Friday, April 30, 2010

Q&A with Leslie Thornton, tonight, at the gallery 6:00 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to announce an evening with legendary filmmaker Leslie Thornton, whose masterpiece "Peggy and Fred in Hell" is being screened as part of the 5-week exhibition "Decalogue : Films You Can Count on Two Hands" organized by Eve Sussman. Please join us this Friday, April 30, at 6:00 pm for brief introductory remarks by the filmmaker, a full screening and then Q&A about the film.

About the filmmaker:
Leslie Thornton is one of the most powerful and original voices working in film and media today. She is known in particular for her science fiction serial PEGGY AND FRED IN HELL (1985-2010), described by critic Bill Horrigan as a “benchmark work of the decade.” The series was awarded “Best of” by both Cahiers du Cinema and the Village Voice. She has received two Rockefeller Fellowships in recognition of her work, as well as numerous other grants and awards, including, the Maya Deren Award for Lifetime Achievement, the first Alpert Award in the Arts for Media, a nomination for a Hugo Boss Award, and NEA and NYSCA grants. Her work is included in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Pompidou Center, and others, and is shown at festivals, museums and galleries world-wide. As a teacher at Brown University she has influenced a whole generation of younger media artists.
For more information, please contact the gallery at 212.643.3152 or info@winkleman.com

Winkleman Gallery

621 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
T: 212.643.3152
www.winkleman.com

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Constitutes Reasonable Suspicion in Arizona?

OK, so, even under the most difficult of situations, you might think that the responsible order of events would be to first develop a course that trains your police officers on what constitutes "reasonable suspicion" that someone is in the U.S. illegally and then sign into law a set of measures designed to make life so utterly hellish for illegal immigrants that they flee from your state. But not in Arizona. No, their Governor signed the legislation into law first and NOW says she will order state officials to develop such a course.

In the meanwhile, one assumes, officers poorly trained in what constitutes reasonable suspicion must run around interpreting the law as best they can.


Mind you, I'm not agreeing that Arizona was pushed to this under the most difficult of situations. While looking at the numbers in one light might support Senator John McCain's claim that the situation in his state is "the worst I've ever seen," (the percentage of illegal immigrants per resident in Arizona has increased from 5.5% in 2000 to about 7% in 2010)...a 1.5% increase in the ratio wouldn't seem to justify such drastic police state tactics. But, as we're constantly told in such situations...if you don't live there, you just don't know, so shut up.

And they're right. I don't live there...and I really don't know. But doesn't that also mean I should now avoid Arizona like the plague? I don't like the idea of that, it's a beautiful place, but I really don't want to risk going somewhere the police are empowered to demand your papers but not well trained on what constitutes a reasonable cause to do so. Personally, I have no idea what would make a cop stop me and demand proof I'm not illegal.

I mean, does wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap make you suspect? Does having fair, untanned skin (as I do) make it clear you're not a resident? Without clear indications of what the cops are looking for, it's far too risky I think. And the Governor is clearly way behind in developing and communicating the guidelines, so what is a potential Arizona visitor to do?

Well, at first I thought, I can just look to People of Walmart. That will give me some indication of how to dress while in Arizona so I don't stick out too much. Here are photos of folks shopping at Walmarts across Arizona. I guess that if you dress like this, you're beyond reasonable suspicion while visiting Arizona, but that outfit would clash with my complexion, so...perhaps I should stick with this motif. Then again, it's hot in Arizona, so perhaps something cooler, like....

OK, so that's not fair...you can pull that stunt for any state.

But seriously, Arizona, please get your sh*t together. Your fellow Americans would love to visit you, but your obscene over-reaction to your illegal alien problems offends far too many of us...as the children of immigrants and as human beings.

UPDATE:
After signing the new law requiring police to check out people who may be illegal immigrants, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was asked how the cops are supposed to know when someone should be screened. "I don't know," she replied. "I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like."
Then, dear Governor, you had no business signing that legislation into law!

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Bit More on the $8 Million Lawsuit and Blacklists

The Robins-Zwirner court battle stems from a complicated situation, as anyone who's tried to summarize it and then move on to the issues it raises can attest, including me. As noted a few days ago, I'm quoted in an article and have an op-ed (that just came out in The Art Newspaper) on one of those issues. I'll get to the op-ed in a moment, but first I'd like to clarify a few of the ideas in the article. The delightful and extremely hard-working Charlotte Burns writes:
The $8m court case between Miami collector Craig Robins and New York art dealer David Zwirner lays bare the murky intricacies of the contemporary art world. The accusations reveal the secret handshakes, blacklists and verbal agreements that dominate the market, prompting some to say it is time that the whole trade opened up. A few go as far as suggesting legislation such as droit de suite, where artists receive a fee on the resale of their work, should be extended to New York.
While it certainly must seem, from all the press (and obnoxious calls for more) about the lawsuit, that such "murky intricacies" dominate the market, the fact that this case is getting so much attention is due in no small part to its unusualness. And while I will gladly own calling, again, for New York to reconsider droit de suite legislation (or at least some parallel way to ensure visual artists receive resale royalties), I wouldn't put myself in the camp of those interested in seeing the whole trade opened up, per se. Transparency is important, as I've frequently noted and work hard to live up to in my gallery, but seeing "the whole trade opened up" could mean a wide range of things to different people. And personally, I rather enjoy the business-on-a-handshake culture of the art world. It goes, er, hand-in-hand with at least attempting to remind ourselves in the business that it's the art and personal relationships that drives it all, and not just the bottom line.

That being said, and as I noted in my first post on this case, each of the players involved in such battles is being guided/pushed in their actions by a built-in, but unnecessary, secrecy regarding the resale of contemporary artwork. Unnecessary, because there is an established way to include artists in resales and eliminate any urge toward blacklisting collectors. I'll quote from my op-ed that posted today:
If the law required collectors to share the profits from any resale, the gallery would not get caught between the furtive goals of the collector and the wishes of their artist. Indeed, in most resale arrangements all three parties (collector, gallery and artist) could be motivated to work together to ensure each makes the most money possible.
Now, to be sure, like any eventual win-win-win scenario, this would require each player at some point to give up something as well. Artists might need to reconsider lowering their initial prices before they have a strong secondary market to encourage collectors to still take the chance on their work. Galleries would have additional paperwork to do and keep track of and might lose business to other jurisdictions. Collectors would have to share the profits of any resale from their collection. The thing is, though, that if each of the three players works well together, they can all profit more in the end. Collectors will, rather than have artists resent and/or resist their resale efforts, gain a highly credible/helpful advocate for such efforts. Imagine if an artist were publicly to endorse the resale of an earlier work, how much better that would be for all concerned...how much less secrecy/agreements/potential lawsuits would be required...how much more interest could be drummed up by joint efforts...and how much more the piece could go for.

There's another thing in all this that I'd like to clarify though. The perception persists that the dirty little secret of "blacklists" is something the gallery system, in its nefarious murky ways, relishes. This is a seriously misguided read of the case in question. Let's begin with Mr. Finch's take and work back from there:
Funny how the loggorheac know-it-alls of the art blogosphere fall strangely silent when dealer Jack Tilton provides some actual inside information on the confused yet devious way the art world really works, to the point when an ugly concept like "blacklist" dominates all deals, in the blockbuster case of Robins v. Zwirner.
Mr. Finch also uses that word, "dominates" (was there an arts writing teacher somewhere who gave extra points for working that word into a sentence when talking about the market?). He also uses "devious" and "ugly" in painting his picture of the art business. But what he doesn't do is clarify who originally created and maintained the blacklist in question. Here's a clue: it wasn't the galleries. It certainly wasn't Mr. Zwirner. In fact, as the Tilton testimony Mr. Finch wanted everyone to deconstruct revealed, Mr. Zwirner was once himself blacklisted by the very person who insisted on the blacklist. Indeed, the alleged blacklist belongs to none other than the artist.

More than that, though, and very oddly, the name of the artist, Marlene Dumas, isn't even mentioned (not once) in Mr. Finch's piece. He insinuates that it's fear of repercussions from the powerful art dealer being sued that has led the bloggers to avoid the subject --"The whale Zwirner swims at the deep end, and the minnows flee" (see my post from Monday for the real story there), but he never once notes the essence of what the Tilton testimony made all too clear, that it was, as reported by Sarah Douglas, a " blacklist that the painter has been rumored to maintain, which forbids collectors who resell her work from buying new pieces of art." [emphasis mine]

Now, the lawsuit alleges that Zwirner (once he represented Dumas) enforced his new artist's pre-existing blacklist, so there's plenty to think about here all around, but I'd like to see the tone and adjectives used to describe the gallery system and art market in this reporting lightened up a bit. Like I said at the top, it's a complicated case. It behooves everyone watching and writing about it to not project the allegations and/or actual circumstances of this one case onto the entire industry. I'll have more to say on blacklists once all the facts are established, I've talked with other dealers more about them, and this particular case is resolved. As for now, though, I'd rather focus on ways of making them a thing of the past, because, again,
[T]he system of secrets so susceptible to competing interests that the art market uses in place of droit de suite or similar solutions doesn’t seem to be working out so well either. Unless you’re an attorney, that is.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Style (and a Minor Memory Triumph, sort of)

From ARTnews' Retrospective:
"An example: I take a ball . . . if this ball is drawn by Leonardo, by Ingres, by Degas, by the Douanier Rousseau or by a normally gifted student of the Beaux-Arts, it will have a good chance of being presented with the same features . . . What style, then, are we able to attribute to these different artists? . . .

"True style . . . is set forth so skillfully and effectively as to become invisible . . . Greco makes a show of style . . . Velásquez has no style.

". . . We have all been able to imitate Lautrec, Cézanne, Renoir or the Negroes . . . No one has ever risked imitating Velásquez."
—"Fragments of a Conversation with Derain recollected by Georges Hilaire, 1944," May 1960
Rather shocking today the way Andre lumped all of African art together, but his declaration, while fabulous, prompted this memory buried deep in my mind...a voice back there somewhere coughed into its hand and said, "Uh, well, actually...someone did imitate Velásquez, and I'm not talking Picasso or Bacon's recreations, but an actual daring daylight theft."

Then of course, I couldn't stop thinking about it until I recalled who had done so. So I revisited the Velásquez's I knew and this work seemed to be the missing link:

"That's the one!" the voice proclaimed. "Someone dared to imitate that painting."

My brow furrowed at this point. Derain didn't claim that no one had repainted the same subject matters...but that no one would risk trying to imitate Velásquez's style...because it was so refined that you'd fail.

"OK, OK," conceded the pushy voice. "But still, who repainted that piece? That's the one. That exact piece...someone shamelessly stole that exact composition...who was it?"

"Holbein..." another, gruffer, calmer voice offered from off in the distance.

Holbein?
I thought...Um, only if he had a time machine.

"I'm telling you," the gruff voice insisted..."you're thinking of Holbein."

Well, then, clearly I'm mad. Holbein died about 50 years before Velásquez was born. Besides, why would Holbein even be so close to the top of my conscious---....ah, yes...that TV show...the Tudors...that's why."

And indeed, that was why. The TV character Holbein (as we've discussed here before) had painted one of Henry's lovers in the same position:


That settled, though, I began to wonder who else had a style " set forth so skillfully and effectively as to become invisible"?

And so I open a thread. Who indeed? It's probably a wide matter of opinion, but...feel free to offer yours.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting the Chronology Straight

April 21, 2010 : Charlie Finch first writes for artnet.com on the Zwirner-Robins-Dumas case. In it, he advises Zwirner to seek a settlement. As the case was still going on at this point, one might assume there would be more information yet to come out. In other words, one might assume it best to wait for all the testimony before offering amateur legal advice, but....

April 23, 2010 : Charlie Finch chastises art bloggers (including yours truly) for not also jumping the gun and weighing in on the ongoing case. In doing so, he generalizes about bloggers as "so ready to dive in and piss around the shallow end of the pool, on any subject." The absence of a emoticon at the end of that sentence suggests he did so without any hint of irony.

March 31, 2010 (that's right, a full 22 days before Finch's first piece on the case) : I wrote an overview of the lawsuit, laying out what I thought the important issues were, what a sensible way to avoid such cases might be, and noted that I thought the whole affair stood to benefit only lawyers.

Now it's one thing for Mr. Finch to be so late to the story. One can appreciate why he felt the urgent need to first offer his audience his take on the invasion of perverts at MoMA's latest exhibition.

It's also one thing for him to pretend he's on "Law and Order" and advise Mr. Zwirner on his best course of action.

It's another thing, though, for him to take a cursory tour through the blogosphere, two days after his first opinion on the case posted, and cough up righteous indignation at the paucity of people as immediately outraged as he is by the blacklist testimony. Personally, I'm still processing that part of the story. I'm talking with other dealers about it (we don't have any blacklists), trying to see how prevalent it is, and attempting to gain an informed opinion on it.

As for what I've already written about the case, I have a more developed take on how such situations might best be avoided (something I've been thinking about and writing on for some time) coming out in the next issue of The Art Newspaper. That op-ed is something I also wrote before Mr. Finch first shared his opinion on the case. Not that I'd expect him to call or email to ask about such matters before he runs off calling people "cowards," but just to get the chronology straight....

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Mnemonic Contest

As promised, I would like to tout the genius of the Mnemonic Contest's winning author. In my opinion, a mnemonic is most effective when there's an absurd element to it...something so off-beat and unrelated to the subject matter at hand that it's paradoxically impossible to forget. The way you remember the most unusual things, rather than the most usual. More than that, an effective mnemonic makes use of the formula of an adage. We remember adages precisely because of the simplistic, if slightly awkward, way they are phrased.

Here were the entries for the list of data you should send with every jpeg you forward as a professional artist (Title, Year, Medium, Size, Edition [if applicable], AP [if applicable] and Price):
  • Trash Your Mind Snort Enamel Paint
  • T.Y.M.S.E.A.P. pronounced |tīm|-|sēp| in other words don’t waste my time.
  • Title Your Material So Ed Ain’t Peeved.
  • Too Many Young Energetic Artists Promote Stoopidity
  • M.Y.P.E.T.S. : Make Your Package Entirely Tempt Success
  • TYMESAP ( An artist is like a cook who mixes ingredients to create a new dish. But the dish will need to pass muster with the top chef, the gallery owner. You especially like adding the flavor of ThYME SAP in your dish.)
  • This Year My Status Exploded Proportionately
  • Themistocles, you might send Edward a photoshopped-image-with-title-year-medium-size-edition-APs-and-price.
  • This You Must Swear: Every Approach Prepare
  • Tonight Your Mother Seems Especially Anxious, Peter
  • The Yurt Maker Sets Every Pole
  • This Year Might Sell Every Art Pieces
  • To your muse send every artistic persuasion
  • These Yokes Might Sold Every Art Pieces
  • SPY TEAM : Sycophantic Posing Yiddish Tailors Enjoy Art Marketing
  • EMPTY A'S : Enable Marketing Protocol To Your Artistic Satisfaction
  • That Young Monster Still Eats All People!
  • Taking Your Medicine Sure Eliminates Problems
  • The Yogi's Mantra Sounds Eerily Plaintive
Of those entries, the ones that follow the effective mnemonic guidelines (i.e., those likely to be remembered precisely because they're about some unrelated, absurd idea) are, more or less, (this is not an exacting scientific process...you might argue that one of these at least is too close to the subject matter):
  • Tonight Your Mother Seems Especially Anxious, Peter
  • The Yurt Maker Sets Every Pole
  • That Young Monster Still Eats All People!
  • Taking Your Medicine Sure Eliminates Problems
  • The Yogi's Mantra Sounds Eerily Plaintive
Of these, three in particular seem most in the vein of a memorable mnemonic being entirely unrelated to the subject matter at hand and in that way being slightly absurd (i.e., I think the others could easily be construed as being about finding a gallery or the art system, whereas it's hard to see how these three would ever be):
  • The Yogi's Mantra Sounds Eerily Plaintive
  • Tonight Your Mother Seems Especially Anxious, Peter
  • The Yurt Maker Sets Every Pole
Of those, the one that reads most like an adage, in my opinion, is "The Yurt Maker Sets Every Pole."

Therefore, it is with gratitude and admiration that I announce that the winner of the Mnemonic Contest, for his adagey, absurdly memorable formula, is George. You may now commence in showering him with your adulation as well. :-)

Thanks to all who participated!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Volcano Zeitgeist

Everyone is talking about it. There's already a list of the top 11 volcano jokes. Fave:
First, Iceland goes bankrupt. After that, it sets itself on fire. This has insurance scam written all over it.
Even in the art world everyone is talking about it. From Jonathan Jones using it to highlight his favorite 5 volcano paintings to the chatter about the number of galleries who were forced to cancel their booths at Art Brussels ("In spite of the ash cloud, only 6% of the galleries may have problems to reach Brussels in time.") or Art Cologne (only have anecdotal reports of US galleries not being able to get their)...Eyjafjallajökull (or "Hank," as one dealer who couldn't get to Europe has taken to calling the huge hole in the earth belching up so much disruption) is a, er, hot topic in the art world as well.

Coincidentally, one of the photos in our next exhibition, "
American ReConstruction" a group exhibition of new photography organized by that very savvy collector of contemporary photography and super snarky witty blogger, Mike at MAO (otherwise known as Michael Hoeh), is a work by Matthew Albanese that looks like a volcano. What it really is, is explained here:
tile grout, cotton, glass, plexi, red phosphorous ink, six 60 watt bulbs & fake fog. The explosion of lava was sampled from a picture I took of fireworks(the only composited element). This model was illuminated by it's own light source.
The result of combining tile grout, cotton, glass, etc. is rather remarkable:

Matthew Albanese, Volcano, 2009, c-print mounted on Plexiglass, 40" x 21”, edition 10.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pet Peeve Wednesday (and a Mnemonic Contest)

Dear Artists,

I adore you all, each in your own way. You know I do. But in the interest of offering some sincere career advice and lowering my blood pressure, might I suggest two things?

First, when emailing or snail-mailing a cold submission to a gallery (in the interest of having them represent your work)...do NOT begin your letter with "Dear Sir/Madame." Do not begin it with "Dear Gallery Director." Do not begin it with "To Whom it May Concern."

You're not applying for an entry level position within an international corporation. You're asking another human being to consider being your agent. That will be a personal as well as professional relationship. Make it clear you understand that (because the recipient of your inquiry surely does). Find the name of the person you should address your appeal to and use it. "Dear Mr. Winkleman" or "Dear Ed" (if you've met).

None of this is to say we're accepting submissions at our gallery at the moment. We're actually still not. But that has barely slowed down the number of submissions we receive, and while I have not found any new artists to work with through them, it does make me sad to see how, from the opening line, the artists looking for a gallery are handicapping themselves...lessening their chances that the inquiry will work. Their generic approach is an immediate negative in the minds of the person reading their appeal.

My second bit of advice deals with a personal pet peeve when sending images to a gallery you are working with (or in a submission, actually). None of our artists are guilty of this...no sir...no way...so sirree bob. But other people's artists are, or so I've heard. Still, as if your life depended on it, remember each and every time you send an image to a gallery to include the following information unless you're 110% certain the gallery has it already:
Full title
Year
Medium
Size (in inches and centimeters if you have galleries in different countries or your gallery is taking your work to a different country)
Edition (if applicable) and number of APs (do NOT forget the APs)
Price if not already known
Make it a reflex to do this. Make it a discipline. Make it a religion!!!

Especially when you're just beginning to work with a gallery. And extra especially if you're in a group exhibition in a gallery that doesn't represent you.

Why are you droning on about this, Ed? you ask... Because experienced collectors and art consultants and arts writers expect this information in each communication (and they should). Therefore, not having that information readily available can lead to lost sales or lost press opportunities. And because speed is of the essence many times, only sending part of this information with an image can lead to back and forth emails, and that tick-tock-tick-tock you hear is a potential step up in your career fading away.

I dream of the day when an artist version of Photoshop won't permit you to save a jpeg until you've attached the basic meta data listed above. If it were invisibly embedded (but accessible) in the image somehow, that would solve all this. Until that time, perhaps a mnemonic will help. I'm pretty bad at mnemonic's so I'll ask for your help. What's a pithy (and memorable) sentence that will jog the memory with each and every jpeg you send? Remember, we're talking
Title
Year
Medium
Size
Edition (if applicable) and Number of APs
Price
T.Y.M.S.E.A.P. or "Tell Your Mother She's Expected At Passover"

That doesn't even make any sense. See, I suck at mnemonics. So I turn to you...come up with a memorable sentence. Point out any others you like in the thread. I'll make a wholly objective decision about the best one and praise its author's genius throughout the blogosphere.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Your Own Personal Reality

It's a paradox of globalization. It's a paradox of the era of extreme choice in this nation. In fact, it's a paradox of the life of leisure most of us enjoy (a life in which, more than any generation before, we get to choose how to spend our time because we don't have to build our own homes, hunt and gather or tend to our own food, make our own clothing or furniture, maintain all that, etc. etc.).

The paradox is that with the whole world as one's oyster, with more options, more opportunities, and thus more security to be open-minded, we mostly choose to live within a world that is sheltered from opposing viewpoints. We choose to ensure that we're very comfortable in how we socialize, comfortable with the news we consume, comfortable with the people--and thus opinions--we expose ourselves to. We choose a cozy myopia. We've become the United Cliques of America. The problem with this (besides falsely leading us to assume we're well informed) is that on the occassions we're thrust out of our comfort zone by forces beyond our control, we're ill-equipped to find common ground or often even a common vocabulary.

And it's a trend that only seems to be getting worse. The parody Tina Fey offered recently of a Sarah Palin television network...



is actually coming soon to a TV near you if conservative actor Kelsey Grammer has his way. In case, as the Daily News puts it, the Fox Network is "too liberal for you":

Actor Kelsey Grammer is one of the names behind The RightNetwork, a new operation that is being targeted at "Americans who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and world-view."

The network is expected to launch this summer and is hoping to be available to on-demand cable offerings, online and mobile phones.

"There's wrong, and there's right, right network, all that's right with the world," Grammer says in a video clip on the network's Web site.

Likewise, the network's promotional materials say it will focus on entertainment with "pro-America," "pro-business, pro-military sensibilities" that will ultimately invite conversation and influence "the national conversation."

Because the RightNetwork is being pitched as an on-demand offering it means it wouldn't initially have the same reach - or draw - as traditional cable networks that are on all the time on a cable system. Subscribers would physically have to click through to get the service.

"We're creating a welcome place for millions and millions of Americans who've been looking for an entertainment network and media channel that reflects their point-of-view," Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, said in a statement on the site. "RightNetwork will be the perfect platform to entertain, inform and Connect with the American majority about what's right in the world."

Oh goody. A channel that reflects your own point of view...as in one that never challenges you to consider whether you're mistaken, that reinforces any prejudices you may carry. One that facilitates even more the ability to live within your own personal reality and pass that along to your children.

Of course, one does have to wonder how Grammer's own network will discuss his current performance as the flamboyant gay nightclub owner, George, in Broadway's La Cage aux Folles. Will his own personal reality network be forced to ignore Kelsey's own professional reality? It would seem to be another paradox. Unless, that is, living within my own personal reality I never noticed that the "pro-America... pro-business, pro-military sensibilities" contingent has embraced gay love stories, bawdy drag queens, and men who kiss each other tenderly.

If so, well, then, carry on with your bad-ass own-personal-reality selves...

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Christoph Wiedenmayer

It's not always easy when one is in the thick of it to remember that art is more than just personal visions or power or money or ego or status. Indeed, to the vast majority of people who pay attention to art, it serves the purpose that originally led most of us in the industry to choose it over potentially much more lucrative career choices: it is fascinating. At times it may be transcendental or spiritually uplifting, at times even life-changing or simply right down infuriating, but good art is always compelling. It draws us toward it. It makes us want to to know more, to understand.

I was reminded of this every time my friend Christoph stopped by the gallery. If you've ever been to any of our opening receptions you may have met Christoph. Tall, elegant, soft spoken and as beautiful a human (kind, generous and most impressively open-minded) as anyone I've ever met.

The source of his insatiable curiosity for what artists were thinking became a bit more understandable once you learned what he did for a living. Christoph Wiedenmayer, PhD, was
an Associate Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University. His research focused on the mechanics of fear in the human mind and in particular how that can be understood to prevent psychopathologies that unchecked fear can cause to develop. Perhaps his research explains why Christoph seemed so open to new ideas, new possibilities, the great unknown. He willingly embraced what others might fear.

On Saturday, March 20, 2010, while jogging in Central Park, Christoph suffered a heart attack and passed away. This came as a huge shock to those of us who were blessed to call him "friend." Christoph was the most health-conscious member of our circle. He exercised, ate well, didn't abuse substances. He would frequently warn the rest of us of the possible repercussions of our bad habits, even as he'd then offer one of his characteristically charming shrugs that said live and let live.

With very minimalistic tastes and habits, Christoph didn't purchase that much art over the years (he wouldn't know where to put it), but he was a constant consumer of the culture that New York offers in abundance. In addition to being an avid reader (known for his command of literature from the classics to post-modern), he loved art, film, music, great food, and nature. He saw nearly every exhibition we ever put on. In essence, it was often Christoph who came to mind for me when I considered that group of non-arts professional in New York that all the rest of us are working so hard to impress. He was the audience. The debates we had about art over the years were some of the most encouraging conversations I've had. He cheered me on, arguing that what we were doing in the gallery was important. If only because he enjoyed it, and, he knew, he was the audience.

There is a memorial service for Christoph this evening at Columbia, Monday, April 19th, from 5:30-7:30pm. The memorial will be in the Skyline Dining Room of Columbia’s Faculty House. There is also a lovely thread of tributes from his colleagues and students on the Bwog (the blog incarnation of The Blue and White, Columbia University’s monthly undergraduate magazine).

We simply cannot believe he's gone.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

This Mush Is Certain

Bambino accidentally sent out the above misspelling of "Much" in a recent exhibition title, and I knew immediately I'd steal it one day. It seems, via its fitting confluence of circumstances, the perfect title for this update.

Calm has been restored in Kyrgyzstan after the violent protests starting on April 7 that threw the Central Asian nation into turmoil. Unlike the revolution in 2005, which had been much less violent and saw then-president Askar Akayev flee the country immediately, this time around president Kurmanbek Bakiyev holed up in his Southern home district, refusing to resign and there were talks of civil war breaking out. Yesterday, though Bakiyev too signed a letter of resignation and flew to the neighboring nation of Kazakhstan. Phew!

A lot of the credit for this latest development needs to go to Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the interim administration, for playing tough with Bakiyev (threatening to take him to trial if he didn't leave). I know, from experience, not to underestimate the determination (you could say stubbornness) of a Kyrgyz woman who knows she's right. :-)

The other matter settled by Otunbayeva was the question of whether the US had reason to worry about losing our rented space at Manas, the airbase outside Bishkek. I've been to that airport (looking out onto those air fields at 5:00 am is like watching a scene from a Robert Ludlum-based screenplay directed by Wes Craven...scary CIA and FSB types everywhere you look). Otunbayeva has now said that her government will extend the US's lease on the base for another year.

But what remains somewhat mushy (or, at least unsettled) are two issues.

First, what can the new government do to address the poverty that drives all the frustration. The answer seems to be very little. Not only did the protests make an already
desperate economic situation much worse, but the interim government probably doesn't have the power to do much about it:

The deputy head of the interim government in charge of finance, Temir Sariyev, said that in the coming days a special commission would be set up to assess the damage to the economy.

Talking to Russian newspaper Kommersant, he promised that the new government would help local businessmen, but he did not specify how.

"What should the business community do? Where do we go next? To whom do we complain?" asked Uluk Kydyrbayev, who heads Bishkek Business Club, an association that comprises more than 20 companies.

In 2005, when Kyrgyzstan went through the so-called Tulip Revolution, the mass protests that brought President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power, the country saw the same post-revolution chaos.

Hundreds of shops were looted and people unlawfully seized land, private property and businesses.

"Back then it took the government three years to reimburse damage to businessmen," Uluk Kadyrbayev said.

"This time we want to help the new government to restore the economy. But for that we need stability, security and legitimacy."

Observers say those things cannot be promised by the interim government, which is faced with the potential escalation of conflict in the country.

And more than that, the biggest question that faces Kyrgyzstan is how to address the underlying lack of governmental strength and lack of democratic structure that have lead to both amazingly fast, absolute corruption in the previous administrations and the resulting frustration that seems only addressable by revolution.

Assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University, Eric McGlinchey recently explained the underlying problem in an op-ed in The New York Times:
What happened [in Kyrgyzstan] was not a revolution — it was a hijacking.

Being president of Kyrgyzstan shares much in common with being captain of a plane. The president needs a few people to help him rule, say a first officer and a navigator. Should one of these assistants prove problematic, the president can replace him with someone from the passenger cabin. The challenge, though, is that the passenger cabin is small. Eventually, the president must re-use the same people he previously fired or he must fly solo. At the same time, he remains vulnerable to passengers banding together, as they did this week, and tossing him from the plane.

This makes Kyrgyzstan very different from its ex-Soviet neighbors. Why aren’t the presidents of countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both of whom have been in power since the Soviet Union collapsed, so easily tossed from power? The answer is straightforward: the Kazakh and Uzbek presidents have bigger planes — 747s compared to Kyrgyzstan’s Cessna.

Should a minister falter or be seen as disloyal, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan can find ready replacements from within the ranks of hundreds of loyal cadres, many of them holdovers from the bureaucracy of the Soviet system. Moreover, because Kazakh and Uzbek ministers know they can easily be replaced, they are far less likely to prove meddlesome in the first place.

Indeed, Otunbayeva had served under both previous Kyrgyz presidents before she joined the oppositions against them. Of course in order to have more ready replacements to ensure less likelihood of resolving political disputes with bloodshed, Kyrgyzstan will need to focus more on providing its citizens with better education. Many Kyrgyz of Otunbayeva's generation were educated in Moscow or then Leningrad. There is little in the way of an educational system that compares in Kyrgyzstan today. And with the economics being as bad as they are, little money to build one.

So it promises to be a vicious cycle. The uncertainty will continue indefinitely. Unless...unless Otunbayeva can renegotiate the terms of her leases with the US and Russia so that funds from those sources go directly into strengthening the education system throughout the country. It's certainly to the US's advantage to have stability within the country. Russia lately seems to be playing the game according to the revolutionary's handbook, allegedly seeing turmoil as its best chance of getting the US out of its former Republic, but even they would then want stability in the country, so they too might as well begin investing in Kyrgyzstan's educational system now.

Image above of a child among adults mourning those who were killed during the protests.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Election to Remember

Imagine an election season in which the campaigning pols from the major parties felt the need to go out of their way to show their support for the arts community. And not just lip service to the "importance of art in our society" (and because politics is politics, any promises may be end up being only lip service after the election, of course), but a full-out effort by the powers that be to ensure that their party's platform is known to be more arts friendly than the other party's platform.

It's nearly impossible to imagine in the United States, where the GOP viciously uses the arts as a wedge issue and the Democrats are usually too busy looking for their spines to say much more than "Art..., art....oh yeah, it's here on page 64...uh yes, we're in favor of being supportive of communities that like art." But in the UK at the moment, where an election is under way, both the Conservative and the Labour parties are doing just that: working hard to align themselves as the "more-pro-arts" party than the other.

Now, even having lived in the UK for three years, I still don't understand how their elections work. I think I know that a Prime Minister must call for elections every so often, and that they have wide latitude to do so within a window that is generally selected to work to the current ruling party's advantage. I think I also know that the party who wins the most seats in the House of Commons (get a bit fuzzy on the details here) gets to be the ruling party (winning the Prime Minister and cabinet positions prize). But beyond that the whole process resembles nothing so much to me as a flash mob of highly caffeinated feral cats.

Still, what's happening in the UK is so encouraging, that I hope it sparks a wave of reconsideration in the US. The UK's Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto, just to give you a flavor of how it stands in stark contrast to anything the conservatives in the US would normally be associated with, states:
The Conservative Party is committed to fostering an environment in which sport, the arts, and the creative industries can flourish, and in which people can take control of the most enjoyable aspects of their lives.
In the Republican party's 2008 platform, for comparison, the word "art" or "arts" don't appear at all. Even the word "culture" is used only in the context of "military culture" or "culture of radical terror" or "faith and family, culture and commerce," etc. The only time the word "creative" appears was when discussing how "to master the global economy."

What the Conservative Party's embrace of the importance of the arts has spawned is an even more enthusiastic that usual alignment with the creatives within the Labour Party's manifesto. As the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins reports:
Perhaps it is a response to the Conservatives having taken the initiative on the arts in recent months; perhaps it is at last a recognition that being associated with culture isn't necessarily a byword for elitism; perhaps it is just a cynical recognition that while the arts may not be a vote winner, by ignoring them you provoke the ire of a small but extremely noisy arts lobby.

Whatever the reason, the arts and culture are prominent in the Labour manifesto to a quite unprecedented extent - at least as long as I have been reading Labour manifestos.

I'm actually just world-wise enough to not really care what spurred the major parties in the UK to suck up so much to the arts community. Not looking that gift horse in the mouth seems to have no downside at all to me. Sure their posturing might lead to funds being mismanaged here or there. Sure someone will argue there are other priorities over here or over there more deserving of attention. But all of democracy is a push-pull exercise, and for quite some time the arts have been pushed out of the limelight much more than they've been pulled into it, so it's heartening to see it balanced out a bit.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, elections often serve to sear into the consciousness of the generation just coming into the voting age and others paying attention for the first time, what it is their government should be doing, how it is their society operates, and what the priorities highlighted during a campaign say about them and their culture. Collectively this can have an impact that lasts for quite some time. In that regard, I am highly encouraged. Higgins nails the potentially lasting message in all this:
For the time being, though, I'm pretty amazed that culture gets such star billing – and not just as a branch of the "creative industries", but also as a contributor to the "common good" and as something that "stand[s] for more than material success".

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NURTUREart's Muse Fuse, Tonight @ 7 PM...with Yours Truly

Karen Marston, the amazing director of NURTUREart, has kindly invited me to be part of their MUSE FUSE series tonight, beginning at 7:00 PM. Please come on out:
Muse Fuse was conceived as an open forum and pooling of resources to create a professional support and networking association for emerging artists and curators. Muse Fuse is envisioned as a creative salon where artists, curators and other arts professionals meet to exchange ideas and information, discussing everything from the practical to the philosophical. Muse Fuse meets once a month with a different notable guest speaker each time. Meetings feature announcements, an interesting talk, Q & A, and time to meet one another, network and socialize. Please bring any helpful information you might know of (upcoming deadlines for grants, exhibition opportunities, studios for rent, etc), show invites you might have to announce and circulate, and something to eat or drink to share.
Because I like to have visuals in case my talk bombs (it's easier to pretend you're stretching to see a slide projection while yawning than slide down in your chair...or so I've found), I've revived and slightly updated my PowerPoint presentation "Like Watching Sausage Being Made: The Nitty Gritty on Artists, Galleries and Money" for tonight...the slide presentation will continue until morale improves. I've tried to rethink most of the issues of handling the money stuff from a deep recession point of view, but know that each artist's individual situation is generally unique, so...I'm hoping it's mostly a Q&A session.

Here's how to get there:
Artist and Executive Director Karen Marston hosts Muse Fuse in the friendly and informal setting of her studio:

229 Leonard Street, Williamsburg, L Train to Lorimer Street (or G Train to Metropolitan Ave., same station), walk up Metropolitan Avenue (away from the Manhattan Skyline) 1-2 blocks depending on which stairs you take, make a right turn onto Leonard Street, walk three and a half short blocks, its a brick house with glass blocks and blue trim between Powers and Grand streets, on the ground floor, the right hand blue door will be open.
I hope to see you there!

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Barely Related Ideas Schmushed into One Post

Coming on the heels of a New York Times report that the board of the Whitney Museum is in disagreement about whether to open a second location in the West Village...
On one side is the majority that favors the construction project, saying it is integral to the future of a renowned museum with a world-class collection of American art by the likes of Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder. On the other side is a handful of longtime members, including [Leonard A.] Lauder, the chairman emeritus, who view the plan as a vanity project the Whitney can ill afford. Also at stake is the fate of the signature building on the Upper East Side, designed by Marcel Breuer and synonymous with the Whitney since it opened, in 1966.
...today Roberta Smith offers some amazingly good and simple advice, which like most things simple seems obvious now that someone thought to point it out. Mostly side-stepping the "should they/shouldn't they" side of the ongoing discussion, Smith uses the example to highlight why far too many museum expansion projects have gone awry lately:
The success of an undertaking like this hinges not on the size but on the quality of the space, which is never thought about enough and never by the people who really know what they’re doing where museums are concerned. The idea that trustees have the final word on a museum’s design, considering all the atrocious buildings that have been erected in this country, is chilling. When will they ever learn to listen, and to people who have the right experience?
...enter the amazingly good and simple advice:
Whom should the people in charge of museums listen to? Perhaps to those who have consistently made art look best because they are most directly dependent on it looking best: artists and dealers. A well-chosen committee of such people would probably be able to pare down and improve Mr. Piano’s design even more.

Here’s a shocking idea: hire Larry Gagosian as a consultant. This could be seen as a more cautious, less desperate version of the move by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in hiring the dealer Jeffrey Deitch as its new director: maybe it’s outside-the-box thinking Manhattan-style. Such an idea might occur to anyone who saw the Gagosian Gallery’s recent exhibition of a mere four sculptures by Alexander Calder, which unfortunately closed on Saturday. It was a heart-stopping, art-loving show that rewired and strengthened both the sense of Calder’s greatness and one’s own personal ability to see art. Affirmations like that keep people coming back.
Indeed, Gagosian consistently puts on world-class exhibitions and I think Roberta nails the reason why: he and his artists most directly depend on the art looking its best.

Most of the conversations I've heard these days, from folks in just about any industry, be it journalism, commercial art [see yesterday's post], publishing, entertainment, education, etc. (gives you an idea of my circle of friends) center on the notion that none of these industries will look anything like they do today in a decade or so. Much of the focus of folks in these industries is on trying to anticipate how their quarter of the bold, new world is going to operate (obviously so they're prepared for it, if not indeed pioneering the way forward). It seems to me to be a bit of an international obsession at the moment, to be quite honest.

What it struck me recently we're not doing enough of, in this mad quest for anticipating the future, though, is living in the present. Roberta's observation about Gagosian's Calder exhibition, which has now closed, underscored this for me. I didn't get to see this show. I wish I had.

I'm still processing the nudging doubts percolating in the gray puddle that is my mind about all this (and you'll probably be 'treated' to more of it as I sort it out), but there's this tiny voice trying to be heard in there and it's saying something like "It's a trap...this constantly seeking out the bold new world becomes an end unto itself...a way of existing without really living...yes, yes, we've heard it before...the visionaries will rule tomorrow...and I do believe you must keep your mind open to new ideas...but if the next big thing ain't coming to you easily, then sorry Charlie, you're not yet a visionary...you're an average Joe and you'd better stop to smell the roses that are right beneath your feet before, well, before you're beneath them...."

I imagine that might be what Mr. Lauder is trying to get his fellow Whitney board members to understand.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Antiestablishmentcontarianism

Maybe it's the cloudy head my allergies are giving me, but I'm having a bit of trouble reconciling two comments Marc Glimcher made in the great interview with him by Sarah Douglas on the heels of the announcement that the super galleries Pace and Wildenstein were going separate ways. Now I should note that I'm certain Mr. Glimcher knew more about running an art gallery by the time he was 12 than I may ever understand, but I still can't piece together two ideas he shared into a cohesive whole:

One was actually very heartening:
When Sugimoto left Gagosian to join your gallery several months ago, it seemed to confirm Pace's reputation as an “establishment gallery.” Are you at all interested in changing that image? After all, you’ll be inheriting this gallery eventually.

The gallery is seen as establishment. I guess that has always bugged me. My father doesn’t get bugged by it, because he doesn’t listen to anybody. He doesn't see us as an establishment gallery. To him, it's about this: 50 years ago, his father died, and his brother told him he had to start an art gallery because they were broke, and he was a painter and called all his friends and they started a gallery for radical art.

Then that little gallery for radical art got bigger.

And a gallery gets to look pretty establishment when it gets big, and when artists stay for 30 years. It went from being a minimalism gallery to being an establishment gallery. That doesn't bother my father, never has. But it's natural for it to bug me. During the boom, some galleries did things to make themselves appear less establishment. But my feeling is that all the things they did were very commercial things to do. Go after this group of artists that you don't actually have any interest in and don't believe in, follow this group of collectors. Somehow following the trends and doing the most fashionable thing came to be what seemed anti-establishment. To me, those are the most establishment things you could possibly do. Whereas if you stuck to building a community of artists, and thinking of all these things that could be done for them and with them, you were in danger of looking like an establishment organization. So I say, all we have to do now is to push harder and further, and then that idea of whether or not we are establishment will be irrelevant, because we'll be doing things that have never been done before, like pushing the definition of an art gallery, and the boundaries of being an art dealer, and doing all of this in the service of our artists.
I have to admit that I've given such matters some thought myself and heard other dealers of my generation share similar concerns. (I'm going to introduce a rough nomenclature here...it's purely my own invention, used for brevity's sake.)

One can only strive to be seen as one of the hot new galleries for so long. Even if you are considered one of the younger galleries to watch, you still have to prepare yourself; eventually other, newer galleries will rightly take that title from you. So you hope to evolve then into an important gallery. One taken seriously by museums, collectors, the press, and other dealers, but still seen as on the rise.

If you look around, you'll see that many galleries level off at this stage. They are widely seen as important contributors to the cultural landscape but there's so little room past that level and so much that isn't related to working with artists that it takes to transcend it, that only a few of the most ambitious and uber-competitive of dealers rise to the stage of establishment galleries. Clearly, not every gallery wants to get to that stage. As Mr. Glimcher notes, it comes with some negative associations. But I never actually thought that it would occur to anyone who had attained that status that they should try to shake it. As Mr. Glimcher notes, and I understand now, it comes from having been born into a gallery family and, like anyone else, wanting to make your own mark on the industry.

Still, as much as I can empathize with that idea (not wanting to be viewed as establishment), it seems this other idea of Mr. Glimcher's would only seem like a good idea to someone entrenched in the establishment level of art dealing:
Is there a correlation between the ending of the Wildenstein partnership and a change in Pace’s overall direction?

There is. In 1993, it was clear that change was coming, but how that change was coming was unclear. We certainly made attempts to move in directions that would embrace it.

What change are you referring to?

The globalization of the art world. It has globalized in a different way than anyone thought it would. What it means to be an art collector, or an artist, is in flux, and that’s fantastic. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the whole “what does it mean to be an art gallery?” question come up. The answer, for a lot of innovative people, has been a franchise, a brand. That has been incredibly successful, and Pace has participated in it to some extent, but there have been a lot of dealers who, along with the auction houses, made the concept of planting their brand around the world a defining characteristic of what they do.

So what's the next step?

What I see as the next evolutionary step after the franchise is the network. Creating and being part of a network is something that the rest of the world has been deeply engaged in for at least the last 10 years. Because of its strange characteristics, the art world is genetically behind the rest of the world, so the idea of networks is just now taking root.
Now, there are plenty of details left out in how this might work, but--call it the latent socialist in me--I read "network" in this context as "conglomerate," taking the selling of art past the corporate level and into the sort of commercial empires that dwarf (in terms of economic power) a large percentage of independent states. Yes, the rest of the world has been deeply engaged in building conglomerates for the past 10 years, and we've seen a rise in terrorism and other anti-globalization movements in response to that. And we've seen politicians put the needs of those conglomerates above the needs of the people who elected them. Fortunately, we've also seen visual artists (protected by a highly individualized industry) be among the most outspoken critics of this trend.

I'll cut to the chase of what's bugging me here: How could a Pace artist whose work deals with critiquing the impact of globalization on the people of poorer countries (or any country) be taken seriously if they exhibited within such a network? A company can't be both non-establishment AND have a built-in corporate need to turn a blind eye to such critiques.

Now, I've had neo-Marxist artists criticize even my participation in the commercialization of art (the same artists had no problem selling their work out of their studio, mind you...they simply thought galleries were inherently evil). So I know there's a bit of "take the plank out of your own eye" in my post this morning, but a mom-and-pop shop gallery doesn't have the same bureaucracy a "network" will have. It doesn't have systemic needs that have nothing to do with art demanding resources or considerations. The reason this smaller shop system has remained in place within the art industry, whereas nearly every other industry has already gone conglomerate, IMHO, is the intensely individual nature of it. It's not only the non-mass-marketable aspect of unique objects, but the individualistic culture of the visual arts world.

The problem with the Pace plan as I interpreted it is that networks thrive through a never-ending push for enhanced efficiency, and that push for greater and greater efficiency will reach back into the workplace of the creatives in any conglomerate. In the typical conglomerate, the needs of the network will demand it.

Again, there are plenty of details left out in how this might work for Pace (and Mr. Glimcher would be a fool to share them with the world), but if I were an artist in that program (particularly one whose subject matter included critiquing globalization), I'd want some more information about those details. Of course, there's no reason Pace needs to work with artists who feel strongly about such matters. There are plenty of other artists exploring plenty of other issues/concerns. It just makes one look a bit more like the establishment to need to exclude them.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

An Ungracious Note Before Viewing

The Artnet review of the sneak peek at "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" (Bravo's new visual arts based reality TV show produced by Sarah Jessica Parker) certainly makes it sound like they've done a good job putting this show together...it seems to have the right balance of seriousness and drama to be a successful entry into this growing and (only potentially) lucrative field. Artnet reports:
How is it? Fascinating, full of snappy edits, with scenes of the artists talking, working and stressing out, all in one big shared studio. The nude -- arguably a key ingredient when it comes to art and popular appeal -- makes an all-too-brief appearance. The competing artists, who are all identified here, are cute, though fairly conventional in their art-making; the show could have benefited from a Duchampian or two. "Work of Art" has some drama, though the participants don’t display much cut-throat art-world competitiveness, at least not in the first episode.
My only problem with it, admittedly before I see it and entirely independent of any insider snobbery about the effort (or so it honestly feels to me), is that I suffer from what I suspect is an incurable fatigue with this formula. I can't watch any of these shows any more...I just can't muster up the energy to care about another crop of strangers' fates, regardless of which new field they've sown their dreams in.

Bambino has taken to watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and I've caught a bit here and there on my way back to my latest trashy spy novel (see, it's not that I'm high brow...I'm just being honest)... but even then, with the fabulous outfits and snappiest, bitchiest banter you've ever heard on such a show, I can't seem to generate any interest at all in who the winner will be. Maybe, over the years, I've tapped out my capacity for stranger empathy. Maybe I've seen what becomes of the "winners" of these shows and lost my appetite for that pending train wreck. I don't know.

Now I appreciate that the goal of such shows (the first step in the formula) is to get you to "know" the contestants...to like (or hate) them...to get you invested in one or two of them...or at least to get you invested in the way the judges offer them feedback, but here again, even knowing some of the judges on this show, I really just can't... eh!

It feels like work. Like a homework assignment...pay attention, get to know the characters, select your favorite, prepare yourself for their potential failure, never mind that ad man behind the curtain, yadda, yadda, yadda...

...give me a new spy novel.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Revolution Déjà vu

Things seemed to have calmed down a bit in Kyrgyzstan, one day after the president (Kurmanbek Bakiyev) fled the capital (he's reportedly in his southern hometown of Osh, but that hadn't been confirmed last time I checked). Thankfully a leader emerged from a coalition of opposition groups, one Roza Otunbayeva [seen above] (former Ambassador to the US, and someone known for her strong opposition to corruption, the driving force behind Kyrgyz unrest ).

Bambino, as many people know, hails from Kyrgyzstan. He finally managed to get through to his family yesterday and everyone is fine, if a bit nervous. Our artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (M&G), who live in the capital, emailed early this morning to report that they too are fine, but that the damage had been done. Nearly every store or building in central Bishkek had been looted or torched.

Compared with the revolution in 2005 (the one that resulted in Bakiyev becoming president...he had strongly criticized the corruption of the previous president only to then become just as corrupt himself by most accounts), this one was much bloodier and more violent. This still from a film M&G shot of that 2005 revolution

stands in stark contrast to the awful photographs we saw from the violence yesterday, in which reports said 17 up to 100 people had been killed.

Of course the Kyrgyz people were doubly frustrated this time. Not only had they placed high hopes on Bakiyev delivering the reforms and improvements he had promised (only to see him install his relatives, including his reportedly "vicious henchman" of a son, into positions of power around him), but with the widespread poverty in the Central Asian nation---made only worse by the global recession, a series of incomprehensible hikes in utilities charges, and the fact that although Bakiyev had negotiated quite a hefty increase in the rent the US pays for the Bishkek airbase we use as a supply line into Afghanistan, most of the population never saw any of that money---the people had had enough. After Bakiyev was "re-elected" in a what most observers said was a highly fraudulent election, taking to the streets, again, apparently seemed the only way to balance things out.

This breaks my heart. The damage done to the economy by the last revolution was still evident when Bambino and I had visited in 2006 and still when he returned alone in 2008. How long it's going to take to put things back in order this time, with the whole world struggling now, is hard to say, but it leaves the population even more vulnerable.

In speculating on who's behind this revolution (we really don't know, it's only speculation), Bambino and I both suspect Russia (whereas we're both fairly sure the US was behind the previous one). For one thing, there were a lot more weapons on the streets for this takeover than the one in 2005, so we're sure someone was funding it (not many of the people we saw in photos holding those weapons looked like they could afford them on their own). Also there's this:
“The political behavior of the United States has created a situation where the new authorities may want to look more to Russia than to the United States, and it will strengthen their political will to rebuff the United States,” said Bakyt Beshimov, an opposition leader who fled Kyrgyzstan last August in fear for his life.
and this:
Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia project director for International Crisis Group, a research organization, said Russia had stoked anti-American sentiment in Kyrgyzstan in recent months, often over the issue of the base.
and this:
While Mr Bakiyev's relationship with the Kremlin was seen to be increasingly fragile, Mrs Otunbayeva is believed to have close ties to Moscow, which she thanked for its support in her first press conference as interim leader.
Indeed, despite Roza Otunbayeva's long ties with the US, she's not coming out with a terribly strong endorsement of our being there, which I believe she will work toward, but obviously feels the need to be careful about:
The unrest, which spread across the capital on Wednesday, seemed to pose a potential threat to a critical American air base supporting the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan. But Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister who has emerged as head of a coalition of opposition groups, said Thursday that the supply line would not be immediately affected.

“Its status quo will remain in place,” she said at a news conference in the Parliament building. But she warned: “We still have some questions on it. Give us time and we will listen to all the sides and solve everything.”
The situation could become volatile again, though (
Bambino's not convinced the violence is over), depending on Bakiyev's next stop. Otunbayeva is convincingly dismissing his options as nil, but there are two rumors floating about. One is that he actually never left Bishkek and is hiding on the US base outside the city. This is the most dangerous situation if true, IMO. Not only would it re-ignite major violence should he try to retake power, but if he's truly the guest of the Americans there it might launch protests at the base itself. The other rumor (Bambino heard this from family) is that he has gone to Osh and is organizing his own counter-protest, 50,000 people strong, to retake the capital. I suspect, now that Bakiyev's Bishkek home has reportedly been looted, though, that he won't do more than slink away with all the money he can steal. Bambino wants the international community to bring him (and his predecessor) to trial for robbing the people of their money. I concur. The people of Kyrgyzstan deserve much better than they've gotten from their government.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Photography Vs. "Photography"

There's a British artist I worked with many years ago who had one of the most delightful ways of viewing objects that I've ever witnessed. Her work generally falls into the category of what I'd call "reconsidered readymades," and she has this wonderful ability to see any object's potential to transcend its ordinariness and present it in such a way as to reveal something else to us about its form. Walking down the street in Williamsburg with her once, she spotted a very simple object lying on the sidewalk. Almost absent-mindedly she picked it up, began turning it this way and that way, and within seconds had presented it in several different unimaginably charming ways in quick succession, and then stuffed it in her bag to take back to her studio and think about it some more, and resumed our conversation. I was enthralled and wished that I could see the world through her eyes...through her mind.

It's that ability, to see the world around you in ways that surprises others that I think Paul Graham was trying to get at in his presentation at MoMA's Photography Forum, 16th February 2010. It's an essay that's apparently stirring up lots of commentary in the photography quarters of the contemporary art world. His essay's thesis is how
[T]here remains a sizeable part of the art world that simply does not get photography. They get artists who use photography to illustrate their ideas, installations, performances and concepts, who deploy the medium as one of a range of artistic strategies to complete their work. But photography for and of itself -photographs taken from the world as it is– are misunderstood as a collection of random observations and lucky moments, or muddled up with photojournalism, or tarred with a semi-derogatory ‘documentary’ tag.
I'm not at all sure the division between photographs taken from the world as it is and photography used as a medium toward other ends (often to record images created for just that purpose) is as important to me as it seems to be to many of the photography-only enthusiasts I know. (In fact, I'm hardly aware of of the division at all until someone brings it up...I'm a pretty medium-neutral sort of guy.) But I know that it's something that feels liked forced segregation to many folks. Paul gets to the heart of why this might be in his piece:
The broader art world has no problems with the work of Jeff Wall, or Cindy Sherman or James Casebere or Thomas Demand partly because the creative process in the work is clear and plain to see, and it can be easily articulated and understood what the artist did: Thomas Demand constructs his elaborate sculptural creations over many weeks before photographing them; Cindy Sherman develops, acts and performs in her self-portraits. In each case the handiwork of the artist is readily apparent: something was synthesized, staged, constructed or performed. The dealer can explain this to the client, the curator to the public, the art writer to their readers, etc. The problem is that whilst you can discuss what Jeff Wall did in an elaborately staged street tableaux, how do you explain what Garry Winogrand did on a real New York street when he ‘just’ took the picture? Or for that matter what Stephen Shore created with his deadpan image of a crossroads in El Paso? Anyone with an ounce of sensitivity knows they did something there, and something utterly remarkable at that, but... what? How do we articulate this uniquely photographic creative act, and express what it amounts to in terms such that the art world, highly attuned to synthetic creation -the making of something by the artist- can appreciate serious photography that engages with the world as it is?
Paul goes on to articulate this "uniquely photographic creative act" in a somewhat mystical way IMO:
perhaps we can agree that through force of vision these artists strive to pierce the opaque threshold of the now, to express something of the thus and so of life at the point they recognised it. They struggle through photography to define these moments and bring them forward in time to us, to the here and now, so that with the clarity of hindsight, we may glimpse something of what it was they perceived. Perhaps here we have stumbled upon a partial, but nonetheless astonishing description of the creative act at the heart of serious photography: nothing less than the measuring and folding of the cloth of time itself.
To my mind, however, it's much simpler. What separates out great photography that presents images "taken from the world as it is" from the sort of holiday snaps I take is that ability I described in my opening. Essentially, it's the ability to "see." And of course have a camera handy at the moment you do and know what to do with it to capture what you see.

But, coming out of a month of listening to similar complaints about the inequalities within the art world (anyone who had been promised that the art world was going to be "fair" should demand their money back), I have to say that the section of Paul's piece that rang my "A-ha!" bell, was :
But... what of those who work today with equal commitment and sincerity, using straight photography in the cacophonous present? I will not name names here, but for these serious photographers the fog of time still obfuscates their efforts, and the blindness j’accuse some of the art world of suffering from, narrows their options. It means their work will almost never be considered for Documenta, or placed alongside other artists in a Biennale, or found for sale in major contemporary art galleries and art fairs.
It always comes back to that: One part of the art world is biased against my kind of painting/sculpture/performance/ceramics/video/photography. Even when it's actually not (Nina Berman at the Whitney Biennial now, and, arguably, Ion Grigorescu at the last Documenta being just two examples). I want more access than I currently have!!

I understand the impulse to imagine it's a conspiracy, but I think you only serve to heighten the biases that might be there by framing them in an "us vs. them" way. As in any medium, it comes down to the work itself. There's a strong mix of nearly all media in just about any of the venues noted. So I don't think that's a valid complaint.

I don't think that's the heart of it anyway. Paul also argues,
[Not being considered for Documenta, a Biennale, or found in major contemporary art galleries and art fairs] does not just deprive the public of the work, and the work of its place, it denies these artists the self-confidence that enables them to grow, to feel appreciation and affirmation, not to mention some modest financial reward allowing them to continue to work.
I've heard similar arguments a lot over the last month, and I have two responses to them.

First, is that NO ONE owes any artist asking to be considered for Documenta or a biennial or a place in a major commercial gallery the breathing space to develop "the self-confidence that enables them to grow, to feel appreciation and affirmation." This is the big leagues, kids. Bring your A-game to those courts, check your insecurities at the door, or step aside. Seriously. It ain't kindergarten we're talking about there, but the winner-takes-all, uber-competitive mega-arenas from which history will be written. There's no room for whining here.

My second response, though, assuming Paul had put the cart before the horse and actually meant that it's by having a nurturing system (without a bias against certain practices within photography) in place that you encourage emerging photographers to reach for those big league brass rings, is to note that if you walk around any art fair these days, you'll see an incredibly wide range of media, including tons of photography (and photography galleries that specialize in the kind of work Paul is describing are right there along side them at most fairs). There are probably more paintings than anything else (because the public still feels more comfortable buying paintings than they do any other medium), but not as much as there used to be.

With broader diversity comes overall less opportunity for each medium. If you add ceramics, quilts, video, audio, installation, etc. etc. to the mix (and the commercial galleries have), then you have to present less painting and you have to present less photography...there's only so much room in those booths. Where I'm going with this is to suggest that the perception of limited opportunities for what I'll term "straight photography" seems more imagined than real to me.

Paul himself notes
[I]t has become apparent just what Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand or Diane Arbus or Robert Adams accomplished back in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, and for that we must be grateful. For the great exhibitions at the Met, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and of course MoMA itself; for the books, the catalogues, the enlightened essays: I thank you.
Getting to the Met, Whitney, Guggenheim, and MoMA is kind of the ultimate goal of those other venues anyway. Having history validate the importance of your work (and your way of working) is the apex, in my opinion. So I'm not sure what the fuss is all about to be quite honest. Unless there are simply too many such photographers and not enough opportunities for them all alongside all the other artists working in all those other media. To which I'll say what I always say: Too bad. Get out there and make better art than anyone else around you and the world WILL notice.

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