Monday, May 10, 2010

You Can't Take It With You...So It's About What You Leave

The news would have you think that the world is spinning out of control in a billion directions all at once. How long ago did someone try to detonate a bomb in Times Square? It feels like months, but it's actually only 9 days. Is it the Taliban or Al Qaeda who poses the greatest threat, is Greece going to stabilize now, who's in charge in the UK, what the hell happened on Wall Street, what will happen there today (looking promising, but even that's insane)? We live in mad, intense times, and, in the Chinese curse sort of way, they are interesting.

But what remains of all this when we are long gone?

Whether it's obvious or not (and I suspect it might be if you piece together all the posts here over the past 5 years), that question is the essence of what drives me toward art. It's not the glamor (anyone who saw me covered head to foot in in gray-green dust when we sanded down the chalkboard walls from the #class show [Bambino said I looked like Shrek] would understand that), it's not the riches (still waiting for my commission from that $106 million Picasso sale), and it's not just the game (although I'm far more competitive that most casual observers would realize, I tend to take the long view and let others wear themselves out first).

No, it's the awareness that our lives, our generation, our turn on this planet represent but a blip in the history of humankind and that 5,000 years from now the most meaningful of the things likely to be of any interest to students of civilizations past will be the art we leave.

One work of art that doubles as a heartbreaking reminder of that is currently being installed in the Park Avenue Armory. The New York Times' Dorothy Spears explains:
At first sight, the monumental artwork being installed at the Park Avenue Armory suggests nothing so much as a crane claw, the frustrating arcade game in which a player tries to pull a stuffed animal from a pile of many, and to hold on to it, with a grapple controlled by a joystick.

And even after spending time with its creator, the French artist Christian Boltanski, and hearing his take on the piece’s emotional and psychic meanings, it’s hard not to see it as a version of that childhood game, and as an embodiment of a similar, albeit more intense, kind of perplexity and heartbreak.

The work, “No Man’s Land,” which opens to the public on Friday and runs through June 11, is centered on a five-story crane and a 25-foot-high mound of salvaged clothing rising from the floor of the Armory’s vast drill hall. Every few minutes, in an act meant to resonate with the arbitrariness of death and survival, the crane’s giant claw will pluck a random assortment of shirts, pants and dresses from the mound then release them to flap back down haphazardly. Visitors can watch the action — set to a ceaseless, reverberating soundtrack of thousands of human heartbeats — from ground level, standing amid dozens of 15-by-23-foot plots of discarded jackets that extend in all directions from the mound and that may evoke refugee or death camps. Behind the visitors, a 66-foot-long, 12-foot-high wall made from 3,000 stacked cookie tins will cut off views of the exit.
It's hard to miss the references to some of the most horrifying of human experiences (refugee or death camps), but the piece seems to tap into something much more universal.
Mr. Boltanski suggested during a recent tour of the drill hall. “You can hold onto the clothes, and even the heartbeats of many, many people,” he said. “But you can’t keep anybody.”
You can't keep any thing either. No matter how much money (or very expensive paintings) you accumulate, you leave it all behind. Indeed, the $106 million dollar Picasso sale is a case example that keeps on teaching, as The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff explains:
Suppose you were only the second-to-last bidder on Picasso’s “Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur” at Christie’s on Tuesday night, or you just didn’t have the additional $106.5 million lying around to add it to your collection. Is there another valuable item you could acquire, somehow connected to that painting, but for a fraction of the price? How about the home of the art patrons who previously owned it?

For a mere $24.95 million (or about .23 of the Picasso), you can buy the estate of Sidney F. Brody and Frances Lasker Brody, the real estate investor and his wife, who were longtime benefactors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and whose 11,500-square-foot spread in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles was an art gallery its own right.


Now one of the things that was a constant point of annoyance for me during the #class exhibition was how many artists viewed collectors, as a class, as part of the "problem." It was partly that the artists thought collectors didn't "get" what they were doing (as if any more than 0.5% of the art world does, really, for most great artists) and partly that they thought the association of high prices for their work with "success" was something that complicated their goals. [Worse than that, in my opinion, is how many artists view collectors as simply a source of money. A grotesque dehumanization that speaks to pathological self-centeredness, IMO, and defended far more widely than justified via a few choice anecdotes of boorish behavior on the part of one or two collectors.]

Part of this may be due to the fact that artists don't meet as many collectors if they sell through a gallery as they might if they sold their work directly, but part of it seems also based on class resentments. Either way, getting to know collectors as I have had the pleasure in my role, and seeing how much more they have in common with artists than either party realizes, I do sometimes wish there were more opportunities for the two groups to intermingle.

More than that, though, I view collectors as the most important link in the preservation of the art we leave to represent all this. In that way, collectors are to be encouraged, supported, and quite rightly IMO praised for their contributions toward that goal. What the Brody's left was a fabulous collection (including works by "Braque, Miro, Giacometti, Degas, Modigliani and Renoir, as well as a ceramic mural made by Matisse"). Because of their role in preserving those pieces (and now the "value" they embody via the complex system of provenance influencing desirability), these works will be treasured and might even be preserved (should the technology advance that much) so that the archeologists 5000 years from now can study them). Yes, with names like those in their collection these works would have found their way to museums anyway eventually, but the Brody's role in ensuring that is something I personally respect and admire.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Ed, somewhere between the green chalkboard dust image and the comment about you taking the long view in competition, I am now envisioning you as a turtle.

So we're all in it for the immortality? If you can't live forever, maybe your art can-- whether that means the art you make, the art you sell, or the art you buy.
I have to admit, that idea appeals to me as well, but I question myself a lot on the topic, why it important to have a record of my individual existence 5000 years from now? What is the real value in that?

I don't have any answers on that topic, just questions.

5/10/2010 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't think an individual artist should be concerned with immortality when making art...they should be concerned with creating the best art they can. The immortality part of it comes in when that work then is recognized and preserved as a vessel for the "truth" of our time. Two different phases.

5/10/2010 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ed, interesting topic. I moved out of the US and found better opportunities as an artist elsewhere. The artist/collector divide is so wide also because in the US the collector is like the lifeline that artists deeply resent to have to depend on. In a way, I think there is a big lie that post-war american art has posited, that art is somehow "autonomous". It is not. It is circumscribed to contexts and it fits into a political and economic paradigm.

One the one hand it does appear that collectors - the ones who basically feed the successful artists who sell their work for a living - make seemingly bizarre choices for picking artist A and B to patronize. On the other hand, there is math - there are only so many collectors, and frankly, there are what, 300,000 artists in New York or something (that's what it feels like).

On a personal level I feel that the object-based model (artist makes object, collector buys object), leaves something away from the experience. Art needs to re-enter life and to affect people at large as gestures, as life choices, NOT just as objects. "Art" is too concentrated in the small confines of the artworld and let's face it, not everyone will fit that mold. "Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.

5/10/2010 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Anon 11:30: every species' goal is to survive, what makes humans different is the ability to make conscious decisions regarding changes to the environment and the survival of their own and other species. In 5000 years, if we succeed in this mission of preservation, it will be known, and the evidence will be shown in art, culture and science. I don't think art is the most important evidence in history, but it is the one that brings it to life. We can learn about ancient Egypt from books but seeing the pyramids and the artifacts found inside them, or ancient Roman sculptures and architecture, makes a connection in our brain with past civilizations that brings our deep DNA links to those living before us into a conscious level. Just think of how much we may have lost if indeed a whole civilization - Atlantis - has disappeared without a trace. Why do we even want to know about it? it's because we need to make these connections, to know where we came from which will help know where we are going.

Ed, regarding collectors, I respect them personally and their role in preserving art for future generations, I just don't get how come, with these amounts of $$ flying around for luxuries like art, is it necessary for so much poverty and conflict to exist in the world. Wouldn't it be nice if the legacy we left is the end of these?

5/10/2010 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ed, interesting topic. I moved out of the US and found better opportunities as an artist elsewhere. The artist/collector divide is so wide also because in the US the collector is like the lifeline that artists deeply resent to have to depend on. In a way, I think there is a big lie that post-war american art has posited, that art is somehow "autonomous". It is not. It is circumscribed to contexts and it fits into a political and economic paradigm.

One the one hand it does appear that collectors - the ones who basically feed the successful artists who sell their work for a living - make seemingly bizarre choices for picking artist A and B to patronize. On the other hand, there is math - there are only so many collectors, and frankly, there are what, 300,000 artists in New York or something (that's what it feels like).

On a personal level I feel that the object-based model (artist makes object, collector buys object), leaves something away from the experience. Art needs to re-enter life and to affect people at large as gestures, as life choices, NOT just as objects. "Art" is too concentrated in the small confines of the artworld and let's face it, not everyone will fit that mold. "Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.

5/10/2010 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

As a collector, it may be that I don't "get" your art, or it may be that I simply don't like it. If I don't like a piece (as with a pile of clothes on the ground and a wall of 3000 cookie tins, or some woman sitting at a table for eight hours a day in a long red dress, or a shark preserved in formaldehyde, etc., etc.), no amount of "interpretation" is likely to make me like it any more.

On the other hand, I may like your work but simply can't afford it. If "high prices" "complicate" your goals, you can lower your prices and maybe I can afford you. But then you might say, I need to eat too. Yes, and so do I, and I also have to pay my mortgage and contribute to my retirement accounts.

If you find the collector is too much a "problem," you can follow the example of the designer Irving Harper, who created numerous paper sculptures that he always kept for himself and never thought of selling:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/t-magazine/02talk-harper-t.html?ref=t-magazine

But then, Harper found another means of making a living. I on the other hand do like what I've seen of Harper's work, and if they were for sale and I could afford them, I would buy them and give them a nice home, pleased with the notion that I was thereby contributing to their "immortality."

5/10/2010 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

art is but a dance .... which is more important, the music, the evening, the night stars, the lead, the follower, the audience,the dance shoes, the wine list ...?

art needs critics, art needs commentators, art needs collectors, art needs controversy, art needs aficionados, art needs artists, art needs gallerists, art needs historians, art needs theories, art needs theoreticians, art needs people, and people need art.

when we try to decide if one is more important then the other I think we get into a chicken and egg quagmire.

The 5000 year legacy I think is real. Imagine finding a human boot print versus a human footprint on mars ... art speaks not only among us, but beyond us, across time as it were, across such enormous divides. That collectors privilege that possibility is really a pan generational legacy. Humans are able to be more then butterflies on their generational migrations, our emotions and cares reaching from beyond today.

art is beyond beauty ...

(oy- I always ramble on when it comes to arts raison d'etre)

5/10/2010 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I prefer the idea of doing something that everybody can have and not just a few collectors. Hence, the realms of digital. But I'm even more interested in transferring a model that the digital world offer into the real world.


Cedric C

5/10/2010 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

Once I met a collector and his wife, and they admitted they only go on vacation once every two years in order to buy art at least every other year.
I was quite amazed by that. I go on vacation (at least) once a year, and I am a "struggling" artist!
I never thought there were working class collectors.

Of course I tried to sell them my working class art, but failed.

;)

5/10/2010 04:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Interestingly, and since Larry has mentioned her, the Abramovic piece at the Moma right now is not so much about what one leaves, but
about the absolute prevalence of the present (ironic how this piece only makes sense when the artist is there, while Abramovic started a foundation to preserve performance and encourage re-livings (to not use the word re-enactments) of landmark art performances).

I first compared "The Artist Is Present" (correct me if this isn't the title of the piece) to the Sloth installation by canadian François Girard, which had actor Georges Molnar sits everyday the same way Abramovic currently does, but there is an important nuance
between Sloth or the micro-theatrics of Tino Sehgal: it's the whole ego-centered philosophy of the artist claiming "this is me now, I won't be here forever", and of course, because we're all egos (yes, inside we're all litle Lady Gagas), the same goes for the viewer.

You can collect whatever you want, art only exists in the present. If you tumble in a syncope and wake up brain-dead, you will not make sense of what you have collected.

And so the Abramovic example suggests that maybe art is not so much about what you leave than about what you are, or can be, now.
Which is something chinese and indians have understood for centuries through Taoism, Hindouism, Buddhims (all those religions without terrorists),
but which we are so slow to grasp
in the West (who requires baby-faced I'll-take-you-by-the-hand demonstrations like the one of Abramovic to snap it out for us).


Cedric C


(PS: also that Abramovic piece is the best response to a dead shark in formol by Hirst)

5/10/2010 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Re: 5000 years. I would like to introduce the idea that the evolution of art is a Darwinian Process. The Darwinian Process proceeds in three steps:
1) Replication of system. i.e. make a new artwork.
2) The new artworks inherit characteristics from its history and introduces new variations.
3) The survival of the new artwork depends on how well it functions in the environment.
[ref. see Dawkins "The Selfish Gene", Dennet "Darwin's Dangerous Idea"]

The culture and its physical environment constitutes the ecosystem which a artwork survive in sufficiently well to leave a genetic record of its achievements. By survival I mean preservation of the artwork, and hence its aesthetic, not necessarily its popular success.

Over history, the artworks which survive contain a 'genetic' repository of the aesthetic which can be used as the seed for replication. Replication does not occur in a vacuum but in the cultural ecosystem which represents the culture at a given moment in time. For an artwork to be viable at some particular moment in history it must have resonance with the culture, knowingly or unknowingly.

This particular process is only in part controlled by the artist for the cultural ecosystem may decide it's not interested enough to preserve the work. Regardless, so many aesthetic variations exist that most aesthetics continue to be accidentally propagated into the future.

The farther in time we are from an artworks creation the greater chance that it will be lost, destroyed or discarded in favor of a similar but better expressed aesthetic.

5/10/2010 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Can’t resist just one late-night comment.

Now – 2000 CE – 3000 BCE = Dynasty I of the Egyptians. They knew better than anyone after how to preserve art for a really long time. Bury it in places that no one can find.

If there is any hope of preserving the art we have now for another 5000 years it is that the rich collectors of our day will stash their treasures in top-secret bunkers deep under the ground (preferably in Switzerland). Most will be rooted out sooner or later and sold for scrap but a few choice troves will make it into subsequent ages.

I’m not kidding. This is the way cultural transmission works. The farther away from civilization something is the better its chances of survival. Or conversely, the closer to civilization it is, the more likely it is to perish in the flames, accidental or otherwise.

All in all the best way to achieve immortality, at least for a while, is to carve your name on a rock. And the nice thing about it is, if you don’t get around to doing it yourself, others will do it for you.

5/11/2010 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger Dalifan said...

Continuing in the vein of thought presented, I'm going to express something I firmly believe in as an artist --> that artists express based on their personal context in their culture and generation.

Which means in my eyes that an artist is being a conduit of expression for that period of time in their own way...

Whether they do that successfully or not, suceeding generations can often figure it out through hindsight, but at the very least making the effort in the first place is valuable.

I'm thinking the context of a piece of art with reference to the artist and their life on a personal level and the context of their times could greatly enhance the experience of the audience for that artwork.

Thanks for listening!
Teresa Young.

5/13/2010 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous SF Girl said...

I kinda disagree with John and George... While art can and does generally express the time and culture of the artist and its appreciation by a viewer may be limited by its "representational utility of its ecosystem", my thought is that great artists and true art transcend these arbitrary constructs by tapping into something way beyond these. True art is universal and timeless, because it speaks to universal truths about humanity and our universe (often on a visceral or sub-conscious level). This goes way beyond culture and addresses beauty and truth (remember John Keats?). I posted on this topic on my blog, The Alien Next Door.

I resonated with Cedric's comment: "You can collect whatever you want, art only exists in the present." Art is not a thing, something you own or possess; art is motion, art is feeling, art is journey, to be experienced.

To this end, I strongly believe that art is a gift to be shared, and made fully accessible to as many people as possible--in the now and for all infinity (hail the internet! LOL!).

Anyone seen "The Collector" with Terence Stamp? Enough said, I think...

Best Wishes,
Nina Munteanu, author

5/13/2010 01:30:00 PM  

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