Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Something Like a NuMu Review

#class update: Today begins Man Bartlett's "24h #class action," at 2 pm begins Caitlin Rueter and Suzanne Stroebe's "Feminist Tea Party," and at 6:15 pm Magda Sawon of Postmasters Gallery will host "Ask the Art Dealer," vowing to truthfully answer any and every question posed to her as long as it does not involve her weight, social security number or other people's money. Magda, the Brave, as she's forever after to be known! :-)
________

"Skin Fruit" : A Response

OK, so I'm a p*ss poor substitute for an art critic, but I have weighed in on this show (saying essentially that I would reserve judgment until I saw it) and so feel obligated, now that I've seen it, to circle back and voice an opinion on its occurrence. (For a few real art critics' take, please try Roberta Smith's or Peter Schjeldahl's.) I've been in the minority among my circle in thinking it only fair to let the New Museum actually present the exhibition before judging it. My central argument here was a reluctance to interfere with the museum's curatorial vision from the sidelines, which is what I feel many other critics of the show have engaged in by not taking the New Museum at its word that this was a curatorial experiment.

That having been said, though, I would like to revisit the curatorial arguments of the exhibition and present a few thoughts on how the actual show lives up to them. In a nutshell, the exhibition is a selection by renown artist Jeff Koons from super collector
Dakis Joannou’s contemporary-art collection.

In his interview with New Museum director Lisa Phillips (LP), Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes (MAN) had this exchange:
MAN: One of the things non-profit institutions and their curators are supposed to do is determine what work has value to a society, value that is beyond the mere monetary. That's what scholarship and curatorial consideration is for. How do these kinds of shows do anything but exhibit and sort of validate the spending habits of certain influential collectors or trustees?

LP:
Because I think it goes back to the work itself, the work that's in the collection. I don't think that it's just about validating spending habits or only about artists who have proven value because there are lots of artists in the collection that no one has heard of. There's a lot of obscure work. There's a lot of Greek artists. There's a lot of work that's not been seen.
One of the arguments for the appropriateness of the exhibition then was that NuMu would be presenting a lot of obscure work, particularly by Greek artists, to a public that had not seen it before. The list of artists in the exhibition, however, is:

Paweł Althamer
Born 1967 in Warsaw, Poland
Lives and works in Warsaw, Poland

David Altmejd
Born 1974 in Montreal, Canada
Lives and works in London, United Kingdom, and Montreal, Canada

Janine Antoni
Born 1964 in Freeport, Bahamas
Lives and works in New York, NY

assume vivid astro focus
Born sometime between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in various parts of the world
Nomads

Tauba Auerbach
Born 1981 in San Francisco, CA
Lives and works in New York, NY, and San Francisco, CA

Matthew Barney
Born 1967 in San Francisco, CA
Lives and works in New York, NY

Vanessa Beecroft
Born 1969 in Genoa, Italy
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Ashley Bickerton
Born 1959 in Barbados, West Indies
Lives in Kuta Bali, Indonesia

John Bock
Born 1965 in Gribbohm, Germany
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

Mark Bradford
Born 1961 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Maurizio Cattelan
Born 1960 in Padua, Italy
Lives and works in New York, NY, and Milan, Italy

Paul Chan
Born 1973 in Hong Kong, China
Lives and works in New York, NY

Dan Colen
Born 1979 in Leonia, NJ
Lives and works in New York, NY

Nigel Cooke
Born 1973 in Manchester, United Kingdom
Lives and works in London, United Kingdom

Roberto Cuoghi
Born 1973 in Modena, Italy
Lives and works in Milan, Italy

Nathalie Djurberg
Born 1978 in Lysekil, Sweden
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

Haris Epaminonda
Born 1980 in Nicosia, Cyprus
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

Urs Fischer
Born 1973 in Zurich, Switzerland
Lives and works in New York, NY

Robert Gober
Born 1954 in Wallingford, Connecticut
Lives and works in New York, NY

Matt Greene
Born 1972 in Atlanta, GA
Lives and works in New York, NY

Mark Grotjahn
Born 1968 in Pasadena, CA
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Adam Helms
Born 1974 in Tucson, AZ
Lives and works in New York, NY

Jenny Holzer
Born 1950 in Gallipolis, OH
Lives and works in Hoosick, NY

Elliott Hundley
Born 1975 in Greensboro, North Carolina
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Mike Kelley
Born 1954 in Detroit, MI
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Terence Koh
Born 1977 in Beijing, China
Lives and works in New York, NY

Jeff Koons
Born 1955 in York, Pennsylvania
Lives and works in New York, NY

Liza Lou
Born 1969 in New York, NY
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Nate Lowman
Born 1979 in Las Vegas, NV
Lives and works in New York, NY

Mark Manders
Born 1968 in Volkel, the Netherlands
Lives and works in Arnhem, the Netherlands

Paul McCarthy
Born 1945 in Salt Lake City, UT
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Dave Muller
Born 1965 in San Francisco, CA
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Takashi Murakami
Born 1963 in Tokyo, Japan
Lives and works in Tokyo, Japan and Long Island City, NY

Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Tim Noble: Born 1966 in Stroud, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
Sue Webster: Born 1967 in Leicester, United Kingdom
Live and work together in Shoreditch, East London, United Kingdom

Cady Noland
Born 1956 in Washington, D.C.
Lives and works in New York, NY

Chris Ofili
Born 1968 Manchester, United Kingdom
Lives and works in London, United Kingdom

Seth Price
Born 1973 in East Jerusalem, Israel
Lives and works in New York, NY

Richard Prince
Born 1949 in Panama Canal Zone, Panama
Lives and works in Rensselaerville, NY

Charles Ray
Born 1953 in Chicago, IL
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Tino Sehgal
Born 1976 in London, United Kingdom
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

Jim Shaw
Born 1952 in Midland, MI
Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA

Cindy Sherman
Born 1954 in Glen Ridge, NJ
Lives and works in New York, NY

Kiki Smith
Born 1954 in Nuremberg, Germany
Lives and works in New York, NY

Christiana Soulou
Born 1961 in Athens, Greece
Lives and works in Athens, Greece

Jannis Varelas
Born 1977 in Athens, Greece
Lives and works in Athens, Greece, and Vienna, Austria

Kara Walker
Born 1969 in Stockton, CA
Lives and works in New York, NY

Gillian Wearing
Born 1963 in Birmingham, United Kingdom
Lives and works in London, United Kingdom

Andro Wekua
Born 1977 in Sochumi, Georgia
Lives and works in Zurich, Switzerland

Franz West
Born 1947 in Vienna, Austria
Lives and works in Vienna, Austria

Christopher Wool
Born 1955 in Chicago, IL
Lives and works in New York, NY

which includes 2 artists from Greece out of the 50 (and, OK, one from Cyprus, but...). Of the 50, at least 38 are from, live in, or so well known to the art world in the US they may as well be Americans. That leaves 12 who are not as well known to the New York audience. Not a bad percentage for an exhibition, but not what I would call "lots" we haven't seen either.

The real essence of Lisa Phillips' case for the exhibition, though, lies in this statement:
We all realize that, and for the last five years we've been talking about how it's time to explore the possibility further and for redefining what these public-private partnerships should be within our strong sense of ethics and integrity and within the level of quality that we stand for. So I think it's really possible. That's what the New Museum is: We're an entrepreneurial institution. We don't feel we have to accept or receive things in a formulaic way.

That's part of what we're trying to do. We will have these discussions, like this, in public as part of it. Where have lines been crossed, where not in certain instances, what can people do by working together. I believe that collaboration is really where things will go in this century.
Collaboration is virtually its own medium now, so I agree with this last sentiment (even though much of what preceded it is hard to follow). A collaboration between an artist, his collector, and a museum the collector is a trustee of probably isn't what most artists or curators think of when they think "collaboration," but it's fair enough to flesh out the metaphor in this way, IMO. But the obvious next question would have to be, in looking at this particular collaboration, what exactly is the value to the public? Ms. Phillips suggested:
Because were an educational institution and we're here to share new art and new ideas. That's our mission. We're here to share that with the public and to be open and to be fearless in our approach. So we feel it's very relevant.

In this case, both the framing the terms of the debate and having the conversation around public-private partnerships is worth meeting head-on and having the conversation. It's worth partnering with a collector who has an extremely distinctive and high-quality collection that we do not have ourselves because we're not a collecting institution and working with that collection and making something of it.
The urgency of a conversation around public-private partnerships is the core of Ms. Phillips' argument. Back when I first weighed in on the topic I noted :
I'm willing to wait to see whether the exhibition is so good (and supports the argument that a nonprofit institution's audience can indeed learn something that fits within the institution's mission from a private collection) that I don't care how it came to be. I'm willing to wait to see whether it's so good that whose collection it's from is immaterial to me.

That will be the measure for me.

But if all I can think of while going through it is "Wow, collector so-and-so must have a lot of money," then it will fail for me and, to be honest, be all that much sadder for having taken place at NuMu.
I'll be honest. I'm not sure at this point, with this much controversy (or "non-troversy" as Phillips has dismissed it), anyone can walk through that exhibition without thinking how much money is involved, and that's too bad, because there were some other really important things to take away from it, in my opinion. The single greatest impression made on me by the exhibition was in reading the wall text for a Charles Ray sculpture Revolution Counter-Revolution (1990/2010). Apparently Ray was not at all happy with how the first version of this very moving piece came out, and so Joannou funded the complete re-envisioning of it. That gesture, in and of itself, made me like the collector immensely. From this one example, I would argue that Phillips was correct in stating,
[I]n Dakis' case ... challenge and experimentation have been part of his approach, which is similar to ours. He's always pushing himself beyond. He started 25 years ago with artists who weren't known and he's continued in that vein. He continues to challenge himself. The adventure, his deep engagement with artists and their issues... [This] is a highly unusual situation. There are a lot of people who collect, there are a handful of people [who collect] in this way.

I think it's a model collection. I think he's a model person. He's incredibly generous.
I only wish that more about the roles of patrons in the works of artists was to be learned through the exhibition. Much of the rest of the exhibition comes off looking like trophy collection. Yes, there are some pretty sweet trophies on display, and yes, Mr. Joannou is not afraid of the more challenging artists among the international superstar set (to his credit), but there's nothing from his collection on display that seems more challenging than the typical type of work we have come to associate with the New Museum...in other words, it's not more challenging than usual and in that way not particularly more educational. So the question re-emerges as to the appropriateness of a non-profit exhibition presenting the private collection of one of its trustees.

I'll be honest, I do think NuMu needed to present something that transcended the controversy, something extra-extra educational here. I didn't walk away feeling that they had. I would have much preferred, in the context of a trustee's collection being presented, an exhibition that dealt even more directly with how collectors' role as patrons contributes to contemporary art. If they repeat this experiment, I'd hope they focus at least a bit more on that. In general...a few high points, but not an entirely convincing response to the pre-exhibition criticism.

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Michael Winkler said...

On a 92 degree in 1985, the New Museum's Curator, Bill Olander took the Path, the Bus, and then walked 12 blocks through Jersy City to see the work of an artist who had never shown in New York (never shown much anywhere) just because he saw some slides sent unsolicited to the New Museum. He spent over an hour looking, questioning, discussing. Then he made the trip back to Manhattan. At the time, he was ill (although you'd never know it by his manner and sense of humor). He died of AIDS not long after. I was the artist he visited and there were many like me. That was the New Museum I remember. I'm sorry that museum no longer exists.

3/10/2010 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The major issue I have with the New Museum is that it has no permanent collection. Marcia Tucker's New Museum had no plant, no permanent edifice, it existed in a rented space. There was always a sense of impermanence, that you might go tomorrow and find a purveyor of denim instead.

Now that the New Museum [sic] has a brand spanking new edifice it must suck up to the rich to pay the mortgage rather than the rent. This requires some serious champagne and caviar sucking up since all one gets is a plaque or an elevator (taken) in exchange for the financial frisson.

A "museum" without a collection is not a museum (look it up) it is an Artiplex, a temporary showroom for art. Since the NuMu has no permanent collection, it's history exists in its catalogues and our memories. This is insufficient. It the art they are exhibiting is to be taken seriously for more than a few months then the NuMu needs to take a real risk and assemble a collection of the art they exhibit.

Forming a permanent collection in the context of the old NuMu was a more difficult proposition but today, with the new plant (and plaques), it seems like a workable proposition. Without some trail of history, the NuMu lacks validation, every exhibition becomes an ephemeral bit of PT Barnstorming for a limited clique of well heeled sippers.

3/10/2010 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The point I raised above about the NuMu having no permanent collection is not trivial. Their current business model must rely on ticket sales to generate cashflow. Since the NuMu has no other attractions to draw in the crowds my prediction is that the New Museum will fail.

For those of you who don't think this can or will happen, it has before under similar circumstances. The old Pasadena Art Museum, which had the most exhibitions in the LA area during the sixties, built a new plant right at an economic peak (just like the NuMu). To make a long story short, the museum failed and was taken over by Norton Simon.

3/10/2010 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

That should have said "which had the most avant gard exhibitions in the LA area"

Duchamp, Warhol, Minimalism, Kaprow, Cornell, Magritte -- all at the old PAM.

3/10/2010 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

If one of the main missions of the NuMu is to get people thinking about it, and talking about it (art) then they've done a fabulous job. Rarely in my thirty some years on the NY scene have I witnessed so much frothing blather from both sides of a debate.

As art is a mirror of society, it's not ironic that the conflicts of interest, incestuous relationships and backroom shenanigans engaged in by the NuMu mimics much of the same types of actions that have brought our economic system to the verge of collapse.

"Skin Fruit" will run its course for the next couple of months, and go away. The NuMu and the local art world will trudge on as always. Great artists will be ignored, lesser talents will be highlighted for reasons having very little to do with their art. At least for a brief moment, this debacle has brought these issues into focus, and given everyone a chance to take a side. At least we can thank the NuMu for that.

3/10/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

@michael winkler: beautiful story - reminds me of that roberta smith article Ed posted here a while back, but from a much more personal space. I wonder, do you (or any of Ed's readers) know of any museums that behave this way in the current moment? which? because if they exist, i'd like to support them.

3/10/2010 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Julius X said...

Hey George,
If the NuMu ends up like the Norton Simon Museum, I will not grieve too bitterly. Mr Simon's collection is not too hard on the eyes and gives the old mind stuff to ponder.

3/10/2010 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Julius,
FWIW, The old Pasadena Art Museum is where I was first exposed to art. It was six longish blocks from where I lived and I took a (kids) painting class there on Saturdays, taught by young AE painters I think. When I grew older it was my first exposure to contemporary art, I remember the Kaprow tire room vividly, and even saw Marcel in person once.

The whole transition was contentious. Norton Simon was on the board of trustees for the Museum and eventually donated (bought) it out.

I will be very surprised if something like this does not happen with the New Museum within the next 10 years. One more recession and it's toast.

3/10/2010 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't need a permanent collection your in New York City.

3/10/2010 01:28:00 PM  
Anonymous an said...

Hello from..Cyprus. I follow this issue from my laptop here for some months cause its so nice a Greek-Cypriot collector projecting Greece in NY (this is how the local media talked aobut it, as a sort of national pride, although the rest of their day the journalists dont mention anything about national pride, its bad taste,but now they made an exception). I critiqued online in some blogs of mycountry and now im a black sheep, im known as 'the paranoid lady' among certain high circles:) Anyway, the issue has hit the media at the worng time for Greece's sake, now that everyone talks about economical scandals within EU :/ Rather bad timing but then, you see... even tycoons cannot plan always to their benefit. Financial Planning is a good science but when one is involved inthe cultural sector, a shaky business, one is shaky too.Wall Street is more ethical than the Art Auctions as debated by Lewis(BBC,The contemporary art bubble). Next time they should make sure that this lil country in Europe doesnt have an ill fame when they want to give it a plus for its contemporary art by projecting 3 out of 50 artists crammed together in a lil 'independent' museum.

On the reviews I read, Sschedal's is the most polished balancing act of them all, the others balance the contradicting elements of 'moral' and 'immoral' in a rather crude way. Therefore, for the sake of style, I liked Schjedal's most. (and I still cannot believe NYT's Smith having wrote and NYT having published her review...) All in all, I want to remind everyone this statement:

New Museum director Lisa Phillips says the debate over such issues is one good reason to pursue the show. “We want to push the conversation forward,” she says, adding that the museum is assuming all costs associated with the Joannou exhibition and that her board has a policy against trustees lending a work of art if they are actively planning to sell it. (interviewed by Linda Yablonsky- Art Newspaper)

3/10/2010 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

This show serves to augment the value and prestige of Joannou's art collection. It is sad if the museum isn't able to find trustees interested in other cultural goal than parade a selfish sense of vanity.

But they are plenty other places where that can and will happen.

Cedric

3/10/2010 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Chance encounter with Marcel in a Pasadena museum, that's movie-inspiring.

Cedric

3/10/2010 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Winkler said...

In the days of Marcia Tucker and Bill Olander, the New Museum operated like a bridge between alternative spaces and cultural institutions. It's curatorial point of view was defined by a mission statement drawn from its name "New" Museum. The goal was to present cutting edge art. With the advent of full-blown post-modernism, the focus began to shift to "New" curatorial approaches. But the show in question does not present new art or a new curatorial methodology. People are talking as a result of this exhibition but no new insights have been offered and no genuinely new art is being exhibited. There's now nothing inherently "New" in the programing of the New Museum--creating discussion is irrelevant unless that discussion is leading to some deeper insight. This wasn't a curatorial experiment because the issue being argued is not fundamentally curatorial in any meaningful sense--it's just an old fashioned moral argument.

*And to Nathaniel, there are still wonderfully passionate curators and museum directors around--Bill Arning (now a museum director in Houston) comes immediately to mind. I think many curators are still open to new ideas, studio visits to emerging artists have probably dropped quite a bit; but the reason for that, is partly due to the fact that the internet has allowed artists to present their work to curators with the click of a mouse--I'm not saying that's good, its just the way it is. My gripe with the New Museum is that they are now showing work I've already seen at the Whitney or at major museums in Europe. And they are now no more open to new art and new ideas than any other museum. If the New Museum is doing anything new, it's so self-involved that it's of no interest to me.

3/10/2010 06:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Emphasis mine:

The single greatest impression made on me by the exhibition was in reading the wall text for a Charles Ray sculpture Revolution Counter-Revolution (1990/2010).

We're talking about an exhibition of visual art, yes? If this sentence doesn't denote its failure, I don't know what would. And the statement below from Phillips is rich:

In this case, both the framing the terms of the debate and having the conversation around public-private partnerships is worth meeting head-on and having the conversation.

In other words, we're going to go ahead with this taxpayer-subsidized orgy of conflicting interests because it will be edifying to the public to discuss our obvious wrongdoing in cynical, polite terms like "public-private partnerships."

3/10/2010 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We're talking about an exhibition of visual art, yes?

Within the context of considering how well the exhibition lived up to its curatorial premise.

3/10/2010 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Three exhibitions on view here in NYC wrap up the last 20 years of the 20th century, in roughly chronological order:

Haunch of Venison : "Your History Is Not Our History"

New Museum : "Skin Fruit"

Whitney Museum : "2010 Whitney Biannual"

I will note there has been some delay in ditching the last century, there was so much money greasing the skids, no one wanted to let go. But, this year it has been fairly clear that the party is over and that many artists are looking in anticipation towards a new but uncertain future. So exhibitions like these, serve the purpose of providing both talking points and something to push against creatively.

It's not just about the money anymore.

3/10/2010 08:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Within the context of considering how well the exhibition lived up to its curatorial premise.

There was a curatorial premise? What was it?

3/10/2010 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"to explore the possibility further and for redefining what these public-private partnerships should be within our strong sense of ethics and integrity and within the level of quality that we stand for"

as noted above

3/11/2010 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin will hopefully tell us that he has seen "Skin Fruit" otherwise we are left to assume that he just looked online for something to trash and if that's the case, we are left wondering how he managed to miss the curatorial premise.

3/11/2010 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

to explore the possibility further and for redefining what these public-private partnerships should be within our strong sense of ethics and integrity and within the level of quality that we stand for

...is not a curatorial premise. It's a self-righteous declaration of personal and institutional virtue that has nothing to do with the work on display and everything to do with how it got displayed.

George will hopefully explain why I have to see the show in order to challenge the stated rationalizations for it, or the ethical failures that brought it into existence.

3/11/2010 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK, so let's put it all together then (as I did through the original post):

"to explore the possibility further and for redefining what these public-private partnerships should be [in the context of a collector-artist relationship that has led to a] challenge and experimentation ...approach...similar to ours. [Starting] 25 years ago with artists who weren't known and he's continued in that vein. ...his deep engagement with artists and their issues..."

So the curatorial premise is to use the context of a space dedicated to challenging and experimental work to examine a collection built of challenging and experimental work as a path toward exploring the public-private partnerships that seem to be an inevitable part of the art institution's future. In that admittedly limited respect, as I had hoped the post would make clear, it is about the work.

No one ever said it was the most brilliant curatorial premise, but it is one.

3/11/2010 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Even under your reformulation it isn't about the work on display, but the mechanism by which the work got into the museum, which wouldn't merit discussion if not for the fact that a trustee had transformed the museum into a vanity gallery.

3/11/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

it wasn't a reformulation, as much as a clarification of the original formulation, and it would still, in my opinion, qualify as a curatorial premise...again, perhaps not the most exciting one of late, but....

3/11/2010 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

...but certainly the most convenient.

3/11/2010 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Maybe the premiss would sound less rubbish if more than a single "view" on the topic had been surveyed.


But Jeff Koons is the curator? So maybe it's more about Koons' opinion on the art of his peers, which is more interesting (to me).


Maybe Joannou should start a small Dia Beacon. Where does all this art go once exhibited? In various houses where only the cleanup crews see them?

Cedric C

3/11/2010 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joannou has a space in Greece where he shows part of the collection. It is called the Deste foundation and it was founded in 1983. People's ignorance on what this man has done for the art world in Greece is unbelievable. Also, the Deste prize is awarded every two years for young Greek artists where they receive money and an exhibition.

3/14/2010 05:30:00 AM  

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