Monday, August 31, 2009

Is It Argue-worthy? Open Thread

Quick Cliche Monday Post:

They say the opposite of love isn't hate. The opposite of love is ambivalence indifference. You actually have to care a lot about something to hate it. And as Wilde would note, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

With that sentiment firmly established, in the dusty corners of my mind, anyway, the following quote seemed to make an odd sort of sense:

From ARTNews Retrospective:
25 Years Ago
What are the arguments about right now? There are arguments about whether it is still OK to paint, to make painted images. There are arguments about the possibility of feeling. There are arguments about what images mean. . . . There are arguments about what artists do, about what relationship they have to the works they make. . . . Arguing about art—you hear it, read it—is very of the moment. To decide if certain art is of the moment—or if a certain show is of the moment—decide if it is worth arguing about.
—“Your Show of Shows,” by Gerald Marzorati, September 1984
As much as artists hate it when someone hates their work, clearly there's something to it for anyone to even care that much, no?

Consider this an open thread on the potential value of harsh criticism.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Technology-Enhanced Art Viewing

Two iPhone-based applications (apps) are set to make things easier for folks who want a bit of guidance in how to spend their limited art-viewing hours. First is a free app called Artnear (there's also a Pro version that costs $4.99, which gives you additional functionality, but [perhaps because it's summer] I haven't quite felt the need for it yet). Its genius is how it's designed to be consulted when you're already out and about gallery or museum hopping. With 5 views (Near, Venues, Artists, Calendar and Bookmarks), Artnear duplicates a fair bit of what you get on other listing sites...and so long as your phone gives you Internet access, you could navigate to one of them while walking about... but they can't provide the "Near" part of the service:


The integrated GPS localizes you and gives you nearby venues. You can view the Venue details by selecting them, or see a map which shows where you are in relation to the Venues.
So say you're in a section of a town and you know there are other galleries nearby, but the local map you've picked doesn't look anything like the streets you're on (I love you guys, but I found it so hard to orient myself recently when consulting one of the L.E.S. maps)...with the Near function, you can find your way based on where you're standing when you look.

The other app is one I haven't yet tried, but according to, it stands to make museum viewing a much more interactive and personalizable experience. Marisa Rindone explains:
The Brooklyn Museum has found a new, 21st-century way for visitors to navigate its galleries: Pick out an artwork on your iPhone and let the Web do the curating for you.

This week, the New York museum launched its self-guided smart-phone tours, akin to audio tours of old but with one major difference: Nothing is preordained. Neither the museum nor the mobile device knows where it’s going to take you.

Instead, the tours are personalized as you go along (think iTunes’s Genius feature), and they work on any Internet-enabled phone. This isn’t simply an iPhone app, or a program that works only on a device on loan from the museum. It’s essentially a new way to make sense of the building’s sprawling galleries, and to ensure that a visitor doesn’t miss an artwork in tune with his or her tastes.
Having fallen madly in love with the Pandora app (which selects and plays new music based on a singer or song you select via the Music Genome project), I'm quite sure the Brooklyn Museum app will be utterly addictive. And it sounds fun to use:
Shelley Bernstein, the museum’s chief of technology and developer of the smart-phone tours, explains how to get started: “There’s signage in each room that says where to point your browser, which floor, and which room you’re in.” The system will recognize them instantly. “Then, based on what’s in here, it will show you what past users have recommended.”

A number of pictures will pop up on the screen. If you like something, tap its image, then hit “Recommend,” a button prominently placed at the top of the screen. From there, your phone will call up miniatures of other pieces in the room that users who share your tastes have chosen.

The idea is for the phone to create a piece-by-piece map, which prompts a user to go from one piece to the next. Having a separate code for each room means visitors can tackle one gallery at a time. “My hope is that it’s like a scavenger hunt,” says Bernstein of the tour. “You actually go find the thing. I want it to become an aid, literally a guide to go find stuff, not a multimedia tour that’s just television-watching.”
Anyone tried it yet?

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


“It's better to send in the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps.”
---Senator Edward Kennedy

Rest in peace, Sir.

You will be missed.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oliver Herring on cover of ArtNews

Congrats to one of my fave artists and one of the most lovely people in the art world--Oliver Herring--for snagging the cover of ArtNews in September!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Corporate Turnkey Exhibitions : Open Thread

Robin Pogrebin has penned an in-depth look in the New York Times at the growing trend of cash-strapped museums presenting exhibitions curated by corporations from their own collections. Called "turnkey exhibitions," they offer small or mid-sized museums the opportunity to present high-impact shows they could never afford on their own.

There are of course, some who object to this practice:
Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, said he would be unlikely to accept a show put together by a corporation in part because it supplants the role of the museum’s curators. “The reason the museum exists is to make exhibitions on its own,” he said. “You have people on staff who consider themselves to be historians with highly nuanced receptors, and it’s not healthy to duplicate that by hiring out to somebody else.”
And there's the perception that despite presenting quality shows that they could never afford to assemble on their own, the museums are not getting anywhere near as much out of the arrangements as the corporations are:

What museums need to be conscious of, art experts say, is creating the impression that these exhibitions enhance the value of corporate collections that might one day come to market. “A museum has to think very seriously about taking those shows,” said John Ravenal, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The museum, by virtue of its stature and its public role, gives legitimacy or confers a certain kind of validity to these collections when it exhibits them.

“If the collection isn’t a promised gift to the museum, then there is the potential for the museum to be used to unwittingly increase the value of a collection, whether its individual or corporate.”

If a corporation is contributing funds to a museum that shows its collection, “then it looks as if the museum’s exhibition program is for sale,” Mr. Ravenal said. “They don’t want to look like they’re selling their reputation.”
Personally, I'm not sure how I feel about this trend. Some of the institutions that have signed-on are run by directors I have an immense amount of respect for, curatorially and administratively, meaning I trust their vision and I trust they're doing what they need to in the current climate to keep their museums and all their programming alive and serving their communities. Having said that, I do wonder where this might lead for the institutions' curators. Do they wind up just being assistants to the corporations' curators?
The curators at corporations and museums may be equally qualified in terms of expertise, art experts say, but their responsibilities differ. “The point of a corporate collection is to burnish the reputation of a corporation,” Mr. Ravenal said, and corporate curators are therefore “involved in that agenda.”
Museums claim they have found ways to navigate these tricky waters:
As for concerns that a bank would impose its curatorial tastes on the museum, [Lora S.] Urbanelli [director] of the Montclair Art Museum said Bank of America selected the works in the [“The Wyeths: Three Generations,” an exhibition of work by N. C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth] show, but the museum had some say in their installation. “We were able to filter it through our own curatorial staff,” she said. “I don’t feel like we made any kind of compromises at all. If anything, they provided us with a wonderful opportunity — helped us to do something we would not have been able to do ourselves.”
I can imagine, as a curator knowing that needed budget cuts may eventually extend to your department, if not your job, that objecting too strongly to a turnkey exhibition that might generate just enough money to keep the exhibition afloat for another year is a dilemma of biblical proportions. Then again, there is a great deal to be said for being professional about such matters:
To be sure, importing a corporate-organized show might be expected to create tension between the curators at the company and those at the host museum. But Sergio Bessa, the director of curatorial and education programs at the Bronx Museum, said that his institution’s collaboration with JPMorgan “was very collegial,” and that the show gave the museum access to blue-chip artists.

“We saw an opportunity instead of a takeover,” he said. “I actually have quite a lot of respect for their vision. I was amazed: How did Chase get paintings by this painter and that painter?”
As someone hoping to sell work to many corporate collections, I am predisposed to thinking kindly of them, but I can honestly say that corporations' curators are indeed among the most knowledgeable and passionate curators out there, and most of the ones I know are delightful and fun to talk with about art in general. The biggest question for me in all this is one of disclosure. I do want to know when the exhibition I'm viewing is curated from a corporation's collection. What difference that might make to how I fell about it would vary of course, but I don't think it's a small matter. Fortunately most such exhibitions have no shortage of branding or sponsorship announcement opportunities for the lending corporation.

There was one thing noted in the Times article that I was intrigued by:
And Bank of America has lately gone further still, creating a roster of ready-made shows that it provides to museums at a nominal cost to them— essentially turnkey exhibitions. [emphasis mine]
At first I read that to mean the borrowing museums had to pay a small fee to receive the turnkey exhibitions. Curious about how much that might be, I search for info but only found the following. Bank of America's press release about the program states that there is no charge to museums:
Through its unique loaned exhibition program, the bank offers its art collection to museums throughout the country, free of charge, so they may expand their offerings for the benefit of their communities. [emphasis mine]
Perhaps the nominal cost is simply the museum's operating costs, meaning the corporation provides the work (including shipping and catalog materials, etc.) but they don't pay the museums overhead during the exhibition. I'm not sure entirely. Does any one know the details here?

Consider this an open thread on the corporate turnkey exhibition trend.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer Sexy Update : Week Six

In Week Six, the exhibition expands to include a whimsical watercolor by Justen Ladda (selected by collectors Timothy and Terri Childs) and two cool collages by Debra Hampton (selected by independent curator Elizabeth Grady). Also don't miss last week's fabulous Polaroid photo by one of our faves, Jeremy Kost (selected by Washington DC collector, Dr. Fred Ognibene).



Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hot New Blog on Art Market

For those of us who can't get enough of up-to-the-minute news on the art market, noted author and journalist Lindsay Pollock has launched a blog!!! Presenting your new daily must-read: Lindsay Pollock Art Market Views.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Everyone Gravitates Toward Excellence: But Do Note One Thing

One of the central tenets of liberalism as I understand it is that it's important to give due consideration to everyone's point of view, even those of people you know you're quite far away from, ideologically speaking. In other words, liberalism values the merit of individual ideas, regardless of their source, over ideology, per se. And while I attempt to practice that, I do recognize its often wishful-thinking component in everyday application.

Still, the value of that tenet is its application across the board to just about any endeavor, IMO, including the arts. Writing at Doublethink, Conor Friedersdorf has penned a long reflection on why the most important element of being successful in the culture game, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, is excellence. By doing what you do extremely well, he argues, you'll find a place at the table even if your politics are frowned upon by those who surround you. He focuses on the movie industry in his piece, but his advice transcends any cultural realm in my opinion.

Beginning with what had been apparently a wide-spread opinion in the 1980s (i.e., that a conservative who wanted to make it in the culture industry had to remain in the closet politically to do so), Friedersdorf interviewed a number of young conservatives actively employed today:

[Novelist and screenwriter Andrew] Klavan disagrees that conservatives in Hollywood should keep their heads down until they’ve accrued sufficient power, per [web impresario Andrew] Breitbart’s counsels. Still, he doesn’t believe his fellow conservative means to scare young people away from the industry. “What he is trying to do is make certain thoughts that are unacceptable in Hollywood acceptable and speakable,” Klavan says. “We are the radicals today. And we can’t take over except through revolution, which can’t come quietly.”

Another “out” conservative, Lionel Chetwynd, claims a lengthy list of credits, including films on the Hanoi Hilton, the building of the Vietnam Memorial, and 9/11. “There isn’t one thing on my IMBD page that a conservative wouldn’t be proud to show his grandkids,” he says, although he insists that movies aren’t primarily about politics. “I am against confronting the liberals in an all-out war to the death. All I’m seeking is an equal share at the table,” he says. “I want this to be a two-party town where it’s as legitimate for me to have our point of view as [it is] for them to have theirs. And to the extent that’s denied, it’s amazing how many people will stand up for you, including some liberals.”

Chetwynd says he endured “outright blacklisting” in the 1980s, but this kind of blatant discrimination is a thing of the past: “It’s much better for us today. People with a conservative view in Hollywood aren’t quite the oddity they were.” Nowadays, it isn’t a matter of losing work so much as getting berated about political matters in a card game, or having people muse on how such a nice guy can have such political views. “They treat you as some sort of idiot savant, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to employ you,” he says. “They’re not all totalitarians.”

And what advice would he offer a young conservative hoping to break into the industry? “You will go as far as your tenacity and your courage will take you. But if the first thing you want to tell me about yourself is that you’re a conservative, perhaps you’re in the wrong town—you should be in Sacramento or Washington. You’ve got to go out and make good movies.”

There are two themes running throughout this article that made me pause to think. The first one is best summarized by this bit of advice offered as a counter to the frequently recommended "don’t tell anybody you’re a conservative":
Better advice is offered by Dr. Stephen Bird, academic director for the National Journalism Center, a nonprofit that places mostly conservative journalists in numerous mainstream media internships every year, hoping to bring more depth and balance to American reporting. “Here’s what I tell interns going into the media,” he says. “Pursue excellence in everything. Everyone admires excellence and gravitates toward it.”
I would wholeheartedly agree with that. There are plenty of conservative writers, for example, who I love to read because of the excellence of their reasoning, even when I still choose to disagree with them. It's harder to point to conservative fine artists whose work I like, but as I don't ask artists about their political leanings in studio visits, perhaps I simply don't know. Either way, Friedersdorf's refrain about how you'll get further if you don't play the victim is solid advice. I only wish he entirely believed it himself.

The second theme I noted in the article was a baseline assumption of not only victimhood, even by the author of the piece, but of the need to control the cultural fields in order to propagate conservative ideology, and to right a widely assumed long-standing wrong. Of course, this must be read understanding the context of Doublethink, where this work appears:

Doublethink’s mission is to identify and develop young conservative and libertarian writers while delivering an excellent magazine of politics, culture, economics, and the arts, with original photography and artwork. Doublethink is the official magazine of America’s Future Foundation.

Doublethink’s editorial philosophy emphasizes three principles: original reporting, informed commentary, and a youthful spirit of irreverent inquiry. We put our young and relatively inexperienced writers to work investigating stories other magazines overlook. We then inject healthy doses of scrutiny and informed opinion into our exclusive finds. The result is a type of intelligent opinion journalism that is rare in American letters today and even rarer from writers in their twenties.

Still, there's an assertion of victimization among conservative writers, how they're fighting an uphill battle, so subtle to even this author that he offers it paradoxically in the same cheerleading paragraph about focusing on excellence: "a nonprofit that places mostly conservative journalists in numerous mainstream media internships every year, hoping to bring more depth and balance to American reporting" [emphasis mine]. Mind you, that's not a quote but, Friedersdorf's own words.

It does make one wonder how long Fox News needs to be the number one news channel in the country before this posturing strikes conservatives as outdated, but let's back up a bit to really understand why this baseline is something to be a bit weary of. Many conservatives are not seeking simply a place at the table, Friedersdorf and a few others being notable exceptions, but rather they want control of the cultural machines in America.

Friedersdorf describes Andrew Breitbart's position on the matter:
He believes that control over the arts and media are bigger prizes than Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court, that they shape the nation’s future irrespective of what happens in Washington. Hence his ambition to wrest control of these institutions from the left—a project whose success requires that many more ambitious young conservatives enter creative fields.
Indeed, even some who feel that conservatives should proudly declare their ideology, such as Andrew Klavan, still feel it's the path toward "taking over."
Klavan says. “We are the radicals today. And we can’t take over except through revolution, which can’t come quietly."
None of which changes my opinion that everyone offering excellence deserves a seat at the table, regardless of their political leanings, but it does bear keeping in mind that control, more so than truth, is the ultimate objective of more than a few conservatives with chips on their shoulders.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Blogging (Gone Fishin')

Gonna slow things down a bit now that the weather is finally August-like and the gallery is closed for a few weeks. Probably 2-3 posts a week ... we'll see.

Posts will pick back up after Labor Day.


Big Fish Eat Little Fish
, 1557
Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, active by 1551, died 1569)
Engraving; first state of three

9 x 11 5/8 in. (22.9 x 29.6 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1917 (17.3.859)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Friday, August 14, 2009

The Avant-Garde is Dead. Long Live the Avant-Garde.

In his latest column, Charlie Finch explains why we will never see any more avant-garde artwork again, ever. In a nutshell, his rationale is that "the odds of [an artist] discovering something new are nil." His argument for this hinges on the notion that everything avant-garde artwork has been or might be about has been either answered or exposed as a fraud. For example,

Whether it’s the all-inclusiveness of Wikipedia entries or services like KGB providing instant answers to the most trivial questions, the odds of discovering something new are nil.

Is there a stupider culture than America? Sure, all the other cultures in the world who mimic America with their own saccharine, televised singing competitions or by downloading moronic American action films.

Miss California opposes gay marriage? Why is there still a Miss California? And how many cyberchicks get off to World of Warcraft?


Andy Warhol stole from Madison Avenue to make his art. Now you can watch a TV commercial in which a Maurizio Cattelan lookalike whines about the perfect set location while filming an imitation Cattelan piece, a squirrel riding a motorcycle.

New York superdealers open still more spaces (or two), Hip young art curators organize three or four more international art spectacles, and the supine art press just eats it up.

The notion of the avant-garde has always been framed as a "progressive" vs. "conservative" point of view, with artists generally pushing toward greater freedom (progress) while exposing the hypocrisies of the ruling classes for whom progress might mean loss of power. As has become fashionable to assert in the US (and Charlie echoes at the end of his column), the liberals and conservatives are more or less differently branded, but politically indistinguishable, servants of the corporations. But I firmly believe that a few of the conflicts of conscience or crises of faith coming soon to a decision-making body, and hopefully a few artists, near you include things that will make globalism or advertising or anything the politicians have yet had to seek broad consensus on seem quaint. In other words, I hope artists are not buying the notion that we don't need them working round the clock finding the metaphors that will enable us to understand and deal with what's coming.

Even now, I wish things were clearer. What, for example, does it mean to be human when the "friends" you spend most of your time with are people you've never physically met? When you never touch most of the people you communicate with almost constantly? When it's so pointless to identify with the culture of the place you currently and very temporarily reside, if it even has a unique culture anymore? When it's pointless to make laws based on nation-states and your personal interests are more inline with those of the company that makes your sneakers than those of your neighbors? When you're keeping in touch or even only keeping alive through an ever increasing tangle of technology attached to or coursing through your body: bluetooth ear jacks, artificial hearts, cancer-eating nanobots, etc.? When the notion of living to be 900 thrills some of the population (and they're earnestly working on it) even as it horrifies others? When you can compile how your children look or think from a menu of options? And on and on.

Now, I'm not particularly invested in whether new artwork is classified as "avant-garde" moving forward or not. It seems as relevant a term at this point in history as "modern" to my mind. But I do suspect there are plenty of truly faith-shaking events awaiting humankind that I hope our artists will be prepared to help us make sense of. I truly hope they're not drinking Charlie's cynical Kool-Aid.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

More on Media Bias

There's an interesting parallel between the dialog in the US about race and the dialog in the art world about artwork media. The parallel centers, IMO, on the difficult tying up of loose ends in seeking meaningful equality. We have declared for quite some time in the US, for example, that "all [people] are created equal" but it took over 200 years for that statement to bear fruit in the form of the first non-white President. Even still, we see (through issues raised by events such as the Gates Crowley he-said--he-said kerfuffle, if not the actual arrest itself) that there's quite some distance between such milestones and true widespread acceptance/implementation of equality.

Likewise in the art world, the era of Post-Modernist production and current media pluralism has made it rather un-PC to dismiss work created in media other than painting or sculpture, at least openly. Still, the lingering bias tucked away in the recesses of our discourse won't disappear it seems without shining a very bright light on some rather ossified, if only whispered, opinions. As with the arrest of the Harvard professor in his own home, it often takes a public scuffle to even begin that process.

In the art world, one such scuffle is currently taking place in L.A., where the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) recently canceled (to reconsider) its highly regarded weekend film program, which has reportedly lost $1 million over the past decade. That decision alone has led to a high-wattage outcry (and much to LACMA's credit, they've encouraged an online discussion about the changes), but it was the stated rationale behind the decision that promises to crack open a real debate. From a statement by the museum to the staff of the film department (PDF file):
As part of [the planned changes], and for the present, we will certainly place greater emphasis on artist-created films reflecting the museum’s growing relationship with contemporary artists and the contemporary art world. [emphasis mine]
While I'm sure that sentiment was designed to comfort the museum's film department, it struck some in the film industry as a snub, including celebrated director Martin Scorcese:
I do not understand why this approach to programming needs to be re-thought. I am puzzled by the notion of pegging future film programming to “artist-created films,” as stated in the letter announcing this shift – to do this would be tantamount to downgrading the worth of cinema. Aren’t the best films made by artists in the first place?
I find it somewhat unfortunate that LACMA chose that wording too, especially as the "fine artists" I know who work in video and film often cite the influence of directors and other filmmakers who wouldn't necesssarily be classified as "fine artists" in discussing their own work. Indeed, as I noted a while back the lines between "fine art" film and other film are increasingly being blurred. What should be screened in a gallery or museum (in the context of "art") versus what should be shown only in a cinema will become ever more difficult to distinguish, IMO, and that's OK. Why should art not be viewed as far and wide as possible?

That, actually, the is heart of the matter for me. By insisting on a delineation between "fine art" and "other cinema" the big loser stands to be fine art film and the potential public that will never see it. A context in which contemporary art is seen as including contemporary film seems the appropriate path forward for museums and cinema houses alike.

UPDATE: In thinking this through a bit, I realize my logic is faulty. LACMA's decision isn't so much based on a bias against a medium, but rather the handling of that medium. I do think these issues are tangentially related, but...

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Quick Word of Encouragement for Your Ongoing Project

  • Opinion #1: No single idea defines an artist of any significance.
  • Opinion #2: Any vein worth mining as an artist will most likely take time.
  • Opinion #3: All interests and tastes come back around again.
  • Opinion #4: The surest way to miss your place at a crowded table is to keep circling it looking for the best place to sit down.
Twice in the past week I've encountered people who felt that artist A's solo show at gallery X in the fall looked ridiculous given the current state of the world. Twice in the past week I've talked with artists who felt that they needed to shift direction in their explorations because of the recession.

Shortly after 9/11 an artist stopped in our new gallery and asked me to review her proposal for an exhibition about the terrorists attacks. By "shortly" I mean within a month of the event. I handed back the proposal and said I wasn't qualified to review her proposal, as I didn't know how I felt about the attacks was too soon for me to be have enough distance to assess the value of her response. What I hoped she'd take away from that statement was the implication that, in my opinion, it was too soon for her to have enough distance to assess the value of her response (and hence make art of any value to anyone else) as well. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she had been preparing to respond to such an event or was simply gifted enough to do so meaningfully. Somehow I seriously doubted it then, though.

Given that the impact of the recession on our lives is a work in progress, so to speak, and given that most artists' explorations take time to mature before they result in work worth sharing with the world, I'm not at all sure there's any value in switching gears for any artist. Yes, if your work was a tongue-in-cheek response to the gluttony and excess of humanity, for a simplified example, you might find a less responsive audience now that so many people are struggling, but if history teaches us anything, it's that gluttony and excess will come roaring back before too long. Making a note of the fact that such trends ebb and flow can only serve to make your work richer, in my opinion, so to give up on that exploration now (just because it seems temporarily less urgent) is to miss a golden opportunity.

Undoubtedly events in the world can make certain bodies of work seem awkward or inappropriate regardless of how well made or universally true the work seems. That's the way the ball bounces. The thing to remember about that, though, is that such events will pass and good work will eventually get its due. Chasing after current events in one's work is a foolish way to approach "relevance"...the world is moving far too quickly.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Got some things that need getting done.

Not at all sure what the developments have been in the mindnumbingly short-sighted decision to fire all the staff at the Islip Museum yesterday. Joy Garnett interrupted her summer vacation to help raise awarness.

Anyone got any updates?

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Parallel Obsessions

Often when explaining why my passion for the stylized vocabulary and seemingly overdeveloped insideryness of contemporary art isn't necessarily any more elitist than other potential interests, I'll draw parallels between the art world and the sports world. For some sports fans, maintaining an obsessive grasp on the stats of their favorites teams is simply all part of the fun. It's not a matter of feeling they're better than anyone else that drives some fans to immerse themselves in the facts and figures or jargon and personalities, or to spend hours debating them with their friends or colleagues. It's a sincere love of all things related to their passion. Likewise for art, in my opinion. It's simply a matter of where your interests lie.

Never in all my years of leaning on this parallel, however, did I predict that the two worlds could overlap as seemlessly as they're about to in Dallas, Texas. explains:
Here's something you don't hear everyday: The owners of NFL team the Dallas Cowboys have launched an art program named after the franchise, which will commission contemporary artists to create monumentally scaled, site-specific works for the recently completed Cowboys Stadium.

The program kicks off with 14 commissioned works, including contributions by heavyweights Franz Ackermann, Annette Lawrence, Lawrence Weiner, and Olafur Eliasson, as well as acquisitions of existing pieces by Doug Aitken, Wayne Gonzales, Jacqueline Humphries, and another work by Eliasson. Pieces will mainly be installed in high-traffic locations, such as the four principal entries and the walls above the main concourse concession areas, which measure 15 by 114 feet. Some will wrap around stadium walls.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who conceived of the program with his wife and co-owner, Gene, said: "Cowboys Stadium isn't just a place to go and see a game or a concert, it’s an experience you share with your family and your community. That will include things that a lot of people wouldn’t anticipate seeing at a stadium — like contemporary art. Football is full of the unexpected and the spontaneous — it can make two strangers into friends. Art has the power to do that too, to get people talking, and looking, and interacting."

The power of just about anything to get people taking, looking and interacting is worth nuturing, in my opinion. I'm highly impressed with the Jones' vision here, I must say. It may just get me to do something I had never dreamed I'd do in a million years: go see a Dallas Cowboys game (sorry, Sis...I know they're your team).

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Speaking of Hot! Summer Sexy Update Week Five

In Week Five, the exhibition expands to include a sizzling painting by Marc Dennis (selected by New York-based collector Glenn Fuhrman), an elegantly sexy work Eric Rhein (selected by Visual AIDS executive director Amy Sadao), and two sultry photographs by Cortney Andrews (selected by New York-based artist William Powhida).



Hot Time in the City: Art in the Streets and Beyond

For the second summer now, New York City will close off 7 miles of Manhattan streets to any cars or trucks or taxis or trucks or limousines or trucks or Hummers or trucks, providing a welcome, if somewhat surreal, opportunity to make your way from the Brooklyn Bridge up to Central Park via bike or roller blade or simply on foot. It happens three Saturdays in a row, and I have to say, it's lovely.

If you're out taking in the dance classes and musical performances that coincide with the traffic-free Saturdays, consider also taking advantage of a new map developed by the fine folks at ArtWeLove that highlights the best of fine art to be found for free in New York's streets. ArtWeLove Founder Laurence Lafforgue explains:
We took the much needed initiative to develop a street art map of New York City's most notable works: It's a great way for people to enjoy their city and experience (free) meaningful art first hand. The works we've singled out are by artists like Banksy, Os Gemeos, and Swoon, plus a few of Dash Snow's "Sacer" tags in memory of the late artist. Check it out [here.]

We'd like to make this map as lively and updated as possible, so we're soliciting everyone's contribution. If you know of any great pieces you think we're missing, email the name of the artist, the location, and a photo to We'd appreciate if you could pass this on to your readers. Contributors will get full credit for anything we add to the map.
One of the works highlighted in the ArtWeLove map, the Os Gêmeos mural at Houston and Bowery, recently received a love letter of a review from New York Times critic Roberta Smith:
With their first public artwork in Manhattan, which went up at the northwest corner of Houston Street and the Bowery on July 17, the Brazilian brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, who call themselves Os Gêmeos, bring graffiti art to its Rococo phase. Which is to say that their fantastic, epic mural, on a concrete wall about 17 feet high and about 51 feet long, is light and frothy, a dream of happiness with an underlying chord of melancholy. And everything in it is exquisitely fine-tuned and detailed, a dazzlement of effortless technique that sustains long bouts of close looking. It will remain up until March.
If your plans this weekend are taking you places north of the city, do consider stopping in to the opening reception at Morgan Lehman Gallery's Lakeville, CT, outpost, Saturday evening for their summer group exhibition Strangers in a Strange Land. Bambino and I will be there (now that's a freebie...don't waste it).

Photo: Os Gêmeos mural; Justin Maxon/The New York Times.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Too Intellectually Bankrupt to Even Dredge up New Scapegoats

They may not openly acknowledge the impact of human activities on global warming or take a very vocal lead in promoting green technologies, but no one can accuse the right-wing punditry employed by Rupert Murdoch of not recycling. In what we would be safe to assume (this being its second time around) was meant as farce from any other source, Fox News and Wall Street Journal personalities have dug up and dusted off, just to spoon-feed their audiences again, virtually verbatim, the same rhetoric they just used in the 1980's to demonize the NEA's practices in awarding funding. And while we've debated a few times here whether federal tax dollars should ever be spent on the arts, the most annoying and transparent part of this recent bout of ranting is how obviously insincere they are about it. From Media Matters [via]:
Several media figures on Fox News and Fox Business -- including Glenn Beck -- have blasted the National Endowment for the Arts for awarding Recovery Act grants to San Francisco arts organizations, claiming the grants will pay for "porn." However, those personalities ignored significant facts: Direct grants were only made to organizations that were screened to receive funding in the past, and every group they criticized previously received tens of thousands of dollars from the Bush administration.
Important to keep in mind in all this is the fact that, as Media Matters notes, "NEA awarded Recovery Act grants only to groups that have been approved for funding in the past." In other words, when those organizations received money during the Bush era, what they did with it was left essentially un-scrutinized by the airbags on TV, but as soon as another Democrat takes the helm, they're all up in their business. We have a term for that in this country: political opportunism. Indeed, if Fox and the WSJ were so worried about tax dollars funding art programing they feel Americans might not approve of, where the hell were they when the Bush Adminstration approved it for these very same ogranizations, some of them as far back as 2002.

Then again, it's not like they have any new solutions to offer the public in these turbulent times, so they might as well reach for their golden oldies. What else they got to offer?

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Artwork Health Care : Who's The Best Doctor? Open Thread

As the nation debates what to do about the national health care disaster (and if you don't think it's a disaster, you're a self-centered misanthrope in my book...just saying) , I thought I'd muse a bit about another debate that comes up from time to time in the gallery about the health care of artwork. Namely, when a work of art gets damaged, who's the best person to fix it?

As I noted in an interview recently, one of the most eye-opening parts of the research I did for my book (How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, yes, I'm still hawking it), was the section on art conservation. In addition to learning how similar art conservation is to medicine (and how much conservators talk about the art they work on like doctors talk about their patients), I was also introduced to a more concrete way to think about who is best suited to fix a work of contemporary art when if it gets damaged: the artist or a conservator. For the book I interviewed Elizabeth Estabrook of New York's stellar firm Amann + Estabrook Conservation Associates, who said it depends of course on the type of problem:
It's a real discussion that the dealer or the owner needs to have with the artist about what they can do to fix the problem, whatever you perceive the problem to be. Artists make things. Their area of expertise is making, not fixing. So, it's just that they may do things that are not terribly appropriate. And in some cases, it doesn't really matter and can be just all kind of stirred into the concept of "this is how this piece is," but in some cases, if it's a painting and it has a tear in it, they can do an indelicate job of repairing it that someone else cannot revisit because they've botched it in a way that you can't undo and start over again.
The other considerations in this decision process though, of course, are costs and who pays, especially if it's unclear whether the damage was inevitable because of how it was made or not. Elizabeth was very frank about the fact that when they analyze a piece they will often present a client with a list of steps they might consider (the total of which is obviously more expensive than a subset of them) and ask them what they wish to do. If the client asks for a subset that leaves the work in precarious condition, however, they'll refuse to work on it at all.

But getting back to the notion that whatever an artist might do to repair a work is merely part of "how this piece is," I have been involved in cases in which I was very happy we hired a conservator rather than have the artist repair the work. It's not cheap, I can tell you, but we're in the business of placing works into great collections with the goal that they'll be preserved for as long as they can possibly last. That demands of us that we're taking every precaution to ensure the work is structurally fit before we place it. If an artist isn't the best person to ensure that, regardless of how talented he/she is in creating the work, well, I don't want them fixing it. We have obligations to the collection as well as the artist. On the other hand, we have artists who are so phenomenally gifted in their chosen media that I'd recommend them as highly as any conservator to other dealers needing a piece repaired. It all depends.

Knowing how protective many artists are about the integrity of the work they create, however, I wanted to open this up to opposing opinions. Is the creator of a work always its best doctor?

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Slowing Down to Sketch : A Flashmob Challenge

Two stories out of Paris have me wondering whether an intersection of the two might not lead to something interesting, if not even important in this "been there, seen that" era we're living in. First was this tid-bit on

Multitasking mobile phones are also making an impact at Paris’s Pompidou Center, just beyond the museum’s walls. As Agence France-Presse reports, nearly 250 fans offered an homage to Michael Jackson by participating in a flashmob in his honor in front of the Pompidou’s entrance. Following the instructions sent by a text message, participants began dancing the choreography of “Beat It,” much to the surprise and the enthusiasm of crowds lingering in front of the museum. Rehearsals had taken place earlier in the day at a dance center in the Marais while the radio station Skyrock took care of the music. “With a handful of friends, we wanted to pay homage to Michael Jackson by taking up the idea of other flashmobs that took place on the same theme in London and Stockholm,” explained the Paris organizer Roxane Planas. “Everything was done very quickly, with small means.”
Next, Michael Kimmelman posted a dispatch from Paris in the NYTimes, titled "At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus":
Almost nobody, over the course of that hour or two, paused before any object for as long as a full minute. Only a 17th-century wood sculpture of a copulating couple, from San Cristobal in the Solomon Islands, placed near an exit, caused several tourists to point, smile and snap a photo, but without really breaking stride.
Mr. Kimmleman's piece is a thoughtful reflection on the reasons so many people seem to fly through museums these days. In musing on how we got to this place he traces the differences in viewing art at museums from the era of the "Grand Tours" in which "Travelers ...spent months and years learning languages, meeting politicians, philosophers and artists and bore sketchbooks in which to draw and paint" to today:
Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover.

We could dream about covering lots of ground thanks to expanding collections and faster means of transportation. At the same time, the canon of art that provided guideposts to tell people where to go and what to look at was gradually dismantled. A core of shared values yielded to an equality among visual materials. This was good and necessary, up to a point. Millions of images came to compete for our attention. Liberated by a proliferation, Western culture was also set adrift in an ocean of passing stimulation, with no anchors to secure it.

So tourists now wander through museums, seeking to fulfill their lifetime’s art history requirement in a day, wondering whether it may now be the quantity of material they pass by rather than the quality of concentration they bring to what few things they choose to focus upon that determines whether they have “done” the Louvre. It’s self-improvement on the fly.
Thinking about this reminded me of how, when I lived in London, I must have visited the National Gallery a few dozen times (more or less). My approach to visiting it, after my inaugural three-hour stroll around, had been to decide on one room or even simply one piece before heading over to Trafalgar Square, and then spending the entire visit enjoying that very targeted exposure to its vast collection. Of course, the main thing that made this approach feasible for a 20-something fresh out of college and barely scraping by was the fact that there is no entrance fee to the National Gallery. The other factor leading to this luxury, of course, was back then I had a lot more free time than I have now.

The fact that this seems impossible in my life now, though, only makes me more determined to find some solution to the problems preventing it. Kimmelman suggested an approach to a cure, I think:
Recently, I bought a couple of sketchbooks to draw with my 10-year-old in St. Peter’s and elsewhere around Rome, just for the fun of it, not because we’re any good, but to help us look more slowly and carefully at what we found. Crowds occasionally gathered around us as if we were doing something totally strange and novel, as opposed to something normal, which sketching used to be. I almost hesitate to mention our sketching. It seems pretentious and old-fogeyish in a cultural moment when we can too easily feel uncomfortable and almost ashamed just to look hard.
Of course, Kimmelman is currently on a Grand Tour of his own that few of us not working for the Times can hardly afford. Still, putting the two Parisian observations together, I wondered whether it might not be possible to organize flashmob events at which dozens, if not hundreds of people would stop all at once in this or that museums across the world, sit down, and sketch. Just sketch what they see, regardless of how good they are at it. For at least 15 minutes. Then they could carry on with their very busy lives. Clearly it wouldn't have the entertainment impact of seeing choreographed dance routines, but it could benefit its participants all the same.

I'm not sure how to organize a flashmob event, though.