Monday, November 30, 2009

Some News Before Flying (We're Moving and More)

That's Right, Winkleman Gallery Is Moving!

Same Street, Bigger Space, Expanded Programming
We are delighted to announce that from January 8, 2010, our new storefront location will be 621 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001.
But wait...there's more...

Curatorial Research Lab

In addition to being (well, a little) closer to 11th Avenue, our new location includes a project space in which we will be presenting special exhibitions as part of our new "Curatorial Research Lab" series.

Conceived to allow independent curators and art historians to experiment with juxtapositions of artworks or try out ideas for larger projects, the Curatorial Research Lab will be entirely turned over to each exhibition's organizer and independent of the regular gallery programming.

Upcoming exhibitions in the Curatorial Research Lab include projects by independent curator Stamatina Gregory (who recently completed the Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellowship at the ICA in Philadelphia and curated a large group exhibition of contemporary photography at the FLAG Art Foundation; she is also a doctoral candidate at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York) and by art historian and independent curator Courtney J. Martin (who recently completed a year as a predoctoral fellow at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and curated C-Series: Artists' Books and Collective Action, which was presented in New York at the Nathan Cummings Foundation and traveled to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England (2005); Neon Campobase in Milan, Italy (2006); and the Liverpool Biennial (2006); she is also a doctoral candidate in the History of Art department at Yale University).

Main Gallery Exhibitions Schedule

Our exhibition by Ivin Ballen, Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall, continues in our current location until December 23, 2009 and will be open by appointment until December 26, 2009. Be sure to check out the upcoming performance schedule at the exhibition's schedule website.

Ivin Ballen
Stage, 2009
Fiberglass, Aquaresin, acrylic, absorbent ground, gouache, metal, concrete, wood, mixed speaker and sound components
Dimensions variable

We re-open in the new location, January 8, 2010, with the first New York solo exhibition by Leipzig-based conceptual photographer, Ulrich Gebert.

Ulrich Gebert
Typus (tableau 7)
C-prints, framed, museum glass
170 x 150 cm, 67" x 59"

Upcoming Exhibitions

Future upcoming exhibitions include solo shows by Cathy Begien, Yevgeniy Fiks, Sarah Peters, and Joy Garnett, as well as a group exhibition of contemporary film and video curated by Eve Sussman.

Yeah, we're quite excited about the whole thing...stop by and see us in Pulse, if you're heading to Miami, and we'll tell you all about it.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Five Things to Give Thanks For

Blogging will be sporadic over the next 10 days or so. With everyone traveling for the Thanksgiving Holiday and then the annual migration for the Miami mayhem, I'm not sure how easy it's going to be to carve out much time. Still, as I like to do this time of year, I wanted to stop to reflect on a few things I have to be thankful for, both personal and professional. It's not an entirely original list, but the truest of such sentiments rarely make one, and goes:
  1. My dear friends and family. I just finished reading McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road. I can't imagine anyone coming away from that book not wanting immediately to hug their loved ones and never let them go. So consider this a big virtual group hug (grrrrrhhhhaaaahhhh). Especially for that dynamo of a descendant of Genghis Khan who gives the Energizer Bunny a run for his money in terms of sheer staying power and constant darling, the man they call "Bambino." We've had a really tough year (as have many, I know), but Bambino seems to just get stronger and more supportive the tougher things get, and I don't thank him anywhere near enough. So, here, publicly, let me say that I simply couldn't imagine doing this without you. You are a Rock. Thank You!
  2. Our artists and colleagues. Most of us are still here!!! More than a year ago, predictions were that "40 to 50 New York galleries will close." Fortunately it hasn't come to that. The industry, indeed the nation, is not out of danger just yet, obviously, and I've noted this before, but it bears repeating...when you can walk through many neighborhoods in Manhattan and see restaurants and boutiques by the dozen who've closed down, it's quite amazing how many galleries have managed to stay open. It ain't been easy, let me tell you, and I'm very impressed with my fellow art dealers. I'm also very grateful that our artists have all been so supportive as we've navigated these times. I love you all! But that still doesn't mean we can turn the gallery into a speakeasy, so stop asking. :-)
  3. Our President. Yes, he's managed to piss off just about everybody, which, given how long he's been in office is some accomplishment, but at least now we're debating issues like health care reform and not whether state-approved torture is sometimes OK. He's an adult and an intellectual who doesn't abuse his power to promote his party, and despite the turmoil in the world, I personally sleep much better knowing he's at the helm.
  4. Miami!!!! The temperature in New York is supposed to nose-dive this weekend, making early next week the perfect time to grab my flip-flops and sunscreen and head south! This will be our 7th year in Miami, and a renewed optimism about how things will turn out this year has been steadily building. Please do stop by and visit us in Booth B-203 at the PULSE Miami Art Fair.
  5. Ben Davis's fabulous defense of "conceptual" art.
    On both sides, "traditional" and "conceptual," the perceived ill of the other is actually just the displaced face of the market itself, with its tendency to transmogrify and vulgarize everything. Which should provide a lesson for critics about the kind of promises they make for art: There are no formal or esthetic solutions to the political and economic dilemmas that art faces -- only political and economic solutions. Consequently, the only critical temperament that makes any real sense is an eclectic one that doesn’t build up one or the other side into the answer for problems that they both share.
    Read the whole thing.
BONUS thing to be thankful for: Narrowly missed disasters.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving Holiday, y'all!!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beauty and the Pope

So the Pope invited 260 artists to a lecture on what he feels they should be focused on in their studios recently. From
Pope Benedict XVI did not address any previous tension that the church has had with contemporary art or artists such as Andres Serrano, Martin Kippenberger, Chris Ofili, but instead chose to focus on encouraging artists to strive toward artistic production centered around beauty with statements including:

"What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation - if not beauty?"

"The experience of beauty does not remove us from reality, on the contrary, it leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful."

He told artists, "You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement."
I truly wish I could separate out my resentment toward this Pope for his dangerous homophobia from these statements. But, alas, I can't. He has again and again proven himself to be extraordinarily hostile toward my people and a love that I personally find the most beautiful thing in the universe. So we're not going to ever agree on what constitutes "beauty" anyway. (Indeed, the Pope warned the artists assembled to guard against "seductive but hypocritical'' beauty that creates "indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation.'' ) Sigh.

So I'm not sure how valuable my visceral response to this would be to anyone else. (For example, knowing the Pope had been indoctrinated as a conscripted Nazi Youth, and knowing that even should he think he had fully examined and thoroughly rejected that education, it's difficult to imagine some more abstract thinking learned then doesn't still inform his worldview, and so my tendency here would be to keep in mind how "Hitler believed that modern art was in conflict with the eternal values of beauty and therefore could only lead to a decline of civilization" and that, as Tobin Siebers wrote, "Hitler used 'beauty' to refer almost exclusively to the healthy, Aryan body.")

Which, of course, would be an ungracious tangent. (But would still be my gut reaction all the same.)

Therefore, knowing that I'm not an objective observer of this Pope's teachings, I thought I'd tour the Internets for a few responses from other quarters. Most reports didn't do much more than quote the Pope, but a few commentators have weighed in with responses that range from the snarky to the profound.

The L Magazine's Benjamin Sutton quipped, in an article titled "Pope Benedict XVI to Artists: 'Why can't you just make nice, pretty things?'"
So, I guess what he's saying is that we're still in the Renaissance. Artists: if you want to get into heaven, start painting landscapes with beautiful horizons and pretty clouds (angels and hands-of-god optional)
Raymond Learsy had the sort of response I only wish I could summon (read the whole thing):

It is both ironic and sad that the Pope should speak almost at the moment of the passing of a great artist and visionary, Jeanne-Claude who together with her husband Christo collaborated on what was perhaps the greatest, most wonderful, and most healing art project since the end of World War II, an example of what art can do for a nation and its people.[...] The work, "The Wrapping of The Reichstag" (1995) probably more than anything else brought East and West Germans together.

In general, I see the Catholic Church reaching out to artists in a way that's not condescending as a wonderful advance. In fact, as reports:
In a sign of efforts at reconciliation, the Vatican has said it will participate in the 2011 Venice Biennale, one of the world's major art festivals held every two years.
I'll keep my eyes and ears open for dangerous definitions of "beauty" but aside from that must commend the Vatican on what seems a mature and sincere outreach.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

These Are Still Your Days

Andy Warhol didn't invent Americans' obsessive lust for fame. Jeff Koons didn't invent the banality of our collective desires. Damien Hirst didn't invent the inanity of the global art market. Each merely observed and then pointed such out to us. Whether they did so via art that is good or bad is the appropriate point at which to critique their work, not IMO their respective subject matters.

And yet, we often find criticism of these artists suggesting they were somehow responsible for such ills. As if they were socially required to condemn, rather than reflect, what they saw around them. As if they were required to lead the charge in correcting these human conditions.

That's one hell of a lot of transference, in my opinion.

I had a conversation with a retired gentleman over the weekend, who has done quite well for himself, travels extensively, and can be squarely described as a "man of the world." He grew up in New York in the 40s and 50s and was rather insistent about how back then we collectively had higher standards and a finer appreciation of quality, but how now few people understood anything about anything meaningful or well-done. He refused to engage in the contemporary dialog about art or culture because it all seemed so infantile and exasperating. He knew what was good and could continue to mine the works of an era gone-by for the sustenance his soul needed, but he didn't have the patience to weed through the new for the few nuggets among the dreck.

He didn't actually use the phrase, but his argument rang in my ears as "In my day, they created better art than this nonsense being exhibited today."

I barely know this gentleman, so I didn't press the issue (it wasn't the place), but I later thought next time I see him I'll share that, to my mind, this is still his day. The world may not look anything like it did when he was growing up, and events may have knocked some of the bright-eyed optimism out of all of us, but we are still here and this is our world (warts and all) to make sense of. The art they created "back then" may indeed be better by the standards used back then, but each generation gets the art it gets. Plenty of folks in the 1940's pooh-poohed the works of Rothko and Pollock, and before them, plenty sucked their teeth at the thought of Picasso. In other words, what among the work being made today is valuable to society must be measured by up-to-date standards...standards that truly reflect their time.

Indeed, the notion that one period of art represented a true pinnacle usually correlates with the point at which things "clicked" for the person identifying that pinnacle, much the way that most people's musical tastes seem forever influenced by what they liked during their high school or college years. That is, unless that person remains engaged with the growth of such art forms and, moreover, remains engaged with the developments of society and human history at large.

Things keep changing, whether we like it or not, and clinging to some point in the past like a barnacle on the butt of history, regardless of how glorious the world seemed back then (and believe me, the longer you live, the more you realize that any "glorious" era you were lucky enough to live through was relative to your unique position...the world always more or less sucks for most people at any given time) only serves to fossilize your opinions and their helpfulness to others still engaged.

I suspect more than a few folks will disagree with where I'm going with all this, but in thinking this through it has dawned on me that this is why I have stood firm in my conviction that the New Museum exhibition that's causing so much controversy is best judged on its merits as an exhibition, rather than on standards that seem to represent some era that has passed and isn't coming back. The world has changed. This exhibition is merely one more piece of evidence of that. And trying to shut it down seems so reactionary to me. Judge it on it to shreds if it deserves it then, but I'm not yet convinced by any of the arguments that its presentation represents something so antithetical to who we are today that we need to throw the baby (the potential value of bringing this collection to New York) out with the bathwater.

The arguments that I've seen against it boil down to:
  1. "Marcia wouldn't like this show" : And perhaps she wouldn't, but ...God rest her soul...she's not the director now. The museum MUST be of its time to be New.
  2. Public money shouldn't be used to potentially make a rich person richer : It's hard to argue against this one, but an art exhibition seems a oddly minor example of this when we have billions being abused in much more offensive and destructive ways that don't have any such obvious benefits for the public. Transparency is required (and being given) by the museum here, and that already puts the exhibition at a disadvantage in terms of getting a fair shake critically, so I think this one is a bit of a draw.
  3. Shows of this ilk represents a shift in the power structure (away from the individual, and especially the artist, and toward the oligarchy) that must be stopped: I would suggest that it represents a return to previous power structures that will continue to cycle back throughout all of human history and that shouting against it is like shouting against the tide. Besides, the most meaningful responses to this, to my mind, must come from artists. William Powhida's response is priceless (and ironic, given how much he owes to Koons), but even that is a summary of what mostly non-artists said in response. Not that their opinions aren't a valuable part of the dialog, just that if the issue is the empowerment of artists, then, well, artists must lead the charge.
Personally, I think the world has changed and I'd rather have honest insightful reflections of it than bury my head in the comforting sands of yesteryear. I'm willing to wait to judge whether this show will prove to be a valuable addition to the exhibition landscape. If it is, then I'm willing to applaud the New Museum for charging, through the criticism, into the brave new world. If it fails, then I suspect we won't see much more like it anyway.

In short, I simply don't like the idea that there is a "right" way or a "wrong" way to present art. So long as there is transparency, and a sincere desire to focus on the work, why not let a museum dedicated to what's "new" (even if it's not pretty) offer honest reflections of that? Private collections have outpaced many public collections in terms of the depth and focus of their contemporary art collections. The market is known to be influenced by museum exhibitions. The collection is known to be of very high quality. This show is being marketed as a new way to bring such work to the public. There seem to be no non-transparent parts to this...if we assume the intended audience knows all this (or will learn all this through the exhibition), the show seems to be uber-timely. If an institution's mission includes showing us how the art world truly looks, then this show is consistent with that mission, no?

I don't wish to ignore what's right before my eyes in hopes of returning to some relatively "better" point in history. I'm still right here, right now...and want to see what the changes are for myself. I'll be relentlessly honest in my criticism should the show suck or not live up to the institution's sales pitch. But I want the chance to judge that for myself.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Short Break

Currently in the heartland, celebrating my father's 70th Birthday (Happy 70th, Dad!!!).

Regular blogging to resume next week.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion

John Haber, who writes one of the web's very best sources for solid art criticism at John Haber's Art Reviews, interviewed me recently about some of the topics in my book (How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery), and it's out now in this month's Artillery magazine. It includes a photo I most definitely need to rethink (or just keep on hand should I ever need a mug shot), but it was a really fun interview, forcing me to dig a bit deeper about a few of my central assertions throughout the book. Here's a snippet:
[JH]: One thing comes up over and over, from the very first chapters through the details of raising money. I mean, the importance of a profile, a statement of what makes this gallery unique. Why is it so important?

[EW]: It's not that important to the casual visitor, I'm sure. It's more important in helping guide a business owner through the tricky decisions that present themselves daily. Should I advertise in a photography magazine or a more general fine art magazine? It depends on the type of photography I'm talking about. If it's highly conceptual, then the photography magazine audience might not be a good investment. Even if it brings in a group to see that one show, unless I have other work that interests them, I'll probably have overspent for that ad. Knowing your program should guide which fairs you apply to, how you design your Web site, et cetera.
John notes that a fuller version of the interview will also post later on his own site, within a post that reviews the book itself. Here's a snippet of John's response to my efforts:
The book makes a practical statement just by its organization. After a brief, lively, and personal history of the profession, it gets very much down to business. Chapters give extensive space to the details of capitalization and cash flow, location and logistics. Aspiring dealers may dream most of discovering the next hot artist. And two late chapters do discuss where to find and keep both artists and collectors. First, however, there is work to do.

The work starts with some things that one might overlook entirely. Early chapters insist on defining your program, your markets, and your business plan. The last of those, laid out with especial care, will run longer than my own best business proposals. (Confession: in my other life, I am a publishing professional.) Who knew that one could plan for so much money going down the toilet? With luck, at least some of it will resume a steadier and more hygienic flow.

One may find the book—and the business of a gallery—daunting in another way as well. Chapters run methodically through the options, including the many different art fairs and publicity channels. They even quote hard numbers, although these, too, may date in no time. Winkleman does not, however, even try to make the tough decisions for others. There are too many galleries. There is also, he implies, no secret to success.
A big blog Thank You to John for both, the review and the interview.


Buying Art in the Information Age : Open Thread

I remember it like it was yesterday. Art market articles across the spectrum of the art press spreading the story in sync of how the new boom of the early 2000's was quite different from the previous booms because the collectors buying then were so much better informed than those who had come before them. In 2003, for example, art market guru Richard Polsky wrote:
In this day and age, with information being so readily available, both collectors and dealers are unusually well-informed about what works of art are worth. The good news is that there are no surprises. The bad news is don't expect to steal a deal.!

In yesterday's
New York Times, in an article titled "Art Prices (and Mood) Inch Back Up," Carol Vogel provided an update on the what it means to be "unusually well-informed" now:
Last fall there was a sense of panic because nobody knew if prices had hit bottom, not just for art but for any asset, and even the richest collectors froze. This season was all about the estimates. “Ultimately that’s what provided buyers with the confidence to bid,” said Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department, who added that for some artists, prices have dropped more than 40 percent from their high two years ago.

The deliberately low estimates became catnip for bidders. Or so it seemed when Warhol’s 1962 silkscreen painting “200 One Dollar Bills” incited a bidding war among five collectors and ultimately sold for a staggering $43.7 million (including Sotheby’s fees), more than three times its $12 million high estimate.

Would what proved to be the star of the last two weeks have made more at the peak of the market? No, said both Mr. Meyer and Mr. Porter. Mr. Meyer pointed out that during the boom, big money went for highly colorful images like a 1976 triptych by Francis Bacon ($86.3 million in May 2008) and a Rothko canvas, the 1950 “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose),” from the collection of the retired banker David Rockefeller ($72.8 million in 2007).

“Because this Warhol is black and white, it could have very well been overlooked at the height of the market,” Mr. Meyer said. “Although it is art-historically important, it takes a little knowledge to appreciate.” [emphasis mine]
Taken together (i.e., the sense that collectors were well informed in 2003 and the sense that they were not so well informed a mere four years later), I think you can interpret Mr. Meyer's statement now one of two ways.
  1. Either so many new people entered the art market between 2003 and 2007 that they watered down the overall intelligence of the collector base, or
  2. Being "well-informed" in 2003 meant knowing what art was worth in terms of cash, but being "well-informed" in 2009 means knowing what art is worth in terms of its importance in art history.
Standing back and thinking about the 2003 and 2009 senses of worth, for just a little bit, one has to wonder when they'll merge and the conventional wisdom will become that being "well-informed" means both: knowing what art is worth in terms of cash AND what it is worth in terms of its importance in art history. That would, obviously, be ideal.

The problem, of course, is that to some degree both constantly shift, with or without a boom market.

The other problem too is the calculus for sorting out a combined sense of worth. If a work is
kind of art historically important and the artist has a waiting list, is it worth more than a work that is very art historically imporant but the artist (or his or her estate) has plenty of inventory?

I know. Maybe we need a computer program, like the ones that helped Wall Street come up with all those credit derivatives and credit default swaps, to tell collectors what a work of art is worth. That should boost confidence in the market again, no?

Consider this an open thread on how all the information so readily available either helps or hinders confidence in buying art.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

John J. O'Connor, 1933 - 2009

Having moved to New York from another part of the country, I've always envied the "true New Yorkers" who have lived here all their lives. They tend to have a comfort with Gotham that I doubt I'll ever completely possess, and collectively they can rightfully stake claim to having made this place what it is (and that, in my humble opinion, is the greatest city in the world). They're rarer than one would expect in a metropolis of 8 million, true New Yorkers, and if you meet one, usually just listening to them talk about their hometown is like hearing the best movie script you've ever read.

Moreover, true New Yorkers know this city, intimately, having sowed their wild oats here during adolescence, and as with any lover (ex or current) they share a bond with the city and usually some secrets that they're considerate enough to keep to themselves. To hear two true New Yorkers reminisce about how the city has changed or evolved over the years usually involves catching a series of knowing glances and amused smiles.

Listening to John O'Connor and his partner of 47 years, Seymour Barofsky, talk about New York has been simply one of the most treasured experiences of my life here. Both keen observers of the human condition, both extensively involved in writing and publishing, a trip down memory lane with them is a fantastic adventure of neighborhoods crashing into history populated by outrageous people the likes of which fiction writers would be embarrassed to try to pass off as realistic.

This past Friday, John O'Connor lost his battle with lung cancer. I met John because he and Seymour have been extraordinarily generous to Bambino since his arrival in America; Bambino considers them his "step-fathers." Bambino and I spent the last few evenings with Seymour, talking about John and their life together, a tapestry of exotic international getaways (during one of which they had met Bambino in Instanbul) and a cast of characters so much larger than life, we laughed almost as much as we needed to cry.

John J. O'Connor retired in 1997, but he had spent the previous 25 years as the New York Times television critic. He was quoted in one interview as saying how fortunate he felt for getting paid for what he loved to do. The last time I had visited John in the hospital was a few days after the World Series had ended. Having been born in the Bronx, he was of course very pleased with the outcome. I knew he had been moved around a bit during the Series though and so I asked, "Did you watch much of it?"

"Oh, all of it." he replied, placing such emphasis on the word "Oh" that it conveyed this marvelous combination of wisdom and chivalry and yet was crisply contemporary. Essentially, that was how I always saw John. He never took himself too seriously, but he somehow managed to say so much more in just a few word than anyone else I know.

In Anita Gate's lovely tribute to John in the Times today, she writes:
Mr. O’Connor shared his feelings about his occupation in a 1972 column. “Speaking for myself,” he wrote, “reviewing does not involve ‘going out on a limb,’ ” as someone had suggested. He added: “A program either impresses or it does not impress. And if it impresses me, it doesn’t necessarily have to impress my brother.”

“A reviewer is not, or at least shouldn’t be, in the game of picking hits and flops,” he wrote, adding that reviewers measure quality, not popularity. And between the two, “no correlation has yet been convincingly established.”

John talked like that all the time...concisely and brilliantly poignant. Whether we talked politics (which he knew in-depth domestically and internationally) or art (he just smiled mischievously when I asked him for insights into the workings of the Times culture desk) his charm and compassion always shined through.

I've been scouring John's writings the last couple of days, looking for something appropriate to share...something that illustrated the
élan with which he interacted with others. He clearly loved TV, but like a good guardian always encouraged the powers that be in American television to try a bit harder. Here is an excerpt from a piece he wrote in 1996 on the Star Trek franchise:

On a more nuts-and-bolts level, the ''Star Trek'' formulas are showing signs of terminal rust. The manufactured crises, the serious tough talk, the tidy lessons in civic responsibility are all a touch too pat, settling into the undemanding rhythms of a comic strip. Last week, for instance, ''Voyager'' returned to finish last season's cliffhanger as Captain Janeway (Ms. Mulgrew) and her crew found themselves on a strange planet of cave dwellers.

The ''primitives,'' of course, turned out to be masters of folk medicine and managed to save a sick baby. Meanwhile back on the good ship Voyager, the holographic doctor (Robert Picardo), muttering something about Nathan Hale and Che Guevara, was urging a psychopath (Brad Dourif) to resume his killer ways (''sometimes violence is required'') to eliminate assorted villains. Tuvok (Tim Russ) later offered the reluctant hero a Vulcan prayer: ''May your death bring the peace you never found in life.'' I could swear I've heard that same prayer on the Lower East Side.

John lived his life in such a way, so open to new people and new ideas and adventures, that there is no benefit brought to any part of the universe, and certainly not to New York, by his passing. There is only a gap. We miss him fiercely already.

There is a restaurant called Chez Josephine's on West 42nd Street in New York. Inside on the right as you enter is a painting depicting dozens and dozens of fabulous people enjoying the music and food and warmness of the place. In the first row place of honor, on the left side of the painting you will find Seymour (in an orange suit) and John (holding a menu) among the partying patrons. Should you dine there, at some point during your evening, the establishment's exuberantly charming owner, Jean-Claude, is likely to stop by your table and make sure you're having a wonderful time. Ask him to point out John and Seymour in the painting, if you would. It will make Jean-Claude's day and, watching from where he is now, I'm sure John's as well.

UPDATE: And here is a review John wrote of a TV-related art performance at the Kitchen ("New York Times television critic John J. O'Connor discusses the Kitchen's 8-monitor installation of The Continuing Story of Carel and Ferd by San Francisco collective Video Free America.")


Friday, November 13, 2009

Poetry Friday

Back in the days when I blogged on politics, every now and then we'd cool things off with a poetry invitational. The comment threads here have been mostly civil this week, but the truly awesome poem that Randall Anderson posted by Mark Strand in the "Role of Intent" thread reminded me of how much I missed those poetry breaks.

There is a word count limit in blogger (and an attention span limit in most of us), so share on the shorter side if you would. But in general, whether penned by you or your favorite poet (whether formal or "street" or songwriter, etc.), consider this an open thread on, IMO, the most difficult of all the arts.

To start us off, here is one of my all-time favorites, followed by a simply spectacular parody of it:
This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
And by a commenter on Obsidian Wings who goes by the moniker "st" (in an invitational that had to deal with "crocodiles"):
This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the eco-tourist
that was in
the river

and whom
you were probably
relying upon
to pay your guide fees.

Forgive me
he was delicious
so crunchy
and screamy.

-- Obviously Not William Carlos Williams

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ivin Ballen's "Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall" Update

Performing tomorrow evening:

Friday, November 13th, at 7:00 PM
Big Game
Big Game formed in the fall of 2008 when keyboardist/vocalist Erik den Breejen and drummer/vocalist Colin “Baby Rue” Ocon from Acid Canyon joined forces with bassist Mathias “Uncle T” Sias. The trio found common ground in their love of heavy psychedelic improvisation and catchy rock songcraft and the startling juxtapositions these two forces could create. “Humble Pie” and a reworking of The Who’s “The Dirty Jobs” best capture the early stages of Big Game, as these tunes provided ample opportunity for extensive jamming that was later honed and refined. Though their songs are structured and arranged, they allow room for spontaneity and improvisation. Most solos are never played the same way twice. Vocally, the band has a flair for the dramatic, singing sweetly one moment and screaming the next in service of creating an emotional urgency that runs throughout the music.
For more information, please visit the exhibition's blog Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall

And be sure to check out the original T-Shirts at the exhibition. created by Ivin Ballen for only $20.00. All proceeds go to the bands.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Role of Intent : Open Thread

Yesterday's post emphasized one section of the quote from Roberta Smith's review that included the coinage "curator's art," but even within the comments on our thread (and over at Conscientious as well) there seems to be equal interest in another statement Smith put in print: "artists don't own the meaning of their artworks."

Joerg goes on to comment on Conscientious:
This is tremendously important - especially so, I think, in the area of photography where so many people still talk about "the artist's intention", or the "meaning" of a photography (and where it might come from) - with the idea that the intentions (by the artist's fiat it would seem) automatically overrules all possible interpretation. No, they actually don't.
I don't disagree with the notion that artist's don't own the meaning of their artworks (being a firm believer in the type of work, among other types, that artists know it takes a viewer to complete), but I think it's also important to make a distinction in this context and pull Joerg's text apart just a bit.

Not everyone who discusses the artist's intention (something I do professionally) does so with the idea that the artist's intentions automatically overrules all possible interpretations. To be quite honest about it, discussing the artist's intention from a sales point of view is sometimes merely a way of continuing to engage a potential collector until they decide whether they love (and must have) a work of art. There are plenty of sales discussions in which I know to leave it out altogether. Some times it's entirely unhelpful.

Of course, we don't hide the artist's intention. It's generally the focus of our press releases, knowing that some collectors and most arts writers are generally happy to read about them (even when they disregard or disagree with them for any review they may write). But I am fairly sure we have never sold a work of art over someone's otherwise reluctance because of the artist's intentions.

So what is the role of the artist's intent in presenting artwork, whether in a gallery or museum? For me, that question seems a bit disconnected from the entire studio-to-collection process, as if the work is supposed to have somehow magically appeared installed in a space, without a history of any consequence to the viewer. In the extreme, the question seems to feed from a sense that a viewer is insisting "Don't tell me how it got here, just let me take away from it what I want to, based on my pre-existing preconceptions and beliefs." And if that's all someone wants from art, I suppose that's fine (but you see, I'm the kind of person who researches the working process of writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other artists I like as part of enjoying their work, so it's a bit of a forced experience for me to purposely ignore the history or intention behind a work of's not my nature).

Of course, I have a different overall experience than the average art viewer. The topic of intention is consistently a fairly big part of the discussion I have with artists during a studio visit. We also discuss aesthetics, breakthroughs, failures, materials, and technique, but what the artist was thinking when creating this or that artwork is certainly covered in depth.

Now I know that the essence of the central complaint here isn't that intention is entirely irrelevant, but rather that it doesn't compensate for otherwise dis-interesting work. But I think the two do tend to get muddled, and so I wanted, again, to pull them apart a bit.

Consider this an open thread on the role of an artist's intention.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Coinage that Suits the Debate

We have gone rounds and rounds here about formalism versus conceptualism, with the formalist camps getting quite upset at times about the conceptualist camps alleged duplicity and the conceptualists somewhat luckily (for them) being able to simply point to this or that museum exhibition or this or that art magazine cover to defend the superiority of their position for them, without really ever having to get into the mosh pit. It has been an unfair advantage, in my opinion, but one I've relied on from time to time, as well. (Hey, I'm human.)

Now comes a coinage, from the keyboard of Roberta Smith, that I think might just level the playing field a bit and make the debate more fair. In discussing the current exhibition at the Whitney Biennial by Roni Horn, Roberta writes:
Ms. Horn’s work has both benefited and suffered from being what might be called “curators’ art.” Curators’ art is indisputably, even innocuously, elegant — with clear roots in Minimal and Conceptual Art and not much else. It tends to be profusely appreciated by a hermetic few, curators, artists and theorists, who fetishize its refinements and often take its creators pretty much at their word. Ms. Horn has always had a lot to say about what her work means and how it is to be viewed, and some of it is quite interesting, but artists don’t own the meaning of their artworks. [emphasis mine]
There is an elegance and, more importantly, compactness to Roberta's coinage and definition that makes it an effective bullet. It cuts through all the defense mechanisms out there that I know of. As unfortunate as it might be to think that even the talentless among the formalists will now feel empowered to dismiss some great conceptualist work as "curator's art" , I do happen to believe that anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Also, if it is your job to promote conceptual art and such a coinage makes it harder to defend the art you love, well, then, your job is harder.

In truth, the term is a bit unfair in reverse in that it's broad enough to be applied to just about anything not purely Formalist, but makes the playing field more level, and to my mind that's appropriate. Let the new round of debates begin!

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Nothing more important today than...

...wishing a very Happy Birthday to my adorable man!

He's turning 29 (for the third or fourth or... well, I've lost track of how many times).

HB2U, my dear Bambino!


Friday, November 06, 2009

White House Caves

UPDATE: ArtNews' Robin Cembalest first broke this story with some simple, old-fashioned journalism work...she compared the lists: "there had been another quiet cultural move in the White House. Watusi (Hard Edge), which had been the only painting listed for the East Wing-and reportedly destined for Michelle Obama's office-was no longer on the list."
Even though they're insisting that it simply didn't fit, and that the decision had nothing to do with the wingnuts' epic ignorance about Alma Thomas' work, it's hard to believe that the White House is sending this particular painting back because there is nowhere in the entire First Family's home that this
47 5/8" x 44 1/4" work can be installed. I mean, I can understand not letting petty distractions get in the way of moving the country forward (educational opportunities apparently being as sacrificial as spinal columns), but at least call it that. explains:
The White House generated discussion and debate last month when it released the list of works it borrowed from public collections to hang in its residential space. Alma Thomas’s Watusi (Hard Edge), in particular, received attention from some conservative critics, who insisted it was a crass rip-off of a classic Matisse cutout entitled The Snail. Now it is reported that the work won’t be hung after all.

The first lady’s office confirmed reports that the painting not been hung on the walls of the East Wing, though a spokesperson denied that the controversy had anything to do with the decision. “The reason why it was moved was because it didn't fit the space right,” Semonti Stephens, the first lady's deputy press secretary, told the Washington Post. Stephens went on to emphasize that the Obama’s continue to appreciate the work of Alma Thomas, noting that the artist’s Sky Light painting continues to hang in the White House.

Thomas’s presence on the list of works included in the White House piqued the interest of many art critics. New York Times critic Holland Cotter, for example, championed the selection, arguing that the work was pivotal to Thomas’s development as an artist. “[T]hrough copying Matisse,” Mr. Cotter wrote, “she began to work out a format she would use again and again.”
Of course, as we know, every such setback also represents a larger opportunity. Greg Allen nails this one (and gets in a little snark as well):
So now that the White House has returned Alma Thomas's 1968 painting, Watusi (Hard Edge) to the Hirshhorn amid a flurry of interest in its making and in the artist herself, I assume the museum will quickly put it on public view. Probably with a bit of explanatory text about how and why the aged, arthritic Thomas appropriated her composition from The Snail, one of last works Matisse managed to create before he died.

Maybe they'd even put it alongside some Matisse paintings, which demonstrate the early modernists' bold innovation of appropriating motifs and forms from African art.

Or maybe they could go all out and borrow The Snail from the Tate, so it could hang alongside Thomas's painting, allowing a careful examination of what she saw, but also of what she changed.

I'll be waiting by my inbox for that press release.
Again, I understand removing the petty distractions the wingnuts seem reduced to sniffing out in this winter of their irrelevance, but the White House should also issue a statement explaining why those making the charges of "crass rip-off" are embarrassing the rest of the nation.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Fleshing Out the Question "Is it Good for Art?"

It really doesn't matter whether there's a bubble or a burst in the market. It doesn't seem to matter whether there's a crisis in this or that discipline at the moment, either. The question "Yes, but is it good for art?" is never really far from the center of the dialog, forming the fallback position for anyone caught in over their head on any debate point and asserting, if only subconsciously, that the person asking, of course, has art's best interest at heart.

I can't help but chuckle at this personification (and immediately imagine "Art" as the black sheep of some extended family with deep roots in the culture of the country...he's the less successful twin brother, in my mind, of know, Morty, the big network executive best known for his ruthless cancellations of under-performing dramas...who's currently pressuring the crop of new "True Blood" rip-offs to get their acts together..."Morty, The Vampire Show Slayer").

The thing seems to me that usually "what's best for Art" just happens to align with what's best for the person asking the question, but ....

Of all the theories about the world that I've ever heard (from the idea that God created it in 7 days to it being a complete cosmic accident), the one that seems to ring most true to my mind is the Gaia theory, which views the Earth as a single living organism. More specifically, the theory suggests that "the life forms of earth in their diversity coevolve and contribute interactively to produce and sustain the optimal conditions for the growth and prosperity not of themselves, but of the larger whole, Gaia." This theory would account for the way the earth seems to continually heal when damaged, and conceptually makes sense of why certain species flourish at some points only to become extinct later on. It's not about the individual creatures. It's about how they contribute to the continuation of the whole Earth.

Extrapolating from this notion, then, it stands to reason that the Earth will kill off the humans when they cease to contribute to its well-being or before the humans manage to do too much damage (all part of the hypothesizing behind flu epidemics or spikes in asthma or allergies or perhaps even natural disasters). The Earth will survive, the theory goes. The individual species on it, not necessarily.

This theory is met with guffaws by some humans, who will point to mankind's ability to nuke the entire planet to smithereens (an ironically short-sighted form of arrogance, if there ever was one), but there's now perhaps doubt that even that is something the Earth (or the universe, if you will) can't and wouldn't stop from happening. Dennis Overbye explained in this recent New York Times essay:
More than a year after an explosion of sparks, soot and frigid helium shut it down, the world’s biggest and most expensive physics experiment, known as the Large Hadron Collider, is poised to start up again. In December, if all goes well, protons will start smashing together in an underground racetrack outside Geneva in a search for forces and particles that reigned during the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.

Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
I know that sounds crazy, but if there are elements of not only space (how far we are in orbit from the sun, the tilt of the earth which regulates the seasons, etc.), but even time, that work in harmony to continually stabilize the Earth, it might just be the case. There's no doubt (in my mind, at least) that entire history of mankind is but a blip in the lifespan of the Earth and that what might seem an insufferably long, cataclysmic event to we humans is but a burp to Gaia. (Image above is a still from a video by Christopher K Ho, titled "Lesbian Mountains in Love" which, in part, deals with the relatively of time from the respective standpoints of humans and the Earth. Click here for more info.)

All of which isn't the point of this thread as much as it forms the background of my thinking about the question "Is it Good for Art?"

When people talk about "art," in this context, I can't help but think that, like the Earth, "art" will take care of itself. Even in situations in which artists are persecuted or work is destroyed, the creative drive in humans continues to find a way. It works around the cataclysmic events. Yes, this or that body of work or this or that artist may see setbacks or even become extinct, but "ART" presses forward. None of which means we shouldn't work to prevent such events. But it does suggest to me that it's good to stop and consider what people are truly asking with that question. More often than not, it seems they're really asking whether this or that event is good for them.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

This Week It's All about the X

If you're camping out anywhere in Chelsea this week, it should be within walking distance of the X-Initiative, 548 West 22nd Street, Between 10th & 11th Avenue.

Tonight at the X-Initiative, Jerry Saltz signs copies of his new book Seeing Out Louder:
Wednesday, November 4 from 6-8 PM

Please join X and Hard Press Editions for the release of:

Seeing Out Louder
Art criticism 2003-2009
by Jerry Saltz

Meet Jerry! Get Your Book Signed!

-In Seeing Out Louder, the sequel to his acclaimed collection, Seeing Out Loud, Jerry Saltz offers more free-wheeling essays, reasoned reviews, thought-pieces, and screeds about contemporary art and its context. Senior Art Critic at New York Magazine since 2007, and previously at The Village Voice (1998-2007), Saltz is also a two-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, popular teacher and coast-to-coast lecturer.
Tomorrow, the preview for the 2009 Editions|Artists' Book Fair will be in the same location.
Opening Night Preview to Benefit the Annual Exhibition Fund at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center: Thursday, 5 November, 6-9 PM, Ticket info.

FREE to the Public: Friday - Sunday, 6 November-8 November 2009.
Hours: 11 AM - 7 PM Friday & Saturday; 11 AM - 4 PM Sunday.
And on Saturday, yours truly will participate in a panel discussion at the fair along with a rather impressive line-up (including Johan Deumens, Johan Deumens Gallery; Jean-Yves Noblet, Jean-Yves Noblet Contemporary Prints; Sarah Suzuki, Sue & Eugene Mercy Jr. Assistant Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books, MoMA) as part of the IPCNY TALKS at the fair.

In fact, there are great talks all through out the fair:

IPCNY TALKS present Prints and People, where we ask artists, master printers, publishers, curators, and collectors what initially drew them to prints, what compels them to continue pulling and presenting prints in the contemporary market, what keeps them committed to the process and connected to each other.

Friday, November 6, 2009

2:00 pm

Suzanne McClelland, Artist; Sue Scott, Sue Scott Gallery; and Faye Hirsch, Editor, Art In America

3:00 pm

Peter Hess Friedland, Collector; Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, Art Advisor; Cary Leibowitz, Artist & Director Contemporary Editions, Phillips de Pury & Company; and Christopher Gaillard, Art Consultant

Saturday, November 7, 2009

2:00 pm

Jakob Fenger, Superflex; José Roca, Artistic Director and Chief Curator, Philagrafika; and Duke Riley, Artist

3:00 pm

Johan Deumens, Johan Deumens Gallery; Jean-Yves Noblet, Jean-Yves Noblet Contemporary Prints; Sarah Suzuki, Sue & Eugene Mercy Jr. Assistant Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books, MoMA; and Ed Winkleman, Co-founder, Compound Editions & Director, Winkleman Gallery

4:00 pm

Luther Davis, Co-Founder & Master Printer, Forth Estate; Joseph Hart, Artist; and Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Artist

Sunday, November 8, 2009

12:00 pm

Eileen Boxer, Boxer Design and Barbara Moore, Bound & Unbound

1:00 pm

Greg Burnet, Burnet Editions; Richard Dupont, Artist; Joanne Greenbaum, Artist; and Carol Weaver, Harlan & Weaver

2:30 pm

Kirby Gookin, Art Historian, Critic, Curator, Public Artist; Robin Kahn, Artist; Artifariti, Organizer, International meeting of Art in Liberated Territories in Western Sahara
Finally, the X-Initiative is playing host to some of the Performa 09 events, including the following this week:

X Initiative is pleased to announce the upcoming program for November 2009. As a new member of the consortium of venues for Performa 09, X Initiative will present more than ten performances that will take place on the ground floor over three weeks. Starting on November 5th, the ground floor will be transformed into a stage where some of the most interesting emerging artists at work today will present performances, interventions, lectures and other theatrical gestures.

All events have been conceived by X Initiative in collaboration with Performa and are free and open to the public.


A half-hour presentation examining the romance, figuratively and literally, between cultural funding and sex, drawn from such diverse sources as environmental psychologist Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy, George Buchner’s Danton’s Death, and congressional records concerning the NEA debates of the late 80s.


An installation and performance in which the audience is invited to spontaneously create lines for two actors by speaking into microphones that feed directly to the actors’ headphones on stage, who must repeat what they hear, to the accompaniment of a live accordionist.


Integrating objects, a dancer, a musician, and video, Empty Is Also inverts the usual conception of dance and sculpture in relation to the ephemeral by investigating dance’s durability versus sculpture’s ultimate disposability. Music by Jane Ira Bloom. Audience is invited to enter and leave at any time. Commissioned by Performa. Presented with support from the Performa Commissioning Fund.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Collecting and Patronage : Open Thread

So much of the debate about whether times of recession are good or bad for art has danced around discussing, rather than risk being thought to bite, the hands that feed the industry. Whereas all kinds of artists and even a critic or two will celebrate the weeding out of the galleries they say they won't miss or speculate on how the business model might need to change, and everyone is willing it seems to reflect on the excesses of the recent boom (even those most directly connected to its historic expansion...
It’s a more considered market,” said Tobias Meyer, who is in charge of Sotheby’s contemporary art department worldwide. “People now think carefully about what they buy and how much they are willing spend.”)
...and across the board we hear about "getting back to basics" in the industry, I have read very little about the role collectors have played in the art bubble or what fundamentals they lost sight of in the bedlam. Oh, there has been plenty of pontificating about the speculators and flippers who came out of the woodwork to descend upon the auction houses and art fairs, but I'm talking about "art collectors." Do they too have some basics to reconsider now?

I got into an awkward position once at an art fair in Europe, where two world famous collectors were discussing buying art at fairs on a panel discussion. I asked whether they felt more pressure in the fairs (this was during the feeding frenzy days) to make choices more quickly than they had in years past, when more buying was taking place in the galleries. Their response suggested I had offended them (I'm not sure whether they were conscious of their hosts being a fair, or they resented the implication that they could be manipulated by outside forces), but I had assumed their response would have been "Of course, there's more pressure...there's more competition and things happen so much more quickly."

My question was asked in good faith, I assure you. More than once during the boom, long-time collectors had confided in me that they didn't like the way collecting had changed. It didn't seem to be about the art, but rather more trophy hunting. Some of those collectors shifted gears entirely and focused more on what I consider the rising interest in exploring new form of patronage...opening exhibition spaces, joining boards of capital raising organizations, collecting specifically to support certain artists' or collectives' ongoing projects. In other words, taking a longer-term and wider view of their role in supporting the arts than just their next acquisition.

Two current and upcoming New York events have got me re-thinking about what it means to be a collector and a patron, rather than merely a trophy hunter. First is the third edition of the highly acclaimed biennial of new visual art performance, Performa 09. Unless you simply never check your email, you've probably heard that it's back and bigger than ever. But it's not only the way that it has grown that I find so impressive; it's what that says about the people who support it. From the Performa mission statement:
[Performa] is dedicated to exploring the critical role of live performance in the history of twentieth century art and to encouraging new directions in performance for the twenty-first century.

Performa’s Objectives are:

Commission new performance projects in visual arts

Present a dedicated performance biennial

Consult and collaborate with art institutions and performing art presenters around the world to create dynamic and historically significant performance programs

Offer an ongoing educational platform for expanding the knowledge and understanding of this critical area of visual art and cultural history

This ties into the other event that has me thinking, a panel discussion organized by students at FIT:
November 18, 2009, 7pm

Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Pomerantz Art and Design Center (D Building)
Seventh Avenue and 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

The Fashion Institute of Technology Art Market Graduate Students are pleased to present the symposium Intangible: New Media and Performance Art in the Market.

New media and performance art often elude both definition and commodification, yet these practices maintain a distinct and vital presence in the arts community. The evening's discussion will explore the current and future market for intangible art.

Jeffrey Deitch: Art Dealer, Deitch Projects
Clifford Owens: Artist
Cara Starke: Assistant Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art
Thea Westreich: Principal, Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services

Martha Schwendener: Art Critic
The fact that should jump out at anyone considering those events is how even though there isn't always an object you get to take home in return for supporting an artist, making art still requires money. Moreover and equally important, many of the artists in Performa do sell their art objects, but they still see performance as a vital part of their overall practice.

And that's the essence of the issue for me. Being a "supporter of the arts" can also mean agreeing to support the overall process and all that it takes to "create" : having a studio practice, experimenting, collaborating, and sometimes creating objects. By focusing on only the last part of that process, the speculators and flippers might warrant the mantle of "collector" (that's debatable in my mind) but certainly not of "patron," which is a more sophisticated appreciation and participation in the arts. Going back through art history, we see that that level of involvement is what distinguishes those collectors who artists continue to be thankful to their entire lives and those they may wish to punch in the nose at the auctions.

Of course, no collector is obligated to be a patron. It's a calling, like being a dealer or even being an artist. But there's no doubt in my mind that patronage seemed to have been grossly overshadowed during the boom and the collectors who were turned off by the feeding frenzy now have an opportunity to slow down and reconsider what role they might play in the long-term practice of the artists they are drawn to.

Consider this an open thread on collecting and patronage.


Monday, November 02, 2009

"Storms" perform at Ivin Ballen's "Sleepless in Seattle at Winkleman Concert Hall"

Kind of a busy morning, not any time to blog. Will just point you to these videos of the performances in the gallery at the opening last Friday was a fantastic evening!

With a big hug to Joy.

'Storms' performing at Ivin Ballen's opening, Winkleman Gallery, NYC from joy garnett on Vimeo.

'Storms' performing at Ivin Ballen's opening, Winkleman Gallery, NYC from joy garnett on Vimeo.

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