Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Sexy Update : Week Four

In Week Four, the exhibition expands to include two wild watercolors by Leah Tinari (selected by Houston-based independent curator Janet Phelps) and a sleek and sexy sculpture by Yeni Mao (selected by New York-based co-founder of Invisible-Exports, Benjamin Tischer).



March (or perhaps just a leisurely stroll) on Washington

Bambino and I are heading down to DC this weekend. (We only like to visit the nation's capital either when it's freaking cold or nice and muggy.) In addition to catching up with some dear non-art world friends, we'll be catching up with some dear art-world friends, including Leigh and Jamie who very generously present ACADEMY each summer at Conner Contemporary Art:
Conner Contemporary Art is very pleased to announce ACADEMY 2009. Exhibition founder, Jamie Smith, Ph. D., is the curator of our 9th annual invitational survey of outstanding work by recent fine art graduates of regional college art programs.

Participating artists: Celina Amaya, Danny Baskin, Alan Callander, Charles Clary, Margot Ellis, Kyle Ford, Jeremy Flick, Corey Grimsley, Steve Ioli, Casey Reed Johnson, Jin Young Kang, Patrick McDonough, Aziza Murray, Igor Pasternak, Ding Ren, Alex Roulette, Andrew Schrock, Ryan Schroeder and Rafael Soldi.

Represented institutions: American University, Catholic University of America, Corcoran College or Art and Design, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Maryland Institute College of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Maryland.
Yours truly has been invited to be one of the jurors (along with Helen Allen, Executive Director of PULSE and Gloria Nauden, Executive Director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities) for the PULSE Presents Award:
PULSE Contemporary Art Fair will award one of this year's Academy exhibiting artists an exhibition space at PULSE Miami 2009. [The jurors] will announce the winner at 7pm the night of the opening.
Earlier in the day, our friends (and fellow current book tour travellers) Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber will be presenting a workshop at Conner Contemporary that local artists won't want to miss:
Washington Project for the Arts will co-host a workshop as part of its No Artist Left Behind series: The Top 10 Things Every Artist Should Know with Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, authors of ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (2009). The authors will discuss career management, business and legal issues for artists. Book signing immediately to follow. The NALB Series is a professional development initiative created by WPA to provide resources and workshops to DC area visual artists.
The WPA workshop will be held 4 – 6pm. The ACADEMY 2009 opening reception follows from 6-8pm. Come on over if you're in the neighborhood!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quick Link Thursday

We got a book signing party to get ready for (in the gallery, tonight, 6:30 - 8:30...stop on by!!), so this will be somewhat less than my usually tome-length post. Just a few of the items out there worth considering the implications of:

Joanne Mattera has stirred a fair bit of commentary in her most recent Marketing Mondays post in which she declares her days of writing recommendation letters for grants and residencies applicants are over:
I just received my third request this month to write a letter of reference. One was for a very talented young artist, another was for a colleague who has a full-time teaching position (and thus more salaried time off via sabbaticals and vacations than I will ever have), and the third was from someone who likes my blog and thinks I'd write "a kick-ass reference letter," never mind that I don’t know this person from Eve.
With the exception of the young artist, my response was a polite No. reports that a recent law in the EU will essentially censor a wide range of artworks made from lightbulbs:

Come September 1, the European Union has banned the sale of traditional lightbulbs with a glowing filament. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Till Briegleb reports, the ban will have an impact on art, specifically works that use lightbulbs for either functional, aesthetic, or historical effects. A case in point is the work of the Russian artist Ilya Kabakov, who often hangs a bare lightbulb in his installations as a melancholic homage to the Soviet-era ideal of electricity, which was not always available to the citizens.

“Unfortunately, there are no exceptions to [the law] 2005/32/EG” writes Briegleb. “And thus artists, restorers, and museum technicians find themselves faced with the bizarre necessity of small-time criminality.” Kabakov is not the only artist to use bulbs. There are 140 in Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space-Modulator; the German post–Word War II “Zero” Group was fond of lightbulbs. There’s a host of contemporary artists, including Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Höller, Jorge Pardo, Valie Export, Stephan Huber, Isa Genzken, Mike Kelley, and Adrian Paci. Even artists who did not work explicitly with lightbulbs have used them: Rauschenberg, Kienholz, Tinguely, and Beuys.

As Briegleb notes, the illegal sale of lightbulbs—even to museums—comes with a hefty fine: $70,000. Even if the existing bulbs could be saved, it’s clear that the supply will eventually be exhausted. To keep a lightbulb work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres or Höller shining bright, museums and collectors will need more than one thousand bulbs, since the traditional ones tend to last on average sixty to eighty days under the kind of constant use that is typical for such installations.

For living artists who are able to reconstruct/reconsider their work this is still pretty horrendous, but to be quite honest, it's the EU's loss (and a significant one at that in my opinion) that they've now essentially outlawed the exhibition of works like Untitled (North), 1993 (how freaking moronic, really?).

Brandeis University is being sued by the Rose Art Museum Board, if you haven't heard. Art Fag City has the lowdown:
The wait is over. Yesterday, the Rose Art Museum trustees filed a suit in Massachusetts State Court to halt closure of Brandeis University’s museum and the sale of masterpieces by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg. The move had been expected for some time. In January, the university announced it would shutter the museum, but after a deafening public outcry, the administration sent out an array of different messages, including most recently that the museum would not be closing, but rather transitioned into an education center. The museum’s Board of Overseers weren’t buying it, and said as much back in April. How can a museum function with no director, no curator, no education director, no administrator, no funding stream and no exhibition program, they asked? The university’s failure to sufficiently answer these and other questions prompted the suit.
And Felix Salmon, who's usually quite astute about such matters, misses the fact that rent is hardly the only overhead a gallery has in assessing what a Chelsea gallerist who recently closed was "making a year." A commenter clarified:
$10,000 a month in rent is not the only expense a gallery in Chelsea may incur (or any gallery in the country, for that matter.) Please include at least another 40% to 80% of her net devoted to health insurance, marketing, staff, utilities, packaging, shipping, materials, events, travel, entertaining, etc. The costs of doing business as a gallery are tremendous and even the most frugal gallerist/owner still comes out of it with less than you might imagine.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New New York (Or, the Digital Center?)

In a conversation recently with another New York gallerist and a Berlin-based curator, the question of where the true center of the art world is now came up. When I suggested it might actually be Berlin, the curator simply smiled knowingly. Indeed, as the history of art shows us, no one city can dominate as capital forever, and with the rise of Asian nations, the current recession, and perhaps even a desire for a simple change of pace, many international art insiders are actively talking about New York's reign in the past tense.

This doesn't bother me, really. We're entering a phase of human history in which it's increasingly naive to think in terms of nation states, let alone city centers. Even the Wikipedia vs. the National Portrait Gallery comment thread illustrated that, as it became apparent that state-centric copyright laws are essentially useless in the digital age.

To achieve your goals today, in nearly any field, necessitates that your worldview be global. The art world is no different. US galleries are opening up branches in Beijing or Berlin. UK galleries are expanding into New York. Gagosian is soon opening a branch in Madagascar (just kidding...but don't bet against it). For even the small mom-and-pop shop type gallery, you really stand to lose out if you're not now considering an international roster or at the very least keeping up with what's happening on the global stage.

Fortunately (and just in time), one of the most impressive resources for finding who, what, when, and where in Chelsea, the art info portal with the staggeringly flexible information architecture, has gone global. Announcing One Art World, the expanded resource for the mind-boggling amount of information we're all trying to keep tabs on. Fortunately, it's brilliantly well organized and user friendly. From auction results and analysis to art fairs and biennials to books and games (including this online quiz Name the Artist) to directories for artists, galleries, people and more, this site is a marvel.

After surfing around the site a bit I began to wonder whether the "center" of the art world even needs to a be one physical location anymore. We still need to experience the art in person, of course, but there's always been two important factors in what made a location the "center of the art world." The fact that you could view the art there (and with the proliferation of international fairs and biennials, a physical center becomes less of a requirement) and the fact that you could find a high concentration of knowledgable people there. The speed of communication from anywhere to anywhere today makes travelling to one place for that less important today as well.

Not sure I know what a Digital Center of the art world might look like (I'm nobody's seer on such matters), but I am curious whether the notion of the New New York needing to be another captial city isn't as quaint now as visiting the academy exhibition during varnishing day.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult

Richard Polsky, whose book I Bought Andy Warhol I thoroughly enjoyed and who writes regularly for on the art market, has posted two columns recently (one, two) designed to help collectors navigate the current climate. While I appreciate his advice overall and recognize the reality of the few items I find objectionable, it is hard to imagine Mr. Polsky offering a couple of his suggestions if he were running a brick-and-mortar space himself, as he used to. Indeed, for the benefit of new collectors who may not have been around long enough to become as jaded about it all as apparently Richard has, I thought I'd express a bit of counter-opinion and in particular explain why two of Mr. Polsky's recommendations are paradoxical.

In the second column he suggests both, that a collector ingratiate themselves with the right dealers:
Buy the program. Imagine if you had bought one work from every show at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery in Los Angeles during the late 1980s. You would have ended up with a Robert Gober (and a sink, no less), a John Chamberlain, an Eric Fischl, and a Robert Ryman. Ingratiate yourself with a dealer who has picked winners in past eras, such as Paula Cooper, or more recently David Zwirner, James Cohan, Adam Baumgold and Zach Feuer, and watch your art portfolio soar.
AND that they consider going around a dealer to buy directly from an artist's studio:
Buy directly from an artist’s studio. Some artists are extremely loyal to their dealers. Then there are those. . . . If you choose to work with an artist who sells direct, be aware that most of them like to be paid in cash. You’d be shocked at some of the big names who will bend the rules to pick up spending money for vacations, greens fees and fancy restaurants. Remember, I’m not advocating that you do anything illegal. Just be cool about it so neither the artist or his dealer are embarrassed. Under certain circumstances, some dealers are willing to look the other way when an artist makes deals on the side, such as Andy Warhol’s arrangement with Leo Castelli.
"Just be cool about it"?

In case it's not obvious, in the current climate, when galleries are closing left and right, there is nothing at all
cool about cutting a dealer out of a sale. To borrow a phrase from the hysterical new film "In the Loop"...things right now are not "easy, peasy, lemon squeezy" for art dealers...rather they are "difficult, difficult, lemon difficult." Mr. Polsky should be embarrassed to offer such advice under the current economic circumstances.

For new collectors who'll think I'm just biased about this, let me say, first, you're right...I team and I work our asses off and don't appreciate people encouraging collectors to think it's cool to rip us off, and second, many of the world's top collectors do NOT build their collections through such methods. In fact, a collector who has been consistently ranked in the top 200 collectors in the world, who never sells any of the work in the collection, agreed to be interviewed for my book and was crystal clear on the subject:
"No real artist should ever sell out of his studio unless he has no gallery. No real collector should ever encourage an artist to do it either. Galleries do a lot for their artists, and artists should respect their relationship."
So while I would agree with some of what Mr. Polsky suggests (and quibble with other bits of it), his advice on ingratiating yourself with the right dealers will indeed become much more difficult, if not impossible, for you if you're known to buy directly from their artists' studios. Don't assume that whatever deal Leo worked out with Andy is easy for other dealers to do in this climate.


Hope Extended. Books Enscribed.

We are very pleased to announce that due to a high degree of interest, we're extending our current exhibition "Your Mom Is Open Source" by Shane Hope for another week. The exhibition will now run through August 7, 2009. For more details see the gallery website.

Also, as a reminder, this Thursday, July 30, 2009, we're hosting a Book Signing Party in the gallery from 6:30 - 8:30, celebrating the publication of How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery. We'll have a few dozen books for sale, but I'm delighted to sign any copy you might already have. (Hell, bring your high school year book...this signing thing is oddly addictive [he thinks now...].)

Speaking of the book, I was struck speechless (no small feat, I'm sure you know) by the truly wonderful review by Matthew Nash, publisher of the fabulous New England-based online arts zine Big Red and Shiny. Here's a snippet:
How To Start And Run A Commercial Art Gallery is incredibly readable and, thankfully, structured in such a way that the different audiences can read it in different ways. For those who need an actual handbook for starting a gallery, it is structured to take one through the process, and breaks down the various steps into understandable and accessible sections. For those looking to understand how a gallery works without actually starting a white cube of their own, Winkleman keeps things moving with stories of the successes and failures of both his own and other galleries, along with interviews, quotes and historical examples that tell a tale of a business that has deep and complicated roots, but is home to a number of unique personalities who are always innovating. He goes out if his way, in almost every chapter, to remind readers that while the art world may have its conventions, there is always someone who might come along and have success by breaking the rules.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Rise of the Robots : Open Thread

The Robots are Coming! No, I'm not kidding. And it might not be entirely prudent to just assume they'll be as benevolent as the Jetsons' maid Rosie. Recent news events include the following charming/alarming developments in the field:
So we're left with a potential combination domestic robot that, when you're not home, will dress itself up in your finest clothing, lounge around for hours recharging itself on electricity, and eat your chocolates (if not your cat). As soon as they make one that might drink my scotch, the war is on!!

In fact, the New York Times reported recently that advances in robot technology have begun to accumulate so rapidly that humans are seriously considering what might be the best practices for controlling them:
A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.
Coincidentally, such speculation informs the work in our current exhibition by Shane Hope. (See this great review of the show by Nathan Shafer at Pop Tech titled "Collective Formatting of the Future.") In talking with Shane (who's amazingly optimistic about the good that advancing technologies can bring for humankind) about the rise of the robots, he pointed me toward renown cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky who, when asked whether artificial intelligences will inherit the earth, answered, "Yes, but they will be our children." (I believe we've discussed that idea here before). And in light of all the recent chatter about robots, it's a comforting thought, I suppose, until you contemplate the likelihood of "The Bad Seed" scenario anyway...but I digress.

There's a piece in Shane's exhibition that touches on all this titled "Yes, but [grey goo] will be our children."

Shane Hope, "Yes, but [grey goo] will be our children.", 2009, archival pigment print, 48" x 48".

Shane Hope, "Yes, but [grey goo] will be our children" (detail), 2009, archival pigment print, 48" x 48".

"Grey goo," as Shane explains, is a "hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves (K. Eric Drexler coined)." With the flesh-eating robots currently already being developed, all we need is for that technology to intersect with self-replicating nano-robots and voila! Brunch R Us.

Such scenarios are, of course, the kind of disastabatory fiction Shane's also interested in helping us stay calm about. The truth of the matter is that no one can entirely predict what might happen when artificial intelligence becomes might represent the biggest boon humankind has ever seen. Or it might look at us the way we do cavemen. Or it might look at us the way we do a nice juicy steak.

Consider this an open thread on what such technologies might mean for humankind and what role artists play in helping us make sense of it all.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Sexy Update : Week Three

In Week Three, the exhibition expands to include two hot and homey textile works by Maria E. Piñeres (selected by Co-Founder of the Armory Show, Paul Morris) and an exotic collaged relief print by Damara Kaminecki (selected by Chicago-based artist Tony Fitzpatrick).



"The Gospel According to Luke Skywalker"

An art exhibition in Glasgow, in which the artists Anthony Schrag and David Malone presented an open Bible, plenty of writing utensils, and the following permission “If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it” has seen a wide range of the usual suspects outraged, because a wide range of the usual suspects responded to the invitation in what anyone could have predicted would be their usual way, but has (despite it's seeming one-liner quality) raised some truly interesting issues, in my opinion. The London Times explains [via]:
The open Bible is a central part of Made in God’s Image, an exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) in Glasgow. By the book is a container of pens and a notice saying: “If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it.”

The exhibit, Untitled 2009, was proposed by the Metropolitan Community Church, which said that the idea was to reclaim the Bible as a sacred text. But to the horror of many Christians, including the community church, visitors have daubed its pages with comments such as “This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all.” A contributor wrote on the first page of Genesis: “I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this.”

The Church of Scotland expressed concern, the Roman Catholic Church called the exhibit infantile, and a Christian lawyers’ group said that the exhibition was symptomatic of a broken and lawless society.

The exhibition has been created by the artists Anthony Schrag and David Malone, in association with organisations representing gay Christians and Muslims. Mr Schrag, the gallery’s artist in residence, said that he did not believe in God, but that his research for the £7,000 show had underlined his respect for people of faith.

The community church, which celebrates “racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, gender and theological diversity”, had suggested the “interactive” Bible and pens and Mr Schrag, 34, said he had been intrigued.

“Any offensive things that have been written are not the point of the work,” he said. “It was an open gesture. Are those who say they are upset offended by the things that people write, or just by the very notion that someone should write on a Bible?”
Where to begin?

First and foremost, I see no connection between taking someone up on their permission to write in a Bible and "lawlessness." As far as I know, there is no law in Great Britain or Scotland against writing in a Bible or any other text. The Christian Legal Centre ought to be far more precise with its language. I mean, surely the suggestion that this is a "legal" problem might bring more attention and/or funding to their organization, but if that's the quality of the logic they represent, the good Christians of the UK would do well to consider more secular counsel when truly in need of good legal advice.

Secondly, the Times article is rather sloppily edited in that it makes no distinction between comments like "This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all" (which is a mindless oversimplification of what at some level might be a worthwhile critique, but which as presented is simply offensive noise) and one like "I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this" (which seems to be exactly the sort of inclusion-seeking comment the project was designed to elicit). Surely the MCC had comments like the second one in mind when it proposed the exhibition. Not that I would expect the Roman Catholic Church to admit they see the difference in these comments at this juncture (although hope springs eternal), but for the Times to lump them together under the umbrella of a response of "horror" without offering another opinion is highly disappointing journalism.

Third, the comment I quote in the title for this piece falls into that category of topics that really begin to open up possibilities for any religious thinker not hellbent on regurgitating the same old line and truly interested in seeing Christianity reach a new generation:
One writer has altered the first line of the Old Testament from “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth” to “In the beginning, God (me) I created religion.” Another has written “The Gospel According to Luke Skywalker”.
Whether the Church likes it or not, these sentiments (that man created religion and that morality lessons come to us via Pop culture more these days than via the Bible, and perhaps that's OK) are the context in which the Church must today demonstrate its relevance. Those genies are out of the bottle, and only through the most draconian of measures could the Church get them back in again without addressing and discussing them openly.

Fourth, the sponsors of the exhibition are indicating they plan a highly disturbing response to the criticism:
Last night the producers of the exhibition indicated that the most offensive pages would be removed....
Really? Who decides what's offensive? Some would say the entire concept is offensive, others would say censorship is even more offensive. This is a very bad idea in my opinion. If you can't take the heat, close the show. Don't edit it on the fly. You're never going to find that happy middle ground in this.

Fifth, some just couldn't resist the opportunity to bash Muslims in their response:
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “One wonders whether the organisers would have been quite as willing to have the Koran defaced.”
The quality of the logic in that objection suggests this spokesman is programmed to connect any controversy to Islam on autopilot. The implied assertion is that should the artists have presented the Koran for comments, the response would have been more violent, even possibly deadly. The conclusion you're presumably meant to take away from that is that you can write in a Bible and only get a tongue-lashing, therefore this exhibition, which the Church condemns (meaning it's a bad thing) is actually evidence of the Church's relative benevolence (because they're not calling for the death of the artists, which is a good thing), which means that even though they are offended by it, they're not so offended as to not find something positive to point out about it. Can you say "opportunisitic"?

All together, this exhibition has sparked a far more interesting dialog than I would have imagined had I read only its proposal. How refreshing and worth while.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wikipedia vs. the National Portrait Gallery

As big an advocate as I am for making art as widely viewable as possible to as big an audience as possible, I have some problems with Wikipedia's arguments in the brewing legal quagmire they're in with Britain's National Portrait Gallery. The BBC summarized the story as such on July 15 [via]:
The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

A contributor to the popular site, Derrick Coetzee, breached English copyright laws by posting images from the gallery's collection, the NPG said.

But photographs of works of art are not protected by copyright in the US, where Mr Coetzee and Wikipedia are based.

The NPG said the breach undermines its £1m project to digitise its collection.

So far, 60,000 hi-resolution photographs of paintings held by the NPG have been added to its website for use by the general public.
Flash forward and a bit of a philosophical riff (read: Wiki is building an argument for their right to build an empire) enters the fray. Again, from the BBC:
The battle over Wikipedia's use of images from a British art gallery's website has intensified.

The online encyclopaedia has accused the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) of betraying its public service mission.

But the gallery has said it needs to recoup the £1m cost of its digitisation programme and claims Wikipedia has misrepresented its position.

[...]Now Erik Moeller, the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation which runs the online encyclopaedia, has laid out the organisation's stance in a blog post [see here].

He said most observers would think the two sides should be "allies not adversaries" and that museums and other cultural institutions should not pursue extra revenue at the expense of limiting public access to their material.

"It is hard to see a plausible argument that excluding public domain content from a free, non-profit encyclopaedia serves any public interest whatsoever," he wrote.
I've always thought it wise to be a bit skeptical of anyone claiming the high-road in serving public interest, especially when they're potentially being sued, but....
He points out that two German photographic archives donated 350,000 copyrighted images for use on Wikipedia, and other institutions in the United States and the UK have seen benefits in making material available for use.

Another Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard has blogged about the row, claiming that the National Portrait Gallery makes only £10-15,000 a year from web licensing, less than it makes "selling food in the cafe".
This is the strangest argument in all this to me, as it implies there's an urgency to getting the images on Wikipedia (that is, if Wiki waits until the £1 million is re-cooped at the rate of only £10-15,000 a year, the public will suffer). This reminds me of the argument people are constantly making about how they "need" this or that technology. "I need to fly to Pittsburgh. I need to use my cell phone. I need to check my email."

No, actually, I always think in don't need to do any of those things. You may want to, but you most definitely do not need to. The fact that mankind managed just fine without any of those things less than a Century ago proves you don't need them.

Moreover, arguing that the public needs these images housed on a free online encyclopedia is like arguing the public needs flying cars. How can you argue anyone needs something that has not yet ever existed? You can imagine it will be good for the public, but perhaps there are unforeseen consequences to such things.
But the gallery insists that its case has been misrepresented, and has now released a statement denying many of the charges made by Wikipedia.

It denies claims that it has been "locking up and limiting access to educational materials", saying that it has been a pioneer in making its material available.

It has worked for the last five years toward the target of getting half of its collection online by 2009. "We will be able to achieve this," said the gallery's statement, "as a result of self-generated income."

The gallery says that while it only makes a limited revenue from web licensing, it earns far more from the reproduction of its images in books and magazines - £339,000 in the last year.

But it says the present situation jeopardises its ability to fund its digitisation process from its own resources.
My number one objection to Wikipedia's argument is tangential to the central question of whether images in a publicly funded museum should be as widely accessible as possible to that public. I tend to think they should (we'll just skip over whether a US-based encyclopedia should be arguing so strongly about British taxpayers' rights, but...). But how Coetzee retrieved those images (unlocking the NPG's security measures) strikes me as a dodgy way of going about it. If you have a solid legal argument for posting the images, then take the organization locking them up to court. Don't go to such lengths to hack through their security system that to many folks it will look as if you have stolen them. That complicates the entire "public interest" issue to my mind.

The overarching answer here seems simple enough to me. Wikipedia can help raise the money to reimburse the NPG for the £1 million it spent digitizing its collection. That way everyone is putting their money where their mouth is and everyone is being well served. In fact, Wikipedia's champions should IMO be at the forefront of helping organizations raise money for digitization projects. If it's the public interest that they fighting for, it shouldn't always cost others so much to make Wiki look so altruistic.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Press for Shane Hope, the Limits of jpegs, and a Gallery Book Signing

Because of its technological subject matter, our current exhibition by Shane Hope has led to a really interesting intersection of art-world-meets-high-tech-world among the visitors to the show. What each world gravitates to in the work has been so illuminating, and finally I'm beginning to see enough patterns to guess, by what someone new focuses on, which world they inhabit. This meeting at the cross roads has also led to an interesting mix of places Shane's show is being discussed, including the following: And we understand the blend of press sources will continue (more on that as it comes out).

Dealers say this all the time these days, I know, but the work in Shane's show is so incredibly detailed (seriously, he worked with one of New York's most technically advanced printers and together they pushed the equipment to a place it had never gone before...these prints are intense), that there the poor jpegs on our website really can't even remotely do them justice. I was discussing this with a curator yesterday who agreed that galleries are increasingly complaining about this. I'm not sure what the answer might be (incredibly large images on websites?), but I'm open to suggestions.

If you missed Shane's opening, or if your schedule won't permit you to stop in during regular gallery hours, you still have another chance to check out this show. Bambino and I are hosting a Book Signing Party in the gallery, next Thursday, July 30, from 6-8 PM. We'll have a few dozen copies for sale, or if you already have one from some other channel, by all means, please bring it. Hope to see you there!!!

Image at top:
Shane Hope, cartoon_trace_atoms=1 (detail), 2009, archival pigment print, 60" X 48" (private collection).

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"It’s wrong to pooh-pooh it." Open Thread

In what amounts to a year's worth of great blog topics, Sarah Douglas thoroughly interviewed 13 of the hopefuls who lined-up outside White Columns last Saturday vying for a spot on Bravo's upcoming, as-yet-untitled, art-world-based reality TV show. I've blogged a bit about this before, but now that it's in production, my sense has been to take a wait-and-see attitude before rendering full support or otherwise. I think that's the right approach, especially as my opinion of it changes almost daily.

In the main section of her article, Sarah interviews Simon de Pury, head of auction house Phillips de Pury & Co., who has been serving on the preliminary panel of judges during the casting calls:
De Pury said he’s been “impressed with the process” so far and that “from what I’ve seen, it’s been more than legitimate. At no point in the process has the production company said, ‘Take this person because they’re better on TV.’ I’ve seen artists whom you feel have a chance to make it long term.” To put the show in context, de Pury pointed out that it, along with certain Web sites that allow emerging artists to promote their work, is “just another way to get known. It’s wrong to pooh-pooh it.”
To my mind, it's still a bit early to declare one way or the other whether it's wrong to pooh-pooh it...maxims about "good intentions" having not changed much...but I will note that De Pury's sense that this is just another context in which artists can promote their work was echoed in one of the interviews and it's something I'm still processing. Talking with 30-year-old artist, Tony Orrico, Sarah asked the following:
Wouldn't it be weird to compete against other artists on a TV show?
That competition exists anyway. Artists compete for limited gallery spots and exposure and attention.
Fair enough? Is there a difference between jumping through hoops just because there's a camera recording it?

Another compelling answer was offered by hopeful 56-year-old Sharon Sprung:
You’re a figurative painter and show your work at Gallery Henoch, in Chelsea. You also do portrait commissions. So you’ve already had some success. Why would you want to be on this show?
The kind of painting I do isn’t seen, or talked about, as much as other kinds. I want to advocate for it.
Again, I wondered: Fair enough?

The interview with Greg Walker was especially poignant, I thought. With stories like his driving the show (I have no idea whether he was selected or not), it might just live up to its potential.

Consider this an open thread on the project and its potential.


Monday, July 20, 2009

A Quick Thought on "National Art Hate Week"

Billy Childish, who couldn't be bothered to stick with Stuckism, is reportedly half-heartedly stirring up resentments and, so long as it doesn't lead to anything concrete, trying to agitate the establishment in the UK again. (I guess nothing moves things about as pointlessly as practiced ambivalence.) This time, though, he's actively advocating hate. (How charming in this day and age, no?) The Guardian has the story:
Today marks the first day of National Art Hate Week. A seething critical mass that sprang, initially at least, from the hands of Billy Childish, prolific painter, poet, punk and self-proclaimed hero of the British art resistance movement. Childish was also Tracey Emin's former lover and the founder – now ex-member – of Stuckism, a sizeable art movement best-known for protesting on the steps of Tate Modern to demand more contemporary figurative art; Childish left at the first hint of his idea manifesting itself into an actual, physical demonstration.

It's this concept of disorganised, ramshackle creativity that's key to National Art Hate Week: "I was making a series of new posters and just liked the way the words 'art' and 'hate' fitted together," Childish says, perhaps a mite disingenuously. The notion of turning the slogan into a national week apparently didn't occur until Steve Lowe, "chief engineer" of the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop gallery, and Jimmy Cauty, former half of art pop agitators the KLF, collaboratively spurred him on. [...]

Childish's Constructivist-leaning posters – filled with neatly-lined graphic blocks and pre-war propaganda motifs – are available for free download to distribute in the thousands outside local galleries. Lowe, who specialises in acerbic asides on what he terms "the business of culture", has mobilised the mailing lists of his gallery and the British Art Resistance (the trio's side project, fostering National Art Hate Week), to spread the message each day this week.

They believe their campaign of sustained hate will liberate the public and that National Art Hate Week will shatter the common consensus on artists such as Andy Warhol, Peter Doig, Pablo Picasso. "Galleries claim they're challenging us [the public] – we're challenging their challenge," says Lowe. Participants will be encouraged to be honest about work they find "boring and hateful", otherwise deemed stimulating and interesting by curators.
The main problem I have with Childish's highly conceptual project is how its obvious goal is press attention for himself. This, in and of itself, is merely clever (and I mean that in the New England sense). Where it becomes a bit too paradoxical to let pass without comment, though, is how it exploits the portion of the public that sincerely favors figurative art over other genres. Mobilizing the masses under such pretense is good for a laugh, I suppose, and if any element in the art world takes itself so seriously that it won't laugh along, well, it deserves the mockery. But just as he abandoned the movement he founded when, well, it tried to actually affect change, it's hard to imagine Childish won't move off to the side again, trying to take the spotlight with him, this time as well.

Indeed, the sort of conceptual shenanigans represented by this project, replete with appropriated poster imagery, plenty of intent escape hatches, and its self-serving, so-called anti-commercial statement (The Anti Art Hate League offers Artist Deluxe Collector's Edition copies of its "protest" posters for £31.13) are precisely the types of ironic gestures I imagine the sincere Stuckists are most sick and tired of. If only they had paid more attention to the artists rigorously refining conceptual art all these years, there wouldn't be any risk that they'd fall for this.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Sexy Update : Week Two

In Week Two, the exhibition expands to include two steamy, dreamy paintings by Sharon Shapiro (selected by Chicago collector Howard Tullman) and a digital video by Luke Murphy based on meta tags taken from porn sites (selected by New York art adviser Cristin Tierney).



Thursday, July 16, 2009

Your First Recession as a Dealer? Must-Read Advice in The Art Newspaper

On Page 30 of the Art Newspaper's summer edition (they were kind enough to offer me a quick, free subscription to their new digital edition, which is lovely, but now that I have been flipping through it on my laptop [love the sound the pages make when you turn them!], I'm already looking forward to the time I can get the iPhone version...hint, hint) is an article every young art dealer currently struggling must read. I don't mean should read either...if you want to stay in business, rush to that article, which summarizes a panel discussion by seasoned art dealers in London discussing how to get through a recession. It's full of the very best, most honest advice I've read on the subject anywhere.

Some of the advice offered contradicts other advice. One panelist suggested now was a good time to standardize relationships with artists by binding them to contracts. Another countered that it's better to offer artists contracts when times are good and you have more to offer them. But among the gems in the report were the following:
"If you sit in the gallery feeling sorry for yourself, you've had it," said [London dealer Alan] Cristea. "The most important thing is to see the new reality as a creative challenge. The moment you view it that way you'll almost certainly get through it. You can get far more satisfaction out of doing reasonably well now than you could get from doing well two years ago because anyone could have done incredibly well two years ago. It was like falling off a log."
And, in support of what I argued here, as well as some truly priceless advice about the long run, Thomas Gibson noted:
Do not be put off at starting up in a recession, as you will learn much more prudence this way--I started in 1969/70. When the next recession comes, and it will, make sure you are in a position not to have to sell while being in a position to buy. After World War II, the Rosenberg gallery in New York held an extraordinary exhibition of Cubists: Picassos and Braques. Nothing sold. Mr and Mrs Rosenberg took the works upstairs to their flat. Then, in the 80s they brought them down again and people marveled--"Where did you get these fantastic works?" Every one of them sold. Remember the old maxim--a dealer earns a living by the art he sells, but a fortune by the art he keeps.
Some of the advice offered was heartless, even if worth heeding:
"Cut costs as quickly and radically as you can. Speed is the most important thing. Don't wait, don't let it get out of control. Act immediately." This is the advice of Karsten Schubert, the German-born London dealer.... The process is "very painful" says Schubert because "you are dismantling what you've built over the last few years," but the only way to continue operating is to "let very qualified staff go very quickly and very brutally" and, where possible, to reduce overheads such as rent.
No matter how challenging it gets, however, young dealers must resist the urge to panic. Having woken at 4 in the morning, having run the numbers in my semi-conscious slumber, simply horrified at the "new normal," I know all too well how panic can seize you, but as London arts lawyer Nicholas Sharp noted:
The panic must be overcome quickly...and the debt must be tackled head on. Although clients are asking for advice on "how to deal" with it, Sharp concded that "lawyers can't be much use because, in most cases, the debt is not disputed. It's simply money owed which can't be paid." The best thing is "to try to deal with problems before they arise. Go to your creditors and talk to them--set up deals where you can pay them in installments," said Sharp.
Like I said, this is the most honest, most helpful advice on the topic I've read anywhere and it's a real credit to the London dealers and arts professionals willing to share their wisdom with younger gallerists.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coined and Minted : Open Thread

There's a story I heard once about an author (can't recall exactly which one, now...anyone?) who was regularly criticized for making up words in his novels and other publications. One day while working on a text, mindful of this criticism, he stopped mid-sentence and looked up a word he wanted to use, only to find it in the dictionary with the clarification that it had been first coined by none other than himself. "Well," he reportedly hmpfed, "If they're going to adopt my words anyway, what's the point of worrying about it?"

This anecdote came back to me this morning, as I read the Manhattan District Attorney's press release about the indictment (the second indictment, mind you) of New York art dealer Lawrence B. Salander, who's being charged (again) with "stealing from and defrauding consignors of art." My mind connected a passage in the presser (yes, I think I just made that word up) to the author's story above and immediately influenced my thinking about something I'm sometimes criticized for here. In my case, the charge has never been that I simply make up words, but rather that I help perpetuate (through this blog and my gallery press releases) a somewhat stylized art-speak. The general objection to this practice (and the truth be told, I normally use an even more exact [read: "art-speaky"] language in discussing work with artists or curators in the gallery than I do in print, and find it immensely useful in most cases, but...) is that it's not how people actually talk and/or think about art, so why does the industry insist on using it.

In reading the DA's press release, though, I paused upon reading this bit:
The victims on this second indictment include the Lachaise Foundation, who consigned the works of Gaston Lachaise, a French born American sculptor known for pushing the boundaries of nude figuration with his innovative portrayals of the female body, [emphasis mine]
I'll admit, my knee-jerk response to this was not kind (I'm not yet fully caffienated). At first I just chuckled, much the way an adult does when a child dresses up in his or her parent's over-sized clothes. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the person writing the press release used to work in a gallery and or perhaps had a background in art history. Finally, though, I wondered whether perhaps the language used to help categorize, define, and clarify ideas that are quite easy to see in art, but difficult to express in words when art is not present, has finally trickled down into the mainstream lexicon.

The answer was none of them, actually. That description of Lachaise's work was lifted straight from a description offered by the Lachaise Foundation (as you'll see if you navigate on the Foundation's website to the "Biography" section and read the last line). But (and this is the important part) this phrase is already being repeated as news agencies around the country reprint the story verbatim from the press release (see, for example). And, somewhere in upstate New York, a young person just learning to read is picking up the North Country Gazette, and being trained to understand that using phrases such as "pushing the boundaries of nude figuration" is how you discuss artwork.

I see nothing wrong with that, actually. Taking baseball jargon as a parallel---for example:
An ace is the primary pitches of a team, the best the team has. A backdoor slider describes a sneaky pitch that is initially outside the strike zone but moves back over the plate at the last moment. Cheese is a crazy name for an exceptional fastball. When players hit a home run, it is referred to as a dinger. A pitch that is hit for a home run is said to be a gopher ball. Third base is also known as a hot corner. If a pitch comes really close to a batter's hands, it is called a jam. If someone has a batting average around .200, he is said to be around the Mendoza line. Balls traveling fast, anywhere, are called peas and baseball fights or scuffles are called rhubarbs.'s clear that art-speak is hardly the only stylized vocabulary we've developed to reduce complex ideas into bite-sized phrases for more concise, if not always immediately clear, exchanges.

Consider this an open thread on how stylized vocabularies are useful (or not).


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's Ali-i-i-i-ve!!!

Although I've been told to ignore the rankings on Amazon (apparently they use some Byzantine algorithm that only makes real sense to databases), I was still delighted to see my book, which becomes available today (wahoo!!) ranked at #2 in the Business of Art category (although if you click on that link even a few moments after I write this, it is likely to be at any other seemingly random ranking, so apparently fickle are these calculations). Still, I'm guessing that means a fair number of people have purchased it in advance...I know my little brother did (thanks very much, Ray!).

Knowing that a larger percentage of the readers here are artists or collectors or other folks unlikely to start their own gallery any time soon, I was delighted to see the first generous and thoughtful blogger response to the book (by one of the smartest and loveliest artists/bloggers out there, Joanne Mattera) contextualize much better than I have been able to thus far, what in the book might be applicable and/or of interest to artists. Joanne notes:
[U]nderstanding the dealer's concerns and activities will help you present yourself in a way that complements the gallery's program. [Also] it underscores the idea that artists and dealers are not so different. Here's Ed: "This is a business in which very little is stable . . . rent in your neighborhood will skyrocket, forcing you to find a new location (and consuming all the money that moving requires); and critics will inexplicably hate your latest exhibition. . . It never really gets easy. Some months you’re flush; others, you’re scrambling." Sound familiar?
And although I wrote it specifically from the point of view of what I think a budding dealer needs to know about finding and working with artists, Joanne has kindly worked through all that and summarized what artists can learn from that chapter:
Chapter 14: Artists: Where to Find Them; How to Keep Them
Make a beeline for these 24 pages. Nothing takes the mystery out of the submission process better than learning how a dealer puts a roster together. Here's how Ed found/finds his artists, in order of frequency: "recommendations (including from other dealers), institutional exhibitions, open studios, cold call submissions."

In other words: show, show, show, show and network, network, network. This goes along with what I know of dealers. Their websites may say "No submissions accepted at this time," but they are always looking. As for cold-call submissions, they are, confirms Ed, "the least productive means of finding suitable artists." If you must go this route, do your homework. "Every now and then an unsolicited submission will make your day. Either the artist has done his research and knows his work is a good match for your mission, or fate smiles on you."
I am contractually obligated to limit the amount of text in the book I give away for free, but in the interest of promoting it, I'm encouraged to share excerpts. Among my very favorites in the book, the opening anecdote retells the single-most motivating bit of advice I'd ever received about opening my gallery. I think it applies to any daunting venture one might dream of launching. From How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery:
Introduction: The Easy Part and the Hard Part

Shortly after moving to New York City, I met a producer of off-Broadway plays at a party. Listening to him describe his passion, I grew highly impressed with his resilience in finding backers for his productions. He said he wouldn't even begin to become discouraged until the thirteenth potential investor turned him down. In fact, he took anything other than a flat-out "No!" as encouragement, and he rarely accepted the first "No!" as a final answer, anyway. Nothing was going to dissuade him from following his dream.

I was busy soaking up these insights, so I was caught by surprise when he asked what I was doing in New York. What was my dream, he wanted to know.

"I'd like to open an art gallery," I answered.

"That's great," he replied. "How are you going about doing that?"

"Er...uh...well," I said. "I'm doing studio visits with lots of artists, and working freelance for a gallery, and attending art fairs, and...."

"That's the lamest thing I've ever heard," he interjected.

"Excuse me?" I asked, visibly offended.

"What is an art gallery?" he continued. "It's a space with art on the walls. If you want to open an art gallery, get a space and put art on the walls."

"'s not that simple," I insisted.

"Yes it is," he insisted. "It's exactly that simple. Get a space, put art on the walls, and you will have an art gallery."

He was right of course. It was that simple. Six months after that conversation, I rented a space on the Lower East Side for a weekend, put art on the walls, and had my first (if highly temporary) art gallery. I even sold some work. What the producer-mentor didn't tell me back then, though, was that finding a space and putting art on the walls is the easy part. Staying in business is the real trick.
Staying in business is a central theme of the book (and why you'll find chapters on writing a business plan, managing cash flow, and other such practical matters), but the fact remains that getting in the game is the inescapable, all-important first step to doing anything of any consequence. Bambino and I are still working out the details for a book signing party we'd like to host in the gallery sometime next week...details to follow soon.

UPDATE: András Szántó has also read and responded to the book on Art World Salon. Here's a snippet:
Part Bible, part user’s guide, Ed’s book offers calm and steady, and above all honest, advice on questions younger dealers always want to know about, but are often afraid to ask. How much should I pay myself? Where should I advertise? When do I need a lawyer? But even the best-laid plans can skid off the tracks because of the minutiae. One of the virtues of Ed’s book is that it delves into seemingly mundane, nevertheless important matters that others might have glossed over. No detail escapes his attention: from staff dress codes to the best choice of gallery paint color; from industry-standard salary levels to the wisdom of including packing tape in your “art fair survival kit.”
Many sincere thanks to both Joanne and András!

UPDATE 2: An embarrassment of riches (and generosity, I must say), as Sarah Douglas' interview about what it would take for her to open a gallery came out today as well. From
During the depths of a recession — when keeping tabs on the number of art galleries that have closed has become something of a hobby among certain journalists, and one notorious blog even features a death watch — would seem an unlikely time to publish a how-to guide for opening an art gallery. And yet the intrepid and astute Ed Winkleman, who runs his eponymous gallery in New York's Chelsea art district when he's not posting on his popular blog, has done precisely that. His new book, How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, comes out today from Allworth Press. ARTINFO cornered Ed in his gallery last week and pestered him about how much money we would need to borrow from our parents in order to open a gallery, why we would need grit our teeth and write a business plan, and why being an art dealer is the best job in the world.


Monday, July 13, 2009

More on the Racism in Western China

In the comment section of the last post on this topic, an Anonymous reader rightly pointed out that the Uighur are also murdering Han Chinese and by most accounts (but not all) are killing more than they're being killed. Some of the murders by Uighur have been truly horrific as well. While I abhor the use of violence to solve political problems and unequivocally condemn the murders on both sides, I did want to elaborate on why I side with the Uighur in this conflict. I outlined some of my rationale in that last comment thread, including,
  • Until 1949, Han made up only 6% of the region's population. Today they make up 40%. That represents a significant migration and a conscious colonization on the part of the Chinese government. And today the Han continue to move there by choice, making them settlers...making it impossible in my opinion to consider them "freedom fighters."
  • Among the most profitable state-sponsored businesses in the region, the bingtuan (large farming and construction projects), employ 1.3 million people of whom only a tiny fraction are Uighur, despite their being the majority. This alone proves state-sponsored discrimination in the workplace.
  • Despite the real murder and violence of the recent riots, there is a history of Han violence against Uighur for trumped up (i.e., false) charges of rape by Uighurs, suggesting a horrific racist element at play here.
  • The Han (even educated Han) openly describe the Uighur in the most degrading of stereotypes.
  • The Chinese government goes so far in its religious oppression of the Uighur as to ensure : "Government workers are not allowed to practice the religion. Imams cannot teach the Koran in private, and study of Arabic is allowed only at designated government schools. Two of Islam’s five pillars — the sacred fasting month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj — are also closely managed: students and government workers are compelled to eat during Ramadan, and passports of Uighurs have been confiscated to force them to join official hajj tours." [They compel them to eat during Ramadan. That alone displays a complete disrespect for their religion.]
  • The Uighur have lived in this region since the 10th century. It is their home. As the Han continue to squeeze them out, they have nowhere else to go.
But to get a sense of why the Uighur are not simply objecting to being assimilated (a fair enough reason, in my opinion), but truly (and rightfully) fighting against the most vile form of racism, check out the following, from James Fallow at The Atlantic. He writes of a sign recently, boldly displayed in a Kashgar restaurant window:
It's an advertisement for restaurant staff at the hotel, in roles from cooks to supervisors. Kashgar, of course, is a historic trading town on the extreme western frontier of China, much closer to Lahore, Kabul, and New Delhi than to Beijing. The original population there would be of Uighur or other Turkic ethnicity, rather than Han Chinese. But the last line of the advertisement says, "This offer is for Han Chinese (汉族) only, ages 18-30."
That the Chinese government permits such blatant racism (something we're told has not existed since the inception of Communist power, but clearly does) puts the responsibility for the unrest squarely on their heads, in my opinion. (Be sure and see Fallow's follow-up, as well, in which outraged Chinese readers write back to tell him he doesn't understand that sign...that it's actually an act of kindness to non-Han citizens)

The same Anonymous reader who I cite above also suggested: "The Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians should also be reminded in no uncertain terms that they are the relatively new kids in [the US] and as such should bring their arrogance quotient down a few notches. Don't throw stones if you live in a glass house." This brand of do-nothing relativism might pass for intellectual honesty in a vacuum, but when people are being murdered as we speak, when ancient city centers are being torn down, when the majority is so clearly being marginalized and denied their rights, despite any mistakes made by our ancestors, today we owe it to those people and even to ourselves to call it what it is: an apology for apartheid.

Where I will point fingers inward, though, is where the other evidence of racism is at play here. It's from a source even more insidious. It is not the response of the Chinese government or the Han to the Uighur culture, but rather the response of the West to the state-sponsored oppression. As Mona Eltahawy notes on The Huffington Post:

Following the news that did make it out of Xinjiang, I thought if only the Uighurs were Buddhists like the Tibetans with whom the Uighurs share almost mirror grievances against Beijing.

If they were Buddhists, Bjork, Sting, Bono and all those other one-named saviors of the world's poor and oppressed would have held "Free Xinjiang" concerts already. But the West continues to largely ignore the Uighurs. Maybe they're not as cuddly as the Tibetans or their leader the Dalai Lama.

Perhaps the U.S. State Department would issue stronger words in their defense if only the Uighurs weren't the wrong kind of minority in a country that produces half the goods we use and which currently lends the wobbly global economy enough money to keep it just this side of total collapse.

The Uighurs aren't Buddhists but are instead Muslims and us Muslims don't get much love these days. You'd think the U.S. at least would be paying a bit more attention to Uighurs after locking up four of their brethren at the prison camp at Guantanamo without charge for seven years.
I've read the most outrageous statements about "that's what you get when Muslims riot" on some right-wing political blogs, never once addressing the racist system under which the Uighur are being forced to live. Such comments are parallel to the mindless defenses of Jim Crow laws we've heard in the US, and those making them should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Further, as outlined in this US State Department briefing (pdf) on the role of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in combating terrorism, the US knows full well, for example, that
the PRC has manipulated the campaign against terrorists to increase oppression of the Uighur people, and has detained and beaten Rebiya Kadeer’s children and imprisoned an ethnic Uighur Canadian.
In other words, the Uighur are being used as pawns, and yet because they don't have the Dalai Lama's PR agent working for them, are widely being ignored by the West. The State Department is well aware of the details (again see the report above), but so far has been relatively silent on the issue. What's taking place in China today is utterly, indefensively violating the human rights of the Uighur and it's time for the Chinese government to acknowledge and correct it. It's past time for Obama and Clinton to condemn it in no uncertain terms.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Announcing "Summer Sexy" : Bringing Hot Art to Where You Summer

When I first moved to New York, July and August were impossible months in which to go gallery hopping. Not only were many of the galleries closed for the summer, but of those that stayed open, few had AC, and so unless sauna-like conditions were your ideal art viewing experience, it made little sense. With the migration from Soho lofts to Chelsea warehouses, though, many spaces installed air conditioning and (with the art boom on and all) stayed open right through the entire season.

Even then, though, most dealers would see a precipitous drop in traffic by their best collectors, most of whom summered in much cooler climes (like Aspen or the Hamptons). It wasn't that they weren't interested in what was going on in the galleries as much as the logistics of it all were too cumbersome.

Therefore, in an experiment born out of a cocktail hour (where we sometimes do our very best thinking), Winkleman Gallery and Schroeder Romero are jointly launching a temporary online exhibition called "Summer Sexy." Over the next seven weeks, we'll continually present artwork selected by a wide range of collectors, curators, and artists who have their fingers on the pulse of what's "sizzling" in contemporary art. Because we can, and it's the season, we're building the online exhibition around the theme of Sun and Surf and Sensuality.

Because we're well aware that times are tough for many people and organizations, though, we've also asked each of the participating collectors, curators and artists to select a charity to whom proceeds from any sale of the work in the exhibition will go in their name. After the year we've all had, we certainly deserve a bit of fun in the sun, but there's no reason we can't also help others at the same time.

You can follow the online exhibition as it grows at the Summer Sexy site. This week, New York collector Michael Hoeh has selected a truly sultry photograph of hot young men playing strip poker by Adam Raphael, and New York art adviser Candace Worth presents a "bodacious babes on the beach" painting by Jeanette Mundt. Enjoy the show!


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dealers of the World: Unite or Perish?

A while back I reported on a conversation I'd had at Art Basel Miami Beach with a highly respected young art dealer about galleries co-operating like fashion designers do to save on overhead:
There are a few fundamental differences between how a commercial art gallery and how a fashion design company run that make this example an imperfect template, obviously, not to mention that, as one influential young art dealer I talked to about this idea in Miami noted, "Many art dealers can't stand each other."
Now I'll be the first to admit that a few art dealers I know are highly unlikely to ever receive a party invitation from me (...they're highly unlikely to see me even piss in their direction should they catch on fire, to be perfectly blunt about it), but I do count among my closest friends quite a few of those who others might see merely as my "competitors." The truth of the matter is though, that in the 8 years we've been in business I've never once seen a sale I felt I "should have had" go to another dealer instead. It simply doesn't work that way in the emerging primary market. We're not selling the same products.

Actually, I've always believed in the strength of galleries working together. From being a founding member of the Williamsburg Gallery Association to hosting regular cocktail/strategy meetings with other dealers in our space in Chelsea, I see much more to be gained from sharing information and working together than hording something another dealer will learn eventually anyway (and thus serving only to make them feel less generous toward me when I need something). It's no secret, for example, that Winkleman Gallery and Schroeder Romero formed a joint multiples publishing venture. Combined, our respective client lists have helped make Compound Editions quite the nascent success, and we've worked out a system through which our independent programing is unaffected by this collaboration.

All of this background forms the context in which I read Charlie Finch's latest column on about two dealers who missed what Charlie felt was an obvious opportunity to work out a mutally beneficial arrangement:
Funnily enough, the best solution was always right in front of them: a merger of operations between Dealers A and B, which would have led to reduced debts, a bigger and better space and continued employment for dozens of artists. But each was too monumentally self-involved to consider the temporary sacrifice of ego necessary for such a sensible solution.
Now I've heard that advice from business types before...that mom-and-pop galleries will have to suck it up and join forces to compete in the global economy and current recession. The biggest stumbling block there, of course, (aside from dealers not being able to stand each other) is identity. If you've carved out a niche for yourself, it's not at all attractive to water that down. Moreover, galleries are usually selling more than simply the art on their walls...they are often selling a point of view and in some instances they're actually selling a life-style. (I know of the director of one gallery, for example, who on his first day at a well-known space had someone walk in and say "A friend of mine came in here recently and spent $83,000 on a painting....I want one that costs $84,000." Mind you, that happened during the boom, but it still illustrates that what that man was buying had nothing to do with art.)

Still, Charlie's cautionary tale bears consideration:
Dealer A, a veteran expert in a certain esthetic field, has had a rather sketchy career, filled with abrupt gallery closings, fights with prominent collector backers and court battles over estate representations. Dealer B, a cutting edge type, has kinky tastes in private life, a domineering approach to artists and spends money like water.

Both have had their share of curatorial triumphs, but each is not quite at the top rank in their respective fields, because of a tendency to bentness. Now dealer B long ago fell behind on the rent, and, despite faking nice-nice with the landlord, was under severe pressure from said landlord to cough up or move out. Dealer A proposes a solution: If Dealer B will "lend" Dealer B's most prominent artist to Dealer A for a career survey show, Dealer A will pay off some, but not all, of Dealer B's rent debt.

The artist in question is a tempermental piece of work, but acquiesces, particularly since Dealer A, with a mysterious sudden infusion of cash, is expanding operations. Now Dealer A, fully aware of Dealer B's profligate spending habits, gives Dealer B just enough cash to keep Dealer B's space open throughout the period of Tempermental Artist's boffo show at Dealer A's deluxe space. Soon enough, Dealer B closes, throwing a huge stable of artists onto the street, who will be in demand from other galleries, putting career pressure on the whole food chain of artists all the way down the line.

Other than the fun folks are going to have trying to suss out who's Dealer A and who's Dealer B, I think Charlie has done the gallery world a huge favor with this piece. Indeed, each time a well-known gallery goes under (as opposed to finding some other way of staying afloat), it does put pressure on the artist food chain all the way down and sends chills through the gallery system as well. It's not for me to suggest other gallerists owe the art world anything, mind you, but I do wonder whether more collaboration among dealers, more exchanging of war stories and "what worked" or "what didn't" might not reveal how much more we have to gain by joining forces and facilitate creative solutions to individual situations.