Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gagosian Museum Gallery

I have this process when responding to criticism of any organization, whether it be a governmental body or non-profit institution (such as a museum), that guides how I interpret both their actions and the public's response to it. The first thing I generally do is seek out and carefully consider their mission statement. If you've read here for a while, you'll have seen where I cite some organization's mission statement as part of my critique, using their own stated raison d'etre as the baseline for holding them to some standard. Usually, the part of the mission statement I'll focus on, being a member of the public, is the part that explains how the organization seeks to serve the public.

In searching around the website for Gagosian Gallery, I was unable to find any statement about the gallery, but I have spent enough time thinking and writing about what it is that all commercial galleries have in common that I'm comfortable concluding that Gagosian Gallery is a private commercial enterprise owned by Larry Gagosian that admits the public to see its exhibitions for free, and has no stated public service obligations in its mission with regards to its choices for exhibitions. In other words, in making decisions on what he presents to the public (who get in for free), Mr. Gagosian is obligated only to do what he feels is best for his business.

Or so it would seem to me.

If you read the responses to the current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery on West 24th Street, of recent work by artist Dan Colen, however, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a tax-payer-funded non-profit with an obligation to give the public its money's worth. Indeed, much of the critique seems more apropos of the sort generally launched at bad museum choices, focusing on whether Mr. Colen deserves the status that Gagosian Gallery bestows by exhibiting him. Here's but a sample:

From artist William Powhida's somewhat stream of consciousness post of twitter responses:
I hate Dan Colen btw, worst artist of the aughts. Gagosian?! The silver man fucked up this time.
From Roberta Smith in the New York Times:
In contributing to New York’s cultural life, there’s no art dealer quite like Larry Gagosian. But he’s not perfect. His forte is historical material and the blue-chip pantheon, from Willem de Kooning to Ed Ruscha, and ascendant blue-chippers he helps pump up, sometimes to the point of implosion — like Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.

There are certain artists with enough integrity to withstand the combination of hype and weird invisibility that is part of the Gagosian machine — Philip Taaffe and Ellen Gallagher come to mind. But others seem diminished by this context: Paul Pfeiffer, Tom Friedman, John Currin and even Piotr Uklanski, one of the few artists to use his indisputably perverse exhibition with Gagosian as an occasion to fight spectacle with spectacle.

This brings us to the Dan Colen show in the larger Gagosian space in Chelsea.
From Jerry Saltz in New York magazine:
The fall art season has begun—well after the purportedly cleansing end of the bubble—with the Spirit of Stupidity, stalking us in the form of the well-meaning but misguided Dan Colen. A few weeks ago, the New York Times featured the artist, reporting that he caused an uproar in Berlin in 2006 by posting exhibition flyers that showed him nude with a tallis hanging from his erection. The would-be rabbi breathing life into this golem is superstar mega-dealer Larry Gagosian, who has given us stellar shows of Picasso and Manzoni, but here seems intent on burning up his credibility on a display of dominion.
While I'm sure Mr. Gagosian must be flattered that he's being held to the same standards usually reserved for our top museums, I still think it makes sense to judge the choices he makes in the context of his being a commercial art dealer. The fact that he does on occasion present museum-quality shows (which, again, are free for us) in no way obligates him to pretend he's not running a commercial art gallery. He still has staff and bills to pay (and his ninth outpost's architect). Criticize the art, by all means..be as harsh on Mr. Colen's work as you deem appropriate. But this critique of the choice and gallery context strikes me as somewhat odd.

It's a private business.

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25 Comments:

Blogger TenMile said...

Well done. Fair distinction. Hard on your contemporaries. Hope they paid attention.

9/21/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks TenMile, but I consider my "contemporaries" other emerging art dealers. I don't mean to be hard on the writers cited...I trust them enough to know they're well-meaning...I just think it behooves us all to remember Mr. Gagosian has bills to pay...not to mention he's not running a museum.

9/21/2010 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I hadn't read Roberta's remarks before and I think she has really hit the nail on the head. I'm almost in total agreement with Jerry on this one.

I disagree with Powhida and almost everyone else about Dan Colon as an artist. I think he is one of the most gifted painters working today. At 31 he is very young and entered into the art scene during a period of excess which hasn't helped mature him very much. I think he's being given poor advice and cannot imagine it happening with someone like Leo Castelli. Rather than building a career over time it appears the Gagosian gallery is going for the quick buck. Booo.

9/21/2010 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger ellen yustas k. gottlieb said...

thanks Edward! very well put, art business is not selling cars or woman's cloths. It's a refine game with public, attention and press. The artist might never be someone who can surpass his creativity level's peak, if he can't produce something else that could somehow appeal to art business then bless his heart. The dealer, Mr. Gagosian made the show in this case, not really the artist.

9/21/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Good points, I often think I'm in a museum show at Gagosian. The Colon show was a yawn for me, but who hasn't wanted to push over a row of Harleys. http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/2010-09-10_dan-colen/#/images/4/ and the Marc Newson retro on 21st is spectacular.

9/21/2010 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

More to the point The problem is not so much with Colen himself, who is just a willing pawn in a dead-end game. It’s his kind of faulty thinking, and the brassy, vacuous spectacles staged at Gagosian and elsewhere, that are poisonous. Once upon a time in the nineties, art that wanted to be complicit with the system, that tried to lure collectors as it criticized the artist-dealer-buyer complex, had an edgy Trojan-horse coerciveness.

The culture takes the art it wants, it changes its mind but it is never wrong. Culture exists to pass information and memories of the present into the future. In a period awash in lucre, the culture naturally responds appropriately and embraces the excess, loves the spectacle. When economic conditions collapsed both the economic and psychic support for the past excesses collapsed as well.

9/21/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Conflating the apparent review of Colen's exhibition with the critique of the art system is unfair to both Gagosian and Colen, in my opinion. As I noted over on Facebook, I feel these are two separate dialogs. Gagosian is a COMMERCIAL art gallery. The art in it is either good or bad. Making money off the art in it is the gallery's reason for existing.

9/21/2010 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Heart As Arena said...

The most ridiculous thing Saltz says in his piece is that GoGo is ruining his credibility with this show. I don't think of Gagosian as someone who HAS credibility when it comes to art. And you know what? I don't give a shit. He's put on some of the most killer shows I've ever seen. That's ALL I care about. Serra, numerous Lichtenstein shows, the "museum quality" shows of the summer (HaHa. What is museum quality? Like museums don't put on shitty shows sometimes.), Hodgkin, Walter De Maria, Schnabel's big sailor paintings (Heh! OK. That last one was a joke.)

Dude has mad credentials as a business guy in my book. I don't know how he pulls off so many good shows, and I don't care. Probably has some good, overworked, and wildly abused people working for him who DO have good eyes. That, plus his ability to see the market. But GoGo will never be Mary Boone. Which is fine. Let's just get it straight. He's always following, always sniffing at tails. Again, nothing wrong with that. That's how he does his biz, and if that leads to a couple ass-kicking shows a year I'm down with it. Go GoGo, go.

9/21/2010 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Heart As Arena said...

In other words, Ed, I'm agreeing with you. Jive.

9/21/2010 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed, I think the article is more of an observation on the changing state of the artworld as expressed through two of its components, the artist and the gallery. It's about a decade where money usurped the art in importance and the observation that this is ending.

9/21/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Monica said...

Agreed. However, the difference between Gagosian and any other "commercial art gallery" is that his power and visibility far outweighs that of many museums in this city. Hence the inordinate amount of press he attracts. With power comes responsibility. As a person of the "public" who gets in for "free" I have every reason to expect him, as I do from other dealers, to have some level of integrity.

9/21/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

hmmm maybe Im in water too deep here ....

The first thing I generally do is seek out and carefully consider their mission statement.

so looking at the show in the perspective of is it good art or not : according to the artist : It’s about how powerful a single simple gesture can be.
--Dan Colen



So what to make of the gesture of knocking over all those motorbikes? Gestures aren't accidental, they are deliberate and communicate.

This one is apparently a la "Dennis the menace" - deliberate hooliganism, which is interesting enough - but does that embody the power of the human gesture? -which is the artists gesture and intent in this show. Is wanton disregard for the other, versus a wanton disregard of oneself, the measure of the complexity and significance of gesture?
I doubt it, and the artist hasn't convinced me otherwise (not a fair statement as I haven't seen the show in person) but hence I don't think the show measures up to its intent.

Which -measuring up or not- is rather irrelevant to the response generated. Except that, art is gesture and the artist appears to propound that gesture is significant only if it is destructive.
Ergo: he's saying that art must be destructive to be of value, which is reason enough to raise concern and comment.

9/21/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger ruben said...

I give a lot of credit to Larry Gagosian for taking chances with some artists during this turbulent economic times.

BTW, The Dan Colen show SOLD out before its opening and some of the paintings sold with a price tag of $700.000.00. Not bad for an artist who started selling his work in Larry Gagosian Gallery bathroom walls.

Not bad also for someone who, I highly respect as a gallerist for providing some amazing museum quality shows to the public and for running the most successful gallery enterprise ever. They will be commercial shows here and there because afterall, he needs to make more $$$ to bring more museums shows for us to enjoy!

I bought two Dan Colen prints about 4 years ago and they might not be my favorite ones but, boy , I am happy to own them now.

9/21/2010 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Manerva said...

Edward,

Thanks for foregrounding the distinction between commercial art gallery and museum. It's refreshing and likely to be needed again periodically.

9/21/2010 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Oh poor Mr. Gagosian. Yes a commercial gallery has to make money, but come-on, he has reached a point where he is writing art history. It is about the art not about the powerful dealer with rich clients propping up the art.

Steal some of the most successful artists (at least the most talked about ones) fund their projects and YES, some wonderful shows will happen, but in time his weight has become the impetus for the artists he chooses to gain fame. Now, perhaps, the hollowness is showing.

9/21/2010 07:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FAIR!? what the hell has that got to do with discussions of the art world. It's basically a parade of money and intellectual authority with the rest of us left to sort out the meaning of it all. I think everyone is entitled to critique criticize and otherwise BS, becasue that has apparently become what it's all about anyway.
I'm being a bit dramatic, but seriously you can't talk about fairness in relation to the criticism that teh most elite art dealer in the world receives.

9/21/2010 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does Gagosian or any of his apologists expect. He shouldn't have a free pass when it comes to criticism. The show is bad and definitely a poor use of his resources. Concerniong his gallery/museum status; it's not really as if he's going out of his way to throw a bone to the public with free admission. He further positioned his place in histroy as well as strenghtened his brand with his recent museum quality shows, so I have no pity. Please excuse the rest of us if we want to engage in a bit of Gagosian bashing when he has it coming.

On a final note, nice post Ed. This is an important topic and regardless of your perspective it addresses many important issues regarding the notion of a business actually having a social responsibility (which it does by teh way).

9/21/2010 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

I'm sorry I can't check out Colen's show in person... there must be something there in order to cause such a stir, no?

9/22/2010 06:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Yes, Gagosian's operation is not a museum. Yet his success is unthinkable without the museums to create the blueness of those blue-chip artists. Likewise, the museums' success is hard to imagine without the involvement and complicity of the übergalleries. Jerry Saltz, who may spend the rest of his career rebuilding the credibility he's destroyed in the last two years and thus is not in a position to comment on Gagosian's, is channeling Holland Cotter's inane market hatred while missing the real problem with the market, which is that this insualar, mutually beneficial relationship between the museums and the galleries exists in the first place. The art should stand or fall on its own merits but the idea that Gagosian is merely running a private business is bunk. It depends on machinations in the public sphere to function, and as such is about as much of a private business as Blackwater.

9/22/2010 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the idea that Gagosian is merely running a private business is bunk. It depends on machinations in the public sphere to function, and as such is about as much of a private business as Blackwater.

Are you suggesting that any business that interacts with non-profit or governmental institutions is automatically "not" a private business anymore? Or are you suggesting there's some degree of interaction that represents a crossing over into something less than a private business? If so, where is that line?

9/22/2010 08:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You don't have to know exactly where to draw the line in order to see what's on the other side of it. By all means, Gagosian is a private business. So is Xe/Blackwater. But to leave it at that misrepresents their dependency on activities dubiously carried out in the name of public interest.

9/22/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello gagosian has to fund that work for it to exist. of course he can be criticized for it he birthed it.

9/22/2010 01:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Maritza Ruiz Kim said...

Mr. Orlofsky, the director fr. Gagosian who brought Colen in, was quoted in Carol Vogel's NYT article as saying "Since I knew one day something was going to happen to this guy, I suggested he do a show with us." It does very much seem about prospecting, anticipating interest/value, and seizing the moment. Notice the absence (in the quote Vogel chose, or in the quote Orlofsky chose to supply) of personal connection to the work. It does make sense after all.

9/23/2010 01:03:00 AM  
Blogger ruben said...

Can we just put egos and taste opinions aside and just be happy that we have a show in a gallery to see and that the artists are selling work in such terrible economic times?

They are hundreds of galleries closed by now, if you truly enjoy art, good or bad is a matter of personal choice. There is nothing, I like most if to have the choice of hundred of galleries to spend hours looking at the work and make my own choices and opinions but, always respecting their vision and effort even if they might not be my taste or preference.

Do you really know how much money and effort is to put a show together in a gallery?

I mean really... some people here sound so bitter and highly misinformed.

In the art world sometimes an artist can rise to the top not only for the work, but its connections and most of all is about sizing the moment.I saw the show and was not my favorite but, it makes a statement and there is something there enough to sell out the whole show before its opening.Good for Dan Colen!

9/23/2010 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I saw the show and was not my favorite but, it makes a statement and there is something there enough to sell out the whole show before its opening.Good for Dan Colen!

Nice try, Larry.

9/23/2010 04:25:00 PM  

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