Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gender Disparity in MoMA's Collection: Rays of Hope and Other Considerations

For some reason, Facebook (FB) limits the number of "friends" you can accept to 5000. That might seem high enough, but compared with Twitter (in which Ellen DeGeneres, for example, currently has 2.1 million followers) it makes the social network a highly limited means of communication.

Knowing that one of my favorite "friends" to follow on FB, the art critic Jerry Saltz, has reached his limit of 5,000, I wanted to reprint a report he posted there recently because I believe it deserves as wide an audience as possible. If you're already among Jerry's FB friends then you know he's been leading a truly spirited debate about the disparity between work (made before 1970) by men and women on exhibition at MoMA. Recently, and rather bravely, Ann Temkin (MoMA's Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture) met with Jerry to discuss the issue. The following is re-printed with Mr. Saltz's permission:

Jerry Saltz meeting with MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Ann Temkin.

Jerry Saltz
June 29, 2009

Last week I met with MoMA’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Ann Temkin. We talked about the two week discussion (that took place on my Facebook Page) about the lack of representation of women artists on the fourth and fifth floors of the museum’s permanent collection (of work completed before 1970). Of the 135 artists installed on these floors only 19 are women, 6%. Temkin asked that this meeting be “off the record” but agreed that I would report on its perimeters and my impressions.

The meeting was cordial, relaxed, open, and serious. It began at 5:00PM and lasted a little under 90 minutes. It took place midweek at a bar in a midtown restaurant. I didn’t take notes on, or record the conversation. The restaurant was almost empty when we started; it was almost full when we left.

At no time was Temkin defensive, dismissive, or in the least hostile. She agreed with some points and was not shy about disagreeing with others. As I wrote many times in my FB posts, Temkin confirmed that she and every person at MoMA, from the Director on down, are well aware of the problem of the lack of representation by women artists on these floors. She stated at the outset that the museum is committed and determined to rectify this.

Temkin then took major issue with the focus and reasoning of my main argument about female representation at MoMA. She stated that concentrating only on the fourth and fifth floors of Painting & Sculpture, perpetuated and reinforced a flawed stereotype and prejudice about the history of modern art. Excluding drawing, design, printmaking, photography, etc. (areas where women are represented and made great contributions) reinforces an outmoded and strictly “masculinist” approach to art by privileging painting and sculpture.

At first as she said this my heart sank. Of course she’s right. I answered that it is MoMA above all art institutions that reinforces and maintains this separation between the disciplines. Although it is growing more common to see mediums being mixed at MoMA (August Sander now hangs in the gallery in P & S devoted to the German Neue Sachlichkeit), MoMA established and still exhibits the disciplines more-or-less separately and not equally. There is far more square footage situated far more centrally and prominently for P & S than any of the other disciplines. I said it would be fantastic to see the collapse of MoMA’s artificial barriers between the disciplines (“MoMA tear down this wall!”), but suspected that this wouldn’t be in the cards any time soon. In addition, MoMA’s collection of painting and sculpture is preeminent; it is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Therefore it is on these two crucial floors that the so-called “official story” of Modernism is represented. This is MoMA’s boon and its bane.

This brought us back to the main issue. Temkin stated that work by women artists has been rotated into the collection over the course of the last two years, and that the FB protestors and I were not taking this into account. I acknowledged this but said that even with these substitutions and changes the percentage of women artists on these floors did not rise, and that these adjustments weren’t enough. (If you count the works of art, rather than artists, the figure drops to four percent women.) Temkin then said that talking about the collection primarily in terms of numbers obscures larger important changes. She cited the current installation of a Louise Bourgeois sculpture at the entrance of the fourth floor. The Bourgeois sculpture is being given pride-of-place, the space on this floor that Cezanne has long enjoyed on the fifth floor. Bourgeois is being presented as a touchstone figure. I conceded that it was true that by only counting the number of women artists does not reflect structural changes. Still, this didn’t seem like a solution.

I stated that the problem behind the problem of the lack of women on these floors is the 875 million dollar (almost criminal) failure on the part of those who built the new museum to provide enough space for this crucial portion of the institution (let alone other departments). Until the space can be substantially increased the museum is in a terrible double bind: It has to display its extraordinary collection and at the same time allow modernism to live, and not calcify in a masterpiece-by-masterpiece
installation of 94% male artists. With the economy the way it is, moreover, it’s unlikely we’ll see new space built within the next decade (the same day we met a community board reinforced its objections to MoMA’s future building plans). This puts even more pressure on the museum, now.

What to do? Temkin talked convincingly about how important it was to change the perception of these two floors, away from being seen as permanent to fluid installations of reappraisal and experimentation. She said that unlike all the previous decades the museum intends to alter these two floors on a more regular basis. Even “important work” might temporarily be de-installed. This would open up the story, expand it, and allow the focus of the collection to continually shift. Temkin suggested that whole rooms could be dismantled and all new work put on view. When I asked for an example she talked about de-installing the monographic gallery of Joseph Beuys and replacing it with a gallery devoted to late-1960s artists Beuys, Bruce Nauman, and Eva Hesse.

MoMA desperately needs this to play with its collection. However, Temkin’s example perpetuates yet another problem plaguing MoMA. Beuys, Nauman, and Hesse are all bona fide top-dogs; the A-list as art history. I love them all but curators have to take more chances and not just default to the same artists. Other artists were working at extremely high levels in the late 1960s. It would be amazing to see that MoMA gallery with any combination of H.C. Westermann, Jay De Feo, Jess, Yvonne Rainer, Benny Andrews, Dorothy Iannone, Jim Nutt, Bruce Conner, Vija Celmins, Barclay Hendricks, Adrian Piper, Ken Price, or Martin Ramirez. And let’s not forget that Picasso was one of the best artists of the 1960s (or that Henry Darger was in the process of working on his epic masterpiece). MoMA could hang an entire floor with only the late work of artists. This would show that art is about 30-year careers not just 30-month careers.

This brought us to what for me was an emotional turning point in the conversation. We began talking about so-called “institutional time.” I said that institutional time, as she described it, was “glacial” and “too slow” to address the serious problems plaguing MoMA. Temkin talked about how every change at MoMA has implications and repercussions and that over time even small changes and minor adjustments make significant differences. “Art is long” she seemed to say. My reaction was that, time is short. I said that I believed that if enough isn’t done soon, the changes MoMA is talking about will come about when MoMA and Modernism have come to be seen as retrograde and the museum is seen as stuck in the mud.

I then brought up the possibility of a much larger change, the re-installation of the entire fourth floor. Temkin said that she has been seriously studying this for some time. She is considering having the entire floor devoted to one stylistic post-war period. This seemed hopeful. Then she added that this sort of plan could be implemented in three or four years. I complained, “Why not sooner?” After hearing her thoughts about considerations having to do with loans, schedules, restorations, etc., I said again that while I thought that revamping whole floors was a fantastic idea, the time was now.

We looked at each for a while, then at our watches. We left the bar and shared a cab uptown. We talked about summer plans and recent travels. We got out and said a friendly goodbye.

As I opened my umbrella and walked away I thought about how extraordinary this meeting was. Past MoMA curators of Painting and Sculpture would never have met with a critic who started a kerfuffle on Facebook (or anywhere else). I thought about how absolutely open and aware Temkin was of the situation. Then I thought about how she sees her responsibility as opposed to the way I see it. She is trying to do the best for MoMA, its history, audiences, and art. She is taking a long view. I value these things. I love MoMA. But I also see the situation as dire and deteriorating. And we had barely even discussed the thing that got all of this started; how to dramatically raise the percentage of women artists exhibited on these tow floors and not have it be about tokenism or quotas. To me, MoMA is becoming like a madman who thinks he is King; it is telling a story that by now only it believes.

As I walked through the rain I thought about how much I admired Temkin but that the problems at MoMA are so vast and inter-connected that if any change is to come it will likely come slowly, by piecemeal, and incrementally. The irreparable space limitation, a mindset still guided my mediums, the problem of exhibiting mainly well-know names, the issue of having so few women; each of these is gigantic in itself. Each will take time and effort to correct. When I think about how this museum built too small during the richest period in the history of the world I grow furious and morose.

As the rain started coming down harder I realized that despite Temkin’s valiant efforts, and the museum’s dedication to alter its course, that we can no longer look to institutions like this for change. Institutions have different responsibilities, mindsets, priorities, pocketbooks, histories, and internal clocks. They’re big, slow, and institutional. Change is going to have to come from all over and be done by everyone.

This is already beginning to happen. Locally, so many New York galleries have been doing such a tremendous job over the last decade (ditto out of town museums). The same day I met with Temkin I saw a wonderful show at Casey Kaplan Gallery in Chelsea about Russian-Georgian Modernism. A young Swiss curator, unable to get this work out of Georgia, mounted a show of catalogs, reproductions, Xeroxes, texts, and films. There was fantastic art by artists I’d never heard of, artists who it would be spectacular to see integrated into MoMA’s installation. At Kaplan (more than at MoMA) modernism breathed anew. The same thing happened this season when mega-mogul/puppet-master Larry Gagosian mounted two tremendous historical shows; one of late Picasso (that attracted over 100,000 people!), the other, a sprawling survey of Piero Manzoni. Carol Greene, Gavin Brown, Guild & Greyshkul, Matthew Marks, Barbara Gladstone, 303, Paula Cooper, and many other gallerists have done the same. The depth of the pockets is all very different between these galleries but the results have been thrilling.

In the meantime a new generation of a museum-going public and artists may be about to not see art they might otherwise benefit from. As MoMA tries to adjust all of its other problems it’s unclear how the woman issue will play out. As long as this is the case, as long as half the story is not told, more people will turn away from MoMA or see it merely as suffocating. I believe this is already beginning to happen. Artist Cheryl Donegan recently remarked, “Modernism should not be seen as Biblical; it should be seen as Talmudic.” Meaning the bible is static. Talmudic tradition (which is more Wikipedia than Encyclopedia) involves thousands of people making comments in the margins, debating issues and ideas, shaping tradition, changing it, and keeping it alive.

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Health Insurance: The Great Inequalizer

Of all the issues currently on President Obama's plate, few have as direct an impact on more people in the art world in the US than health care reform. Because of the small-business nature of the art industry and the staggering costs of buying health insurance in this country for small businesses, I know more uninsured middle-aged adults (artists, dealers, independent curators, freelance writers, etc.) in the art world than I do in any other realm across the country (and I count some rather un-wealthy folks amongst my friends and family).

Having lived in Europe for three years (and having encountered public health there as many times [once being hospitalized for four days]), I saw both the best (a truly wonderful hospital in Southampton England where they fed me ice cream in a private room and didn't even ask for my signature on any paperwork) and the worst (an emergency room in Northern London where the staff were clearly overworked and clearly short on patience...but then again, that describes the emergency rooms in any major city I've seen), but all in all, I was convinced that Americans' fears of public health are moronically overdeveloped. It can work.

Metaphorically, public health options are like the subway or Central Park. They are great equalizers that help keep a Democracy well oiled. Sure it would be nice if everyone could be driven to work in their own chauffeur-driven limo, but even if we had the money for that, we certainly don't have the road. To keep the country moving, there are times when a nation's people must accept that it's not all about them individually. Indeed, if you need to wait your turn to see the doctor, like every other citizen, despite your 6-figure day job, you begin to have it sink in a bit more that you're all in this together and adjust other parts of your life accordingly.

Now the strongest argument against public plans for US health care reform is the fear (and it's a legitimate one, but not an insurmountable one) that should the government offer public health care as an alternative to private insurance (thereby eating into the uber-powerful insurance monopoly's profits), the insurance companies will respond by dumping even more high-risk clients off their rosters thereby increasing their own profits and overwhelming the public systems. Over at the American Prospect, Paul Starr has been arguing just this point:
The public plan will likely end up as a dumping ground for high-cost, mostly low-income people if the exchanges are open only to the individual and small-group market and have inadequate power to risk-adjust premiums or to regulate private insurers' marketing and benefit design.

In other words, we could get a public plan that instead of "disciplining" private insurers, as the president said last week, actually buttresses their dominance of the system. Watch what you wish for.
The only thing is (and again, if Americans would simply travel more or at least pay more attention to the rest of the world), other countries have already sorted out how to deal with this practice (called "to cream" ...as in taking the cream off the top of the potential client base and letting the government handle the rest), as Josh Marshall shares in a quote from one of his readers:
The current health care reforms drafts, at least in the Senate, would create regional risk pools that drive out the incentive to "cream." In short, if Insurance Company A insured only the lowest-risk half of a given pool, it would have to pay a subsidy that goes to the company (or public plan) insuring the highest-risk members of the pool. In other words, we would drive out the incentive to cream, while also making it illegal to deny coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition. CMS would manage that risk-balancing process, and has apparently become quite good at it. The Netherlands does something similar, so successfully that insurers actually seek out diabetics to insure.
Now over the weekend, President Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod said something rather alarming to a lot of people who believe a public option is a good and necessary step in providing health care to all Americans:
White House senior adviser David Axelrod says President Barack Obama would like to have a public option – or government-run insurance plan – as part of a health reform package, but will not insist on it.
Personally, I see this as typical Obama, focused on a goal rather than an ideological means, (and Axelrod noted in the same interview that "the president believes strongly in a public choice, and he has made that very, very clear."), but I also understand why folks are alarmed. Obama is essentially asking for a whole lot more faith on this than many of us are willing to believe a situation with the insurance companies motivated to keep things more or less the same as strongly as they are warrants. We saw what they did to Hillary. Then again, perhaps this compromise will pay off. Perhaps the insurance companies will see their way toward real reform, rather than digging in their heels for a battle over the public option.

I don't believe that's the case, though, as Marshall also notes:
[T]the opposition to a so-called 'public option' comes almost entirely from insurance companies who have developed monopolies or near monopolies in particular geographic areas. And they don't want competition.

Note, I'm not saying more competition. I'm saying any competition at all. As Zack Roth explains in this new piece 94% of the health care insurance market is now under monopoly or near-monopoly conditions -- the official term of art is 'highly concentrated'. In other words, there's no mystery why insurance costs keep going up even as the suck quotient rises precipitously. Because in most areas there's little or no actual competition.

That's some freakishly strong motivation to keep things as they are.

What I do believe is that the public option will succeed or fail under its own effectiveness, but as long as it's merely another option for Americans and provides true competition for the insurance monolopy, then it's worth a try. Something has got to bring prices down and help make insurance less of an albatross around so many people's necks.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

What Does it Mean to Make Commercial Work Too? | Open Thread

Short and sweet today...got a lot to get done.

During a talk in the gallery recently, a student asked whether there were, in my opinion, any distinction problems with an artist making both fine art and commercial work. "How would you categorize, for example," he asked, "a project that a magazine commissioned by an artist for publication?" I wasn't actually ready for that question (it's not something I've had to think much about to date), but my gut instinct was that it would depend on the quality of the work as to whether I considered it commercial, fine art, or somewhere in between. In hindsight, I think that answer was gibberish.


If the artist considered the commission fine art, then that's what it is, regardless of how the magazine then uses it. How good it is as fine art is another matter, but the artist's intent here makes the difference.

I thought a bit about this again later, reading Eleanor Heartney's interview with Shirin Neshat (published on Art in America's website), who has been working on her first full-length feature film:

ELEANOR HEARTNEY: How did this project come about?

SHIRIN NESHAT: At the time I was in Documenta in 2002, having made several video installations, I was beginning to feel very consumed by being in one big international show after another, making one work after another. I felt I needed time off to plan a project that would take a long time to realize. Then I got a call from the Sundance Institute, asking if I would consider developing a feature film project for their writers’ lab. At first, I thought I couldn’t, so I said no. Then, after Documenta, I thought why not?

EH: What did you discover about the difference between the art and film worlds?

SN: In the art world you are very free, but you end up making something that few people see. In the film world anybody can view your film for the small price of a ticket, but you are not as free. There is also a big difference between film producers and art dealers. Producers are extremely involved. Everything has to go through them, while an art dealer basically leaves you alone and remains uninvolved in the production.

And perhaps that's another important distinction between commercial projects (which will undoubtedly receive input from those paying the bills) and fine art, but what about the commissioned artwork scenario for a channel that also hires fine artists for clearly commercial projects...can the viewer make any distinctions? At what point would a viewer no longer care that the work was created by committee and consider it "fine art" anyway?

And...we're back to my gut instinct...quality will tell.

Consider this an open thread on whether there are any tricky complications, as a fine artist to producing commercial work, that you would share.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

What You Get Is No Tomorrow

In discussing yesterday the impact of hearing that two entertainment icons had passed away on the same day, Bambino noted that, growing up in the Soviet Union, he had of course heard of "Charlie's Angels" but didn't know the individual actresses names. Everyone in the USSR, though, he noted, had heard of Michael Jackson (and in that way someone truly special was lost yesterday). "It's a name you know regardless of when you were born," someone else suggested. "Like 'Andy Warhol.'"

While I'm not sure Warhol ever achieved the sort of household name recognition I know Jackson did, this conversation did prompt me to reflect a bit on what it is that drives artists like a moth toward that flame that, as Bowie phrased it, "burns your change to keep you insane." What is so attractive about fame?

Watching "Requiem for a Dream" again the other night, I was struck by the palpable transference of Ellen Burstyn's character, Sara Goldfarb. Her deluded notion that somehow appearing on TV would solve all her loneliness and restore purpose to her life was heartwrenching. And, of course, to some degree it wasn't entirely delusional. The chance that she would appear on television made her a bit of a celebrity among the other lonely widows in her building. They were excited for her and perhaps vicariously less lonely as well. So there is something tangible, if absurdly fleeting, about fame. What you want is in the limo. Not that the limo is yours to keep, though.

But how does fame strike anyone as a good status to seek out on a permanent basis? Why was Picasso, for example, so relentlessly intent on being famous, even late in life? He had received as much validation of his talent as anyone could ever dream of. Is it merely that fame is addictive? Farrah Fawcett reportedly went through that arc that cautionary tales are built on: being thrust into the limelight, just to then want desperately to escape it all, just to then later realize once it's not shining on you, you miss it and want it back again.

What I wonder when I think of artists who, for example, had had the high life during a boom---selling millions of dollars of their work and being invited to all the right parties, just to become years later the has-been that the new rising stars can barely disguise their pity for when they see them trying to hold court at someone else's opening---is why wasn't "their turn" at it all enough? I mean, it's one thing if they're still cranking out relevant and important art--still an influential player--but we all know those figures who had had their moment and are stretching it out well past its expiration date. (Yes, I know, that's a cruel description, but without taking this discussion to "there," I won't get to what I want to express.)

There's an Eastern way of looking at one's existence that boils down, more or less, to the notion that normal life is one tragedy followed by another, so when you get that rare nice day in which the sun is shining and your family are healthy and with you, don't fail to appreciate it. It won't last, and rare moments like these are God's kindest gifts to you. I wonder why we in the West don't think the same way about fame. It's not the normal state of things that anyone should be the top star for more than a moment or two. And because it's not normal, trying to retain such status will cost you dearly. It will, again as Bowie put it, keep you insane.

The obvious answer for artists, IMO, is to ensure for you that it's about "the work" and not the recognition. Should recognition come along, like that rare sunny day, then by all means, enjoy it and be sure to appreciate it. But if the clouds return the following day (and they will), don't sulk about the loss of what was a fleeting reprise from your toil...get back to work.

Postscript: Props where they're due.


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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shane Hope, "Your Mom Is Open Source" @ Winkleman Gallery | Opens Tomorrow

For more information, please also see this great interview by Brian Droitcour posted yesterday on Rhizome's website.

Shane Hope
Your Mom Is Open Source
June 26 - August 1, 2009
Opens Friday, June 26, 6- 8 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “Your Mom Is Open Source,” our first solo exhibition by New York-based artist Shane Hope. In his latest suite of Molecular Modeling prints (“Mol Mods”) and “Compile-a-Child" drawings, Hope collapses possible futures like technoprogressive child's play. Foreseeable advances in neuro-, cyber-, gene-, and nano-technologies will likely snowball our transition into “posthumans,” beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards. Molecular manufacturing, artificial general intelligence, and life extension technologies may make possible the printing of printers, inventing inventors, as well as the expansion of ontological wiggle-room into and across novel substrates.

Asserting that art can provide key pictorial explorations into the ramifications of more precise manipulations of the smaller basic building blocks, Hope's "Mol Mods" playfully unravel the world at these scales by foreshadowing newly fantastical conflations of building and growing. Rendered and built with customized versions of user-sponsored open-source molecular visualization systems, these hyper-detailed monotypes anticipate their own actualization by way of nanofacture and picture junk sculptures, seashell crafts, among other molecularly doodled composited chimeras each developing from an embryonic stage; animals fashioned from flowchart cells woven into food webs connected by arrows that hitherto indicated the folds and twists of proteins; carbon nanotube moths flapping amidst balloon animal monkey molecules and less definitive evolutures with buckyballs in their eyes.

Hope also traces technological trajectories through his "Compile-a-Child” drawings, which appear as grade-school, diaristic musings of forecasted artificially selected mind-children. These speculative anecdotal vignettes include child instantiations restored from backup; “builtday” party activity lists; getting grounded as a singleton; uplifting sub-sentient life forms and not-quite-so-living things as domesticated pets; and saving money to afford the xmit rights to resurrect relatives. As in our present time, Hope's imagined offspring from the future command an unmistakable candor through which prescient peek-a-boos into all-powerful playpens innocently showcase our forthcoming world of transhumanity.

Keywords: Technoprogressivism, Transhumanism, H+ (Humanity Plus), Posthuman, Singularitarianism, Technological Singularity, Futurology, Human Enhancement Technologies (HET), Immortalism, Life Extension Technologies, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), Emerging Technologies, Converging Technologies, Uploaded Consciousnesses, Simulation Hypothesis, Self-Improving Friendly AI, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), Superintelligence, Exocortex, Molecular Manufacturing, Nanofacture, Molecular Nanotechnology, Molecular Machines, Molecular Assembly, Synthetic Biology, Open Source, Post-Scarcity, Computronium, Wearable Computing, Transsubstrational, Afterlife Backdoors, Deathcubes, Augmentally Challenged, Speculativernacular, Fabbers, Fungible Infomorphs, Exprisonment, Spawning, Forking, Meatbodies, Nanoblockonomics, Chronomordant, Biots, Splines, Collablobject-Oriented, Infacteous, Data-Debased, graviTV, Infophagy, Syncthetic, Spinfrastructure, Compile-A-Child, 'Zymes, Turingosity, JunkDNAnarc-Keys, Got-Watt-a-Lot-Bots, Perv'd Plexus, Kilo-IQ, and Morphogenetic Commons.

Shane Hope received his MFA from the University of California San Diego in 2002 and has attended the University of California Los Angeles, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He has exhibited at Virgil de Voldere Gallery in New York; Project Gentili, in Prato, Italy; iMAL (interactive Media Art Laboratory) in Brussels, Belgium, Rosamund Felson Gallery in Los Angeles and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Hope's work is also currently featured in the 2009 Prague Biennale.

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

Image above: Shane Hope, On Graphite (detail), 2009, archival pigment print, 48" x 48"

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Turns

The problem, of course, was how to bring it up without seeming self-serving. I mean, I've had a few highly discussed spats with the fellow (although I've always qualified those by noting that I'll be forever thankful that he attended the first exhibition I ever organized), and here I'd be praising him when what he says just happens to align with my personal interests. Was there a way to acknowledge the self-serving aspect of bringing it up and yet still bring it up anyway?

No, I concluded. There simply wasn't a way. Bringing it up would be tacky, unprofessional, and otherwise unseemly. No, you can't do it, Edward...you can't mention the article Charlie Finch wrote on artnet.com titled "Will Collectors Step Forward?" And you certainly can't link to it.

And even if you did somehow manage to mention it and link to it, you'd be breaking all manner of protocol to actually quote the article. I mean, to republish a sentiment like ...
Just as American collectors, with their art consultants and mall-like buying habits, drove the now busted ten-year-long art boom, so now these same collectors, dentists, trophy spouses, trust fundees and hedge funders, must act as the stimulus to bring the contemporary art scene back from the brink.
...who would stand for it? It's simply beyond the pale. Of course, to be a bit less melodramatic about it, that first part is really nothing compared with:
[T]hese collectors, many of whom have accumulated hundreds of pieces by young and mid-career artists, are operating out of fear: fear that they will sell at a loss, fear of losing face among their art world friends, fear of being openly honest with the dealers whose business has completely dried up.
And to note that this part of Mr. Finch's article is illustrated with a photo of Bellwether Gallery (a truly seminal space with a vision that I already miss), with a "Retail Rental" sign in its window, would be paramount to taking a large club and bludgeoning the point mercilessly.

No, clearly that simply wouldn't go over well. Best to let sleeping dogs lie, not stir up a hornet's nest, not show red to the bull, or dredge up any other wildlife cliches and simply not discuss the article at all. Its merits (the rest of which you'll have to decide after reading it yourself) are fodder for hushed conversations in backrooms and non-Chelsea drinking holes. Besides, if someone opened a forum about it, we might all get to hear the collectors' side of the story. And we couldn't have that now, could we?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Art to Hang in the White House? Open Thread

Ruthie Ackerman assembled a list of recommendations from a group of artists, dealers [including yours truly], curators, and bloggers for what art the First Family should hang in the White House. As Ms. Ackerman explains:
Now that the Obamas have settled into the White House, the First Family is focusing on what art to hang on the walls, a thrilling and anxiety-producing prospect for collectors, curators, and artists. What pieces Barack and Michelle decide on has wide-ranging implications: about what art and artists should be on the radar and how much their work is worth. While the couple can hang anything they want in their residence and offices, pieces hung in public places must be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, which consists of the White House curator and advisory board.

The decision is a tough one, so we thought we’d give the Obamas a hand. We asked 21 of our favorite artists, dealers, curators, and bloggers to tell us what pieces they think should grace the White House walls.

I chose three artists (after noting in a comment that didn't make it into the article for some reason that really the Obamas should decorate the White House exclusively with artwork by Winkleman Gallery artists, but...) whom I felt had a political and/or philosophical resonance with the symbolism of the Obama Presidency.

Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning. In addition to representing Main Street in a small American town, there’s a hopeful, if somewhat somber, feel to this painting. This seems to describe the state of the country at the moment. We’re war weary and very nervous about the economy, but we’re encouraged by Obama’s message of hope and the true breakthrough in our history that his presidency represents.

“Jacob Lawrence’s ‘The Great Migration.’ This series of paintings seems a nice choice for two reasons. First, it is among the earliest major works by an African-American artist to be widely celebrated. It took ages for the entire series to be unified in one institution, which perhaps parallels the struggle it took for the U.S. to unite behind its first non-white president. Secondly, the series itself depicts the struggle of African-Americans to find their way out of the still highly racist South into the Northern, Midwestern, and Western states, in search of a better life after the end of slavery.

Cy Twombly’s ‘Scattered Blossom’ paintings represent one of our last living legends making astounding contemporary art. The symbolism of including Twombly in the White House is one of embracing the cutting edge. That seems highly relevant for a president whose challenge is to break with so many of the trappings of our past, including our dependence on fossil fuels, our dilapidated infrastructure, our imperialistic arrogance, etc.”

Yes, I've gone a bit more traditional here than one might expect. But that's just because I wanted to recommend work that I felt might actually be selected, so that if it is, I'll look all prescient and what not.

But what would you recommend that Michele and Barack hang in the White House?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

A Lesson From "The Mist"

Every now and then a dealer friend of mine and I will talk about how tough it is out there (as The New York Times so, um, charmingly put it, "This Summer, Some Galleries Are Sweating"). Any gallery that reports that they're not struggling at the moment is either freaking fortunate or embellishing. So it's nice that my friends and I have each other to share war stories with and give each other encouragement. Whenever a friend seems particularly down (say a sale that seemed a sure thing [and just in time to pay some bills off] fell through or their landlord refused to reconsider their rent), I always encourage them to keep up the good fight! Press on! The galleries that survive the downturn will be rewarded on the other side.

Of course there are times when it's not possible to press on. The cash flow of the business presents an unsolvable problem (no more Peters to rob to pay Paul). The business is kaput. But until that time...until the bitter end, I encourage them to keep fighting the good fight. Now this might seem easy for me to say (though, it's not...we're struggling just like everyone else), but the truth of the matter is, I had why this was important drilled in my mind for me by a very unlikely source.

A while back, our friend Ondine, Bambino and I indulged ourselves with a truly cheesy matinee horror film called "The Mist." You may have heard of it. Based on a Steven King story, it tells of a small town engulfed by this dark mist in which the most terrifying of monsters lurk and then invade to kill the townfolk in spectacularly gruesome ways. OK, so gruesome is an understatement. These various giant-bug- and octopus-like creatures mutilate their victims viciously as they eat them. Each is more nasty than the last.

But (and this is a spoiler, so if you really want to subject yourself to this flick some day, stop reading here [and this is how I remember it, which migh be only mostly accurate, but...]), human nature being what it is, a band of five people (four adults and one child) pull it together enough, having witnessed countless of their friends devoured by the demon insects, and make their way to a car to escape. On the way out of town they see all manner of nightmarish horrors, but for the first time you begin, as a viewer, to unclench your seat's armrest and let yourself hope for their escape. That is, until they run out of gas.

In the stalled car now, with the mist all around and no way to see more than a foot out the window, they debate what to do. The creatures are out there. They can hear them. They've seen what they did to the other townspeople, how horribly they died. They don't want to be burned with acid and watch themselves be eaten alive by the mutant giant cockroach-praying-mantis-bats and such.

They do have another option. They have a gun. The only thing is, there are five of them and only four bullets. After some heavy soul searching, they decide that the protagonist (the father of the child) will save the other four from the horrifying deaths awaiting them and then wait for his own grisly end, knowing he had spared the others.

Four shots ring out in the car. For a few moments there is quiet. Then the father is shown again, weeping. And then the noise outside the car grows louder...they are coming for him. Only rather than the creatures, the source of the noise is revealed to be the Army rolling through, flametorching the critters and collecting survivors in trucks.

The lesson of the film was immediately apparent to me when it was released (in the darkest days of the Bush administration, when my hope for our country was all but extinguished), but lately, for my friends with galleries, I parse it just a bit.

It's better, in my opinion, to keep pushing on, keep fighting, and stay hopeful than to end things, by your own hands, just before the dawn breaks. If the economic critters get you, they get you. And of course, if you can escape them, by all means run for that sanctuary. But don't throw in the towel just because you can't imagine the calvary is out there. The calvary is always out there. The trick is hanging on until they reach you.

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Thick Skin or Not: Send in that Application

For some of the more seasoned readers out there, this post may seem bleeding obvious, but for other I believe it's important to share this, so bear with me if you think this seems a no-brainer.
__________________

I don't envy what it must feel like to be a nominee and yet not hear your name called during the Academy Awards. To have to sit there and smile demurely and clap your hands just long enough to look like a good loser but not so long you begin to look psychotic must take enormous self-restraint. Just once, I'd love to see the camera turn to someone not receiving the award just as they mouth to their date "Really? She got it? How the f**k!?" Worst still must be to go to that evening's after parties and see the winner reaping their congratulations, not to mention then schlepping back to the set the next day to keep working on another project.

I know that a similar sentiment is common among visual artists who apply for grants or residencies. The anticipation, the lingering doubts about just how good your application was...and how that can morph into doubts about how good your work is...and then the energy you must muster to force yourself to reapply the following time should a rejection come back...trust me, I know, they all suck. I know also because dealers vicariously go through the grant or residency anxiety with their artists, but even more directly dealers go through a similar emotional roller coaster when applying to the bigger art fairs. Waiting to hear back is agonizing, and the rejection letters (and they always suck, no matter how flowery or seemingly encouraging they are) makes your heart sink into your gut. I hate it. And, like I said, it makes it very hard to thicken your skin enough to subject your pride to all that again the following year.

But I had a conversation with someone in the position to help artists get significant financial assistance recently, the truly saintly President of Creative Capital, Ruby Lerner, that made me rethink how to look at the rewards of the application process, regardless of whether you receive the grant this time or not. In case you don't know them already, Creative Capital states in their mission that they are a
[N]ational nonprofit organization that supports artists pursuing adventurous and imaginative work in the performing and visual arts, film/video, innovative literature, and emerging fields. We get behind projects of great scope and ambition that may initially have challenges attracting funding from other sources. We are committed to working in long-term partnership with the artists we support, making a multi-year financial commitment and providing advisory services and professional development assistance along with financial support. Since our founding, Creative Capital has committed more than $14 million in funding and services to 324 projects representing 411 artists. We have reached an additional 2,200 artists in communities across the country through our trademark Professional Development Program.
Their grant program is open to all (i.e., you don't need to be nominated), so what Ruby told me will not apply to all grant programs, obviously, but what she said that hugely changed my opinion about the value of applying was that regardless of whether you win or not, your artwork is being reviewed by the kinds of people you might have to wait years to get to see it through all other means. Indeed, this is true of most grant or residency programs. The selection committees are generally people with significant pull in the art world, and here they are, looking at your work. That, in and of itself, should make the work to put the application together worth it.

More than that, though, sometimes, totally independent of the application process, one of those powerful people will want to do something with you outside this particular grant program. Ruby told me of one applicant whom a selection committee member recently said he didn't care whether this artist received the grant or not, but he so loved their proposal that he offered them an opportunity to realize their work in another state because the project was so perfect for their institution. In other words, the rewards of applying to such programs may not be limited to whether or not you receive what you applied for this one time.

I'll admit it, I have an almost crippling aversion to rejection. But what Ruby said really resonated with me. Rather than seeing the only prize worth having beating out the rest of competition and taking home the award, each such opportunity also represents the chance to connect with someone who could eventually do even more to help you. Someone who wouldn't have known about what you do had you let a few rejections jade your opinion of the value of applying.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

One Small Way You Can Help the Iranians Bloggers

Iranian bloggers and those using Twitter or Facebook to keep the rest of the world and their fellow citizens abreast of what's going on there can use your help in protecting them from the state's thugs set out to shut them down. This one simple thing that you can do from where you are will help them. From Obsidian Wings:
Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
I've heard that changing your Facebook settings can help as well. It takes just a moment and you can easily later change them back.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Oxymoronical "Political Art" Issue (again) : Open Thread

I had a bit of a tweet-for-tat with Bill Powhida on Twitter yesterday about a topic I feel deeply but have never had any luck in convincing anyone else about: that activism and "art" (which is reflective, not proactive, in my opinion) are two different things. It's a very, very fine distinction in my mind, but it comes back to the notion that intent is crucial and that any work that intends to change opinions about a political issue falls into the category of propaganda, which has a use, and therefore, by definition (at least within the time frame for which its use is relevant) ceases to be "art."

Anyway, Bill's passionate defense of his position (that making art is a political gesture [which I maintain is different from the idea that "all art is political," but...]) stems from the same sense of helplessness I feel with regards to the situation in Iran. It's related to the sense of barely being alive I felt while watch Slumdog Millionaire...as if we in the West, despite all the challenges we're facing, are simply sleepwalking through our lives in comparison with people in other, much more vibrant parts of the world. We watch other people revolt on TV in between sips of our McCappucinos.

Now I know that risking one's life is the surest way to feel alive. It's that adrenaline rush that drives extreme sports fanatics to leap off mountain tops or drag race through urban streets or whatever. Indeed, having been in a nearly fatal climbing accident once, I was shocked (despite how truly frightening it had been) at just how much I enjoyed the overall experience and the lingering heightening of my senses.

I drag you through this explanation as means of coming back full circle to an Iranian artist, [name redacted upon suggestion by someone asked to do same] (see this artnet.com report), risking life and limb, to express his response to the election protests taking place there. See one of his street art pieces above. (His website notes that you can post any of his images elsewhere so long as you provide a link back to his blog.)

In his blog profile, the artist notes:
Maybe i am a Vandal or Anarchist But i am glad to introduce my self as one. At least i stand for my right. I am not about politics. But i am interested on social Subjects. I express through Graffiti, wall painting, stencil spray, wheatpastes and Stickers in streets of Tehran and other places i will pass in the world!
Now lord knows, I don't want to become an enemy of Bill (whom I respect greatly and own work by)...my ego couldn't withstand the way he'd draw me then :-), but I do think what the Iranian artist notes here is important to keep in mind when it comes to the distinction between activism and art.

It's perfectly fine by me that artists choose to be activists. I don't feel they should be objective observers of the world around them in their daily lives (they're not journalists). By all means, pick a side, get involved, make a difference. But I do feel that when it comes to art that they make better work if they can switch hats. I feel that their work suffers if they don't attempt through it to present, as honestly as they can, simply what it is they see. As soon as they attempt to tell me how to see something, I become suspicious, pull back, and cannot see what it is they're expressing. As soon as something in the work strikes me as partisan or goal-oriented, I can no longer see its "truth."

I think the Iranian artist has it exactly right. "I am not about politics. But i am interested on social Subjects." Politics is not about being objective or acknowledging inconvenient truths...it's about moving the goal posts one direction or the other. Being involved in politics, by definition, means downplaying the truth or point of view of the opposition (otherwise, why wouldn't the people who would otherwise follow you, not follow them instead?). Therefore, being "about politics" as an artist suggests you're coloring your work toward one side, purposely not including the "truth" contained in the other side's point of view, making your work propaganda, rather than "art."

That doesn't mean your "art" (as opposed to your propaganda) can't convince people. If the truth in it is as plain as the nose on their face, and you simply express it so they see that, then your work will possibly lead folks to make a political decision they wouldn't have otherwise. But it's that intent...to present the truth...that accomplishes that. Not the attempt to make a political statement via your work.

Consider this an open thread on the intent to sway someone through "art."

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Photos, and Dancing, and More Books!!!

Bambino and I have full dance cards this evening, attending two events that offer real ITE* value. First is the book signing for Jackie Battenfield's new book, The Artist's Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love. I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy, and I can tell you it's simply packed with real world, world-class advice. For those who don't know her, Jackie founded the highly regarded and very effective "Artists in the Marketplace" program at the Bronx Museum (deadline for next session of which is June 30).

I've known artists before they took Jackie's course and then saw what can only be described as metamorphic differences in how professionally they went about finding galleries and working with them after the course. Truly, I'm not sure there's anything Jackie doesn't know about the emerging art market, having seen in it from the administration, dealer, and the artist's points of view. Here are the details for the event:
Cue Art Foundation
Thursday, June 18, 2009
6:00pm - 8:00pm

511 West 25th Street, ground floor, Btwn 10th and 11th Ave
New York, NY

212-206-3583
I think it's open the public, but you can call to make sure if you're not among the thousand or so people invited already.

Then, thanks to those lovely patrons of the arts, MAO and Dr. Quiz, we're off to "Some Like It Hot," Aperture's first Summer Party. MAO tells the story:
So the Aperture Foundation got artist Thomas Allen to donate this amazing print for their First Annual Summer Party on June 18th.

So, anyone who buys a party ticket for $150, gets this cool hot print for free!

The print is an 8 x 10 signed C-Print, in an edition of 250.

So, Even if you can't make it to the party.. the print is worth well over $150.

More info on Photographer Thomas Allen, you'll find it here.

This great print and party event tickets can be purchased here :

http://www.aperture.org/somelikeithot/

Here are the Event Details..See you at the Party!

-------------------------------------------

APERTURE SUMMER PARTY
SOME LIKE IT HOT!

http://www.aperture.org/somelikeithot/

APERTURE’S FIRST SUMMER PARTY
THURSDAY, JUNE 18, 8:00-11:00 PM

COCKTAILS AND FESTIVITIES, PLUS:
An exclusive limited-edition print by Thomas Allen, commissioned byAperture!
A raffle of choice items, including a commissioned portrait by MatthewPillsbury!
Live music by Garage-Rock Band the Willowz!
CO-CHAIRED BY: Michael Foley, Michael Hoeh, Cathy Kaplan, Severn Taylor

Please join Aperture for the foundation’s first summer party celebrating
great photography and music at Aperture’s fabulous gallery space in the
heart of Chelsea’s art district. The backdrop for the party is the
spectacular Edge of Vision: Abstraction in Contemporary Photography
exhibition, curated by Lyle Rexer.

http://www.aperture.org/edgeofvision

Tickets are $150 for a single, and $150 for a double. All ticket holders
(single and dual) will receive an exclusive limited edition print by Thomas
Allen
(pictured above) created specially for the event. Guests will mingle
with Aperture artists, enjoy cocktails and canapés, have the chance to win
spectacular raffle items, including a commissioned portrait by Matthew
Pillsbury, and hear the live music from the Willowz "One of America's most promising young bands."-The Village Voice.

http://thewillowz.com

Some Like It Hot is co-chaired by Michael Foley, Aperture patron and
collector Michael Hoeh and Aperture board members Cathy Kaplan, and Severn Taylor.

All proceeds from the party will go towards Aperture’s publications, exhibitions, and public programs.

WHEN AND WHERE: THURSDAY, June 18, 2009 8:00 pm

Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th floor
New York, NY 10001


(212) 505-5555

Subway: C, E to 23rd Street and 8th Avenue or 1 to 28th Street and 7th
Avenue
You know you want to see Bambino shaking his groove thing on the dance floor. And even if you don't, don't miss the opportunity to support an awesome organization and get some great art in the process. It's a recessionary win-win!

*ITE: In This Economy

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Starting a Commercial Art Gallery in This Economy

Despite the speculation in some quarters that the current downturn in the global economy and the art market in particular places the forthcoming publication of my book* under the department of "bad timing" (ahem), just this past weekend a young curator I know stopped into the gallery and noted that he's nearly ready to take the plunge and open his own space. I didn't fail to recommend some reading material he might consider.

Believe it or not, should the art market truly spring back to life in 2-3 years (yes, we're all praying for it to be sooner), now could actually be the perfect time to launch a new gallery, assuming you have the working capital to last that long. The reason now might be right is that in the emerging art market in particular (i.e., in galleries representing artists with no established market) it can take 3-5 years for a new gallery to turn truly profitable, even during a boom.


The reason for that time frame is related to the impact of the all-important second or third solo exhibitions. Even if an artist's first exhibition is relatively successful (some sales, some positive press), it can still take years for two important things to happen: 1) for those collectors who were not quite convinced at that first show to see subsequent work that confirms for them that the artist wasn't a one-hit wonder (and thus to begin to acquire it themselves) and 2) news of the artist to spread to a large enough number of collectors to build a healthy market. This will not generally happen as the result of only one exhibition unless that first show was a raging success, which few galleries see more than a handful of in their initial years. The second or third solo shows (spaced usually in the 3rd to 5th year of the gallery for any given artist) will generally accomplish the first of those items, which, again, is why it can take that long for a new gallery to have strong enough markets for enough of their artists to turn truly profitable.


Doubt it? Think of the best-selling emerging artist you can [go on, we'll all think of the same two or three anyway], now go back and research when they had their first solo exhibition and when they became an art world household name. It's invariably 3-5 years after their first solo show, making it anything but overnight success for any of them.

So what new dealers do until those second or third solo shows come around is spend those early years getting the second item accomplished: that is, spreading news of the brilliance of their artists. Because this is somewhat independent of sales (although sales do help greatly, especially when collectors talk about the work they've acquired), though, it's as easily done, if not more so, during a downturn. I say "if not more so" because during a downturn there are fewer galleries around, and so less competition for the press that helps accomplish item two.

Ergo...starting a gallery now could mean that by the time the art world catches up to how brilliant all your artists are, the market will be springing back to life and you'll be perfectly situated to take full advantage of that. If you wait until the market springs back to life to open, you'll need to find some shortcut through the usual 3-5 year wilderness to turn truly profitable sooner. There are ways to do that, but it's not very easy with a fully emerging program, and besides, by then, you'll have a whole new field of competition snapping up the press you'll need.


*I just got advance copies of my book in the mail!!! It's got a spine, and an index, and a cover, and it's full of all these words! It's available as of July 14, 2009.

Oh, and because a while back I promised truly shameless hawking of the book, I'll share the lovely back-cover quotes. I know of a few others that had been generously offered (guess they ran out of space), but I'm not that greedy...I'm beyond delighted to see these:
Praise for How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery

"Ed runs one of the most straightforward sites dedicated to demystifying and discussing various aspects of the art world. Now, in How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, he's packed–in understandable terms–information I wish I had known before starting my gallery."–Zach Feuer, owner, Zach Feuer Gallery and cofounder of New Art Dealers Alliance

“Ed Winkleman has two qualities that are rare: he is quite knowledgeable about the business of operating a contemporary art gallery, and he is willing to share that knowledge with the rest of the world, through his blog and now in this book. He has one more unique quality: his writing is a pleasure to read.”–Daniel Grant, author of The Business of Being an Artist

Ed Winkleman's book is a comprehensive reference for any gallery owner.
Whether you are new to the business or seasoned gallerist, it is always wise
to remember the essentials.–Leigh Conner, Conner Contemporary Art

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Artists and Animals : Open Thread

I forget now who said it...possibly even Herb Vogel himself...but someone in the exceedingly heartwarming film Herb and Dorthy noted how there seems to be a special bond between artists or art lovers and animals. In the film, you see the super collectors one moment offering the most inspired of commentary on contemporary art and the next being rendered speechless and /or totally captivated by the simplest of actions of their cats or turtles. And the final segment of the film, in which Mr. Vogel is entirely engrossed in the fish in a tank at the computer store while his wife is busy buying a laptop, seems to underscore how even these tiny finned creatures are infinitely more interesting than wireless modems or word processors or what have you.

In thinking about this, I concluded that there are many possible explanations for this special bond: from how powerfully beauty in nature compels us (and especially those attuned to see beauty) to the wide range of ideals or virtues we project upon animals (and which they wisely and mutely don't dispute). But I think there's something else at play here. In fact, it never fails to amaze me how so many of the most jaded or even misanthropic of artists will become a puddle of baby-talking mush around theirs or other people's pets. Animals are special to artists, even to those who see their own species as obnoxious.

Now perhaps animals are special to a wide range of people, and it's only because I hang out with more artists than the average person that I think this bond is related to being an artist, but then there was Mr. Vogel (I'm fairly sure it was him) confirming my suspicion that it's actually a deeper bond between artist and animals than with other people.

But why?

Do artists see something in animals that other people, not trained to "see" tend to miss? Do animals represent something "purer" or more "true" than other things in artists' worlds? And I don't think it's just an American thing or a Western thing (although we are totally insane when it comes to our pets [exhibit A]). Artists I know from other parts of the world tend to be more inclined to go out of their way to help or protect animals than others in their culture (Adel Abdessemed, perhaps, being the rare exception ;-) ).

Consider this an open thread on the special bond, if indeed there is one, between artists and animals.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

The Re-Pricing Question : Part II

The collector whom I mentioned last week in the initial thread on this topic was kind enough to email me with some additional thoughts and clarifications on the topic. Please keep in mind that this is someone who has been buying art steadily for a few decades now and is unquestionably among the class of collector I would categorize as a true friend of emerging art.

In the last post I mentioned the...
collector who's been buying art for over 30 years, and seen a few cycles come and go, who said (I paraphrase) that collectors shouldn't be upset if the price of work by an artist they bought last year is lower this year. He noted, for comparison, that if the price of IBM stock was $50 last year and it's only $10 this year, there's no point in getting upset. You couldn't have bought it for less than $50 last year and you can snap it up for $10 this year. I asked this collector if he personally would be upset to learn that a comparable piece to that for which he paid a higher price just a few years ago could be had for much less now, and he said no...he would understand that that's the new price (he comes from the financial industry, though, which may give him a more objective point of view on such matters than other collectors).
Although not many join in the comment threads, I do know (because they tell me) that quite a few collectors read this blog, as has this one, who again was kind enough to email me with the following clarifications on the topic:
There were two pricing issues: reflection of the end of the art bubble and the integrity of dealer pricing.

As you know, with the recession, collectors have a lot less to spend, so how do you continue to collect? The answer is to either buy less or buy less expensively priced work (or both). This response by collectors has caused an economic dislocation for dealers with their mostly fixed overheads. This has resulted in layoffs, going green on mailers (a/k/a reducing expenses), and being much more flexible in pricing.

In the past 9 months we have been offered/accepted/asked for the few purchases we have made "discounts" ranging from 20%-45%. Many dealers just upon asking the price of a work of art immediately state that the price may be high and they have flexibility. Additionally we make our own judgments as to what the prices "should" be. At issue is what is the "real price" and how can a collector have confidence in the initial dealer pricing. Would it not be better if a dealer recognized that the world has changed and reflect this upfront rather than having the collector negotiate very hard or feel somehow they paid too much? [EW: emphasis mine.]

You should know however, we are starting to see some dealers recognize this reality. Additionally, there are some artist (very few) whose prices have held/increased as the demand still exceeds supply.
Evidence of the penultimate statement there ("we are starting to see some dealers recognize this reality") comes back in the reports from the art fairs in Basel last week. From The Art Newspaper:
With some buyers looking to haggle, dealers had to decide whether to negotiate or not. “I’m sticking to my guns,” said Steve Sacks of Bitforms Gallery, New York (G12). “People are coming here looking for a 20% to 30% discount, but I’ve already priced the works to take the economic climate into account,” he said.
And in another article on The Art Newspaper:
Zurich and London dealer Iwan Wirth of Hauser & Wirth (2.0/D1) also adjusted prices. “We don’t have 2007-2008 prices: it is a different atmosphere,” says Wirth. “The days when art was sold when it was still in packing crates in artists’ studios is over.”
As I noted in the first part of this topic, the thing I fear most for any artist who had managed to build a "market" for their work during the boom is the creeping perception among collectors that "maybe the work just wasn't that good" because they don't hear of anyone buying it anymore, when in fact the art simply stopped moving because no one trusted its prices. Despite speculation among artists that they can raise their prices and somehow fool collectors through that into thinking their work is still widely in demand, they should understand that collectors compare notes all the time. They visit each others' homes and see what they have recently acquired. They ask around and build networks so information flows back to them. In other words, they make it their business to learn what's really in demand, and so efforts to fool them can seriously backfire.

Add to that what the collector above noted (and I put in bold)...that collectors who feel they're having to work too hard to get a dealer to offer them the "right price" will simply stop trusting that dealer...and it really can end up costing the artist, the artist's dealer, and thus all the other artists in that gallery program if the perception spreads that the work there is being priced too high
.

When this topic comes up, someone is always insightful enough to mention that, under a certain price point, it's ridiculous to assume you should consider lowering your prices, even during a recession. I would agree with that. Because the question is one in which collectors want to know that the work is priced correctly (not that they're getting a steal, per se), work priced at the emerging art baseline (i.e., work priced at what you would expect any similar work by an unknown fine artist to be priced at) is OK to leave there IMO.

That doesn't mean it will automatically sell in a recession though. Competition for collectors' dollars is stiff. Indeed, much of the baseline-priced work that flew out the doors during the boom did so on speculation and impulse buying, both of which are casualties of the recession (and rightly so, but that's another thread...). What will sell at the emerging art baseline is only the most compelling work on the market...which means it's up to artists to keep quality high or, let's face it, to push themselves beyond what they've done so far and make their work even more amazing, and up to their dealers to do whatever it takes to get people in the door or to their booths at the fairs to see that more amazing work.

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Support the Iranians Fighting to Have Their Votes Counted


Twitter seems to be the most reliable medium for communications in and out of Iran at the moment. Many blogs seem to be down. Keep tabs and show your support via here.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Eve Sussman and Jeff Wood Discuss "White on White" @ Winkleman Gallery

Please join us this coming Tuesday for what promises to be a jaw-dropping account of the straight-out-of-a-cyberpunk-novel cast of characters and places that Eve, Jeff, and the other members of Rufus Corporation have encountered while shooting "White on White." From their detainment by the Russian state police outside the highly secure Baikonur Cosmodrome to the mysterious business man with the driver who doesn't speak English (only who isn't a driver and speaks it only too well), their project is making for its own real-life film noir.

Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation
White on White: The Pilot (just like being there)
ARTIST TALK TUESDAY JUNE 16th, 2009 7pm

Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation collaborator, Jeff Wood, will give a talk at Winkleman Gallery on Tuesday, June 16th at 7pm. Eve is a 2008 Artist Fellowship recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). This presentation is co-sponsored by Artists & Audiences Exchange, a NYFA public program.

Sussman and Wood will show two new teasers for the film, 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.

On view at Winkleman is White on White: The Pilot (just like being there), featuring artworks as 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 (just like being there) (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, Nicolas Locke, Tony Pinotti, Kazuaki Sugi, et.al. 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, 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.

To read more go to: http://www.rufuscorporation.com/wordpress

Exhibition: May 15 – June 20, 2009
Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 11-6 PM

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Artist Filled with Hate : And Something to Know about Galleries

The Huffington Post (h/t Ondine) reports that James Von Brunn, the suspect in yesterday's mindless shooting of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in DC, was also an artist. You can see an example of one his paintings here.

Von Brunn applied to have his art shown at the Troika Gallery in Easton, Md., around the time the gallery opened about 12 years ago, two of the owners, Laura Era and Jennifer Wharton, told The Associated Press. They said they turned him down because it was not up to their quality and that made Von Brunn angry.

"He stomped out," Wharton said. "You don't normally get that reaction from artists."

They say his work was not strange or violent, but the artists they show have many years of professional experience.

Era and Wharton said they had heard that Von Brunn had been in jail because of his political beliefs and knew that he had prejudices. They did not feel comfortable around him, but said they didn't want to make him an enemy.

One time Von Brunn arrived at the gallery livid because he had just seen a mixed race couple getting married at the garden of the historical society nearby, Era and Wharton said.

Von Brunn was not around for years, but turned up a year or two ago. He did not spend as much time at their gallery as before and they did not encourage him to, the women said.

They said Von Brunn's work depicted images such as horses and buffalo in the American West or an eagle with the U.S. flag.

The askart.com website with the image noted above has a discussion board which lit up when news came out that von Brunn was the suspect. Apparently like attracts like. I was going to share a snippet of the vile discussion there, but actually some of it is so repulsive, I would hate for searches of quotes posted here to attract the sort of folks who offered it there.

The one art-world-related quote from the thread I will post, though, was this:
From his painting, evidently Von Brunn is an accomplished artist. His work is good enough to be shown in art galleries.
From the one example linked to above (admittedly a poorly shot image), I would personally say that Von Brunn is slightly above adequate at representation (even if the composition shouts "Cuckoo for Coco Puffs" IMHO), which might pass for "accomplished" in some people's books, but that is actually somewhat besides the point, with regards to the conclusion this writer draws from his/her assessment of it. The apparently widespread belief that gallery shows (and the implication seems to be that one gallery is as good as another here) are somehow the birthright of any adequate artists is very frustrating as a dealer. We often encounter it in explaining why we don't wish to work with an artist. "But this is good work...why don't you want to show it?"

First and foremost, there is nothing that obligates a gallery to work with an artist just because they can paint or draw or whatever. Let me make this really clear (and note that I assume 90% of the readership here knows this already, but our discusssions do prompt the occasional email from folks who don't seem to): whether someone should be shown in a given art gallery is far more complicated than whether they're adequate illustrators. The desire on the part of a gallery to work with an artist has two components: their belief that the artist is a good match for their gallery (in terms of quality, dialog, and personality) and their belief that their clientele should purchase this artist's work. It's not a birthright on any account. Approaching getting a gallery as if it were a birthright is doomed to fail.

When artists ask me what they need to do to get a gallery I always answer "make amazing art" and "network." With regards to the second bit of advice, it's important to know that this is a business of relationships, and the sort of things that make a relationship work well are common interests and mutual respect. We all know of "difficult" artists whose work is so good that galleries tolerate their "passionate" behaviors, but the notion that such behavior is the birthright of anyone who can render a convincing likeness is simply wrong. To get away with exhibiting the level of disrespect shown by stomping out of a gallery, you had better be the next Jackson Pollock. And I don't just mean in your own mind.

Even then, and actually more importantly, the most amazing artist of this generation will NOT be a good match for probably 80% of the galleries out there. Most contemporary galleries take a point of view or focus on a particular dialog or aspect of the total art world. They are not one-size-fits-all.

To be fair, the implication of the assertion "His work is good enough to be shown in art galleries" might be more along the lines of "I've seen plenty of work at that level or worse in galleries" and nothing more. Still, coupled with the way Von Brunn stomped out of the Maryland gallery who turned him down, I thought it made sense to take advantage of this example to flesh out the subtlties of how this works in real life.

As for Von Brunn, if he's guilty, I trust he'll join another failed, evil artist better known for his hatred in a very special place in Hell.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Everything but the Villa Straylight

In one of those false confluences of memories, the first thing I thought of when I heard about the two new free ports (one outside Paris in the development stages, the other opening in December in Singapore) that the contemporary art world is all anxious to start exploiting, is the fictional über-luxury orbiting resort in William Gibson's cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. Shaped like a cigar (you do the math), the resort is named "Freeside," and it has symbolized the ultimate in futuristic decadence to me since first reading Gibson's masterpiece.

But back to those free ports. The New York Times explains:
In a western suburb of Paris, on the Île Seguin, developers are planning a vast art center, combining art warehouse, showroom and tax-free trade zone. Half a world away, in Singapore, an even grander project aims to revolutionize art storage and trading.

With the global art market suffering in the economic downturn, the projects, privately financed and state supported, seek to bolster art markets by combining traditional notions of storage, exhibition and tax-free trading.
Evading taxes and the art market go together like acid and water (just "do what you oughta"), and free ports are nothing new in international trading, but the idea of adding a showroom to the mix has captured the imagination of the auction houses, especially now that conspicuous consumption has become déclassé:
Referring to the FreePort, [Alain Vandenborre, president and co-founder of (Singapore's) FreePort] said: “Here, goods can stay in transit indefinitely without entering the country. Unlike Switzerland, no duty is ever levied here, no estimated V.A.T. deposited, and no customs inventory drawn up.” What’s more, he said, “the nature of the goods stored in the FreePort, their value, the identity of their owner, and any transaction within its walls remain confidential.”

That secrecy may be particularly attractive to auction houses, which have seen their private sales activity increase even as their public auction results have tumbled. On May 18, Christie’s International said it would occupy 40 percent of the facility’s gross space with an option for more.

“We will explore all the ways we can use a free-trade-zone status to serve our clients, with private sales as an important feature,” Andy Foster, chief operating officer of Christie’s International and president of Christie’s Asia, said in an e-mail response to a question about its plans at the FreePort.

For FreePort investors, they are banking on Asia’s long-term potential. “The Chinese have enormous collections that are deteriorating in ill-suited warehouses,” said Mr. Bouvier, the FreePort chairman. “Some Malaysian collectors rent entire apartments just to store their artworks.”

“This region is a massive consumer factory,” he added. “It is where the recovery from the global recession will begin.”
Which brings me back to Neuromancer's space-station resort, Freeside, the tip of which held the fortress named Villa Straylight, the estate of the filthy rich (and just plain filthy) family Tessier-Ashpool. 3Jane, the matriarch of the family, runs the place and is described in the Wikipedia description as "extremely disconnected from the world outside."

I couldn't help but think the Paris and Singapore free ports are designed in part to service 3Jane types. In particular, there is something potentially "unsavory" about the Singapore version because, as the Times explains, "Singapore opted out of the Unesco Convention in 1985 and chose not to sign a 1995 international agreement on the repatriation of stolen or illegally exported cultural goods." In other words, stolen artwork could be taken there and, one assumes, enjoyed there while its thieves exhausted the efforts of its true owners to reclaim it. Think about Nazi-looted art being held there until the last true heir who cares passes away and you begin to understand the potential offense here.

Having said that, the notion of an international contemporary art fair in one of these locations seems very attractive to me. (It's not that I'm interested in denying the citizens of another country their rightful share of the taxes on sold goods, but the paperwork alone for bringing artwork in and out of customs in other countries, even if you sell nothing, is enough to drive anyone mad.) You could conduct business in the Île Seguin and then party in Paris. FIAC, are you listening?

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