


I got an email from an artist the other day who noted "I heard that a text message acronym has emerged. ITE for 'in this economy.'" With that handy abbreviation in my vocabulary database now, I can very quickly note that, IMO, TMI DNE ITE or, In my opinion, "too much information" does not exist in this economy. Indeed, garnering as much insight as you possibly can from others seems to be the best advice anyone has to offer on how to get through this.

On that note, I'm very happy to have been invited by Christa Blatchford to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, as part of their day-long conference on "Strategies for Artists During the Recession."
Saturday May 16, 9am-4:30pm

The economic crisis is having a large impact on the art world, but what does this mean for individual artists? What can artists do to prepare, survive, and even thrive during a recession? The Spring 2009 Business of Art Conference will look at the recession’s impact on the arts with input from art world professionals, accountants, artists and others.
I'm on a panel that begins at (oy vey) 9:45:
9:45-11:00am Panel: Assessing the Recession
Panelists: Sean Elwood, Creative Capital; Stephanie Howe, Artists Space; Kay Takeda, LMCC, and Edward Winkleman, Winkleman Gallery with Moderator: Christa Blatchford, NYFA
Description: This panel will explore how the recession has impacted the art world from the lens of the commercial gallery, the nonprofit exhibition space, the project funder and local arts council. Each panelist will be sharing their experiences, giving advice for artists and speaking about their thoughts on new directions.
Other panels include ones in which accountant Susan Lee "will focus on financial advice specific to an artists concerns in the recession"; in which artists "identify ways in which artists can navigate, and possibly re-position themselves and their practice during this changing economy"; and in which our pal Jonathan Melber, "the author of ART/WORK: Everything You Need To Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career will "explain what you need to write down--and why--when you consign work to a venue, donate to an auction or sell from your studio."

I know the registration for this event closed on Wednesday (I'm sorry for only posting about it now), but it might be worth contacting their Events information line to see if anyone canceled (I can see their events people making a voodoo doll of me to torment now).

I'm pleased to note as well that, in response to artist feedback, NYFA lowered the cost of this conference (yeah for NYFA!). Here's the rest of the info (though, again, with apologies, I'm not sure what the odds are of getting in now, but...if they have any spaces left, I'm sure they'll be happy to hear from you):
The Low Down:
Strategies for Artists During the Recession
Saturday May 16, 9am-4:30pm

The Low Down will start with a candid panel discussion about the effects of the current economy on the art world from the perspective of galleries, nonprofits, foundations and city government. An afternoon seminar will provide concrete financial planning advice geared toward the needs of artists. Th afternoon will start with a panel of artists sharing their experiences and new ideas of how to navigate and redefining the art world. The day will conclude with a discussion on what contracts you can use to protect you in uncertain times.

Barney Building
Department of Art and Art Professions
New York University Steinhardt School of Education
34 Stuyvesant Street
New York, NY 10003

Artist Rate: $55 per artist
In response to your feedback, and with the economy in mind NYFA has lowered the artist rate fee from $95 to $55

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nothing Will Escape the Internets' Insatiable Appetite

Due to an earnest belief that it's best to be the one to expose such things yourself, I'll point out (with a fair bit of embarrassment, but perhaps not too much) that someone has posted a short film I made while studying at SVA on YouTube. It was my first and only attempt at writing, directing, and producing, and the production values are simply shameful, but what the hell... feel free to critique (this is why I became a dealer instead):

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Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation, "White on White: The Pilot (just like being there)" @ Winkleman Gallery


Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation
White on White: The Pilot
(just like being there)

May 15 – June 20, 2009
Opening: Friday, May 15, 6-8 PM

Founded on a premise of 60's-era-evil-think-tank-meets-traveling circus, the group of collaborators known as Rufus Corporation have embarked on an expedition-cum-artwork that morphs into a cinema verité thriller as it moves from Moscow to the Caspian. They encounter time capsules and testaments to both past and present failed utopias. Their search, as they log the banalities of daily life, is for places, devices and people that are prescient as premonitions for the future.

In July 2007, inspired by Kazimir Malevich’s manifestos and the conundrums of ‘space', Eve Sussman, Claudia de Serpa Soares, and Jeff Wood attempted to gain access to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the middle of the Central Asian steppe (the highly secured facility that is the heart of the Russian space program and the launch site of Yuri Gagarin, first man in orbit). Their goal was to resolve Wood's hankering to 'go to space,' a desire he felt was perfectly in line with Malevich's declaration "I am the chairman of space.” Stopped at the gate and detained by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), fingerprinted, iris scanned, and debriefed, they were later released from the Baikonur police station onto the platform of a train bound for the Aral Sea — site of endless salt residue, where roaming camels and horses rest in the shade of rusting hulks in what locals call the ‘ship graveyard’, one of the biggest environmental disasters known to man. They continued on to a city described to them as the 'arm-pit' of the steppe. An ordered numerical Soviet era utopia built where the desert meets the Caspian. A perfectly planned environment that lacked the essential substance of human life: water.

So began Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation's latest venture. Known for their previous projects 89 Seconds at Alcázar and The Rape of the Sabine Women, Rufus is in production on an expedition-cum-art-work that will culminate in a cinema verité thriller, White on White, that they describe as an improvised film noir culled from everyday life on the road between Moscow and the Caspian. Over the next year, episodes of the project will be released as "TV shows" using every possible platform, including the art gallery, as a means for broadcast. Similarly, cinematic convention is just one of the devices employed. The series also includes photographs, storyboards, installations and sculptures, each episode inevitably ending with " be continued...."

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present the first of these episodes: "White on White: The Pilot (just like being there)," which will feature two artworks - points of departure on the subjects of time, space, past, future and Sussman's constant subject 'dailiness'. The centerpiece of White on White: The Pilot (the title a word play on the television pilot and famed astronaut and test pilot Yuri Gagarin) is Yuri's Office, a set for the upcoming TV show. Based on Sussman's photograph, Yuri's Office, this detailed recreation, by Sussman and Nicolas Locke, is inspired by the museumification of the real office of Gagarin. The installation takes on the desire to freeze time, to impose cryogenics on space when it is still untenable to freeze people. A second video installation How to tell the future from the Past, v.2 (HtttFftPv.2), by Eve Sussman and Angela Christlieb – shot during a 72-hour train journey across the steppe – conceptualizes time with the manifestation of humanity as the constant, as daily life – history in the making – runs backwards and forwards simultaneously. HtttFftPv.2 elevates the characteristics of humanity that transcend time, exposing us, un-empowered against it. Both pieces act as a visual 'captain's log', marking time, as if to build a dam of toothpicks against the deluge. To read more go to:

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or


"On the twelfth of april, 1961, a Soviet spacecraft called 'Vostok' was put into orbit around the earth; and I was aboard."

"Before the flight I received the appropriate training. The training program was designed by our scientists. I studied the technology as well and was well prepared for spaceflight.
"Before the flight I felt excellent. I was confident that the flight would be successful. The technology was perfect and very reliable; and neither my colleagues, nor the scientists, engineers, and technicians, nor myself, ever doubted that the spaceflight would be a success.
"During the flight, my condition was excellent.
"On the active segment at the time of launch, the effect of overloads, vibration, and other stresses had no depressing effects on my condition; and I was able to operate efficiently according to my flight program.
"After the ship reached orbit and separated from the carrier rocket, weightlessness set in. Initially this was an unusual sensation, even though, briefly, I had experienced it previously. But I soon grew accustomed to the weightlessness, and continued to execute my program. It is my subjective opinion that the effect of weightlessness does not affect the body's ability to work or perform physiological functions.
"In the course of the flight I conducted effective work according to the program. During the flight I took food and water and maintained continuous radio communication with the Earth through several channels, both by telephone and by telegraph. I observed the operation of the space equipment and reported to the Earth, wrote down the data into my log, and recorded them on a tape recorder. I felt quite well and retained my ability to work during the entire period of weightlessness. Then, at a certain time according to the flight program, the command was given to land. The braking engine was activated and the speed was set that was necessary for the ship to land. The landing was conducted according to the flight program, and I was happy to meet our friendly Soviet people on the ground. The landing occurred at the programmed site.
"I would like to say a few words about the observations I conducted while in space.
"The Earth from an altitude of 175-327 kilometers can be seen quite well. The view of the Earth's surface is similar to what one observes from a flight at high altitude on a jet plane. Large mountain ranges, big rivers, large forest tracts, shorelines, and island are all clearly discernible. One can see the clouds covering the Earth's surface very well, the shadow of these clouds on the Earth. The sky is completely black; and against the background of this black sky the stars appear somewhat brighter and more distinct. The Earth has a very characteristic, very beautiful blue halo, which is seen well when you observe the horizon. There is a smooth color transition from tender blue, to blue, to dark blue and purple, and then to the completely black color of the sky. It is a very beautiful transition.
"As the spaceship emerges from the shadow, the sun disappears and it is seen translucent through the Earth's atmosphere. Then the halo acquires a slightly different tinge. At the surface near the Earth's horizon, one could observe the bright orange color, which then passed through the entire rainbow spectrum to light and dark blue, purple, and the black sky.
"The ship enters the Earth's shadow very quickly. All of a sudden it is dark, and you can see nothing. I did not observe anything on the Earth's surface at that time because nothing could be seen. Apparently I was flying over the ocean, because if there were large cities, then probably city lights would be visible.
"The stars can be seen quite well. The emergence from the Earth's shadow is also very sharp and quick.
"I easily endured the effects of space flight because I had been well trained. At the present time I feel very well.
"Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR Major
Y.A. Gagarin 15 April 1961."

The 'Columbus letter' of space travel:


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Parsing the First Auction Results

So Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale last night didn't make its total low estimate and brought in only 47,033,500 USD (estimated $52–72.2 million). That result seems due more to the fact that of the 49 lots in the sale, 10 (or 20%) did not sell, than too many of those selling not reaching their estimates though. (Sothebys notes that those 10 were "withdrawn, passed, or unsold as of the publication of this list.")

New York Magazine's Alexandra Peers pointed out that fewer of the artists at the Contemporary sales are even close to being younger than Jesus, to coin a phrase, this time round, but two of those who fall in the "under 50" category brought in more than their high estimates (once you add in the buyer's premium, at least). Interestingly, both were women as well:
LOT 49

B. 1969

150,000—200,000 USD
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 206,500 USD

LOT 47


700,000—900,000 USD
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 1,202,500 USD
Surprisingly, one of the lots that didn't sell (and I'm not sure why, so don't read too much into this) was
1953 - 1997

dated 12/84 on the reverse
oil and metallic paint on six panels
87 3/4 x 70 in. 222 x 178 cm.
800,000–1,200,000 USD
The other MK in the sale, did fairly well, though:

1953 - 1997

3,500,000—4,500,000 USD
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 4,114,500 USD
A lovely little Cy Twombly drawing (he's the artist I'd be waving my paddle like a banshee to win at just about every auction) did very well too:
LOT 24


500,000—700,000 USD
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 992,500 USD
What didn't sell (and again, there can be multiple reasons for this) included,
  • A Robert Gober sculpture, Est. 2,500,000–3,500,000 USD
  • A fabulous Richard Diebenkorn painting, Est. 1,800,000–2,500,000 USD
  • An Ad Reinhardt painting, Est. 500,000–700,000 USD
  • A Robert Rauschenberg painting, Est. 4,000,000–6,000,000 USD
  • A Richard Serra sculpture, Est. 1,500,000–2,000,000 USD
  • A Frank Stella painting, Est. 1,200,000–1,800,000 USD
  • A Dan Flavin sculpture, Est. 300,000–400,000 USD
  • Another Frank Stella painting, Est. 700,000–1,000,000 USD
  • A Piotr Uklanski painting, Est. 200,000–300,000 USD
Except for the Uklanski, this list is entirely comprised of very established artists. And with the younger women above and this lot's results:
B. 1979

100,000—150,000 USD
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 386,500 USD
I'm not so sure the jury is in on whether only the established brand names are still selling. It is true that the auction sales have far fewer pieces by younger artists than we saw just one year ago, but that suggests to me more that what the collectors (those who are keeping their Hirst and Murakami's on ice) are buying is the hype, not necessarily that they're not buying younger artists.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Keeping Private Collections Private

A frustrated collector sent me an email the other day and agreed to let me re-post it here for discussion. I've changed some of the details to maintain the collector's anonymity:
My name is X and I live in City Y. I am writing today to discuss my perceived ethical concern after a recent purchase from an unnamed NYC Gallery. Given that your blog fairly covers interesting aspects of the art world, I thought that you may want to consider this scenario.

Essentially, an unnamed NYC Gallery discussed the particulars (artist and purchase price) of my recent acquisition with a gallery in City Y, who in turn, discussed it with other galleries in City Y. The upshot was that I felt accosted and blindsided by the City Y galleries for not “purchasing locally” and (unbelievably) buying this piece when I had been offered others pieces from different artists. I do not know if it is normal practice within the gallery sphere to discuss purchase particulars with other galleries. However it was my expectation to have the details of my purchase remain private. Herein is the ethical issue: are galleries expected to keep details of collector acquisitions private or is it considered a valid business practice to discuss purchases with other galleries?

Let my explain the particulars. A particular artist was recently included in a group show in City Y. In discussion with the gallery owner, I told him that I was interested in obtaining a piece by this particular artist. However the work on display were from a previous series, and I was not interested in buying any of the pieces on show. But after determining that the same artist was showing new work in NYC, I purchased a piece from the NYC show. Subsequently, on my next visit to the City Y gallery, I was told of my NYC purchase and berated for not purchasing locally and that I should have purchased this piece through his gallery (at a higher price, no doubt). Additionally, a gallery owner in the same City Y building (who I work with frequently) discussed my recent NYC purchase!

Somehow I feel violated that my personal business transactions were shared with others. Is this normal practice?
There are three issues in this scenario I think it makes sense to discuss here:

1. As I responded to this collector, the second most important currency in the art world, after art, is gossip. In other words, I think it's fair to expect that dealers will discuss who is buying what unless a collector asks them not to. It can help to sell other work. Many times, if the press asks about who bought what (and they do), a dealer will contact the collector first to see if it's OK to share that information in that public a forum (and most often they say yes), but at art world dinner parties and such that type of information generally is frequently shared, and often by the collectors themselves. In other words, it gets out there.

If it's important to you that the terms of your acquisitions remain private, simply tell your dealer. I have several collectors who have asked us not to reveal what they've purchased to anyone, and we respect that. I also have collectors happy to have their purchases released to the press. The important thing for a dealer is to respect the collector's wishes, but the important thing for a collector is to make those wishes known.

2. Sharing how much someone paid for something is less kosher, but here again, unless a collector specifically asks for their dealings to remain private, such information has a tendency to work its way through the grapevine. It may not be the art dealer themselves who shares it, but all kinds of people find themselves in back offices and overhearing phone calls, etc. Any given collector may have any number of reasons why it's ideal to let the art world know they're shelling out big bucks for art, though. This kind of gossip can serve to open doors more quickly. It's a very case-by-case issue, but, again, the collector's preference should be honored.

3. Regardless of whether a collector wishes their transactions to remain private or not, though, it's always bad form IMHO to berate someone for exercising their freedom to buy what they want from whom they want. I understand from friends with galleries in other cities how frustrating it can be to try to change the sense some collectors have that buying in New York is preferable to buying locally. The case above suggests the NYC gallery had the series the collector wanted, but in other instances, it's widely known that among some collectors the perception is that NYC galleries tend to get any artist's better work. This is not universally true, however, and while I always want the best work I can get from the artists we work with, I understand how important it is for their work to shine in every context it's seen in, so I encourage our artists to distribute strong work into each opportunity.

All of which is besides the point if you offend a collector by berating them, however. We all know the business is challenging at the moment, but it will become even more challenging if collectors stop enjoying the process of looking at and buying art.

OK, so I'm on this ice with this next bit, I realize, not knowing the full details of the situation, but I'll offer this response all the same, just in case it played out as described:

Personally, I feel the dealer in the gallery in City Y who scolded this collector missed an opportunity. Although I understand the anguish of missing out on a sale, I would have seen the collector's interest in an artist I exhibited (even in a group exhibition) as a chance to get closer to them, rather than push them away. Yes, that's second prize in this particular round, but the door was open to helping them connect the dots and see why getting a piece from the previous series too (the work you had access to) would strengthen their collection. That and $2.00 may get you a coffee today, but the alternative (berating the collector) clearly left this person much less likely to come back at all. Moreover, what's really potentially lost here, if I read this correctly, especially if word gets back to the artist that the gallery responded this way, is the opportunity to work directly with that artist in the future.

Now, before any of the collectors who've bought from us get alarmed, please note that in many cases dealers have much more incentive to keep such matters to themselves than to share it with anyone. Furthermore, it may not be the dealer, but a gallery visitor who spreads the news (having seen an invoice on a desk, overheard a conversation, talked with an art handler who was in the room, etc.). Still, gossip is a big part of the art world, and so it pays to be clear if it's important to you that your private collection remains private. A good dealer will ensure that that happens.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Anatomy of a Fledgling Contemporary "Art World" : Open Thread

The "art world" in the United States is much larger than it was only 50 years ago or so. There are now many more opportunities for people to create, exhibit, curate, collect and write about art. Not only is it conceivable (if, perhaps recently, a bit less likely) for an artist to go straight from university to a commercial career that earns them a decent living, but there is a structure in place that serves to nurture those artists still working up to that goal. This structure is stronger in some regions of the country than others, but nationally speaking it's remarkably well developed.

What an accomplishment this is became much more apparent to me, as did (in particular) how much we take that structure for granted, in talking with Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (whom we call M&G for short, and who we're delighted to have back with us in New York for a few weeks) about a new initiative they've launched in their hometown, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

To appreciate the significance of this initiative, though, a quick bit of background is probably helpful. M&G went to great art universities in Moscow and then-Leningrad, having grown up when Kyrgyzstan was still a republic of the Soviet Union. This was typical for artists in the outlying regions of the USSR, and seen as an advantage of the socialist system there (regardless of where you were born, if you had artistic talent, you got a grade A education). But the concentration of the Soviet art education structure in a few Russian metropolises resulted in virtually no higher art education opportunities being developed elsewhere and thus no realistic options for non-Russian artists at university age once the Soviet Union collapsed.

There were, of course, a network of Russian-trained artists who had returned home to the former republics, but no structure in place to train the next generation and, for all but a few of the lucky countries with oil or other expensive natural resources, no funds to launch one.

At the point they are in their career, M&G would typically be expected to move to Europe or the US, but they choose to remain in Kyrgyzstan and work diligently to bring the rest of the global art community to their country (with a series of highly acclaimed international biennials in Bishkek) and try to build a structure for the next generation of Kyrgyz artists. This isn't easy. Not only is Kyrgyzstan a rather poor nation, but, again, there's not much of a foundation for doing so.

But so important is this mission to the husband-wife team that they often put their own careers on the back burner to further it. One recent effort in this mission was the foundation of
the Bishkek-based ArtEast School of Contemporary Art. It was a pilot program only, supported generously by Arts Collaboratory (which was established by Hivos and the DOEN Foundation) and it was conceived as follows:
The School of Contemporary Art is pilot project of ArtEast. Duration is 6 months (January -June 2009). Supervisors are Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev.

The main purpose of the project is maximal adaptation of higher art education (bachelor degree) to the World level of education using the effective methods of education.

Educational program includes:
- Theoretical part (lectures and discussions on the history of modern and contemporary art, the main tendencies and directions)
- Practical part (different skills for implementation of own art work, articulation of own statement and own projects)

M&G told me that the pilot culminated in an exhibition at the French Embassy in Bishkek and that they hope to expand upon it to include arts writers/critics next.

This led us to a conversation about what exactly goes into the making of a Contemporary "art world" structure in any country. What are the important foundations and then the next steps. Would, for example, I asked, the school branch out to include curatorial studies? Gulnara said, no time soon. That you needed a fairly large system to support individuals focusing on curating, as opposed to having people curate in addition to making art or writing about art.

That led me to asking what they thought was the right timing/role of commercial art galleries. They indicated that a fledgling gallery had launched recently in Bishkek but it followed a bit of a collective-style format. Artist-funded, it rented out the space to local artists for exhibitions. Sales, as you might expect, were rare.

All of which got me to wondering about the most effective order of building such a world. Like those computer games in which you found a colony and have to make basic decisions about where to build the transporation hub and where to build your defenses against invaders, always with an eye toward the most efficient path for growth of course, I wondered how many artists and exhibition venues you need before it makes sense to have someone specialize on criticism. At what point does having curatorial experts become sustainable? Is there a rational order to such progressions, or is each new "art world" unique?

I don't mean to make light of M&G's efforts in Bishkek, mind you. Their project remains one of the most impressive efforts anywhere in the world, IMO. In particular, given how remote their hometown is--it's 27 hours door to door from New York--it's fairly amazing to me to think how far their dedication has taken them (they're screening and discussing their work at MoMA next Monday, by the way...please stop in if you can). I simply see their goal of building a support system for Kyrgyz artists from the ground up as an opportunity to think about whether there are any methods/paths more successful than others.

Consider this an open thread on what it means to build a contemporary "art world."

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Friday, May 08, 2009

William Powhida (with a cameo by Jennifer Dalton) in the New York Times

For someone recently released from a Thai jail (under circumstances that may or may not have included a State Department promise that he would never return to that Southeastern nation), Mr. Powhida gets a rather respectable review in today's New York Times. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Holland Cotter provides a response that's pretty damn funny in its own right:
‘The Writing Is on the Wall’
637 West 27th Street
Through May 16

William Powhida, art world vigilante, virtuoso draftsman, compulsive calligrapher, fantasist autobiographer and recently self-announced gallery owner and art dealer, has a semi-solo show at Schroeder-Romero well worth catching.

As in the past, Mr. Powhida, who lives and works in Brooklyn, provides an updated rogues’ gallery of New York art world celebrities in a salon-style display of dozens of deft graphite portraits based on Internet photos of openings, parties, galas, etc. Wall of fame? Wall of shame? He refrains from comment. But art speaks for itself, or so we’ve been told, and you can make of these tawdry-looking types what you will.

The rest of the main gallery is given over to a first-person, handwritten account by a William Powhida who may or may not be the artist (the gallery’s news release addresses the confusion), about a stint in a Thai jail where the writer undergoes chemical detoxification, among other indignities. The report makes for sorry reading, though the technical skill and stamina that must have gone into producing it are awesome.

This leaves the artist’s role as co-director of a start-up gallery to reckon with. (His partner in the enterprise is Jennifer Dalton, an artist who has an excellent solo show next door at Winkleman Gallery, through Saturday.) The new space, currently housed at Schroeder-Romero, is called SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWildenRosenGosian Gallery, and exists a few years in the future, after the Chelsea art world as we know it has been wiped from the planet by bad economics, low morale, shifts in fashion and public indifference to the latest tweak of a tweak called “new work.”

Looking exceedingly D.I.Y., the gallery insists that it will have its debut with a group show called “Art-Pocalypto 2012” featuring only crummy digital prints of “real art” in unlimited editions, available for preposterous prices.

Ambitiously, Mr. Powhida and Ms. Dalton will also be exhibiting their stable of artists — basically anyone who walks in the door — at ArtBaselMiamiDocumentaSiteSantaFeWhitneyBiennialeVeneziaNadaPulseScope the same year. It all sounds a bit iffy, I know, but it’s a plan. So if you’re still hanging tight with art three years hence, be there. HOLLAND COTTER
Congrats to Bill (and Jen)!

Also, don't miss James Kalm's opening reception piece on their shows:


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Maybe It's Not Entirely Their Fault, But... posts some striking comparisons on their site today, juxtaposing last year's Spring Contemporary Art auction results with this year's estimates.
Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale
This year: May 12, 2009
Est. $52–72.2 million
49 lots
Last year: May 14, 2008
Achieved $320.64 million ($362 million including premium)
85 lots

Christie's Post War and Contemporary Evening Sale
This year: May 13, 2009
Est. $71.5–104.5 million
54 lots
Last year: May 13, 2008
Achieved $294 million ($331.42 million including premium)
57 lots

Phillips de Pury Contemporary Art Sale Part 1
This year: May 14, 2009
Est. $12.2–17 million
43 lots
Last year: May 15, 2008
Achieved $51.35 million ($59 million including premium)
65 lots
What these numbers suggest is that far fewer collectors are willing to risk that their contemporary art will flop at auction and so they're hanging onto the work that just a year ago they would have considered flipping. Wise move for collectors, no doubt, but it's hard to look at what that means for artists and not think how right David Zwirner is about striving to keep living artists' work out of the auction system. In the very informative interview with him at the Wall Street Journal's site, he suggests:
I’d like a 25-year moratorium on selling living artists’ work at auction. It would give artists time to develop their work without worrying about auction prices. Auction houses got greedy and wanted in on selling new work—right up to the infamous Hirst sale when they stepped in and played art gallery. I don’t like it, and my artists don’t like it. When a piece they’ve sold is flipped for $1.5 million at auction, they don’t get anything out of it—and they’re left standing in front of blank canvases worrying about money when that should be the last thing on their minds.
There are far too many collectors (meaning far too many reasons for why they choose to put work up for auction) to lay the blame for what can happen to living artists' markets when their work goes to auction prematurely entirely at the feet of those who make the market possible in the first place. Personally, I blame the auction houses for this problem. They're the ones focused, as Tobias Meyer infamously said, on making art "expensive," seemingly without any other concerns for that artist or her career.

Don't get me wrong. For work by artists no longer with us (meaning by artists no longer tasked with facing a blank canvas), I see nothing wrong with that. When it comes to contemporary art though, the auction houses should participate with the galleries in ensuring that artists aren't left standing in front of blank canvases worrying about money, if only so the artists aren't saddled with doubt and money worries caused by unrealistic auction prices and can continue to make more work that will eventually, years from now, come back up at auction.

So what does this mean in practical terms, though? Should contemporary art auctions be canceled? Should auction houses fund campaigns for droit de suite laws? Should auction houses do what Mr. Zwirner suggests and refuse to resell any work less than 25 years old?

I'm not sure any of those is the right answer, actually. At least not on their own.

What I feel auction houses should do first, though, is consider that through their own greed they're often killing off the golden-egg laying goose (just today, for example, the S&P cut Sotheby’s bonds to junk status). With that harsh new reality as a foundation for exploring a change in business model, then, perhaps they could try a series of approaches to handle work by living artists differently from that of dead artists, taking up education as part of their mission. Collectors who need to sell their contemporary art surely deserve options, but when the only message the auction houses are sending during a boom is that their raison d'etre is to make art "expensive," it can't help but skew expectations (and the higher you fly, the harder you fall). Initiatives to balance out the impact of wildy unrealistic hammer prices for living artists could be part of such an approach, such as, perhaps, issuing a joint statement with an artist's galleries explaining why one particular piece might be different from others (provenance, critical acclaim, quality, etc.) to help prevent a stampede to auction with lesser works.

I don't know. Obviously such efforts would seem (in the short term) to undermine their own business interests, but with today's junk status news as evidence, it's the long term they should be more focused on in my opinion.

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