Friday, October 30, 2009

Opening Tonight! Ivin Ballen's "Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall"

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall, our second solo exhibition by New York artist Ivin Ballen. Featuring new paintings and sculpture, including “stage 2009” (which will double as an actual performance platform and sound system for a series of weekly performances by a line-up of emerging New York area bands and DJs), Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall embodies nostalgia, performance of the moment, and illusion of material to create an effect that anticipates the inevitable change to come.

Elaborating on the decision to invite musicians to participate in his exhibition, and its title, Ballen wrote:

Sam Baldwin is mourning the loss of his wife and coming to terms with the fact that his happiness is dependent on companionship. It is not an uncommon story. Through tender circumstance, Sam finds his true second love in Annie Reed. Sleepless in Seattle (1993), with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, focuses on the trials of renewed life.

Although the film’s focus is one of an inevitable romance, a strong feeling of bereavement hovers over the plot. It is the loss of life that is spurring the adaptation in Sam’s life. Death leads Annie Reed to Sam Baldwin through the radio, which is followed by a fairy-tale chain of events deliberately referencing all but the tragic ending in An Affair to Remember (1957). It gives heartening prospect to see a hopeful outcome in Sleepless in Seattle.

Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall explores inward feelings and draws on how we cope and adapt to chance in life. The stage is introduced into this show literally as a place for performance. Winkleman Gallery is transformed into a makeshift concert hall and a place of rejuvenation for both art watchers and music goers.

Life brings unexpected turns and we can be happy to roll with them, taking old objects and reconfiguring them to continue their use cycle. I am advocating a lifestyle of adaptation and am bringing that conversation to the composition of sound and performance.

Musical performances are scheduled throughout the duration of the show.

Opening night line up:
Friday, October 30th
6:00 PM -- DJ SLAPPY
7:00 PM -- Honne Wells and Juan Comas
8:00 PM -- Storms (in photos above)

Other musical artists including, but not limited to: Big Game, Perfect Wieners and Butts, Pete and J, Scandinavian Half-Breeds, and Chris Pandolfi (of The Stringdusters) will be performing on dates to be announced on the exhibition’s blog:

Ivin Ballen
Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall
October 30 - December 29, 2009
Opens Friday, October 30, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Long Hard Slog : A Survey

Walking through Chelsea a while ago I ran into an emerging artist who is among the most successful of artists his age I know, and I asked how his last New York exhibition went. Mind you, here's someone with multiple galleries around the world, multiple books celebrating his truly fabulous work, and a long history of having a long waiting list. He told me that only one piece sold in his last exhibition. He was direct and open about it, but he was also open and direct about his hopes things would pick up soon as well.

Word from the fairs in
London and Paris that just closed was that the emerging art market is picking back up there a bit, and spirits are higher compared with last year. As a result, most New York galleries I know are feeling a bit more optimistic about Miami as well.

Still, just about anyone you talk to from out of town will tell you that compared to other cities, New York still feels quite gloomy. Now I've always thought it a bit incongruous for Gotham to get too giddy about anything for too long ( ya help us out here all the same?), but I'm not convinced it's not just the crappy weather we're having that's leading folks to this conclusion. Then again, perhaps the recession truly is hitting harder here than elsewhere.

How the galleries here are doing is easy enough to measure by how many end up closing (so far, it hasn't been the expected blood bath and, in fact, as
Jerry Saltz reports, in some quarters things are booming), but it's a bit tougher to measure how the economy is impacting artists. Some very strong artists with strong markets have seen their galleries close and are scrambling to get new ones. Still some new artists on the scene are seeing their first solo shows sell strong. With each gallery representing multiple artists, it's just more difficult to get a grasp on the overall true picture.

Enter Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) [link via the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America] who have posted an online survey to help gather exactly such data:
Welcome to the Artists and the Economic Recession Survey

Is the recession over for you, or still going strong? As an artist, the conditions you face in this current economic climate should be heard and addressed. The Artists and the Economic Recession Survey invites you to share your experience. This survey is being conducted by Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a ten-year national initiative to improve conditions for artists, and supervised by Helicon Collaborative and Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

There is strength in numbers.

LINC has been working with organizations around the country to distribute the survey…but we want to make sure we reach the widest range of artist voices possible, especially artists who may not be part of formal organizational networks. Reaching as many artists as possible improves the quality of this important research, and better equips everyone who advocates for artists and the arts.

In addition to completing the survey yourself, could you forward this to every artist you know?

Completing the survey takes about 15 minutes, and it is offered in both English and Spanish. All responses will be completely anonymous. If you have already taken the survey, please do not take it again. If you complete the survey, you will have the opportunity to enter a drawing for one of four $100 prizes.
Here's hoping that by the time their results are published, they will feel more nostalgic than anything else.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Veronica (Brownie) Wadley

What harm could she do really, one wonders? What harm could it do to have the former editor of London's Evening Standard take over the top arts job in the British capital? I mean it's not as if the stakes are as high as when the former commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, Michael Brown, stood for photo-ops as the Director of FEMA receiving a pat on the back from former US President George W. Bush, as thousands of residents of New Orleans waited for assistance in the horrific aftermath of Katrina. We're just talking culture here.

Actually, all the evidence suggests that we're talking cronyism, but... explains:
The running battle between London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson and the Arts Council London is really beginning to heat up. Earlier this month, the mayor was thwarted in his attempt to nominate a political supporter, Veronica Wadley, as head of the council. Critics including current Arts Council England head Liz Forgan said that Wadley had "almost no arts credibility," while culture secretary Ben Bradshaw blocked the nomination, saying it violated conventions against cronyism. Wadley’s main qualification is that she is the former editor of the Evening Standard, a Tory paper that supported Johnson in his 2008 mayoral campaign.

However, Johnson has refused to back down. After at first threatening to leave the post open, he has now started the search to fill the position from scratch, suggesting that he would pick Wadley if she applied again. According to the Guardian, this "decision to begin all over again is likely to infuriate the other three candidates in the final round of interviews for the prestigious London arts role." The move certainly looks bad. Guardian blogger Dave Hill said that the move represented "an obduracy bordering on suicidal megalomania" on the mayor’s part, while over at Wadley’s former paper, the Evening Standard, Louise Jury commented, "Rarely have I seen such immediate and palpable arts world fury."
"Supported his 2008 mayoral campaign" is somewhat euphemistic, actually. The relentless daily attacks from Wadley's Evening Standard against the former London mayor Ken Livingston were described by another newspaper as "a dirty, highly personal fight."

But back to my first question. I assume the new Mayor of London has every right to appoint whom he wishes as head of the Arts Council. So what harm can she really do there?

One clue we have as to what kind of leadership one might expect from Wadley on the Art Council is provided by her response to what's known as the "Sorry" campaign launched by her former paper after she left:
The London Evening Standard today launches one of the most daring of publicity campaigns by apologising to Londoners for its previous behaviour.

Buses and tubes will carry a series of messages throughout the week that begin with the word "sorry." The first says "Sorry for losing touch". Subsequent slogans say sorry for being negative, for taking you for granted, for being complacent and for being predictable. [...]

The move follows research commissioned on behalf of the Standard's new editor, Geordie Greig, who took over in February following the paper's acquisition from the Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) by Alexander Lebedev.

The market research evidently discovered that Londoners considered the paper to be too negative, not celebratory enough and guilty of failing to cater for the capital's needs. A great city with great facilities was being persistently talked down.
There's no doubt that the campaign was a rebuke of Wadley's editorial style, but in an interview of her opinion of the apology to London (not favorable), Wadley quipped of the new editor:
As for Geordie Greig, well, Etonians have a history of collaborating with the KGB.
One does have to wonder whether the new London mayor paid any attention at all to the results of the former US president's penchant for filling positions with his unqualified pals, let alone whether Ms. Wadley's extreme divisive rhetoric is the right tone for someone in charge of the city's arts council. In explaining why, with three other qualified candidates in the wings, Mayor Johnson is insisting on starting from scratch and inserting Wadley in position, he said: “Without doubt Veronica Wadley was the best person for the job."

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England, and a member of the initial shortlisting panel for the Art Council London position, though, disagrees:
In her letter to DCMS, Forgan wrote: "We are left with a due process that was not followed, a candidate who was manifestly less qualified than three of her competitors and three distinguished candidates put through a process that seems to have had questionable validity. Had the appointment been run to the standard applied to other appointments on council, Veronica would not have been seen by the Mayor."
Of course Forgan might have her own political reasons for opposing Wadley's appointment, but there seems to be agreement by the folks already working to promote England's arts that Wadely isn't the right person for the job. By insisting on her, as Johnson is, he's more or less guaranteeing that the road forward will be a very rocky one, not only in the selection process, but after she might take the helm. That doesn't seem to jive with Johnson's rationale for insisting on her:
[S]he is highly qualified to help steer the arts in London through these difficult times. It is essential that London continues to have a voice on the national Arts Council, so I am proposing to re-advertise and re-run the recruitment process.

The evidence would suggest that the only thing essential to Johnson is getting his way.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are the Internets Saving Culture?

An interesting study out of France (by the way, don't miss Linda Yablonksy's opening paragraph in this report from FIAC...hysterical) suggests the Internets are saving culture. Jennifer Allen explains in (scroll down):

A new French study is tracing the impact of the Internet on cultural-consumption habits, from seeing movies to going to museums. As Le Monde’s Michel Guerrin and Nathaniel Herzberg report, the study—“Les Pratiques culturelles des Français à l’ère numérique, enquête 2008” (The Cultural Practices of the French in the Digital Era, 2008 Survey)—was directed by Olivier Donnat under the auspices of the national ministry of culture and is based on statistics compiled by an independent surveyor between 2007–2008.

The last such survey was done by Donnat in 1997, when only one in every five French households had a computer and less than 1 percent of the population were Internet users. Today—just more than a decade later—83 percent have a computer at home, while two-thirds of Internet users spend twelve hours online every week—outside work and studies. In the last survey, television continued to play a main role in dividing people between a lowbrow “domestic culture” of watching television at home and a highbrow “culture of going out” to concerts, museums, and theaters. Has the computer screen increased the television trend of staying put instead of going out? Not at all. “A new culture of the screen has appeared, which upsets the old postulates,” write Guerrin and Herzberg. “Internet users who go online every day are the ones who go the most to the theater, to the movies, and read many books. Even if overall, the younger and often ‘digitalized’ generations go less to the theater or museum, the baby boomers compensate [for these decreases by going more].”

We have talked a lot here about how the Internet has greatly increased the ability for artists to connect with a public they might not otherwise have, without having to move to New York or London or Berlin, but as Allen notes, apparently the advantages extend to art lovers as well: "The new computer-screen culture also allows people to cultivate themselves at home."

One part of the report that I found fascinating is how it suggests the old Buggles complaint is seemingly progressive. First radio left books behind, then video made radio less relevant, and now the Internets are killing the television star. The study found that:
Watching television has decreased, as well as listening to the radio, reading books and newspapers, and going to the library, especially among the fifteen-to-twenty-four-year-old age group.
All of which suggests to my mind that there's simply an appeal of "the new" at work here, and that one day the Internet will take its place alongside the other channels for information or entertainment and reflect a preference more than a dominance. But back to the notion that the Internets are saving culture, could the way retired people have taken to the Internet, where it's easier for them to seek out what interests them, rather than being limited to solely what the TV stations are feeding them, be the reason that so many more of them are turning to the arts?
Whether retiring early (at fifty-five to sixty-four years) or retiring later in life (after age sixty-five), seniors are reaching out to arts and culture. According to the survey, their consumption of television and radio, which was already high in previous surveys, continues to grow. Clearly, the consumption of domestic culture does not suffice; the visits to museums, movies, and theaters are also on the rise in this generation.
Or is it merely that seniors are less sedentary today than in previous generations (medical advances and public transportation being what they are) and they can get around to the museums, movies, and theaters. Or even more simply just that no one is immune to the societal ADHD that afflicts us all?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Creative Fungibility : Open Thread

Someone in a conversation recently (I'm afraid I don't recall who, that's how much I've been talking lately) noted that the significant bursts of creativity in the United States throughout the last century came sequentially in distinct disciplines. There was a leap forward in music, followed by one in writing, followed by another in visual art, followed by one in film, or some other such chronology (I really do have to start drinking ginkgo biloba tea, I know). The point though is that there often (if ever) wasn't an across-the-board leap forward in all the arts, but rather isolated periods in which one or a mix of a few seemed to fair well, while others seemed to be engrossed in their own crisis.

This shift in which discipline is advancing seems to be related to current events, as well, leading me to wonder whether some creative platforms are better suited to respond to certain issues. Indeed, as noted in the text for the the incredibly addictive exhibition at MoMA curated by Barbara London, Looking at Music: Side 2:
In the mid-1970s, right on the heels of Conceptual art and Minimalism, many visual artists turned to making raw, hard-edged work that addressed urban blight and bad economies. With an ear set to punk, these artists worked in the netherworld between music and media, often forming their own short-lived bands. Their rough, do-it-yourself projects pushed the envelope of interdisciplinary experimentation, which soon spread to underground venues from New York to London, Düsseldorf, and Krakow. This exhibition features music videos, super-8 films, drawings, photographs, and zines from MoMA's collection that explore the melding of music, media, and visual art in the final decades leading up to the twenty-first century.
The exhibition highlights some of the musicians also known for their visual artwork, such as Patti Smith or David Byrne, but the title of the show suggested something else that I've been wondering about: Is the hunger for what art feeds you it's own entity and entirely indifferent to the form of that food? And on the flip side, is the wish to express oneself through some creative discipline essentially independent of which medium one chooses.

The obvious answer, based on folks who succeed in multiple media, would seem to be yes, it's independent, but then we have the "born painters" or "born dancers" phenomenon which would seem to suggest a sort of autism if truly the case, rather than simply a choice.

Consider this an open thread on the meaning, if any, of creative fungibility.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Luckily It's Who You Know (the CEC Artslink Art Lottery)

At an Art in General special event a few nights ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sabina Sabolovic, one of the four curators of What, How & for Whom ([WHW] the Zagreb-based collective who curated this year's Istanbul Biennial) about the charms of Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan), which she had visited in her research for which artists to invite to the biennial. As often happens in such contexts---someone looking at me...a fair, red-headed blue-eyed man who doesn't speak Russian--- the question came up as to how on earth my travels ever landed me in such a remote part of the world. I noted that our gallery represents Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (M&G), who reside in Bishkek, but I could see Sabina was still somewhat surprised by how that relationship came to be. Then I pointed to Bambino across the room (whose hometown is also Bishkek), and the clouds of confusion cleared. "Ahhh," Sabina said, as I noted her mentally piecing together a narrative that made sense of it all.

Bambino and I have often acknowledged how extremely slim the odds were that our paths should ever cross, and yet how destined that meeting seems to have been now. Moreover, since traveling to visit his family in Central Asia, a trip that opened up my worldview to things I previously could not have imagined (try
this post for a taste) and like many people who experience a culture so wonderful and yet so different from their own, I've become ever more drawn to all things Central Asian* and, via expanding our circle through that exposure, to all things post-Soviet. Indeed, the number of artists we know now who are connected to the post-Soviet experience surprised me the other day...there's M&G, Yevgeniy Fiks, Carlos Motta, Eve Sussman (that's just the artists who've had solo shows in the gallery) and perhaps three dozen others we've met through those connections.

My point here is that I have no idea whether this portion of the gallery program would have evolved as it has, had I never met Bambino. I like to think I would have still discovered this incredibly rich and evolving section of the art world (the artists from the former Soviet Union in general, but Central Asia in particular, have had a very intense experience as of late; many were trained in the high-quality but low-tolerance Soviet art academies far from home and then returned to join artist unions, there being few gallery opportunities for them and usually few exhibitions outside the USSR that they could arrange; but after the USSR collapsed they began to move about more freely and the unique combination of excellent training meeting new-found freedoms inspired an explosion of activity leading up to first Central Asian Pavilion at Venice in 2005, after which curators from around the West literally began heading to the area by the plane load), but the truth of the matter is, as in all things in life, many of the opportunities that come your way are influenced by who you know.

Luckily for you, you know me (or at least you know this blog), and that provides you an opportunity to receive a significant discount on tickets to an event that promises to become one of the highlights of the New York art benefits season AND in one fell swoop bring you up to speed on a wide range of the most important artists from the former Soviet Union and the surrounding areas.

CEC Artslink, led by the indefatigable and utterly charming Fritzie Brown, is an international arts organization that encourages and supports the exchange of artists and cultural managers between the United States and Eastern and Central Europe, Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. To say they're doing the heavy lifting for everyone else in the West just now waking up to the vibrant and vital dialog taking place in those parts of the world is an understatement. Next Thursday, CEC Artslinks launches its first Arts Lottery benefit.

Here's how it works:
Win Original Work of Art by a Brilliant Array of International Artists

Thursday, October 29, 2009 6:30 p.m.
Drawing begins at 7:30 p.m.
At Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
31 Mercer Street, New York City
Masters of Ceremonies Andrew Andrew

How it works
Art works will be displayed throughout the gallery. All ticket holders at the level of $750 and up will win a work of art. Lottery participants are encouraged to browse the images now as well as preview the works at the gallery on the day of the event before the lottery begins and compile a list of at least 10 of their favorites. When a ticket holder’s name is randomly chosen, he or she has up to 60 seconds to select a work of art. Very Lucky Ticket ($2,000) holders increase their chances of choosing their top selections in a separate drawing of only 5 names prior to the general lottery. Two guests with Individual Tickets ($250) will be randomly selected at the event to participate in the general drawing.

All proceeds will benefit CEC ArtsLink, a 501 (c)(3) not for profit organization.

For more information please call Zhenia Stadnik at 212/643-1985 x26 or email
Bambino and I are on the committee for the Luck-themed benefit, and two of our artists (well, two of our groups of artists) have generously donated work: Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (who, as I noted yesterday, were just shortlisted for the Artes Mundi prize), and Eve Sussman & Rufus Corporation (whose work-in-progress project "White on White" was filmed largely in Central Asia). See the work available at the benefit by each below.

But getting back to your good fortune, if you join us by purchasing tickets (again, call Zhenia Stadnik at 212/643-1985 x26 or email, AND you mention the promotion code "M&G" you'll receive a 25% discount! That's 1/4 off the price for the ticket level of your choice just because you read this post.

The evening promises to be an eye-opening and very rewarding experience (see the truly stellar list of participating artists
here). More than that, though, you'll be supporting an organization that continues to be a leader in civilian their mission states : "opening doors, sharing ideas and building mutual trust. [] today’s transformed and complex world."

Among the works available in the benefit:

Eve Sussman & Rufus Corporation
Oil Fields, Baku, 2016
still from "White on White"
edition of 20
pigment on metallic silver paper

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev
Last Stop Before Border
digital photograph, edition of 5
50 x 33 cm
*In addition to being remarkably rich in art, Central Asia is also an oddly quiet, underestimated political powder keg. With the United States, Russia, and China each struggling to dominate in Kyrgyzstan alone (try this for a quick summary of the issues in play) and the oil, gold, water, and access to the surrounding regions of intense interest (Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc) to be had by doing so, the relatively tiny governments of the "Stans" are (momentarily at least) raking in the Super Powers' cash (and far too many of them are not sharing it with their people [can you say "revolution"?])....

Being there is a very intense experience. When flying from Yerevan into Bishkek, Bambino and I were two of only 10 people on the flight, at least 6 of the others of whom simply had to be CIA (we saw one gentleman at the airport checking in a trunk load of automatic weapons and rocket-launcher type gizmos).

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

M&G Shortlisted for the Artes Mundi Prize

We are very pleased to announce that Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (M&G) have been shortlisted for the Artes Mundi Prize:
Artists from Albania, Bulgaria, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Russia and Taiwan on shortlist for UK’s biggest contemporary art prize.

The eight artists from around the world who have been shortlisted for Artes Mundi 4 were announced today.

Viktor Misiano, one of the two selectors for the next Artes Mundi Prize, revealed the names on the Shortlist, as follows: Yael Bartana (Israel), Fernando Bryce (Peru), Ergin Çavusoglu (Bulgaria), Chen Chiehjen (Taiwan), Olga Chernysheva (Russia), Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev (Kyrgyzstan) and Adrian Paci (Albania).

The intensive selection process involved Artes Mundi in receiving over 480 international nominations from more than 80 countries. The Shortlist was chosen by two specially appointed selectors: independent curator and art critic Viktor Misiano, formerly Curator at The Pushkin State Museum and Director of the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in Moscow, and Levent Çalikoglu, Chief Curator at Istanbul Museum of Modern Art.

The diversity of nationalities and artistic media on the list reveals the scope of the Artes Mundi Prize, which seeks out outstanding artists from around the world who stimulate our thinking on the human condition and humanity.

Artes Mundi was established in 2003 and works in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. One of the largest art prizes in the world, it is a biennial contemporary visual arts initiative that gives greater visibility to artists and recognises them on a truly international platform.
Past shortlisted artists and recipients of the Artes Mundi prize have included
Artes Mundi 1: Janine Antoni, Tim Davies, Jacqueline Fraser, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Lee Bul, Michal Rovner, Berni Searle, Fiona Tan, Kara Walker, and Xu Bing; Artes Mundi 2: Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Thomas Demand, Mauricio Dias and Walter Riedweg, Leandro Erlich, Subodh Gupta, Sue Williams, and Wu Chi-Tsung; and Artes Mundi 3: Lida Abdul, Vasco Araújo, Mircea Cantor, Dalziel and Scullion, N. S. Harsha, Abdoulaye Konaté, Susan Norrie, Rosângela Rennó.

We, of course, are rooting for M&G to receive the award, but it already makes us quite proud indeed that they've been short-listed. The fourth Artes Mundi exhibition will take place at the National Museum Cardiff from March 11 to June 6, 2010.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thinking While Making Things : Open Thread

Of all the blunders the John McCain team made during the last presidential campaign, to my mind the single biggest error in judgment came when he suggested he needed to delay a debate in order to return to Washington to help address the economic crisis. It was a remarkable mistake because the response was devastating and should have been so obvious: “It’s going to be part of the president’s job to be able to deal with more than one thing at once,” said Barack Obama. In one fell swoop, the young senator with so much less experience looked more presidential. Again, though, the McCain team should have seen that response coming from a million miles away.

I thought of that turn in the campaign while reading Robert Storr's interview with The Art Newspaper about the role of art theory in making art. In general, I agree with much of what Mr. Storr noted, but the implication of his assertion that reading theory is so different from making art seems to be that the better you are at reading the theory, the worse your art will be:
[A] lot of people who do theory full time don’t really want to acknowledge that the process of making art is fundamentally different from the process of writing theory. And, therefore, even though you may share a vocabulary, you don’t share at all the same kind of generative process or goals. [...] People who have real theoretical minds read widely, they read selectively and they read for use.
I'm making a bit of a stretch here, but the idea seems to suggest that being really good at reading theory is so different from being really good at creating art that one would be hard pressed to find anyone who does both all that well. Taken to its logical conclusion, then, this would suggest that art making and art theory should be done by separate specialists.

Then I read Mark Staff Brandl's article for Proximity "Artists Write: Thinking While Making Things," (republished on
Sharkforum). Mark argues that:
[T]here is a need for primary secondary literature: theoretical musings by artists, not critics, curators or professional theorists (unless they are artists first and foremost and do one of the latter activities as a sideline). [emphasis mine]
OK, so Mark's article delves significantly into one of the best comment threads ever on this blog (which as Mark notes, resulted in 198 comments), including this kernel in a comment by Mark:
[O]nly the journals, philosophy journals, and the like offer real theoretical opportunities. The glossies are the problem here, not the artists.
Robert and Mark are talking about different parts of the same issue. Robert is noting how so few artists read theory well, and Mark is noting how those who wish to write theory have so few opportunities to have it published. But I can't help but feel that Robert's opinion contributes in part to Mark's complaint.

In the end of the his article, Mark writes "I assert that artists are indeed thinkers...and deep ones, especially when they do not spout pre-digested, memorized, consensus approved jargon."
In comparing the leader of the country with the potential leaders in contemporary art, I would side with Mark in saying our best theory could (if not should) come from our best artists. It makes no sense to me to suggest they can't excel at more than one thing at the same time. I would personally much rather read art theory by someone who makes it, knowing that their studio experience is the single best validation or refutation of their hypotheses. So long as that art theory is sound and compelling, obviously.

Consider this an open thread on whether art theory by artists is important.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nancy Spero 1926 -2009

Feminist art pioneer Nancy Spero passed away at NYU Hospital yesterday according to friends of the family. Having only met Nancy once (when she received the Visual AIDS Vanguard Award in 2007), she was always a more of a legend in my mind than personal acquaintance, and so I'll leave the proper eulogies to those who knew her better and simply note that just the other day in conversation, discussing who should represent the US at the next Venice Biennial, she was the only artist we could agree on.

My thoughts go out to her family and friends.

Image above: from Art:21

UPDATE: Art:21's Marc Mayer and Tyler Green both offer wonderful tributes to Nancy.

UPDATE 2: Holland Cotter's beautiful retelling of Nancy's life and contributions.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Wasting Art on the Public?

Jonathan Jones has a point to make in his latest blog post over at the Guardian, but the way he made it was guaranteed to be divisive, essentially arguing that the Tate Modern's latest turbine installation (Miroslaw Balka's "How It Is") is wasted on the public because they're not responding seriously enough to the work to actually get it. The issue of how people respond to art in museums (see these recent protests about treating a visit to a museum as one might a theme park or as speed-snapshotting assignment) and what can be done to improve the situations seems to be in the air, but rather than giving the public the benefit of his doubt, Jones mixes his proposed solution with a curmudgeonly cry to "Grow up!"

Miroslaw Balka's black hole at Tate Modern is terrifying, awe-inspiring and throught-provoking. It embraces you with a velvet chill. As you ascend the ramp into what you might imagine to be a vastly enlarged cattle truck or gas van, the ghosts of the 20th century seem to march alongside you into nothingness.

At least this is what it might be like, if it wasn't for the hysterical laughter of teenagers, the fairground screams of tourists, the thuds and bangs of people jumping up and down to test the strength of the steel floor, and the loud comments of people saying they thought it would be darker.

Is the Tate Modern audience ready for a chilling and serious work that invites contemplation of death and dereliction and the Holocaust? Apparently not, if the annoying atmosphere on the first public day of the exhibit was anything to go by.

Jones does go on to suggest a simple and sensible solution to the problem:
Perhaps a queuing system, a limit on numbers, a film about Auschwitz before you go in might help.
But that came too late in the post to prevent the some blistering counter-attacks from his readers, such as:
  • Anything that punctures the pretension of Tate Modern is to be applauded.
  • A site-specific work doesn't work in the specific site. Let's blame the public.
  • [and one so snarky it should win an award]: Art is only for the few. The marauding middle class scum that invade galleries at the weekends would be much better off at Thorpe Park or Disney land Please leave Art to the educated, thinking intellectuals who understand this stuff and can pay due respects to the solemn, serious, respectful spectator who comes armed with the correct cultural equipment.
    In fact, why not round up all the Thickos and put them on a train, and then we can transport them across the countryside in the middle of the night and then we can put them in a camp of their own, where they can watch the X factor, read the Daily Mail and eat non-organic produce all the time.
    In the evenings they can have lectures on the correct response to alter-modern work, and then they can come back to Tate Modern, re-trained re-sensitised and able to fully appreciate the subtle metaphors explored by Balka.
Then there was a comment that made Jones' complaint seem entirely self-absorbed:
I want joyful children laughter in democracy...not fake concerned establishment pathos.
A part of my family got send to the camp.
I dance for them and sing loud enjoying living life in each moment.
If we don't consider the first more important than the second we might drift straight into the same dehumanising mess...for "holy" reasons.
Lesson learned? Suggesting the public is the problem never makes your solution to a situation go over very well. Had Jonathan made a modest proposal rather than a lecturely admonition (and the museum had heeded his advice), he might have made allies among his fellow frustrated art viewers longing to experience the piece as was intended AND the rest of the visitors who simply are responding naturally and honestly to the work.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nice Blurb in Art in America

I'm a month late in seeing it, but thanks to a generous soul who pointed it out, I've learned that Art in America ran a very nice blurb about my book in their September issue:
Looking to change careers? A new book offers a solution. How to Start and run a Commercial Art Gallery (Allworth Press), penned by New York art dealer and blogger Edward Winkleman, is a soup-to-nuts manual for would-be dealers, and an informative resource for artists or anyone curious about how galleries operate. The lowdown: it helps to lovee art, but you need a business plan.
Many thanks to the editors of AiA!


A Show You Should See : #1

NOTE: I've always refrained from responding to exhibitions at other commercial galleries on this blog, because to do so honestly would sometimes require being, well, critical, and it seems unseemly and unwise for one dealer to do so to another (karma and payback being what they are), but it's dawned on me recently that such concerns are not as applicable when the exhibition is in a not-for-profit space and that not-for-profit spaces can use as much press as they can get, especially now, so I'm bending my own rule (just ever so slightly and limited, again, to non-commercial spaces) to permit me to offer a few responses to exhibitions of note (and limiting those to shows I like). We'll see how far I get with this...

Even if you mentally draw a line from Robert Smithson up through Richard Serra, you may still not be physically or spiritually ready to encounter Blane de St. Croix's latest installation, Mountain Strip, at Black and White Project Space in Williamsburg. Entering the sculpture courtyard behind the gallery was, for me, comparable to exiting the train station in Cologne, where its huge glass windows permit the German city's collosal, brooding Gothic cathedral to visibly crash down upon you, making you feel tiny and naughty and scared. Indeed, Mountain Strip so dwarfs the viewer that at first you may not be able to take it all in and realize that what you're looking at is a sculpture of an entire mountain ridge that's been violently ripped from the earth and suspended, upside down, in the outdoor space (it continues from the courtyard, through the wall, into the gallery space).

The green foliage running along the top (make that the bottom) of the work provided me the first clue that this was a geological representation, and then the earthly brown subterranean section (now at the top) with its tangles of torn roots and massive rock formations helped orient me further. But, even upside down, what kind of mountain has such oddly rhythmical and barren sides? It's not a hospitable place, obviously, I thought. And that section doesn't look natural.

It dawned on me eventually...

From the gallery press release:
For the exhibition, De St. Croix quite literally builds a mountain upside down, referring to the strip mining process of mountain top removal and filling of the valleys, definitively flatting the land and stripping it of all its resources and sustainability. The massive sculpture, a monumental miniaturized landscape, dynamically cuts through the exterior exhibition space spilling into the interior gallery, while painstakingly reconstructing the topography of a selected section of the Kayford Mountain Ridge top in West Virginia as both a monument and memorial to the land. The installation runs over forty feet in length and towers above the exterior walls as it climbs up twenty-two feet high. Additionally, in the interior space numerous detailed ink drawings will be on view as well as extensive research documentation in support of the project.
Blane was in the gallery when we visited last Sunday and told us that this piece is based on a specific ridge, the top of which belongs to a man he has met who has stubbornly and heroically refused to let the mining companies complete devastate every last inch of this part West Virginia. As Blane writes on his website:
Larry [Gibson’s] last stand against the strip mining companies has won him a recent CNN hero's award. His mountaintop has been in his family for over 200 years and is being stripped away leaving a small green patch topping the mountain in an otherwise barren and leveled landscape. He has fought this type of land devastation for 20 years. The Mountain Strip project specifically reconstructs a selected section of the Kayford Mountain Ridge top in West Virginia as both a monument and memorial to the land.
Learning that the geometrical grooves in the mountainside are man made makes the installation all the more overwhelming and makes the fact that some visitors have suggested the work would be a good backdrop for sitting and meditating seem somewhat strange to me, but there is a
horrible beauty in not only the scale of the work, but also how light floods over the top (bottom) and bleeds through the bottom (top) of the mountain. I hear it's particularly spectacular at dusk.

Just to give you a sense of scale, here's a photo of Bambino and the installation:
We talked a fair bit with Blane about his process and he shared that during one visit to the location he and his wife, the equally talented artist Diana Shpungin witnessed a bit of the local politics that complicate the situation. During a peaceful assembly to protest the removal of the mountain top where Larry Gibson's family has lived for over 200 years, a group of local miners, hurting because of unemployment, show up. Diana captured the remarkable scene on video:

With so many Americans out of work at the moment, it's understandable that tempers flare and confusion abounds as to who's to blame for the hardship. Blane noted that the mining companies, looking for scapegoats when their workers complain about the lack of jobs, point fingers at the "treehuggers" when the situation is obviously much less simple than that. I found it somewhat heartening that the miners seemed to begin enjoying themselves once it became clear they weren't going to find the fight they came looking for. You can learn more about Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on this site.

Blane's exhibition continues until January 10, 2010. It's definitely a show you should see.

Photo at top: Etienne Frossard.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Get to Work

Despite last week's thread in which we discussed the seeming need to "go more than two or even three directions at once, to break through into a fourth dimension to capture a deeper sense of what's happening and how it is making us feel" and what that might mean for painters, I have to confess that I lo-o-o-o-o-o-ove paintings. I love looking at paintings, talking about paintings, even installing paintings in the gallery. They're wonderful, and I'd hate to imagine our world without them. (OK, so I don't love bad paintings, but...)

This romance with a particular medium pre-dates our opening the gallery and is perhaps more understandable when one knows that a hundred years ago or so I used to dabble in painting on weekends, and a few classes here and there, and nothing I've ever done, not even writing (which I also love), has ever made the hours evaporate as quickly and as pleasantly as solving some problem on canvas. There's magic in the process and sometimes (more often for some than others) magic in the results. What's not to love?

This love affair with painting is not uncommon, I know. In fact, a good friend of our gallery and a wonderful artist in multiple media, Joe Fig, has just published a book about painting and painters and what it means to spend so many hours in one's studio solving problems on canvas. Inside the Painter's Studio (you can buy it on Amazon) includes photographs and interviews from 24 contemporary painters' studios, including those of Gregory Amenoff, Ross Bleckner, Chuck Close, Will Cotton, Inka Essenhigh, Eric Fischl, Barnaby Furnas, April Gornik, Jane Hammond, Mary Heilmann, Bill Jensen, Ryan McGinness, Julie Mehretu, Malcolm Morley, Steve Mumford, Philip Pearlstein, Matthew Ritchie, Alexis Rockman, Dana Schutz, James Siena, Amy Sillman, Joan Snyder, Billy Sullivan, and Fred Tomaselli. It's an absolute treasury of insights and and behind-the-scene snapshots of some of America's most talked-about painters. Here are just a few of the quotes from the book:
“Life is short. Life goes fast. And what I really want to do in my life is to bring something new, something beautiful and something filled with light into the world. I try to think of that every day so that I can remember why I am coming to my studio.”
– Ross Bleckner

“Yeah, I just have this one palette knife. I like how it feels. I get frustrated because I lose it a lot in the studio and I can’t do anything without it. If I’ve lost it, I can’t paint because I need to mix up colors. I hate that!... Then I hate the palette knife! [laughs] But then I find it and I love it again. [laughs]”
– Dana Schutz

“I like Chinatown, it’s had an influence on my life! The colors of the signage really affected me early on. This goes back to the old Lower East side too where you’d see reds, yellows, blues just garish, raucous colors really comp...ressed together. The whole area is compressed and my studio is small so it’s compressed too. The compression in my work comes partially out of that.”
– James Siena

“My secret for success? Well it’s not a secret that I have never hung out too much and I’ve just worked very, very hard for thirty-five years. It’s just a lot of hard work. That’s my secret—it’s a big secret [laughs]. A lot of hard work and also being with my family which for me has always been a priority.”
– Joan Snyder
I'll go out on a limb here and say that if you love the dialog around contemporary painting, you're very likely to love this book as much as I do. Truly, I've spent hours with this book (the photos are as eye-opening as the interviews) and can pick it up and re-read it over and over.

Joe has an opening and book launch party this Thursday, October 15, at Hendershot Gallery. I wouldn't miss it!


Monday, October 12, 2009

McMona? Or, When Museums Become a Bit Too Popular

Quick. What do you think of when someone mentions Paris?

Romantic strolls along the Seine at dusk? Baguettes with butter and jam and coffee for breakfast at some charming bistro? World class art across its myriad museums? Whether or not to supersize your Quarter Pounder meal?

Well the truth of the matter, according to the UK's Daily Telegraph, is that
France has become McDonald's biggest market in the world outside of the US, according to the chain. While business in traditional brasseries and bistros is in freefall, the fast food group opened 30 new outlets last year in France and welcomed 450 million customers – up 11 per cent on the previous year.
And so I guess it was only a matter of time until this happened:
Lovers of France's two great symbols of cultural exception – its haute cuisine and fine art – are aghast at plans to open a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé in the Louvre museum next month.

America's fast food temple is celebrating its 30th anniversary in France with a coup -the opening of its 1,142nd Gallic outlet a few yards from the entrance to the country's Mecca of high art and the world's most visited museum.

The chain faces a groundswell of discontent among museum staff, many already unhappy about the Louvre lending its name and works to a multi-million pound museum project in Abu Dhabi.

"This is the last straw," said one art historian working at the Louvre, who declined to be named. "This is the pinnacle of exhausting consumerism, deficient gastronomy and very unpleasant odours in the context of a museum," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Didier Rykner, head of The Art Tribune website found the idea "shocking".

"I'm not against eating in a museum but McDonald's is hardly the height of gastronomy," he said, adding that it was a worrying mixture of art and consumerism. "Today McDonald's, tomorrow low-cost clothes shops," he said.
At a certain point, protesting such things simply feeds into the "art world types are elitist" narrative. When the truth of the matter is, who really cares? Most museums, including the Louvre (see here), are already marketing themselves as little more than culture theme parks as it is. Debating whether McDonalds is the last straw is a bit like debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Museums need bigger crowds to operate and grow, and those crowds will feel more welcome if the museums recognize and attend to their wants and needs.

The only thing I regret in all this, honestly, is the ability to slow down and reflect upon a work of art or two in a museum without being jostled or rushed by the movement of the hordes. Having visited one of New York's premier museums with Bambino yesterday (a Sunday...what kind of idiots are we, eh? The kind that work other days, but...) to find it only slightly more crowded and yet remarkably less pleasant than the 42nd Street subway station during rush hour, I couldn't wait to get out of there. There were miraculous things to behold, but no mental or physical room in which to do so.

A while back we discussed Michael Kimmelman's response a trip to a museum in which he noted how current generations of museum goers fly through, snapping photos like they were running a marathon. Michael noted of his visit how, "Almost nobody, over the course of that hour or two, paused before any object for as long as a full minute."

If that museum were anywhere near as packed as the one we visited yesterday, it's no wonder. How could they pause that long? They'd be trampled.

So what's the answer? Do you make the museums less welcoming, so that there's more room to spend time with the works? If you do that, though, will you have to make them more expensive?

Museum directors, who are having to cut staff and programming, I'm sure are thinking "Screw you, Winkleman. We need as many visitors as we can get." But that's where I begin to do what? File through like cattle? Is that the goal? Indeed, I'm beginning to wonder if the behavior Kimmelman lamented isn't the natural result of the way museums are attracting visitors. A McDonalds in the basement? Like one could get near enough to it to be offended anyway.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Guaranteed to Make the Right's Wing-Nuts' Heads Explode

From the New York Times:
President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced in Oslo that it has awarded the annual prize to the president “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The award cited in particular Mr. Obama’s effort to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal.

“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said.

The announcement, coming extraordinarily early in Mr. Obama’s presidency — less than nine months after he took office as the first African American president — shocked people from Norway to Washington.
Anyone want to get in on a poll as to how many right-wing blogs will quip: "Well, sure, we've always said he's in a class with Arafat."?

The truth of the matter is, Obama has achieved something else in a remarkably short period of time. Something that I had considered perhaps lost for my lifetime. From yahoo news:
The United States is the most admired country globally thanks largely to the star power of President Barack Obama and his administration, according to a new poll.

It climbed from seventh place last year, ahead of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan which completed the top five nations in the Nation Brand Index (NBI).

"What's really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States for 2009," said Simon Anholt, the founder of NBI, which measured the global image of 50 countries each year.

He believes that during the previous administration of George W. Bush the United States suffered in the world ranking with its unpopular foreign policies but since Obama was elected, and despite the recent economic turmoil, the country's status has risen globally.

"There is no other explanation," Anholt said in an interview, referring to the impact of Obama.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not signing onto to the "Obama walks on water" bandwagon.... As Andrew Sullivan has called it, his "urgency of whenever" on certain issues is far too political to be let off the hook.

Still, if the President of the United States is the symbol of who we are and what we stand for to the rest of the world, and we all grow up and realize that how the rest of the world views us is indeed tied to our collective fortunes and that we, as a super power, have responsibilities to the rest of the world, it's nothing short of miraculous that one person has so turned the tide in perceptions.

Congratulations Mr. President. Just don't let it go to your head and make sure you do something good with the platform it gives you.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Max Carlos Martinez @ Christopher Henry Gallery Tonight!

Our illustrious associate director and utterly beloved art world star Max Carlos Martinez is having his first New York commercial gallery solo exhibition in the Lower East Side's Christopher Henry Gallery tonight, 6-9 pm. By all accounts, the place will be rockin'!

I've seen a fair bit of the gorgeous new work in this show, and can't encourage you enough to come enjoy it yourself! Here are the details:

Christopher Henry gallery is pleased to present its first solo show of new work by New York based artist Max Carlos Martinez.

Self-trained artist Martinez explores the iconography of the West in this series of large scale works on paper. Contextualizing the American expansionist dream and its discontents, Martinez pictures Cowboys and Indians, Horses and Maidens, all rendered in saturated tracery. Building on and extrapolating from a wealth of scholastic imagery from the 50s and 60s, Martinez frames ideas of displacement, assimilation, and revenge, balancing a sense of historical despair with hope for a brighter future.

Deeply personal, Martinez’ work is animated by a longstanding tension in his own soul, as an “outsider” trying to find his place in the ever shifting landscape of American ethnic identity. A descendent of a four-hundred year legacy in New Mexico, Martinez finds himself simultaneously assimilated and lost—in his own words, “left with a self that has become foreign.” These works are topographies of that state—pictures of a point in history where the past relinquishes its hold on the future, as seen from the vantage of one stuck in its grip.

Max Carlos Martinez
The Pursuit of Happiness (is a Warm Gun)
Christopher Henry Gallery
127 Elizabeth Street (@ Broome)
Oct 8 - Nov 1, 2009
Opening: TONIGHT: Thursday, October 8, 6 - 9 PM
Image above: Max Carlos Martinez, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, 2009, acrylic on paper, 30" x 22". © Max Carlos Martinez


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Boxed In : An Open-Ended Open Thread

I hate being uncertain about things. But every now and then my hard-earned certainty on a subject gets jolted by a seemingly random array of things I read or hear. It's so uncomfortable when that happens, but ...

First I saw a poster the other day: "How am I supposed to think outside the box, when I work in a cubicle?" Ha, ha, I your boss is already interviewing your replacement.

Then I had a frustrating but eventually thought-provoking conversation with a collector who was himself rather frustrated with how, despite all their rhetoric, too many artists today seem to be still constrained by one of the delusions of Modernism. The examples he used to illustrate how too many artists were still shackled to working in a way that evidenced they were "in control" were all painters, by the way. The examples he used to illustrate what he felt they should look to see, what they were all missing, were mostly filmmakers. The essence of his frustration was how artists were claiming to be reflecting the current state of humanity (which he feels is chaotic and uncontainable), but doing so through creations relying on wholly self-contained modes or metaphors...creating an oxymoron through their art objects.

Then I read the following on Contemporary Visual Culture, (you might need to read the entire post for context, but this is the part that jolted me):
Perhaps the issue is that at its limits of allegory and illusion painting is a medium marked simply by a set of values that judge quality over content. We speak of someone who “can paint”, by which we mean that someone has the ability to render in its utmost detail. We don’t speak of someone who can “move” or “emote”, but simply of someone who might have the capacity to make it more real than real.

I’m not sure this is an effective framework for understanding the contemporary arts in the present day. By saying this I am not implying the endless endgame of painting, but simply asking a question: “When the frame sets the limits, who really cares what happens inside the frame?”
It occurred to me while talking with the collector that this framework is perhaps a safer starting block for many artists who can see its limitations but haven't quite yet sorted out how to abandon it. I think back to Warhol still leaving some "serious" drips in his early Pop paintings before he decided they weren't necessary.

But then I started getting somewhat confused. What really are the issues here? Will some conceptual or formal twist such as that, as Contemporary Visual Culture's author (Administrator) noted, Eva Hesse had used to "create works in which the work itself becomes its own base, its flatness always already ruptured by a non-pictorial element that it contains" truly convey anything more important about what it means to be human now? Will it set today's artists free?

Rather than the never-ending parade of "make it new" visual language (read: putting A with D, rather than B with C this time) within a frame, are we doomed to an era of experimental, shaped, or otherwise often gimmicky canvases? Will that truly reflect anything new?

The answer is obviously no. The challenge is obviously a conceptual one AND a formal one, but not with the goal of simply "not looking like a frame we'd recognize as such." In fact, I don't really feel the frame is the problem. It's not what goes in the frame that's the problem either. The problem is quite frankly that we've seen far too many images for images alone to get the job done. As Administrator notes: "the problem is that the capacity to rupture our expectations as viewers has become so challenging that simply making a cathartic image isn’t enough."

Which is why I suspect we're turning to film and other time-based media for our examples (I do it here all the time. In trying to explain what I mean about something, I more often than not rely on a film to do so...I see it more and more in how visual artists [painters, sculptors, even photographers] explain their work as well).

But what does that mean? Should everyone put down the paint brush and pick up a camera?

Or looking back to our cubicle worker with the shaky job security; is this simply more evidence that Sloterdijk was right? That having reached an enlightened false consciousness, we're culturally stuck here? Artists and all?

My concern with the examples the collector gave of artists who are working "outside the box" to his mind is that they're doing so either formally or conceptually, but rarely (if ever), to my mind, in tandem. It's this need to go more than two or even three directions at once, to break through into a fourth dimension to capture a deeper sense of what's happening and how it is making us feel, that I think keeps leading folks to use time-based work as our primary analogies.

What does that...what could that...mean for other media though?

This is an open thread.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Struggling Museums Get All Touchy Feely

Was having a bit of a rough day (don't ask), but this just cracked me up right out of it. From The Onion:
Hoping to boost attendance and broaden its base of supporters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a new initiative this week that allows patrons, for the first time ever, to prod and scratch at the classic paintings in its revered collection.

"Though it contains more than two million pieces and represents a profound legacy of artistic achievement, most people remain completely indifferent to our museum," Met director Thomas P. Campbell said. "So we decided to try something a little different and give visitors a chance to experience our timeless works of art up close and personal."

Added Campbell, "Please, bring the whole family and smudge up our paintings as much as you want."

According to Campbell, attendance has increased tenfold since the new policy went into effect, with record turnouts causing 45-minute waits for those wishing to clumsily paw at the works of Vincent van Gogh.

"You can't grasp the brilliance of a great painting just by looking at it," said Phil Brehm, 32, who acknowledged that he hadn't set foot inside a museum since a mandatory field trip in high school. "To truly appreciate fine art, you need to be able to run your fingers over its surface and explore its range of textures."

"Or just rub your face all over it, like I do," Brehm added.

Gerard Schmidt, a retired banker who lives near the Met, said he had never much cared for museums until he was given the chance to manhandle one of Monet's Water Lilies.

"At first it just looked like a picture of a bunch of lily pads, but then I started scraping at it with my pocket knife and the whole painting just sort of spoke to me," Schmidt said. "For the first time, I finally understand what Monet was trying to get across in her work."

Read the whole piece. I burst out laughing several times reading it...good for the disposition.


What It Means to Get Your MFA Now : Open Thread

Jackie Battenfield (whose new book, The Artist's Guide, you have read me rave about) was kind enough to invite me to speak with her Graduate Professional Practices class at Columbia last week. I really enjoyed the questions the students asked and told Jackie I was impressed with how smart, specific, and un-obsequious the questions were.

I had attributed the high quality of the exchange to Jackie's preparations and the particular students in the class, but in talking with one of the students who later stopped into the gallery, I think there's something else that explains it as well.

The student, N. Dash, was one of the people in the class who had asked smart specific questions (and as it turns out, she's also participating in Fritz Haeg'S Dome Colony...part of a performance that's been taking place at the X-Initiative, and, I believe, you have one more Saturday to check out) and it was kind of her to stop in and thank me for the talk. I noted how impressed I was and that I found it pleasantly surprising that the students had asked such good questions without hesitation...that they were bolder than I had recalled grad students being in previous such exchanges.

She suggested that that's because what it means to be in grad school has dramatically changed since the downturn in the art market. No one in her class now expects to have a sold-out solo exhibition (or even a solo exhibition) in a Chelsea gallery any time soon. They're paying buckets of money as part of a life-long intellectual investment, she told me, rather than as any kind of preparation (let alone guarantee) of a profitable career as an artist. As such, a dealer visiting a class is just another professional sharing his/her experience as part of their education, not potentially the key to their dreams of fame and riches.

This is, of course, what a number of people have voiced as what they hoped a downturn would do, with respect to our graduate programs. Let the students focus on their art and not worry so much about whether they're a failure if they haven't secured a slot in a gallery by the time they graduate. The fact that they had so many specific questions suggests there's still interest in knowing how the gallery system works (which in my opinion is something the programs still need to offer students, in case living off their art is part of their future plans), but the relationship between the dealer and the grad student definitely seems to have shifted.

Consider this an open thread on what it means to get your MFA now.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

The Miami Model and Beyond

Yesterday in his interview with New Museum (NuMu) director Lisa Phillips, Tyler Green asked a rather pointed question regarding an upcoming exhibition at NuMu featuring work from a private collection (for a sense of how that news is being received, see this post at James Wagner's [and don't miss the comments]):
Why should a non-profit's resources be used to promote an individual, his collecting acumen and his collection? If a collector wants his collection seen, there are obviously other, better ways for him or her to do that, such as the so-called 'Miami model.'
It was a tough interview, but I have to say I felt Ms. Phillips was impressively open about the issue and seemed happy to invite the dialog about the museum's interest in exploring what curators and the public can learn from private collectors. Most impressively, she asked the following:
And why is [the] Miami model better?
For those who don't know, the "Miami model" is a private museum run by a collector and often featuring mainly the works from their collection. Examples would be the Rubell Family Collection or The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse. Both are located in (or about) the Wynwood District of Miami. Each December, when the art world descends upon Miami for the art fairs, scores of enthusiasts flock to see the exhibitions at these premier collections. Having visited during other times, I can say the enthusiasm for them continues most of the year as well (although during the art fair week, they're particularly packed). Regarding this model, Lisa went on to say:
I think Museums would disagree that the private museum model is better than collectors collaborating with local institutions. But it doesn't have to be either /or, but both /and.
The heart of the controversy that Tyler and James are writing about, if it's not clear, is whether a museum with NuMu's original mandate should avoid collectors-focused exhibitions even more than other institutions. Again, I think Lisa's response to that was as open and thought-provoking as it could have been, but I'll reserve any opinion on whether she's right until after I see the exhibition. It might just convince me.

But back to the "Miami model." As it happens, Bambino and I attended an opening reception last night at a New York institution that's supported by and often exhibits work from a private collection, the FLAG Art Foundation. You've seen me write about shows at the FLAG before (I'm a big fan), but last night I attended wondering whether Lisa was right. Whether there was something lacking in the Miami model that would lead Museums to wonder whether "the private museum model is better than collectors collaborating with local institutions."

I should point out that the FLAG doesn't exactly follow the Miami model. The private collection isn't named, per se, in the institution's title or its press releases (although the collector behind it has been written about frequently as such), and the collector is someone who has never flipped or resold any of the work in the collection. Important about that is how the permanence of the collection signifies a genuine interest in a dialog with the public that isn't complicated by marketing. Again, I'm a big fan.

Last night, however, we attended an exhibition there so exquisite that I began to wonder if Lisa were mistaken. Sometimes the private museum can exceed anything you'd expect in a non-private institution. "Floating a Boulder: Works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Jim Hodges" is a positively gorgeous show. Most of the work in it was borrowed from other collections, but there's no question that the collector's personal interest in these artists and, more importantly, the importance of dialog in contemporary art is reflected in how this show came to be.

I'm running out of ways of not saying who the collector is, so I'll just note that it's Glenn Fuhrman, who surprised a few art world insiders with this decision to open a space, including this early response by then-journalist-but-now-co-director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler. As I noted in response to Marc's sense that collectors playing curator was tricky territory, Glenn, however, is renown for not only having studied art history but also regularly hosting panel discussions with important artists. In other words, the exchange of ideas in response to art is something he's long been engaged in.

That interest is particularly well matched to "Floating a Boulder." Not only is the dialog between Gonzalez-Torres and Hodges an illuminating one, but the work by both these artists relies on public interaction to fulfill the artists' intentions. From the FLAG press release:
In 1993, Gonzalez-Torres reflects, “I need public interaction. Without the public these works are nothing. I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me out, to take responsibility, to become part of my work, to join in.”[1] Almost 10 years later, Hodges echoes: “I don’t think that I am ever not engaged with that consideration. This dialogue or this interaction with a viewer, what’s perceived, what’s being experience, what’s being responded too…Actually, the viewer completes the work.”[2]

[1] Hoban, Stephen, ed. Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America, p. 35. New York: Guggenheim Foundation, 2007.

[2] Berry, Ian. “You Ornament the Earth: A Dialogue with JIM HODGES by Ian Berry.” Jim Hodges, p. 6. Saratoga Springs: Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2003.
I can't imagine a more perfect pairing of exhibition and space. Something this intimately personal and perfect would be impossible to imagine in an non-private institution.

But more than that, this show is a total gem. We missed the go-go dancer (apparently it's not correct to have one at an opening, something I hadn't known about "Untitled" Gog-Go Dancing Platform). But I did, finally, get to see one of the most heartbreakingly human artworks ever created IMO, "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers) and snapped the image above with my iPhone.

If it's not clear already, I can't recommend this exhibition enough.

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