Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Dependency on a Lack of Transparency

A well-respected New York art critic once confided to me that, in their opinion, dealers have the toughest jobs in the art world. I am normally working too hard to stop and give that notion much thought, but in writing my book (yes, it's still available and makes a lovely Easter/Passover/Spring/Thursday present) I noted how a dealer has two main sets of clients (collectors and artists) and how pleasing both can often present dilemmas. This was my first thought when reading about the lawsuit recently brought against the David Zwirner Gallery. The story was broken in The New York Post, of all places:
A Chelsea art gallery was slapped with an $8 million lawsuit yesterday by a collector who claims its owners blabbed to a painter that he had sold off one of her works -- landing him on her "blacklist."

Craig Robins alleges that the David Zwirner Gallery breached a confidentiality agreement by telling artist Marlene Dumas that it helped him unload her 1994 painting, "Reinhardt's Daughter."

Robins' suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks $3 million in compensatory damages, plus $5 million for what he calls the gallery's "reprehensible motives" and "wanton dishonesty."

Robins, a real-estate developer from Miami Beach, says the artful deceit was part of the gallery's plan to "gain favor" with Dumas in the hope that she would ink an exclusive-representation deal with it.

[...] At some point, Robins learned he had been blacklisted by the artist -- barring him from directly buying from her representatives. Suspecting it was because he had sold one of her works through the gallery, he went there to see who had blabbed to Dumas.

The Chelsea gallery then "apologetically and unequivocally" admitted that it had told Dumas about Robins' 2004 sale of her painting, the suit says.

Robins claims the gallery "disingenuously" promised to get him off Dumas' blacklist so he wouldn't sue them. The gallery also allegedly offered him first crack at any of Dumas' pieces not bought by museums.

But the gallery "failed to respond" when Robins said he wanted three paintings from her current show last week, the court papers say.

And Robins says he "still remains on [Dumas'] blacklist and . . . has not been granted full access to [her] primary market works."

Zwirner spokeswoman Julia Joern said, "The gallery believes that the case has no merit and plans to vigorously defend itself against Mr. Robins' baseless allegations."
More than just a casebook example of how a gallery can land between a rock and a hard place in trying to please two clients with conflicting interests, this contemporary cautionary tale (as reported) manages to make all three parties look kind of bad.

First and foremost, it makes the gallery look bad. If you sign a confidentiality agreement, then, you are bound not to spill your guts. That part seems straightforward enough. Secondly, the artist doesn't exactly look too good in all this, either. While it's certainly understandable that Ms. Dumas doesn't want her collectors flipping her artwork, if she blacklisted everyone who's been selling her work just at auction (let alone privately), she'd risk alienating quite a long list of collectors. Artfacts lists over 320 lots of mostly minor works. Finally, though, the collector seems to have been willing to ignore the breach of contract (the confidentiality agreement being broken) when the gallery had promised to get him off the blacklist, so it's not like the lawsuit is being brought on principle.

Again, this assessment is based on how the story was reported, and, well, let's just say that I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn the details told a different story. Still, it looks as if there are plenty of questionable (if not quite "reprehensible") motives involved throughout.

Now, despite not knowing the details involved, I've been at this long enough to know that all three parties would more than likely protest my assessment of their actions here. The gallery would insist that it's much more complicated (and, well, it generally truly is, although not in a way that entirely exonerates the gallery usually); the artist would likely insist that the collector was the first to offend and that blacklisting him was her only real defense against such behavior (and, again, some well-considered droit de suite laws would be so helpful here); and the collector would likely argue that he shouldn't have to apologize for doing what he wanted to with his property and that the gallery was obligated to keep quiet to prevent just this scenario.

What none of that covers, though, is why the system seems to go all pear-shaped as soon as a little transparency enters the picture. [I'll project a bit here to make my point, acknowledging again that I don't have access to the details.] The fact that the collector felt the need to keep something quiet that he feels is his right to do [resell his property]; the fact that the artist clearly valued the information that was being kept secret; and the fact that the gallery was reportedly willing to break a confidentiality agreement toward another business objective all call for more transparency, to my mind. Had the collector's resale not carried a stigma, had the artist benefited from the resale, and had the gallery not been placed in the precarious position between the two clients, the lawyers who are now going to make a small fortune off this case would be busy with other more important matters.

But that's not how it works. A reliance on keeping things hush-hush is built into the system. You almost begin to suspect an attorney-authored conspiracy. ;-)

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cyber-Cynomys...Ten-hut!

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.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

5 Quick Links for a Soggy Monday

  • I've finally turned in my contribution to Art21's ongoing debate on "Must art be ethical?" You can participate in the discussion there.
  • Jim Finn, whose film "Interkosmos" (along with Marcus Coate's "Radio Shaman" and “The Plover's Wing”), launches the first week of double features at Decalogue: Films You Can Count on Two Hands at the gallery starting tomorrow, was among the filmmakers interviewed about North Korea in the weekend's New York Times.
  • Everybody's talking about Sarah Thornton's article for The Economist on whether one urine receptacle is more important than another.
  • ARTNews reports that Peter Galassi, MoMA's chief curator of photography, wants all the talking to replaced by looking. Personally, I find that nothing caps off a good afternoon of intense looking like talking about it, but...perhaps just looking at art and then never mentioning it again is under-rated.
  • Too much talking involved apparently sank a proposed public arts project along a river in Wales, according to Artforum.com. "microphones on nearby docks...would store noises from passersby, which would be transformed into pulsing lights on the buoys, activated by the movements of the river. Loudspeakers in the floats would also replay the conversations captured by the mics...." Kinda of creeps me out. It's one thing to know you have no privacy in most public settings anymore, but its another entirely to have that fact played back for you.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Press Release : Decalogue : Films You Can Count on Two Hands, organized by Eve Sussman, March 27-May 2, 2010

For Immediate Release

Decalogue : Films You Can Count on Two Hands
Organized by Eve Sussman

March 27 - May 2, 2010
Opening: Saturday, March 27, 6-8 PM
Screening- Hours: Tues. - Sat. 11-7 PM, Sun. 2-6 PM

Winkleman Gallery is extremely pleased to present "Decalogue : Films You Can Count on Two Hands," an "exhibition as film festival" organized by Eve Sussman and featuring works by 10 international artists and contemporary filmmakers whose work is recognized for its innovative approaches to narrative. Converting the gallery space into a cinema, with vintage theater seating and a state-of-the-art screening system, "Decalogue : Films You Can Count on Two Hands" will operate on a regular cinema house schedule with a new double featuring running continuously each week.

OPENING - March 27, 6 - 8 pm
Trailers/Excerpts from the ten filmmakers

WEEK 1: MARCH 30 - April 4
Jim Finn - "Interkosmos"
Marcus Coates - "Radio Shaman"
“The Plover's Wing”

WEEK 2 : April 6 - April 11
Johan Grimonprez - "dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y"
Erin Cosgrove - "What Manner of Person Art Thou?"

WEEK 3: April 13 - April 18
Julian Rosefeldt - "Lonely Planet"
Matt Stokes - "Long After Tonight"

WEEK 4: April 20 - April 25
Simon Lee & Algis Kizys - "Where Is the Black Beast?"
Christine Rebet - "The Soul Hunter"
"The Black Cabinet”
“Tell me about your dreams”
"Brand Band News"

WEEK 5: April 27 - MAY 2
Leslie Thornton - "Peggy and Fred in Hell"
Chris Sollars - "C Red Blue J"

PLUS a few guests and surprises!

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman @ 212.643.3152 or info@winkleman.com

Image above: Still from Leslie Thornton's "Peggy and Fred in Hell," 1885-2010. Courtesy of the filmmaker.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Extreme Living

The very first video screened in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2 at MoMA this past Monday evening not only prompted a handful of people who had just arrived in the packed room to get up and leave, but it had virtually everyone else who remained squirming in their seats. Bambino, who can't get enough of the extreme violence of Animal Planet and comes from a culture in which slaughtering your food is a daily routine, had his hands over his eyes. I forced myself to watch, but kept hoping that it would mercifully end before my reflexes took over and my hands flew up to my face as well.

What caused all the discomfort was a film from the mid 1970s by COUM Transmission, one of the early collectives/permutations of an ongoing life project by the artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (who for reasons explained here refers to "themselves" in the plural). In the video, there was nudity, the insertion of objects into orifices, pornographic images, extreme cutting and poking and anesthesia-free sewing of a limb (by the owner of that limb), and (perhaps the most unsettling) the ingestion of a liquid from a milk bottle that I really, really, really hoped was indeed milk. At the conclusion of the video, Genesis said, in their cool, dry, British accent, "So. How did we get here?"

The next hour or so, we were treated to the story of how an economics major dropped out of university and became one of the world's most consistently controversial and exhilarating artists. I've attended several events at MoMA's Mondern Mondays, but have never heard the kind of extended, profound applause that greeted Genesis at the end of their presentation. I'll admit that it shifted my view on the potential of viewing one's life as inseparable from one's art.

Mention Genesis today and many people will think of the ground-breaking industrial band Throbbing Gristle, or how, with his late wife Lady Jaye, he started an ongoing experiment in body modification aimed at creating one “pandrogynous” being. But from the late 1960's to the mid 1970's Genesis was involved in some of the most notorious performances ever presented by any artists anywhere. Originally part of the strict collective Exploding Galaxy (which systematically asked [forced] members to never do anything the same way twice), Genesis went on to organize (with Cosey Fanni Tutti, who worked as "a secretary, stripper, and pornographic and erotic model" and others) COUM Transmissions, whose work morphed from theatrical treaties on "the other" into live (and very extreme) explorations of the hypocrisy of British attitudes on "sex, taboos, and the paranormal." The height (or depth, depending on how conservative you are) of COUM's notoriety came in the form of a 1976 exhibition at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). The exhibition was titled "Prostitution"
The show featured a stripper, used Tampax in glass, and transvestite guards. Prostitutes, punks, people in costumes, and general curiosities were hired to mingle with the gallery audience.

The show caused debate in Parliament about the public funding of such events. In the House of Commons, Scottish Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn demanded an explanation from Arts Minister Harold Lever and proclaimed P-Orridge and Tutti as "wreckers of civilisation". Fleet Street [London's newspaper district] was not slow to pick up the story. The reviews were cut up, framed and put on display for the remainder of the exhibition. This was also reported in newspapers, so cut-ups about the cut-ups were also put on display.
During the presentation Monday, Genesis seemed to revel in the headlines the exhibition prompted, but the work has come with some very serious consequences including being jailed, being forced to leave England, and on a few occassions being hospitalized. Today, Genesis seems much more calm (well, as calm as anyone who's had repeated plastic surgery to look identical to their partner can look I guess), but there remains that same urgency of purpose in how they feel about taking life by the horns. Genesis noted that the art world of the early 1970s felt very much as it does today...there's a desperation in the air and a willingness to speak truth to power again.

We saw Genesis' excellent exhibition of collage-based work this past September at the LES's Invisible-Exports. Bambino and I walked from piece to piece in that show, our jaws dropping again and again, as we saw the date of a work with a motif or idea that had clearly preceded something other artists have since incorporated into their own later work. In Monday's presentation, Genesis showed photos of a COUM performance from the Paris Biennial (about 1974 or so I think...can't remember)...anyway, it far preceded the work it clearly influenced. As part of their three-day performance, they had set up a large vitrine in which mayfly larvae squirmed around, matured, and eventually took flight (looking like a plastic box of flying black dots) to then die and form a disgusting blanket of bodies. Sound familiar?

Life is all there is, in my opinion. This world, these boundaries, these possibilities...they comprise everything you or I will ever be exposed to or have the chance to experience. To waste any of it is the most serious mistake anyone can make. A younger artist asked Genesis during the presentation's Q&A what they thought about people doing similar extreme work today. Genesis replied that it's up to them, but if they are compelled to do extreme work they shouldn't repeat any previous ideas or performances...they should do something different.

A quote on Genesis' official website reads:
Art and life really are the same and both can only be about a spiritual journey, a path towards a re-union with a supreme creator, with god, with the divine; and this is true no matter how unlikely, strange or unorthodox one's particular life path might appear to ones self or others at any given moment.
As we've discussed here before, I'm not entirely convinced about that sentiment, but I am convinced that Genesis believes and lives it every day. And I'm beginning to question whether I'm right. It was an extraordinary evening. Thanks to Ben and Risa again!

[Update: although some of COUM's performance included real violence and cutting into the artist's flesh, I have since learned that in the first video discussed above the limb was actually latex.]

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Apprenticeships : Open Thread

One of the few solid (potential) solutions that came of #class seemed to appeal to artists theoretically, but not so much in practice. Or at least none of the artists who discussed it seemed all that enthusiastic about it. Still, I think it's worth considering more, because it has that rare quality of solving two problems at once. The first problem was how too many emerging artists must take themselves out of the art world/studio context to earn a living. The second problem was how once an artist has made it "big," they have an enormous amount of power to help other struggling artists, but no easy, structured ways to do so without taking their attention away from their own studio.

The potential solution to this that came up was to reinstate formal apprenticeships in accomplished working artists' studios as a means of 1) continuing an artist's education post-art school and, in particular, teach them things they would never learn in a classroom (like how best to structure your studio and/or staff [it is, after all, a workshop]; how to protect yourself with documents like consignment agreements, commission agreements, or stipulations for museum exhibitions; how to interact with wealthy patrons; meeting powerful art world insiders...things you might take years to learn on your own time and dime); and 2) provide employment so that newly graduated artists are remaining within the art sphere (learning valuable lessons) while earning their way to their own art market, rather than having to get jobs in restaurants or offices.

Now I know plenty of artists with larger studios hire other artists as assistants or take on interns, but the apprenticeship model we discussed would be more formally structured to ensure that education remained a central part of it (rather than just running errands or stretching canvases all day). Each artist apprenticing would, over the course of time in the studio, get opportunities to work in different positions, and time would be set aside for lectures and such covering a practicum style curriculum.

What the hosting artist would get out of this (other than qualified labor) could include tax breaks or other incentives from the state or perhaps grants from institutions. No artist would be forced to participate, obviously, but in discussing issues of "Does the System Work?" or "Access" one of the things that must be acknowledged is how very established artists have very little motivation to change the system, and in that way also become part of the problem. Apprenticeships could be their way of giving back and helping their fellow artists. Just like it used to be.

Of course, as in all such things, there are demons hiding in the details. Consider this an open thread on the feasibility/desirability of reinstating formal artist apprenticeships in the art world.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For what we are about to receive, may the lord make us TRULY thankful.

Yet another study attaching itself to art to grab headlines and promote the authors and their pet projects is all over the Internets this morning. This time, I'll admit, it is rather humorous. The Los Angeles Times' wrote it up this way:
The Christian faith holds several acts of "super-sizing" to be miracles accomplished by Jesus Christ -- a handful of fish and loaves of bread expanded to feed thousands; a wedding feast running low on wine suddenly awash in the stuff. Now a new study of portion expansion puts Jesus once more at the center.

In a bid to uncover the roots of super-sized American fare, a pair of sibling scholars has turned to an unusual source: 52 artists' renderings of the New Testament's Last Supper.

Their findings, published online Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity, indicate that serving sizes have been marching heavenward for 1,000 years.

"I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or 'portion distortion,' is a recent phenomenon," said Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think." "But this research indicates that it's a general trend for at least the last millennium."

To reach their conclusion, Wansink and his brother Craig, a biblical scholar at Virginia Wesleyan College, analyzed 52 depictions of the meal the Wansinks call "history's most famous dinner party" painted between the year 1000 and the year 2000.

Using the size of the diners' heads as a basis for comparison, the Wansinks used computers to compare the sizes of the plates in front of the apostles, the food servings on those plates and the bread on the table. Assuming that heads did not increase in size during the second millennium after the birth of Christ, the researchers used this method to gauge how much serving sizes increased.

And increase they did.
I'm not sure how many paintings of the last supper one can find throughout history, but 52 sounds like a reasonable number on which to make some basic conclusions. USA Today, who also picked up the story, offered two paintings to help illustrate the trend:

Duccio, "The Last Supper," tempera on panel, 1308-11, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena


Tiziano Vecellio Titian, "The Last Supper," 1557-1564, (can't find where it is...anyone?).

Of course, the problem with reporting on the studies that use art to make a point like this is that it's easy to conclude that the researchers have an agenda, and with the vast number of artworks available they can easily "prove" just about anything they want. Perhaps there truly is a trend, but the USA Today examples don't really prove it. Had a writer wanted to undermine this study they could very easily illustrate the exact opposite trend, by comparing the 1557 Titian to some more recent, more austere versions that would support that, such as

Nikolay Gay, "The Last Supper," 1863, oil on canvas, The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

or my personal favorite take on the theme:


Salvador Dalí, "The Sacrament of the Last Supper," 1955, Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Personally, I feel that anything that makes people stop to think about how much they eat is a good thing, but I don't see definitive evidence of their findings that (as reported in USA today):
Over that 1,000-year period, the main course size increased by 69%, plate size 66% and loaves of bread 23%. The biggest increases in size came after 1500.
It seems to depend on where you look.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Renaming the Barnes : Call for Suggestions

We watched The Art of the Steal yesterday, which chronicles how the explicit wishes of Albert C. Barnes (who amassed what is universally considered one of the best collections of post-Impressionist and Modernist artwork in the world [one that also just so happens to be valued at between $25-30 billion...that's right, billion]) have been ignored in order to move his collection, the heart of The Barnes Foundation, to a more tourist-friendly location in downtown Philadelphia. There have been legal challenges to this decision (see the website of the Friends of the Barnes for details), but despite how many judges and politicians will uphold the go-ahead of what certainly looks like a corporate takeover (and despite the fact that I have a few problems with the filmmakers' lack of balance in telling their story), I have been convinced that it's the height of chutzpah and an unforgivable insult to continue to associate the name of "Barnes" with the new tourist attraction that will soon house his legacy.

Regardless of which of the rationales for the move its supporters offer (they range from the art is more important than the will of one man... to... it wasn't [economically or logistically] feasible to leave the work in the original location [which is still today debatable ...The Wall Street Journal argues that "creating a downtown museum, while also maintaining the Merion outpost for the foundation's archives and arboretum, might actually exacerbate its financial woes by increasing its operating expenses"]... to... this will be really, really lucrative), no one who watches this film could possibly imagine that the central Philadelphia location is anything Dr. Barnes would want his name attached to. It's the exact opposite of what he was very, very careful to put into his will as to his wishes for how his efforts should be remembered. Therefore, IMO, the facilitators of this move should agree, at the very least, to change the name of the new institution.

Interviewed in the film, arts reporter David D'Arcy christened it the "McBarnes, " which nicely reflects the stated prioritization of efficiently filing more tourists through the collection, but it's not exactly fair to the fast food restaurant chain. Moreover, the movers and shakers behind the move (essentially the new owners of the collection) are probably not going to agree to something that they feel mocks all their hard work to circumvent Dr. Barne's will.

Therefore, I think a new name of the museum should, in the way that "The Barnes Foundation" carried the surname of the person whose vision it embodied, more accurately reveal whose vision this new building and location represents. Possibilities include The P.A.L. Foundation (for Pew Charitable Trusts; the Annenberg Foundation; and The Lenfest Foundation [cite]); The Rendell-Perelman Agreement Gallery (for the current PA governor and chairman emeritus of the Philadelphia Museum's board of trustees who has long lobbied for the move, [cite]); or perhaps the Former Philly's Mayors Memorial Museum [Rendell (also formerly the Mayor of Philadelphia) and also former Mayor John Street both have publicly cheered the move with dollar signs in their eyes, with Street rather crudely stating it would have "the financial impact of three Super Bowls without the beer."].

Other suggestions?

UPDATE: Donn Zaretsky notes, in response to this post, on The Art Law Blog:
It is in fact true that no one watching the film could possibly imagine that, but it's worth noting again in this connection Barnes chairman Bernard Watson's claim that the central Philadelphia locations "was, in fact, anticipated by Section 11 of the Barnes Foundation Indenture," which includes the following:

". . . should it for any other reason become impossible to administer the trust hereby created concerning said collection of pictures, then the property and funds contributed by Donor to Donee shall be applied to an object as nearly within the scope herein indicated and laid down as shall be possible, such application to be in connection with an existing and organized institution then in being and functioning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or its suburbs" (emphasis added).
That doesn't address the other already clearly violated terms of the indenture (such as "After the Donor’s death no picture belonging to the collection shall ever be loaned, sold or otherwise disposed of." [emphasis added]) nor the question of whether it truly has become "impossible" to administer the trust as set out, or--through behind-the-scenes maneuvering--merely now possible. Nor does it address the film's assertion that Barnes specifically wanted the exact institutions now running his foundation to be kept away from his art.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

#class reviewed in today's New York Times

To say this has been a busy month in the gallery would be an example of the most cloying use of understatement. It's been an absolute circus. Three to four events each day (imagine three to four opening receptions a day, every day) have brought in hundreds of people, not all of them folks I know, not all of them folks I even got to meet. Most of the time, I was thrilled to hear the presentations and meet the folks who came in...some of the time (because the rest of the gallery business has been very busy as well and we simply had to get things done) I wasn't as available as I would have liked to have been.

I note all this as preface to what, whether I was meeting and greeting or squirreling away to meet an important deadline, was always obvious to me: #class has been the success it has because of the efforts of a very large group of people. Nearly every of the over 50 events went off with nary a hitch, the presenters were overwhelmingly provocative, well-prepared, generous, engaging, and fun to watch.

It all comes to an uproarious stop tomorrow night (Rant Night...bring your gripes!), but as Jennifer and William look toward finding ways to repair their marriages :-) and finally put their lives back together (and obviously take an incredibly well-deserved break), I would also like to congratulate and thank all the artists, critics, curators, collectors, dealers, and everyone else who participated in the events. You were all rock stars!

But before I get too far ahead of myself, there are still two days left, and they are doozys:
Today, Friday, March 19

11am – 1pm,
Jennifer Dalton - Access Begins with Education; Jennifer Dalton will present "Access Starts with Education and Education Starts with Access," in which she'll lead her son's Bedford-Stuyvesant public school kindergarten class on a short Chelsea art walk, ending up at Winkleman Gallery to eat lunch and make an art project about what they've seen.

2pm – 3pm
Ben Davis - 9.5 Theses on Art and Class
A discussion of Ben Davis's 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (there is a link to the document on the blog).

4pm – 5pm Franklin Einspruch - Conceptualism for Sale
The Blogosphere's very own Franklin Einspruch will give a lecture entitled "Conceptualism for Sale: How the Art World Uses Low Standards for Fun and Profit." (I've heard there may be exploding heads involved :-)

Saturday, March 20

Zoe Sheehan Saldana - Art Wrap
Free Gift Wrapping! Anyone who buys an artwork during the run of the show can have it gift-wrapped by Zoë Sheehan Saldaña in handmade brown paper and twine. (there are a few drawings in the Market Space still available)

4pm – 5pm
Access ; One of the defining issues at the heart of #class. Is open access for all artists even a possibility in the broadest sense of the art experience? Is it the wisdom of the crowd, a lottery drawing, or the discerning 'eye' of the curator, dealer, or tastemaker that should shape we see? Galleries are open to the public, but they are not the most inviting spaces, while public museums can cost more than a trip to the I-MAX for Avatar 3-D. Reading an issue of Artforum often feels like it requires a pocket theory translator (where is the app for that?). The complexion of the art world is a lighter shade of pale, and despite the Whitney Biennial's gender parity all is not well in the market. So, we raise the question of elitism and hegemony for #class.

6pm – 7pm
On the final night of the show we will host "Rant Night," where everyone is encouraged to come and let it rip on whatever's still bothering you.
Finally, when I applaud all the participants in #class, I also congratulate you all on today's New York Times review of the show by Holland Cotter:
Art in Review
By HOLLAND COTTER
Published: March 19, 2010

Can we talk? That seems to be an urgent art world question, partly because of an economic shakedown that sensible people — i.e., the writers of art fair news releases — keep saying is over, or never happened. But New York artists, in need of jobs or apartments or ways to pay their art school loans, are pretty sure that it did happen, and that it isn’t all that over, even if the Armory Show really had an extraspecial year.

Winkleman Gallery is doing its part to keep the conversation on the boil with an exhibition called “#class,” organized by the artists Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida, who is on loan from Schroeder Romero & Shredder Gallery. The pair have turned the main exhibition space into a combination lecture hall and conference center, with big tables, sit-up-straight chairs and wall-to-wall chalkboards in a constant process of being filled and erased as the show’s events come and go.

So far, the schedule has included discussion panels titled “Success,” “Access,” “The Ivory Tower,” “The System Works” and “Bad Curating.” To get competitive juices flowing, the artist Amanda Browder of “Bad at Sports,” a Chicago-based art podcast, offered a presentation called “Battleship,” which pitted Formalists against Conceptualists, artists against dealers, and painters against the world. A bruiser, I hear.

The art historian and critic Mira Schor, author of an excellent new book called “A Decade of Negative Thinking” (Duke University Press), read an essay on the potentially positive aspects of failure and anonymity. And the artist Joan McNeil led a panel on the notion that the art world isn’t as racially integrated as it likes to think.

So the show’s program is substantial. And there’s even something for gallerygoers in search of art on the wall. The chalkboards — think 1960s Cy Twombly — make for very entertaining reading. And Ms. Dalton and Mr. Powhida have small, conference-approved text drawings in the gallery’s back room. (They’re for sale, but with stipulations way too complicated and finicky to go into here.)

Bottom line: artists are artists’ best friends, and there should be more gatherings like this one.

Final thought: class, as in social class, is the elephant in the art fair V.I.P. rooms, in the art school studios and in Chelsea galleries. Please, can we talk? Yes we can: Friday at 2 p.m. in the gallery, the estimable art critic Ben Davis will present his “9.5 Theses on Art and Class.”

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Art Handling Olympics

#class will end this Saturday (so if you haven't stopped in yet, you have a few more days and some really awesome upcoming events to catch), but that doesn't mean the mayhem ends. Sunday sees the launch of what promises to be, well, if not the most hysterical event of the season, certainly the most rowdy. Via artnet.com, It's the Art Handling Olympics:
Art Handlers are the unrecognized backbone of the art industry. We are the life blood of galleries, art shipping companies, museums, art storage warehouses, artist’s studios, and cultural institutions. For most of us, the hours are long, risking life and limb without health insurance or job security. There are more of us than anyone realizes and we’ve never had the chance to throw down together.

The Art Handling Olympics (AHO) is the first event of its kind. It is equal parts olympic competition, three ring circus, and foreign TV game show. The day’s events will be rowdy, fast paced and ending with a monster party.

Art Handler teams will compete in a series of physically and mentally excruciating events that spotlight the absurdity and seriousness of our jobs. Picture the worst install you’ve ever worked on. Now add a psychotic art director frothing at the mouth, the world’s most indecisive client, a frantic truck dispatcher, an audience, a timer, and beer. Art will be destroyed and egos shattered. There will be glory to the winners, but nothing is sacred and no one is safe from humiliation in the olympic arena.
The insanity begins about 3:00 pm on Sunday, March 21, 2010, at Ramiken Crucible, 221 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002. (Seriously, you'll want to navigate around their website for the photos alone.)

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Second Life and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance

#class update: Today sees the table discussion that many people have been waiting for : Art World as High School, 4pm – 5pm "You can't possibly have a discussion about the art market without thinking about New York as a series of carefully placed lunchroom tables where even the subtlest glance, bit of gossip, or movement can set off a fight. Are you a cool kid? A rich kid? A fat kid? A jock? A nerd? An Outcast? Think about it, and if you want to address how reputation, coolness, likability, personality, wealth, and other social aspects shape the art world, please volunteer to have a deeply uncomfortable discussion." Then, 6pm – 7pm,n "My Sweatshop, My Sweet," Mary Walling Blackburn examines the art world's unregulated romance with the factory. Kisses to the workers and warm hugs to the product! Finally, The Writer is IN: Sarah Schmerler 6:30pm – 8:00pm Sarah Schmerler, art critic and journalist, will talk about how to write an artist's statement—and then will write as many of them as she possibly can. Itinerary: From 6:30–7:00 Schmerler gives an introductory talk on how to write about your own work (participation encouraged). From 7:00–8:00, Sarah Schmerler will attempt to write in real time about your work for you. Yes, that's statement-writing (or bio writing, or cover letter writing, or exhibition statement writing, or press release writing, whatever you want) in 15-minute intervals, tops. First come, first served. (www.sarahschmerler.com). Schmerler says: "Don't worry; no one likes to write." Schmerler also curates and does consulting.

___________________

A while ago in #class a group of us entered Second Life for a lovely afternoon touring virtual art galleries and a fabulous museum. Our guide (the charming Debbie Ainscoe) was in London, many of our participants were not in the gallery, and even within the gallery, some of us were in other rooms as we all moved around together in the virtual room. It was fun (we ended up being wonderfully silly on the dance floor at a Reggae club...my avatar danced much better than I do).

Monday evening, Bambino and I attended the presentation at MoMA by new media artist Joseph DeLappe, who has gained quite a bit of attention with some of his projects in Second Life, including a real world/virtual world performance in which he re-enacted the 26-day walking journey taken by Gandhi. His Gandhi avatar later returned to second life for a re-enactment of the Indian leaders term in jail, after which a somewhat revolutionary music concert in honor of his release and featuring quite a cast of characters (all singing from their living rooms or offices in different places around the world) took place. Joseph's description of how it felt to participate in that reminded me of the joy we felt dancing in the Reggae club.

In the Q&A portion of the presentation, an audience member asked Joseph if he thought his work contributed to the dehumanizing distancing of the digital age. After all, he was spending an amazing number of hours doing his work alone, separate from other real humans. Joseph acknowledged the limitations of the medium, but didn't agree that that aspect of his work defined his entire practice (he also makes sculpture and other real world objects).

I later asked him myself though, whether there isn't something about the odd and silly way you connect with other people in Second Life that isn't in fact somewhat more real or at least poignant than how most of us connect with people in the real world. I was thinking specifically about a passage I had recently read in Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He explained why he felt more connected to the people he'd meet in small towns through the countryside more than he did in the big cities. These folks truly lived at a slower pace, would engage you fully when talking with you, they were open to learning about you, and didn't have as many distractions going on around them while they did. They live much more in the moment, he wrote.

It felt that way to me, as well, in Second Life. It's awkward moving around at times, which slows you down. You are clearly in this environment to be there, so you're more willing to take the time to get to know a stranger who happens by. And while the environment is other-worldly, it's self-contained, which permits an odd level of letting go of the real world around you and enjoying the moment.

Of course, I have way too much to do to spend much time in Second Life, but I do wonder whether, rather than contributing to the distancing of humans in our fast-paced digital age, it might not re-train us on how to connect.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All Out of Words

it happens...

What you got?

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Painting with Two Balls

In #class's Saturday night discussion on "The System Doesn't Work," I got frustrated by the general sense of helplessness among the artists participating. Although they were quick to point out that the entire system only exists because of artists (something I take pains to highlight in very clear terms in my book), they seemed reluctant to accept that changes to the art market system were their responsibility and within their power.

I offered up two examples of artists who had changed things dramatically through their efforts. First is Damien Hirst who sent shivers through the commercial art gallery system by taking his work directly to auction. That example was dismissed as being something only an artist with Hirst's starpower (an admittedly small fraction of artists working) can do. The fact that the ripple effect of that star's actions still has potential to change things for all artists seemed to go unrecognized, probably because what that change might be remains unclear. There was also a resentment in the discussion about how the art stars are the only artists with any power. I utterly reject that defeatist notion, and so does history.

The second example I noted is in all the history books, and the impact it made is very clear. At the height of Abstract Expressionists utter domination in the US art market, a group of very smart younger (non-stars at the time) artists dethroned the Ab-Exers...not through some clever manipulation of the market system, not through calls for new regulations or new laws, but instead WITH THEIR ART!!! Most notably, Jasper Johns mocked abstract expressionism with (among other works) his canvas titled "Painting with Two Balls" (see above) so effectively that along with similar efforts by Rauschenberg and Stella, etc. it essentially disemboweled the dominance in the market of Ab Ex work.

OK, so that's what I said, in the hopes of igniting the courage and determination of the artists in the room, but the truth (as always) isn't quite that black and white...the Ab Ex market didn't crumble into dust the day after Johns first exhibited that painting. Still, as the man himself, Leo Castelli, explained:
I would say [a turning point] was probably the emergence of Jasper Johns. Although he really didn't do the trick by himself he seemed to sort of be a turning point, yes, to catalyze all kinds of ideas. He really sounded the death knell for the previous movement as it existed. [emphasis mine]
My point remains that it was artists who effected lasting change...not auction houses, not the galleries, not the critics...but artists.

The response to my plea for the artists in the room to recognize their power, however, was lukewarm. Complaints about Johns being a "genius" and such episodes in history not being available to the vast majority of working artist threw a wet blanket over my pep talk. Wallowing in self-pity is apparently so much more comfortable than changing the world. I get it.

I don't respect it. But I get it.

What I didn't say, feeling I had said enough at the time, is that I'm actually not interested in encouraging complacency, especially not in systematic ways. I loathe the state-sponsored systems in some countries that result in warehouses of mediocre art no one wants. Alternatives to the current system that let moderately talented or moderately motivated artists achieve a comfortable standard of living seems positively counter-productive to me.

I'm not suggesting anything so cliched as "true artists have to suffer to reach deep and create their best work," but I do think that when it's too easy to be an "artist" (or any profession within the cultural realm) that it draws more and more untalented people to its feeding trough and via that, ultimately, culture itself gets watered down to the point of being boring and banal. I do feel that competition (for the limited rewards and resources available to artists) brings out innovation and hard work, and those lead to better art.

Ultimately, as much as I believe societies need artists and need to support their artists, I don't believe anyone is born with the right to be one of those supported artists. The right to that special status and lifestyle within a culture must be earned. As they say, if it came in a bottle, everyone would have it.

PS: Don't miss this great report by Sarah Schmerler of her first experience in #class : Jerry Saltz stole my focus @hashtagclass. Be sure and take advantage of Sarah's generous participation this coming Wednesday.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Art in General Spring Benefit, Tuesday, MARCH 16, 7-??

You still have time to join us at what promises to be a spectacularly fun evening celebrating downtown's most amazing non-profit arts institution, Art in General's 29th Anniversary this coming Tuesday.
Please join Art in General’s patrons and supporters for an evening of art, drinks, dinner and dancing at Skylight One Hanson, a spectacular new venue located in the former Williamsburg Savings Bank. The 2010 benefit celebrates an exciting 29th year at Art in General, one that includes six New Commissions, three international resident artists and numerous artist projects and events. All proceeds will support Art in General exhibitions, commissions, residencies, public programs, and educational initiatives.
For details, tickets, and directions, visit Art in General's website!

You don't want to miss Bambino dancing! Believe me!!!!

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Dumber Than Jesus (or Losing Control of the Master Narrative)

#class update: Yesterday was a chaotic day in #class-land. Man Bartlett's beautiful stack of balloons (really, you had to see them in person...the piece was gorgeous) succumbed to a burst of cathartic popping (Jerry Saltz, who had kindly stopped by, joined in the fun). It was just what the doctor ordered, actually. Olympia Lambert straddled the charm-offend fence hysterically in her performance as "The Happy Gallerina" (a certain major art magazine editor may still be confused). And Rebecca Goyette's madcap collective of energetic performers rocked the evening time slot with "a panel of judges, internationally recognized Art Critics, Gallery Owners and Artists who..." juried artists' work live and in person.

Today is equally jam-packed. At 2 PM, recent secret MoMA docent, Yevgeniy Fiks will present a slide-lecture titled "Communist Modern Artists and the Art Market," showing how many of the the most highly valued art of the 20th century was produced by artists who considered themselves communists (Picasso, Leger, Kahlo, Rivera and more). At 4 PM, Bernard Klevickas will present "Labor Class- Learn what it is like to construct a masterpiece." From 2000-2005 Klevickas worked at an art foundry fabricating art for Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Stella and others. This will be a great opportunity to hear what the experience is like from the labor and production side of things. And at 6 PM this evening, an event I've personally been eager to eaves drop in on : The Critics Panel: What will happen when New York's art critics come to the table at #class? We have a few brave volunteers to bring the critic's perspective to the discussion. Signed-up to share are Martha Schwendender and Christian Viveros-Fauné (both art critics for the Village Voice), Johnathan T. D. Neil (Editor-at-Large for Art Review magazine), and Thomas Micchelli (art critic for The Brooklyn Rail
).
________________

I don't really have a strong connection between that title above and my post today. Someone just said it over the weekend in relation to the often offered-up idea that grouping artists according to their age (rather than their work) makes for an illuminating exhibition. Perhaps from a sociological point of view it can be illuminating to see how a new generation thinks, but from a curatorial point of view, it seems, in a word, dumb.

One of my favorite indulgences in the art world is the ARTnews Retrospective columns. I think mostly, it just reaffirms my belief that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the context of youth obsession, that's certainly true, but it's also true it seems in terms of what people who surround an artist throughout their development invest in their success emotionally (in addition to financially). One hundred years ago, for example, ARTnews published this complaint:
It is heresy, from accepted art standards, to admire or even see anything but fantastic, and often vulgar vagaries in the so–called art of Matisse, and equally heresy, from the viewpoint of his band of followers, to decry him and his works. Around Matisse now wages the war of the suffragists and anti–suffragists—the vivisectionists and anti–vivisectionists of the art world, and he calmly pursues his path, and is getting an enormous amount of advertising out of it all.
—"Drawings by Matisse," March 5, 1910
That Matisse had his defenders (and that they were vehement) would seem prescient by just about any standard of art historical importance today. (More than even Picasso, I personally would rank Matisse the most accomplished artist working in the 20th Century.) But it's not only the passive-agressive dismissal of Mattise's "so-called art" that I find most interesting in that passage, but rather the resentment against his "band of followers" and their devotion. What's at stake in the mini-drama this statement describes is controlling the master narrative. This writer knows it, and he/she sees that his/her side is losing the upper hand in it. It's not just that the writer doesn't like Matisse's work. It's that he/she doesn't like that other people like Matisse's work.

Control of the master narrative is probably the most contentiously fought battle in any generation within the art world. In a fundamental way, it's the key to access and opportunity. It's frequently the key to financial success as well. Not having that control is extremely frustrating.

I had a great conversation with an artist the other day about Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, who was being called the greatest painter of his generation and possibly of all time in certain quarters, but who, half a century later, didn't even make it into a book about great French painters. Monsieur Meissonier's work didn't change, his paintings didn't fall apart, he didn't murder a village of farmers. He and his fans lost control of the narrative. That is all. And if I were a supporter of Meissonier's, I too would be very frustrated.

But time marches on, new narratives supplant older ones, what is to be done?

Parallel narratives take place all the time. Many people very happily ignore the so-called master narrative and succeed within a parallel narrative, but if you had been central in the master narrative, and it slips out of your grasp, what are you supposed to do? Pick up with a parallel narrative and carry on?

Perhaps that's all there is to be done. Vainly fighting a juggernaut master narrative detour distracts from making art, which there is precious little time for as it is. I'm sure Meissonier's advocates ranted and railed against the incoming top dogs (the Impressionists) and his slip into obscurity, but doing so runs the risk of making one look, in the lens of history, like Norma Desmond. Perhaps it's better to exit gracefully, understanding that the fickle hand of fate takes as well as it gives (Meissonier lived quite comfortably).

But I know artists better than that... :-)

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Call Me a "Socialist," I Don't Care

It dawned on me the other day just how much time the rightwing fanatics and their media puppet-masters, who'll happily feed them rhetorical red meat of any ilk in exchange for their attention when they're hawking their corporate sponsors' wares, have spent calling people names since Obama got into office. In their impotency since losing the White House, Senate, House and anything even resembling credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility or national security issues, and with no other narrative behind which they can rally, they have instead launched a campaign of name calling, especially when it comes to the president: Marxist! Socialist! Fascist!

Upon close examination of the facts, the only "evidence" for any of these (frequently contradictory) claims falls under the "he/she knew someone whose uncle's sister's neighbor's mailman had a friend who knew a communist" category. But name calling remains an action. It's one action that frustrated rightwingers can use to express their anger at having lost power, so it persists. And it's not just the fringes...the Republican Party itself sees the name calling as its ticket back into power, voting to "condemn Democrats for what it called a 'march toward socialism.'"

What's disappointing in all this isn't how infantile people become when they feel dis-empowered (I witnessed a similar meltdown on the left when Bush became president). What's disappointing is how much the leaders on the left seem to care about the names they're being called. Even the president felt compelled to tell a group of CEOs that he wasn't a "socialist." And across the Democratic Party there seems to be an anus-twitching reluctance to actually USE the power they earned through the last election for fear of being called a name (right before they run for re-election, again, that is).

Now I'm fully aware of the power of a meme in the hands of the hacks who run Fox News or the twisted f*cks we call political consultants, like Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove, who'll sell their grandmothers to win a news cycle (I lived in DC for many years and know many of these freaks...and I can tell you that many of them would barely pass as "human" should the test be based on actual compassion), but when you take the time to realize the impact of letting the fear of what a label that sticks might do to stop the Democrats from using their power, it becomes clear that they simply don't have that option. They cannot, we cannot, afford to care.

Especially when it comes to health insurance reform. None of the proposals the Republicans have put forward yet :
Investing in preventive medicine, an overhaul of Medicaid, reduction of abuse and fraud in the Medicare program, supplemental health insurance for low-income families, tax credits for health insurance, and a ban on federal funds being used for abortions.
...will stop the runaway increases the insurance companies are implementing. Bandages here and bandages there might stop some superficial bleeding, but won't help an internal hemorrhaging. And yet, the Republicans, bankrupt on ideas and having squandered their chance to effect serious change for Americans during the previous administration, vow to do everything in their power to stop the reform bill being advanced by the Democrats. And how? By calling it "socialist."

There was a time in America when people were hunted down and dragged before Congress and blacklisted and had their lives ruined because some ambitious sh*t of a politician saw that calling them "socialist" was his path to power. The impact of that period in our history was, in part, to make the idea of being a "socialist" second only to being a child molester in terms of heinousness in most people's minds. Socialism was the opposite of Americanism. It was evil. It was ungodly.

I'm not concerned here with a debate on the merits of socialism, per se. As I understand it, it's flawed in that it disregards a big chunk of human nature. I do feel it's more compassionate in theory than capitalism, but the "in theory" vs. "in practice" part is where I get a bit uncomfortable with it in its purist forms. None of that matters to me. What we need in America, right here, right now are some alternatives to the current health care system that will correct the inhumane ways the insurance industry places profits over their customers' well-being and ensure greater access to health care for more people.

In his speech on Health Insurance Reform the other day, President Obama said:
We've been talking about health care for nearly a century. I’m reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt right now. He was talking about it. Teddy Roosevelt. We have failed to meet this challenge during periods of prosperity and also during periods of decline. Some people say, well, don't do it right now because the economy is weak. When the economy was strong, we didn’t do it. We’ve talked about it during Democratic administrations and Republican administrations. I got all my Republican colleagues out there saying, well, no, no, no, we want to focus on things like cost. You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?
There is no rational reason for not acting now. No argument about other priorities holds water. They're all simply endorsements of the status quo. We need to act now. Why? President Obama explained:
Every year, the problem gets worse. Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they’ve got preexisting conditions. Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they get sick right when they need it most. Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher and higher.

Just last month, Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to jack up rates by nearly 40 percent -- 40 percent. Anybody’s paycheck gone up 40 percent?

[...] I mean, why is it that we think this is normal? In my home state of Illinois, rates are going up by as much as 60 percent. You just heard Leslie, who was hit with more than a hundred percent increase -- 100 percent. One letter from her insurance company and her premiums doubled. Just like that. And because so many of these markets are so concentrated, it’s not like you can go shopping. You’re stuck. So you’ve got a choice: Either no health insurance, in which case you’re taking a chance if somebody in your family gets sick that you will go bankrupt and lose your home and lose everything you’ve had -- or you keep on ponying up money that you can’t afford.

See, these insurance companies have made a calculation. Listen to this. The other day, there was a conference call that was organized by Goldman Sachs. You know Goldman Sachs. You’ve been hearing about them, right? (Laughter.) So they organized a conference call in which an insurance broker was telling Wall Street investors how he expected things to be playing out over the next several years, and this broker said that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep on raising premiums, but because there’s so little competition in the insurance industry, they’re okay with people being priced out of the insurance market because, first of all, a lot of folks are going to be stuck, and even if some people drop out, they’ll still make more money by raising premiums on customers that they keep.

And they will keep on doing this for as long as they can get away with it. This is no secret. They’re telling their investors this: We are in the money; we are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship.
The current reform bill may not be everything everyone hoped it would be, but not passing it won't magically implement the perfect bill in its place. Not passing it will only ensure nothing changes for a very long time except our premiums, and I can guarantee you they're not changing for the better.

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will never hurt us. At least no where near as much as 40-100% increases in health insurance premiums will. If the Turd Blossom Brigade or RNC sees labeling the reform bill as "socialist" as the best way to disguise their lack of real reform ideas, then the rest of us have to say "So what? Call me a 'socialist.' I don't care. Just pass the damn bill already."

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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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