Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Yesterday, Hyperallergic's Lisa Radon reported on an unfortunate discussion that's caused a stir in the arts blogosphere, and in the lightening quick way that only the blogosphere can, it's gone uber-meta already. The title explains the fuss:
New Museum’s Richard Flood Equates Bloggers with Prairie Dogs
The NuMu curator was reported to have prefaced that equation with the news that "I just found out about blogs three months ago."

Now there are some snarky gems among the fast and furry-ious responses by my fellow cyber-cynomys, but I always like to give someone who so quickly unites the arts blogosphere against them (no small feat) a second look before I weigh in.

So I gave it some thought. What could it mean that Mr. Flood had found out about blogs only three months ago?

Among other things, it could mean there's a smaller audience for art blogs than most of us think there is. In fact, I'd say there's no question that we bloggers are probably not as widely read as our stats suggest. Just browsing my hit counts I can see that an embarrassing number of "readers" come there accidentally in search of "tasteful nudity" (a post I once did) or other topics they're disappointed to find were mentioned only in passing. Further, I hear all the time from folks, "Oh, yeah, I've read your blog on occasion...it's...uh, it's good...I just don't have that much time to read every day." Or it could mean that Mr. Flood spends more of his time in studios or the museum working than he does surfing for online entertainment, and that it's only when the New York Times reported that the "Skin Fruit" controversy was prompted by bloggers that he took the time to investigate them. Either of these explanations would satisfy me, personally.

But having been made aware of blogs, even if only three months ago, it does seem odd that for someone known for his quick appreciation of the "new," Mr. Flood's take on blogs is so far off. Here's the bit that prompted the headline:
Flood said he was trying to learn more about [blogs] via Lauren Cornell (executive director of Rhizome, affiliated with New Museum since 2003), but he says:

Blogs are like being out on a prairie and one prairie dog pops up; none of the others can see it, but they can feel the movement in the earth. So another pops up. And another. They are not communicating with each other. They have no idea. History means nothing to them. Truth means nothing to them. They have no mechanism in place for checking [facts].

I think it's fair to say, if you're new to the arts blogosphere, that the lay of the land takes a bit of time to come up to speed on. Who's dependable, who's merely gossipy, who's taken seriously, who's just good at stirring up debate? Not immediately grasping how it all works is understandable. But it would seem to behoove anyone who's genuinely confused by it all to hold off on such blanket condemnations. Indeed, Lisa Radon dismissed Flood's sloppy summary quite handily:
In the three months since Flood has become aware of blogs, it’s surprising that he appears not to have noticed the hyperlinking that is integral to the blog as a tool for communication. He might not be expected to be aware of the dynamic back-channel communications among arts bloggers via twitter and other platforms, but the linking is front and center. But the analogy shows a more fundamental disdain for the practice of online arts journalism. A blog is just a tool, a platform. It’s what’s built on that platform that we should be talking about, and that may be a gossip rag or it may be considered, rigorous, accurate reporting and/or criticism.
On the other hand, Flood's is actually a fitting analogy in the respect that the art blogosphere responds in a prairie-dog-esque way to wholesale attacks. Everyone jumps to attention, quickly scans the horizon, and then moves en masse (Man the keyboards!) to foil the attacker. The unfortunate side-effect to this, however, is that the target of the counter-attack probably goes away even more convinced that the blogosphere is uncivilized.

Indeed, I would hope that the community eventually reaches a confidence by which we calmly invite someone who voices such misguided opinions (and at first misunderstands what it is the arts blogosphere has accomplished in revolutionizing opportunities and participation for a wider audience for contemporary art) to take a virtual tour and see for themselves the value of the online community rather than just snarkily lashing out at them.

I mean, in addition to snarkily lashing out at them, of course. Romping around on the prairie all day is hard work, we do deserve our fun.

Labels: art blogs


Anonymous Franklin said...

Quoth Flood: "If you have been hit by the economy, by unemployment, it’s very easy to get riled up about the culture and the money your government spends for it."

I'd be delighted to see the New Vanity Gallery lose it's public funding. If the prairie dogs could cause that to happen, so much the better.

3/30/2010 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Lady Xoc said...

Who is this Flood? I've never heard of him!

How grotesquely disingenuous (three months!), how petty. No wonder I feel absolutely no connection to the "capital-A" artworld. Oh, wait! I am an artist. But I haven't been to that pathetic New Museum since I moved to the ghetto for the low rents. Too busy dodging bullets in realtime to bother with poseurs like this fellow.

3/30/2010 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ah, so we have more opportunity to continue this discussion. Thanks, Ed.

If Flood were the director of, say, the Frick, I could understand his ignorance of the art blogosphere. But his museum is called the New Museum, which presumes a certain amount of forward thinking. Does he write with a crow quill? Send messages via carrier pigeon--or prairie dog? Type on a Selectric (as one FB wag put it)? We're all busy, but we manage to be aware of what's important in our particular corners of the art world (well, in large part, thanks to blogs).

Apropos of Flood, your argument about our blogs not being widely read doesn't hold water. Most art magazines print about 25,000 copies a month. (I wrote about that in a Marketing Mondays post, "The November Issue." In that month, any mag that is sent through the mail is required by law to post print run and subscription numbers. Usually the info is in 4 pt. type buried in a tiny box in the back of the book.) So for us, it's not about how many people are reading our blogs but about who's reading. If artists, dealers, critics, curators and collectors are among our readers, then we have reached our intended audience. It's the motion of the ocean, not the size of the wave.

3/30/2010 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Hey socialist Ed, despite the jist of the article your quoting, I think Richard Flood is a good guy in a tough situation. He's had a long and distinguished career, curated some very influential shows and been on the scene for decades, giving countless artists attention they otherwise would never have gotten.

Is the "Skin Fruit" show a fiasco? Pretty much. Has it exposed the incestuous relationships that comprise the blue-chip art world? Yeah. Does it illustrate the prostitutional associations an institution like the NuMu has to maintain to keep the money spigot turned on? Undoubtedly. But I think Richard is just poking the cage to get a rise out of the prairie dogs. Some of his statements regarding art critics on facebook struck home. And, as Paddy Johnson said during the recent bloggers conference, there does tend to be an echo chamber within the blogosphere.

No one is being forced to go to the NuMu. You can hate their program (and a lot of it I do) but I've been visiting the NuMu since it was in a couple of spare rooms in the New School at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, and I'm going to keep visiting. Bloggers can flagellate themselves over dumb statements, but will that bring about the kind of changes we'd like to see?

3/30/2010 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

conservative James,
as I noted on FB, Mr Flood is not the enemy

he's a good guy and someone good to have on your side

this opinion he shared seems based on his unfamiliarity with the arts blogosphere... Notanything more

3/30/2010 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Is the "Skin Fruit" show a fiasco? Pretty much.

Amen to that.

Re blogs: there are so many of them, some allowing comments, some not, not to mention so many forums and message boards, that no one can keep up and it's often difficult to find the real good ones. (Such as Ed Winkleman and Joanne Mattera.) The good news is that what blogs are doing is to allow anyone the ability to self-publish and create an on-line community, and they have also made writing once again an important personal pastime. The bad news isthat blogs are doing is to allow anyone the ability to self-publish . . . .

3/30/2010 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess in the end, we are all afraid of losing whatever perceived power we think we have. Put Flood in a town where no one even knows or cares who he is, and ask him about another world (blogs) over which he has little to no influence, and he's bound to try to belittle them both for the sake of aggrandizing his own little patch of gleaming earth.
It's forgivable, I think, given the context.

3/30/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

Ed, may I just add that your prairie dog pic beats 'em all? it's hard to resist a cute furry creature packing heat in the form of a bite-sized RPG ;)

3/30/2010 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Steven Kaplan said...

Steven Kaplan comments:

The Prairie Dog meme is interesting NOT ONLY because it reveals Richard Flood as inept and clueless. For a curator at a "cutting edge" institution like the NuMu to be so lagging in Internet savvy is both ludicrous and unforgivable. It's not enough for him to defer to co-curator Lauren Cornell as his Internet "guru". If he is so retardataire in this, what faith can we have in any of his other judgments? Perhaps it's time for that gold watch, Richard. Time to be put out to pasture. The golden years beckon. And if you're lucky, your pasture will not be overrun by those pesky prairie dogs.

But getting back to the NOT ONLY of the preceding paragraph: Flood reveals his Midwestern bias by citing prairie dogs. Here in the East we know their close cousins, the groundhog, and we pay a constant if humorous attention to the prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil. We credit groundhogs with an ability to predict the weather, the seasons, the future. They are our furry seismographs, our rodent seers. So in denigrating the art blogosphere with his prairie dog epithet, Flood pays inadvertent homage to the sensitivity and prescience of an entire quadrant of the art discourse that he in fact knows absolutely nothing about.

3/30/2010 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

I suspect his reaction declaring blogger as a group like a group of prairie dogs, is like Bismarck saying Britain was a nation of shopkeepers. He is perhaps correct to a degree, but woefully underestimating the thing as a whole.

Well, I'd welcome him to the Internet/Blogging age and see how he gets on. I wonder hoe he will feel in a couple of years, if he reads/participates?

3/30/2010 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Hey socialist Ed, to maintain your blogs integrity and accuracy, you may henceforth refer to me as "Independent James", I don't care.

3/30/2010 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Steven Kaplan said...

To Sir James of Independent (Tea Party?) mind:

Your experience of the NuMu goes back one location earlier than mine. I knew Marcia Tucker's grand experiment at 583 Broadway. I did NOT know the original rooms at the New School.

But neither of these heady early incarnations bears any resemblance to the current temple of privilege and presumption on the Bowery. The same underlying arrogance that led to Joannou-gate and to the Urs Fischer three floor debacle is revealed in Flood's complacent ignorance about the art blogosphere. In his mind it is our fault for being so insignificant, grass roots and partisan, not his fault for not being competent and cognizant. We DESERVE to be ignored.

His citing of prairie dogs is significant. The death of the dinosaurs in the late Mesozoic saw the advent of small, ground burrowing mammals who were more adapted to new conditions. I'm proud to be a prairie dog if it signals the extinction of big, noisy reptiles at the Nu Mu who bellow and trod heavily, but whose extinction is nigh.

3/30/2010 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Lisa Radon said...

I agree with Kalm James that, "I think Richard Flood is a good guy in a tough situation. He's had a long and distinguished career, curated some very influential shows and been on the scene for decades, giving countless artists attention they otherwise would never have gotten." And honestly, the hue and cry that have resulted from my initial story is probably just what Flood is referring to. Still, to throw the baby (echoes and/or incivility) out with the bathwater (online reporting and/or criticism) is a mistake. The greater mistake is to dismiss an important mechanism many of us use to conduct conversation about art, culture, and institutions. The blog is one tool among many that broadens the conversation...to embrace new voices and ideas. Hell yes.

3/30/2010 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Perhaps Mr. Flood is simply trying to stir things up by sardonically attacking what he knows is the blogosphere's Achilles Heel, namely it own persevered self importance.

3/30/2010 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Teri Proschuk said...

A huge portion of contemporary art is a reaction to the digital age, so I’m not sure how art blogs could have slipped past Mr. Flood. What’s more surprising is his willingness to admit his ignorance with such a geriatric comment.

“They have no idea. History means nothing to them. Truth means nothing to them. They have no mechanism in place for checking [facts].”
Since when has the art world been about truth or facts, it’s merely someone’s opinion and certainly not the voice of god. The art world is more like wall street; a bunch of over inflated stocks with the only purpose of making the rich richer

3/30/2010 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Lisa and James,

Yes, I agree...Mr. Flood should be given every benefit of the doubt. He should also be given the opportunity to respond to those who were upset by his comments, just as they should be able to express their feelings about them.

3/30/2010 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Err.. Didn't the New Museum exhibit art blogs? Through Rhizome?
Classics like the Mouchette website?

Prairie Dogs? How about you are a prehistorically extinct Megatherium, Mr. Flood?

Next topic.


3/30/2010 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

eh, i like prairie dogs and find no fault with the simile (get it? fault? feeling the movement in the earth? underground linking tunnels?) just kidding

history, truth, facts? all in the shifting collective consciousness (albeit some can still be found in those hefty things called books who link via footnotes, dispute, or show no knowledge of each other just as they always have done)

richard flood certainly knows way more about blogs now- a year from today he will have a different understanding just as blogs will have a different set of concerns and formats

some of them will still be prairie dogs, and some of them seismographs

3/30/2010 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

This has become so seriously overblown that I deleted my "Prairie Dogs Rule" from my FB status because it had ceased to be funny and was sliding into overkill.

Regardless if you know Richard Flood or not he deserves our respect for the years of tireless effort he has put into the arts. While I think his remarks were ill fated, they weren't bad enough to cause the reaction we are now seeing.

It appears that there are a lot of artists out there who feel disenfranchised and ignored and are looking for someone or something to blame other than their selves. Yes the prairie dogs are cute, and as a joke it initially all seemed to be in good fun, after all we had "pipes".

Unfortunately, the piling on has started starting to feel more like petty vindictiveness than anything else.

3/30/2010 08:25:00 PM  
OpenID artintake said...

Regardless of what people think the New Museum has some really good art exhibitions. If only, Los Angeles had such an dynamic art institution.
However, I see too many world class institutions being run by baby boomers who are resting in their laurels until retirement. Mr. Flood should really take a social media 101 class. The New Museum's affiliation with Rhizome, can help him out, maybe.

3/30/2010 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger ellen yustas k. gottlieb said...

some people I greatly respect such as my friend Jaisini like Jeff Koons and his endeavors. I don't know why. I personally see him as consumer goods factory. New Museum feel empowered by the big time sponsorship call names bloggers as if this skin fruit show is there to stay. Today they have sponsorship tomorrow they don't and who are they going to court? social media. Voial.

3/31/2010 02:54:00 AM  
Anonymous mars said...

Mr Flood's rip on blogging in general and Jerry Saltz in particular seems off the cuff, one of those comments that might come out differently in another situation. His attack on Mary Abbe, the Mpls art writer, (in the context of lack of local art crtitism/diologue) was right-on. Mary Abbe is an incredibly sloppy and lazy writer. That said, internet based posts + discussion are our best forums for local shows.

3/31/2010 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

++ they weren't bad enough to ++ cause the reaction we are now ++ seeing.

It was condescending, insulting and gratuitous. And very out of the scene.

Cedric C

3/31/2010 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Caves said...

Hi Ed.
I am not sure why some of these comments are upset about your post.
It is the most rational, balanced, positive take on this story I have seen.
Thank you for your intelligent approach and your great blog.

(fantastic picture, btw)


4/01/2010 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger tony said...

I fell into looking at paintings & putting paint on canvas because it seemed almost the last resting place where one individual could make contact with another without the intrusion of words. Over the decades the visual arts have been consumed by the market place & in one way or another the individual has ceded place to the corporate man.

The blogosphere seemed to offer a space for those who, consciously or not, seek to make their voice heard against this tide of materialist conformity but I cannot but feel that such a desire is fed in part from frustration & a sense of impotency & has little weight in what could be called the 'real world'(or 'unreal world' if you wish).

I respect what you do, Edward, as well as the other contributors to the site but I am becoming more & more convinced that the blogoshere offers notions of influence & the power to shape things which are illusory.

Today is the age of the corporate man and sadly in the visual arts, where a proportion of high profile practioners also belong to that number, the individual is a pariah.

For all that, I appreciate greatly those who speak out & take comfort in hearing their voices on the wind.

4/01/2010 08:39:00 AM  

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