Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Value of Nothing and The Dare of Anonymity

Matthew Bown has a lengthy, but very interesting essay on the price versus value of fine art objects at the high end of the spectrum over on artnet.com that I'm sure I'll get multiple blog posts out of it (seriously, you have to read it). After reading through it a few times, I think it would have helped me had he framed it initially with a paragraph he saves for page 3 (of the print-out version):
[T]he general disarray of economists when faced with the art market is not new. The founder of modern economics, Alfred W. Marshall, believed that no "systematic explanation" was possible for the price of art and other rare goods. Adam Smith noted the disconnect between the cost of production and selling price of paintings and put it down to the whim and means of the buyer. David Ricardo saw art as an exception to the labor theory of value and also put price formation down to the "wealth and inclinations" of the buyer. W. Stanley Jevons found art to be an irrational exception to his theory that prices were driven by demand.
There's so much food for thought throughout this piece, none the least of which is the connections he draws between fine art today and religious relics of Medieval times, but I wanted today to discuss this part of Bown's piece:
Ask an art historian for his or her take on the question of the cost and mystique of artworks and he will almost certainly refer you back to the emergence in Renaissance Italy of a number of related phenomena: to the new humanism which took art out of the churches and into secular spaces; to the concept of individual genius, which began to be attached to artists (in particular by the art-historian Vasari, in his Lives of contemporary Italian artists, to Michelangelo); ...
In walking around Chelsea the other day, Bambino and I were discussing the prices of the work of certain artists under 35 years old and how branding has so horribly complicated the challenge of carving out a mental space for new collectors in which they can begin to train and then trust their own eye in a less anxiety-provoking arena. How do you send a message to new collectors that you truly believe it's ultimately about the art and not just marketing of the "concept of individual genius"?

I landed on an idea that I'm more intrigued by than Bambino was convinced would work: a group exhibition of strong (but not undeniably recognizable) work by good artists, but with absolutely no names attached. The Anonymous Show.

But, wait, you're thinking...there are anonymous art shows or benefits in which you don't know who the artist is when you make a purchase. Yes, I know. But most anonymous art shows that sell the work without revealing the artist's name do let the artists sign the back of them or later give the collector the relevant info. I'm talking no signatures anywhere on the work, no names on the checklist, no way for the collector to learn who made the work. The artist would of course receive payment for any sold work, but that's all. No press, a contract stipulating they can't add the show to their resume, nothing but the Art... The central question of the experiment being, of course: Is it about the art (for both the artist and the collector) or is it about name recognition, branding, prestige, etc. etc.?

Bambino's first impression based on his truly keen observations of how the art world works was that you'd never get a group of accomplished artists to agree to this. Some have no interest in experimenting to create work that isn't obviously theirs. Others will hate the idea of not receiving credit for their accomplishment. Moreover, he said, you'd never get any collectors to buy without knowing who created the work. I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm not sure it hasn't been done before exactly as I imagine it, but even if it has been it obviously hasn't been done too much.

Still, as many folks here have readily insisted, despite my asserting the opposite, if there's value in anonymous opinion and anonymously offered gossip (putting it out there for the "general good" of the art community with no repercussions--good or bad--coming back at you), wouldn't there also be value in anonymously presented artwork? True personal sacrifice for art's sake?

Consider this an open thread on "the concept of individual genius" and the cult of personality versus Art for Art's sake.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Beauty Within

Cara Phillips, whose gorgeous gelatin silver print portraits taken with UV lighting are part of our current group exhibition organized by Michael Hoeh, will will set up her UV studio at the gallery and offer collectors the opportunity to commission an Ultraviolet portrait next Saturday, June 5, 2010. There remains some space available, so please call or email the gallery for cost information and to reserve your spot if you would like to participate.

I'm looking forward to seeing myself under that lighting (I suspect I'll look like a giraffe). It reveals all the freckles and scars (of which I have tons) and skin damage (of which I suspect I have tons), oily patches, etc. that you can't see with the naked eye. Why this ends up being so beautiful is a mystery to me, but this series is getting some nice buzz among the reviews of the show.

Artslant's Yaelle Amir wrote, for example:
Perhaps the most striking images in the exhibition are Cara Phillips’ black and white portraits taken with an ultraviolet light that exposes undetectable skin damage like freckles, sunspots or old scars. Although the portraits reveal blemishes that the sitters most likely wish to conceal—in front of Phillips’ camera the individual’s appear glowing and serene.
Here are a few more of Cara's portraits:
Cara Phillips
Untitled Ultraviolet #147
2010
Gelatin silver print
24" x 30" edition of 5
20" x 24"edition of 8, plus 1 AP


Cara Phillips
Untitled Ultraviolet #60
2010
Gelatin silver print
24" x 30" edition of 5
20" x 24"edition of 8, plus 1 AP


Cara Phillips
Untitled Ultraviolet #40
2010
Gelatin silver print
24" x 30" edition of 5
20" x 24"edition of 8, plus 1 AP

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Britney @ MoMA

It was an extremely awkward moment. I was liberally partaking of MoMA's libations and enjoying myself in the reserved section of their restaurant and perhaps just a bit too quickly (see previous note on libations) opened my mouth to share my opinion with one of MoMA's curators about all the space and time given over to the Tim Burton exhibition. With barely the first few words out, I saw in the curator's face that I had made a mistake. I was not addressing someone who agreed with me that MoMA was no place for such a show.

"Backpedal! Backpedal now!" cried the diplomat's voice in my head...but it was too late. I had to own that I had insulted my host. (I think I first quickly scanned the room for Bambino, but he was off charming someone, and well, there was nothing to do but stew in it.) I received a response to why the show was in the museum, but I have to confess to not really hearing it...so loud was the diplomat's voice in my head berating me.

My boorish behavior notwithstanding, I doubt the rationale would have changed my opinion. I like the few temples of fine art we have to reserve their limited resources for fine art projects. Pop culture rules the rest of the world (truly, is there anywhere you can be and not find it?). Why must the fine art venues show it too?

Oh, I suspect the earnest answer to that question would be that only a well-trained curator can properly show us how transcendental or sublime Pixar's images truly are. And while I might quibble with that if pushed, I'd suggest that this education is equally possible in museums not reserved for fine art, where the mixed messages being sent to the public about intellectual and aesthetic (over commercial) pursuit or artist's intent (over producer's) won't water down the impact of their educational mission.

Then again, a perhaps more earnest answer might be that presenting the cream of the crop in intellectual and aesthetic pursuits takes money and lots of it and that crowd-pleasing exhibitions with mass market appeal bring in money and lots of it. I fully understand that, especially in these economic times. But the risk here isn't really that occassionally museums will need to present blockbuster crowd pleasers...rather that pop culture will insidiously seep in and like the weed it is continue to displace other efforts.

Don't be silly, Ed, I can hear curators saying. We're not spending all the time we are at school and in galleries and in studios to be defeated in our efforts to bring the best art we can into our museums. The thing is, I don't think it will happen that way. It will happen the other way around. Charlie Finch hints at how the takeover will occur:
There is a new Vonage television commercial, in which satisfied customers toss their old, higher phone bills over their shoulders to form a pyramid-like stack in a corner which looks exactly like a Felix Gonzalez-Torres pile of hard candy, the difference being that, in the commercial, you add to the stack, rather than taking one away.

This is not the first time that some enterprising Madison Avenue type has appropriated the work of an artist unknown to the world at large to sell something in TV land. Among recent such borrowings are Doug Aitken’s video billboards and his video of an empty shopping cart in a parking lot, Maurizio Cattelan’s little boy on a tricycle and his elephant covered in a sheet. AT&T is currently bigfooting the trope with a TV spot directly ripped from Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates, a borrowing so over the top that it may have inspired Vonage’s sly art world rejoinder. The reasons these familiar art world motifs are so easy to steal is that no one in the outside world knows about them. [emphasis mine]

Back in the 1950s. Madison Avenue played on the familiarity of fine art to its wider audience in order to sell things. Dutch Masters Cigars was self-explanatory, and Whistler’s Mother and the ever-popular Mona Lisa were ubiquitous. All of Magritte’s distortions dominated liquor ads. Nowadays, the Ad Council runs a piece of stupidity under a Caravaggio pic of a young swain with the caption, "I’ll bet your kid thinks that Caravaggio was one of the Sopranos."

Far from its ostensible claim to educate the public in the finer things artwise, what Big Media wants is to obliterate fine art as a recognizable cultural touchstone so that episodes of Lost, Avatar and Geico caveman commercials will dominate the virtual museums of tomorrow. And our art world accommodates this policy perfectly, both high and low.

Bambino and I read the disclaimer on the AT&T commercial the other day and scratched our heads. The New York Times recently talked about it:
Here is a response from Steven Schwadron, a public relations executive at Fleishman-Hillard who serves as a spokesman for AT&T: “The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have had and have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with the creation of AT&T’s advertising.”
The part in quotes appears in small print in the commercial, although I don't recall seeing it the first time we watched it, leading me to wonder if they added it in response to inquiries. Either way, I have to wonder if that's all they feel it takes to totally rip off an artist (a declaration that the artists have no direct involvement with their efforts). UPDATE: The fact that the same disclaimer appears on AT&T's homepage suggests that perhaps there are lawyers involved.

Now I actually have no issue with virtual museums (or physical museums) of tomorrow showcasing all the truly creative efforts that go into pop culture or even advertising. There's a lot of talent out there that deserves to be recognized. Indeed, build a new space, exhibit what you want, and I'd probably visit it. I simply don't feel that blurring the line between work created first and foremost with commercial concerns dictating decisions (usually with a committee of others, many with non-creative objectives, having major influence) and work created with intellectual and aesthetic decisions first and foremost guiding its creator, un-interfered with, will serve anyone but the advertisers. As Charlie notes, Big Media wins it all if they can "obliterate fine art as a recognizable cultural touchstone." Our fine art temples shouldn't be helping them in that effort.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Two Portraits of the Art World (and four opinions on the resurging market)

While updates from the Robins-Zwirner case still have people (inside and outside the art world) reaching for superlatives to describe the dark, dank, utterly ethics-less underbelly of the industry, a different, far-less-Tolkien-esque portrait of the art world was brought to my attention this weekend as well. First, though, the Robins-Zwirner update. The New York Times Randy Kennedy reports:
A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday declined to give immediate help to an art collector who has been blacklisted by the highly regarded South African painter Marlene Dumas, prohibited by her from buying new works after he angered her by selling an older work.
The gallery took this partial victory to reiterate the baselessness of the case against it. The judge took it to scold the players in schoolmarmishy tones:
In the ruling Judge Pauley wrote that the case “offers an unflattering portrait of the art world – a world of self-proclaimed royalty full of ‘blacklists,’ ‘greylists’ and astonishing chicanery.” In denying Mr. Robins’s request to prevent the sale of the paintings, the judge added that “collectors in this seemingly refined bazaar should heed the admonition ‘caveat emptor.’ ”
To borrow a line from SNL..."Really?" People with the means to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on art, in particular people known for being powerful real estate developers (a field much less genteel [as opposed to my initial typo "gentile" ;-p h/t f.e.] than the art world, I assure you), need cliched lectures in money management?

Sigh....

Fortunately, there's a much more realistic (and hysterical!) portrait of the art world creating buzz via the Internets. A portrait that's funny because it's so true. Dealer Jim Kempner, who I've casually known for years but had no idea was such a comic genius, has produced a series of video shorts called The Madness of Art. Each is a gem. Here's a trailer for the series in which no one is spared:

THE MADNESS OF ART - Trailer from Jim Kempner on Vimeo.



Also, don't miss these four essays (by Denis Dutton, (personal fave) Eileen Kinsella, Donald Kuspit, and Kathryn Graddy) on "Can Art Be ‘Priceless’ in Rocky Times?" or, why confidence has returned to (at least the higher end) of the art market.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

It was a Joke!

On April 1 2010 I made up a story and posted it here as an April Fool's joke. It ended with a link to the Wikipedia entry for April Fool's Day, which I would have assumed would be enough for anyone truly interested in verifying the veracity of my made-up story to know it was a joke. Apparently not, though. The "story" was picked up and, in the way that can happen in the Internets, the "news" was spread far and wide ahead of the realization that it was a joke. Artnet.com explains in an article titled "2011 Venice Biennale News" in which they bring us up to date on which artists have been selected so far to represent their nations :
And what about the United States, you say? Well, according to Universes in Universes, the artist representing the U.S. is none other than Spider-Man/Pineapple Express co-star and multitalented actor James Franco, known for his participation in such artworks as Carter’s Erased James Franco, a recent collaboration with Marina Abramovic and a plot to realize a conceptual art project at Deitch Projects relating to his guest star role on General Hospital, an initiative which was aborted when dealer Jeffrey Deitch decided to leave New York for Los Angeles.

Sadly, it looks like the Universes in Universes listing is a simply the result of an April Fool’s Joke gone bad, though. Edward Winkleman took note of the hoax on his blog as it was happening, and UiU seems to have simply picked up the misinformation. Still, is it really so improbable? The artist Nic Rad released "The Celebritist Manifesto" recently, described as a "stirring defense of James Franco as the greatest artist of his generation, if not of all time."
Personally, I would say that it's simply the result of an April Fool's Joke gone spectacularly well, but...I should admit that it was indeed Nic Rad's "Celebritist Manifesto" (presented at our space as part of #class) that inspired the joke.

And, once more, it was a joke.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Artists Unite! (for the love of God, please unite already)

Over at Artworld Salon, Ossian Ward has summarized the controversy over the Tate's rendition of the arts festival "No Soul For Sale" (which first took place at the X-Initiative). Ossian writes:
For its tenth birthday weekend just gone, Tate Modern staged No Soul For Sale, a non-profit ‘Festival of Independents’, bringing 70 artists’ collectives, publishers and non-commercial spaces from all over the world to fill its Turbine Hall. Well, perhaps ‘inviting’ would be a more accurate word to use, rather than ‘bringing’, as each participant had to pay their own way, with resourceful galleries doing last minute fundraising events and even garage sales to afford their flights to London from as far and wide as Beijing, Rio and Melbourne. A necessarily scrappy and messy affair ensued, with many No Soul For Salers showing only what they’d been able to squeeze through hand luggage or the symbolically empty packages they’d sent ahead of themselves.

This perceived lack of financial support drew fire from an anonymous British group of artists and arts professionals, calling themselves Making A Living. In an open letter to Tate, widely emailed and posted online, they took umbrage with No Soul For Sale’s ‘romantic connotations of the soulful artist, who makes art from inner necessity without thought of recompense’ as well as the concomitant expectation that ‘we should expect to work for free and that it is acceptable to forego the right to be paid for our labour.’
There's some commentary over there that I encourage you to read. But this issue (one explored at #class) brings out the business owner in me like nothing else. The notion that offers of free space are somehow taking advantage of artists is an insult to those venues, in my opinion. But I've gone into excruciating detail about the costs of running a space that exhibits art before...today I'd like to rant about the other aspect of this issue. In essence, despite my personal feelings on whether artists and organizations should be paid for such opportunities to reach a wider audience, I have to say AGAIN, that merely bellyaching about it WON'T change it. On AWS I wrote a comment that I want to present here as well:
The groups were invited, they understood there was no budget, and they agreed to participate. If that’s not acceptable, then they should have declined.

Indeed, had no one agreed to participate under those circumstances, then the Tate might have had to reconsider (hint, hint) either canceling the event or coughing up some cash, depending on how important the event was to the Tate and how embarrassing it would have been to have no one good take them up on the offer…but under these exact circumstances, I reject the notion that the Tate took advantage of anyone. Artists and artist groups who want to change the system have to take a stand…not merely take what they can get, moan about it later, and expect anyone to take them seriously.
The first time artists unite and say NO to such circumstances (and you'll have to unite, because if you don't and some other scabby artists seize the opportunity instead, you're essentially screwed twice), then and only then will anything change. So freaking unite already. Or stop whining...it's annoying and entirely ineffective.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Incremental Philosophical (and Political) Progress

Ben Davis pens a wonderful flight through the scramble for a new phrase to describe the new normal on artnet.com in a very entertaining article titled "The Age of Semi- Post-Postmodernism." The era, the usefulness, and seemingly the ability to pass the philosophical laugh test of the term "postmodern" has had its run, he convincingly summarizes. Still, and not surprisingly for Ben, after he effectively exposes the vaguenesses of the competing heirs to Derrida, Mr. Davis himself ends with a nebulous call to action. As I find myself singing to Ben again and again (with apologies to the Beatles), "we'd all love to see the plan."

Mind you, the piece is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it. But the overall exercise of seeking and/or critiquing the inescapable new philosophy of our time brought up a few thoughts that I've been mulling over myself recently, and, well, this being my forum for mental regurgitation, let me see if I can string them together.

First was this bit highlighted on Andrew Sullivan's blog from Robert Nozick's book, Anarchy State and Utopia:
[T]he usual manner of presenting philosophical work puzzles me. Works of philosophy are written as though their authors believe them to be the absolutely final word on their subject. But it’s not, surely, that each philosopher thinks that he finally, thank God, has found the truth and built an impregnable fortress around it. We are all actually much more modest than that. For good reason. Having thought long and hard about the view he proposes, a philosopher has a reasonably good idea about its weak points; the places where great intellectual weight is placed upon something perhaps too fragile to bear it, the places where the unravelling of the view might begin, the unprobed assumptions he feels uneasy about...

No philosopher says: There’s where I started, here’s where I ended up; the major weakness in my work is that I went from there to here; in particular, here are the most notable distortions, pushings, shovings, maulings, gougings, stretchings, and chippings that I committed during the trip; not to mention the things thrown away and ignored, and all those avertings of the gaze.

The reticence of philosophers about the weaknesses they perceive in their own views is not, I think, simply a question of philosophical honesty and integrity, though it is that or at least becomes that when brought to consciousness. The reticence is connected with philosophers’ purposes in formulating views. Why do they strive to force everything into that one fixed perimeter? Why not another perimeter, or, more radically, why not leave things where they are? What does having everything within a perimeter do for us? Why do we want it so? (What does it shield us from?)
Indeed, as even Einstein eventually had to admit...the more we know about the universe, the more impossible/improbable it becomes to weave that knowledge together into a unified theory. Yet, even with all the information coming (in and) out our ears today, we apparently keep trying to see the big picture. Personally, I don't think that's any longer possible. I don't think a term or phrase or even highly developed theory is ever again going to truly do justice to how fragmented and furiously fast the world is moving. That pursuit has become futile. The more useful approach, to my mind, is the one Nozick seems to endorse...to make your limited contributions fully aware that you have not offered "the absolutely final word on the subject." With that said, I'd like to now look more closely at what among the "non-absolutely final" thoughts Ben surveyed struck me as particularly poignant.

In arguing that "postmodernism is the cultural ideology of neoliberalism [as opposed to late captialism]," Ben pointed to the artwork of Josephine Meckseper (whose
current exhibition at Elizabeth Dee's space is a must-see!)
Take the installations of Josephine Meckseper. On the one hand, they do a good job of reflecting the main features of the contemporary economic and political landscape ("cognitively mapping" it, to use Jameson’s terminology). They reflect a flattened subjectivity, defined by a series of ephemeral, degraded commodity objects and advertising images, floating in a kind of nowhere space, cut off from any meaningful history. They weave together objects from various disjointed contexts into a disorienting montage, suggesting how an awareness of global connectedness has interpenetrated every aspect of experience. And they allude to the underbelly of consumer culture, mixing in allusions to strikes, war, corporate machinations and political protest from far-flung locations (the installations are even "meant to trigger a resemblance to the way store windows appear just before they are smashed by demonstrators," Meckseper told Interview).

Yet at the same time, Meckseper’s work has often lent itself to be read as a statement about the impossibility of any productive political consciousness today. Sylvère Lotringer writes approvingly of Meckseper that, "conflicting ideologies and opposing political parties are reduced to empty tags and merely consumed as ideas. . . . Presenting imagery of protest culture and revolutionary myths side by side with art installations, she exposes consumerist and counter-cultural discourses as if they belonged together." That you might as well play X-Box as organize against Arizona’s recent disgraceful anti-Latino initiatives -- that kind of cynicism may be highly useful to preserving the status quo, but it is not really a truth to be "exposed.
This brought to mind one of the themes of Johan Grimonprez's film "dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y," which in part explores how the power of radicals and revolutionaries (in particular those who resorted to hijacking planes to bring attention to their causes) has been co-opted by the media. Any event you can imagine, any revolutionary actions you can initiate, can be micro-branded, glamorized, deconstructed, and essentially repackaged to sell soap by the evening news. With that power in the hands of the media corporations, "consumerist and counter-cultural discourses" not only belong together...they're inseparable as far as their respective audiences are concerned.

Now part of Ben's generalized call to action seems to be steeped in a pessimism about change from within. In particular (and I hear this frequently about what everyone assumed would be a shift in priorities and focus in the art that gets shown and celebrated due to the Great Recession [which echoes very closely the same sentiments raised in the shadow of 9/11...although, admittedly we saw nary a shift following that event], Ben doesn't think our current economic situation will bring about any change. He notes
There was certainly a lot of talk about a "return to Keynesianism" in 2008-09 (just as there was a brief vogue for a "return to content" and a "return to sincerity" in art). But in fact, what we witnessed at the height of the post-Lehman Brothers financial plunge was an emergency banking rescue done by the government, but on the terms of superstitious respect for the "free market," leaving the power of private finance essentially untouched.

As of this writing at least, what we have looks like a minor inflection in the dominant ideology, not any full-blown change of direction. Glance again at the factors Lyotard lists above as providing the correlate for "postmodernism," and ask yourself, how many of these things have actually been reversed? None.
Many of those in the financial world I talk to (fringe benefit of my profession) insist, however, that re-regulation simply must happen and everyone serious about the economy knows it. Indeed, Germany just "announced strict measures to reduce speculation in government bonds and bank stocks." Other European nations report they will not follow suit, but they also seem to be very curious what it is that Germany knows that they don't know. (Speculation is that it's nothing more than Germany's greater exposure to Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal's economic turmoil.)

So here too, then, rather than some unified master plan offered as the final plan to save the world in a day, we see one country "radically" doing what it can toward an incremental adjustment to the big picture. As with philosophy, this approach seems the most useful path forward. Call it micro-radicalism or perhaps targeted revolutions.

It won't do much to satisfy our obscene addiction to instant gratification, but it might just spare us a highly disorganized (and I suspect ultimately pointless) rush to the barricades.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Future Curators Teen Program

Real Clear Arts' Judith Dobrzynski points us to what may well be the first program of its kind designed to nurture the curators of tomorrow. And it's happening, not in NYC or LA, but in Buffalo:
Remember "Future Teachers of America," "Future Farmers of America," and "Future Scientists and Engineers of America"?

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has a program that should evolve into "Future Curators of America."

Now in its fourth year, the after-school program engages 11th and 12th graders from area schools, selected from a pool of applicants. They meet once a week from January through May, "under the mentoring eye of coordinator Anna Jablonski of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's Education Department." They learn how to call for works, select them, write texts, install the exhibition and publicize the show.


Of course, the dealer in me thinks that everyone should receive an education in how to install and write about artwork, but the Future Curators Teen Program strikes me as a very generous outreach program that other museums could easily copy. From the A-K website:

Future Curators is a weekly after school program for high school students in grades 11 and 12. During the course of the program, students learn about the behind-the-scenes work of a museum curator, and ultimately organize an exhibition of artwork by young local artists.

Under the guidance of the Gallery's Education department, students work with various staff members to gain the knowledge necessary to curate their exhibition. Participants are involved in every aspect of the show, from selecting the artwork from a pool of submissions to writing the interpretive labels and wall text. They will learn to matte, frame, and hang art, as well as plan the opening reception for the exhibition on a Gusto at the Gallery Friday evening.
The current state of fine art curating gets some awfully bad press from some high profile people in New York these days. Some of it is warranted, but much of it strikes me as misplaced. I suspect if the same writers wondering why curating seems to be going through a bit a crises compared the perceived offenses with the same growing pains publishing is going through (coverage priorities shifting, cost-cutting experimentation, relearning who your audience is) in this age of ever-accelerating information and globalization, they'd see a lot of similarities. Moreover, perhaps programs like Albright-Knox Art Gallery one, in which education begins earlier and happens in a different context than art school, will help smooth things out a bit.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Only Thing Worse Than Being Talked About Is Having It Permanently Archived

Probably two ideas barely connected, but flowing out of my fingertips as one post, so....

Perhaps its the longevity of it, I don't actually know, but I feel myself pulling away from social networks more and more...at least when it comes to personal information. At one point I had thought that the sheer volume of highly personal commentary via Twitter and Facebook would neutralize the occasional poor choice or embarrassing revelations and render all the chatter more or less blandish noise in the end, but as the social networks age a bit I'm sensing a more skeptical awareness growing.

Perhaps it's an awareness that we've become susceptible to the plight of the politician. Anything you do can be dug up and used against you at some later point in life. For most of us, this is probably limited to having to admit we've matured and changed our minds about this or that. For others it might include an awkward explanation someday of why just because Mommy and/or Daddy wrote or were caught in a photograph doing something when they were young doesn't make it OK for YOU to do it.

There was a time when the foibles of one's youth were the tightly kept secrets of a small group of friends or acquaintances whose memory could be questioned if they later used such information against you. Now, even if you think you're being careful, full accounts of others' impressions of your actions can end up online. I do think the benefits of online communities outweigh the potential problems for the most part. The ability to learn, share, organize and become a part of a like-minded group has huge advantages...I just think a bit of mystery, if not good-old fashioned deniability, serves the human socialization process well.

I'd like to say there is no personal reason I'm musing about this this morning. It's simply an observation of what I've heard more and more recently as I talk with people: a growing sense that what had originally seemed harmless fun might not be quite so benign with time. (There actually are no scandals or breaking stories about me that I know of.) But I did notice a few comments about people I know and admire on another blog about the art world that made me cringe and wish the now only semi-anonymous author of it would grow a pair, reveal he's the one sponsoring so much venom spewing, and face the consequences of his creation.

Indeed, in my opinion, passionate freedom of speech is actually most useful when fear of being punched in the face (or being ostracized) encourages a more diplomatic expression of objections or ideas. There may be times when you don't care about the risks and bray your thoughts boldly anyway, but being able to spew whatever you like and not have to own it can't be what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they crafted the First Amendment. This is why anonymous caustic comments on blogs get under my skin...the person is cheating the system.

I think if you're gonna insist something has to be shared, that at least you have the guts to sign your name to it. This notion that "So-and-so is wrong, but I don't want to be subjected to their wrath..." reminds me of the scene in The Informant where Matt Daimon's character is asked "How can you stay there when you've just taken down the company?" He doesn't see why anyone would be upset with him, even though a government agent gently lets him know "Well, I think the corporate culture is going to change a little bit for you."

What Daimon's character didn't realize is that there's a big difference in effecting change from within (meaning in person, with your name attached) versus a sneaky push from the outside. Both have their advantages if the goal is change, but while it's noble to bring down a corrupt system and perhaps you'll be its new hero if it's clear you kept the baby and only tossed the bathwater, it's idiotic to expect a system to welcome you with open arms if you tear it down from the outside. Who could trust you again?

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Escape from New York

Few of the recent efforts to find a new way of doing things that have popped up in response to the recession are as ambitious as Olympia Lambert's massive undertaking that opens in Paterson, NJ, tomorrow. "Escape from New York" features work by 43 artists (including our own Jennifer Dalton and Thomas Lendvai) and is housed in a massive warehouse that would be noteworthy on its own, but the real story here is the innovative, multi-channel and multi-funding model used to pull this show together.

Many guerrilla type exhibitions are the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of the artists and curators involved (London's Frieze being the legendary example), but few have incorporated as wide a swath of 'best practices' as this one. From the fund-raising efforts (including a Kickstarter campaign and a benefit party), to the series of interviews with the curator and participating artists (on their site), to the all-out effort to make sure it's easy for people to get the show, Ms. Lambert has truly pulled out all the stops.

Here's a bit on the inspiration for the show:

Sometimes in life things just fall into your lap— take, for instance, a former silk factory.

2010 brings with it many changes and challenges, and with it a newfound enthusiasm and excitement for New York artists. In many ways, the New York art world we once knew and loved has come to pass. Artists are being pushed out left and right, industry publications folding, galleries closing, all while more and more MFAs continue to be churned out than can possibly be hired on by Manhattan’s service industry. Space is at a premium. Do we continue to go even further east into the treeless, concrete, PCB infested jungle of Bushwick, evenutally reaching East New York’s hour-long commute for valuable studio and exhibition space? (Space that most likely will guarantee eviction in six months from Shaya Boymelgreen and his cohorts.) Or do we perhaps begin to explore other avenues west of the Hudson? In (*gasp*) NEW JERSEY!? In my case, I’m going with good ol’ Jersey. Cue “Badlands.”

Like the tried and true friend you keep meaning to call, but just haven’t “found the time for,” Paterson, (a gem of the American Industrial Revolution a mere 15 minute drive over the G.W. Bridge), has immense potential as a world-class arts destination, giving artists important creative freedom with unheralded live/work/display space, and are welcoming shows such as Escape From New York with open arms.

Bambino and I will be at the opening tomorrow...hope to see you there too!
Escape From New York will show the work of 43 top contemporary artists currently working today. The exhibition includes artists working in a broad breath of genres—from painting, to video, photography, installation, sculpture, performance, and social media-based art. Come and join us for our opening reception, Saturday, May 15, from 3-9PM as we leave behind the cramped spaces of Manhattan for the broad horizons of New Jersey. The exhibition will be on view in the historic Fabricolor Building at 24 1/2 Van Houten Street, across from Federici Park in downtown Paterson. We will be located on the 2nd, 4th and 5th floors of the building. For more information, please contact curator Olympia Lambert at olympia.lambert@gmail.com.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

All I Really Need to Know I Learned While Getting My BFA

I've been thinking a lot about art education lately. In particular with regards to post-graduate visual arts programs and what they give or don't give artists in terms of expectations and preparedness for a career as a professional artist. I'll be honest, I am impressed to see on a CV that an artist has an MFA, all else being equal. It demonstrates a commitment and suggests to me that they're in this for the long haul. But, while I would say there does seem to be a more resolved sense of what they're exploring (or at least aptitude in talking about it) after graduate school, I have yet to see any correlation between an MFA and talent. Of course, in this town, talent and $2.50 get you a subway ride back to Bushwick, but...

One of the issues raised again and again during #class was how much it cost to get an MFA, yet how little that education (unlike if you get a JD or MBA) guaranteed any promises of a certain level of income. Now, of course, there's chatter about PhD programs becoming the new baseline, but not much yet in the way of widespread offerings for such. It's certainly not an uncontroversial issue, given the record of return on investment. Moreover, as plenty of artists only have a BFA (not sure how they stack up against artists with MFAs successwise...anyone?), and a few I know of do quite well, I began to wonder : is there a parallel in being a good artist to being a good citizen? Can the case be made that all one really needs to know you can get from a BFA program.

Robert Fulghum outlined in his wildly popular book "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" the basic tenants of being a good citizen and a successful person that apply all the way through life and indeed beyond individuals into societies and up through nation states and multinational corporations. He admits that living well within these guidelines...applying these notions...remains quite a trick, but that we don't really need to understand many more concepts than:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Dont' take things that aren't yours.
Say your sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life--learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in to the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together
Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or shy, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and eent he little seed in the Styrofoam cup---they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you leaned---the biggest word of all--LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your wold and it holds true and clear and firm.
So I thought, in wondering how valuable post-graduate study is to becoming a successful studio artist, I'd see if the same idea applied? Are there things that you get in post-graduate courses you can't get by extrapolating the things you learned in a BFA program, in the context of being prepared for a career as a professional artist?

It's tempting to take Fulghum's list and see whether that alone provides some answers here. After all, the biggest word of all --LOOK--certainly still applies. But to make this exercise more useful, I figured it's perhaps better to use the goals and lessons of a BFA course as the standard and extrapolate from there. It's a little tricky though, as many art schools state up front that their programs are designed "as a preparation for graduate study." Still, Kindergarten is also designed as preparation for grade school and beyond, yet we learn the basics of good citizenship there, so...let's venture forward. The following list is likely not complete (I'll ask that you fill in any obvious blanks or point out items that are not universal), but it's edited down from the stated guidelines of a popular BFA program.
  • Understand the liberal arts context (understanding visual arts as it relates to other arts)
  • Know your art history
  • Expose yourself to interdisciplinary concepts and a wide range of media
  • Understand art as an intellectual activity
  • Learn about interaction between theory and practice
  • Spend time in your studio
  • Learn how to listen to (as well as offer) criticism
  • Meet and learn from visiting artists
  • Spending time learning about professional practices
So the question again (after you kindly, and gently, improve upon my list) becomes are there any lessons you cannot extrapolate from these items that require you to buy an MFA? I'm perfectly willing to accept that there are. But I want to ask those with MFA (or without) so the next time the issue comes up as to whether an MFA is worth the investment the discussion can be a bit more informative.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hunger Reality

The Cavaliers got off to a good start, running out to a 29-21 lead early in the second quarter. But that would be as good as it would get for the Wine and Gold. Boston’s Big Three got warmed up and ran off 16 straight points, neutralizing a raucous Quicken Loans Arena. A three-point play by Zydrunas Ilgauskas before intermission got Cleveland to within six at half.

Fueled by 31 choice works from the estate of literary giant Michael Crichton, which earned $93.2 million, Christie’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale last night posted a whopping $231,907,000 total, easily surpassing the high-end of its $207.4 million pre-sale estimate.

Everything was happening too quickly. Kevin Garnett was abusing Antawn Jamison in the paint. Ray Allen was running the baseline like a medal was at stake. Paul Pierce was trying his best to get himself involved offensively. And this was all in the first quarter.

Bidding on Flag opened at seven million dollars and quickly escalated at $500,000 increments, with three competitors eventually competing for the prize. Making sure that the three competitors knew where they stood as the bidding climbed, auctioneer Christopher Burge boomed from the podium, “Not yours, not yours, his,” before hammering down the record sale, the highest price ever paid for a work by Johns at auction.

But Ray Allen started the second half with two straight three-pointers to extend Boston’s lead to a dozen, 56-44. The Cavaliers would get no closer the rest of the evening – getting to within 20 points of the Celtics just once in the final period.

Of the 79 works up for sale, only 5 failed to sell.

“There was little that we did right throughout the course of the game,” said Coach Brown. “We can’t dismiss this game, we’ve got to look at it and see what we can do better in the next game. But, we have to get ready for Game 6.

After the sale, Brett Gorvy, a co-head of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department, summed up the evening: “There were not simply the old guard but a lot of new bidders, too.”

“People are feeling good,” billionaire collector Eli Broad said, pointing out that gold reached a record $1,234.50 an ounce in New York yesterday. “People don’t want to hold currencies.”

“One of the things I told our guys,’’ [Boston coach Doc] Rivers said, “is we’ve done nothing. We’ve won three games and you have to win four. We have a home game and that’s it for us in this series. It’s a very important home game.’

Bibliography
Gabriele, Joe : "Final Dime: Celtics 120, Cavaliers 88" nba.com
Tully, Judd : "Johns' Flag and Warhol's Liz Taylor Lead a Night of Records at Christie's" artinfo.com
Vogel, Carol : At Christie’s, a $28.6 Million Bid Sets a Record for Johns, nytimes.com.
Benbow, Julian : "Ohio players: Celtics do number on Cavaliers in Game 5 blowout", boston.com

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brass in Pocket : Open Thread

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

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

On a personal level I feel that the object-based model (artist makes object, collector buys object), leaves something away from the experience. Art needs to re-enter life and to affect people at large as gestures, as life choices, NOT just as objects. "Art" is too concentrated in the small confines of the artworld and let's face it, not everyone will fit that mold. "Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.
I've been hearing sentiments like this for some time. It was a fairly common refrain during #class, and at least a few of our artists have expressed similar ideas to me as well. But somehow, I resist it. Not sure why. One knee-jerk (meaning, taking no time to consider seriously) answer would be that it's not profitable, but very little about many of the projects we support are profitable, so I sincerely don't think that's it.

I suspect, though, that this sentiment (art as experience, art as life choice, art as noncommercial) is correct for certain artists and not at all for others. Meaning, that art might need to step out of its "special," object-based model for some artists to feel good about their practice, but that other artists would feel lost if they took that approach. The object-based model is right for them.

And so I'm torn. I appreciate that the number of people for whom art is important could be larger, but I think some of that is where I reside (in the United States). Art does seem more important to people in some other countries. I also appreciate that much of Modern and contemporary art is seen as purposely difficult or transgressive (a legacy of the avant garde's success), as opposed to reassuring and easy, but we already have a thriving, if not virtually suffocating, pop culture. Art-like offerings for the masses are hardly in short supply.

But the part of that statement I keep coming back to when thinking about it (and I do appreciate the commenter's sharing it) is this:
"Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.
I'm truthfully not sure what that means. I guess I'm not sure at what point "Art" was ever "mundane." Even if you consider folk art or the craft-oriented objects created by nomadic tribes and such (groups with no means to store/preserve their treasures as we do in museums), it seems to me that these things were always something "special." The ceremonial headdress wasn't worn every day, but carefully packed away for special occassions...the good earthenware, too, was reserved for holidays. I know art was once meant to impress vast numbers of people (back when it was only lords, or kings, or popes who could commission it), and perhaps in that sense (its power to awe the masses) it was intentionally created with wider appeal, but none of that accounts for the idea of being "mundane."

And yet, I hear echoes of that all the time. "Art is too elite. Art needs to be accessible to more people. Art should be something everyone can afford." But that sounds like previous calls for wider television or internet access to my ear. That sounds like we're attempting to reduce art to just another channel for information distribution, rather than some vessel for a hard-fought battle to transcend the mundane.

I don't know...I guess I have enough mundaneness in my life already. Consider this an open thread on whether or not art should be special.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Sotheby's and the Flash Crash

The stock market was the talk of the town (and the virtual towns across the Internets) yesterday. According to Bloomberg.com, automated "electronic trading" was to blame for what's being called a "flash crash," in which the Dow very quickly dropped nearly 1000 points but later, mostly, recovered:
Computerized trades sent to electronic networks turned an orderly stock market decline into a rout, according to Larry Leibowitz, the chief operating officer of NYSE Euronext. Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. canceled trades in 286 securities that rose or fell 60 percent or more.

While the first half of the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 998.5-point intraday plunge probably reflected normal trading, the selloff snowballed because of orders sent to venues with no investors willing to match them, Leibowitz said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

“If you look at the charts you can see fairly clearly where the trades came in,” he said from New York. “It’s that V-shaped drop where it came down and snapped right back up. You had some very high-cap stocks trading down 50 percent or large percentages in a split-instant because there really was no liquidity in electronic markets.”
As Rachel Maddow (not exactly my first source for Wall Street news, which tells you how widely the chatter on this had spread) noted last night, you also had some stocks trading down 100%, meaning that during the spike downward, their stocks were trading at $0...meaning they were free. Wahoo! With no money down---in fact, with no money at all--you too can be an instant industrialist!

As Rachel Maddow also noted, though, one company's stocks took a wildly different ride. That company is one I normally pay much more attention to than the ones who dropped to zero...but I'm kind of glad I missed what happened in real time. It would have been too surreal. Rachel explained:
At the same time that some companies were becoming free...the auction house Sotheby's, which has the stock price [ed: I think she meant stock "name", no?] BID, B.I.D., get it? Bid...Sotheby's...auction. Sotheby's started the day with its shares costing 34 dollars and something. Sotheby's ended the day with its stock costing 33 dollars. It's a drop, but it's no big whoop, right? It goes between 34 and 33 dollars. Whatever. Until you notice that in the middle of the day, at one point, the stock price of Sotheby's shares went to 100,000 dollars, per share. Which means that at some point today, Sotheby's went from being a company worth 2.2 billion dollars to being a company worth 6.8 trillion dollars. Which means, for a minute, that one company had a net worth of somewhere between the size of the entire economies of the United States and China. Congratulations Sotheby's.
Of course, even had anyone with significant amount of Sotheby's stock tried to cash in on the obvious glitch, they would have been sorely disappointed.
The New York Stock Exchange said on Thursday it would cancel all trades on its all-electronic trading platform NYSE Arca that were executed between 14:40 and 15:00 ET and that were more than 60 pct away from their last print at 14:40.
Indeed Sotheby's stock's official high price yesterday was $64.00. Still a bit more than it closed at, but not enough to make you the richest person in the history of...well, the universe I suspect.

The first thing I thought of when I heard of the flash crash and the decision to cancel all the trades during those moments of insanity was the plot of the Tom Clancy novel (I told you I have this inexplicable addiction to trashy spy stories) Debt of Honor in which an evil Japanese industrialist launches an attack on the US by first sending our stock market spiraling out of control via computer. People across the financial sector, unaware that the entire thing is being manipulated to make them panic, do just that and behave in ways they wouldn't have otherwise, selling like maniacs, and making matters worse. They eventually figure out it was an attack, but what can they do after zillions of trades? The story's protagonist realizes that if you simply cancel all the sales during that time, essentially rolling back the clock, you can start afresh, without the panic influencing everyone.

None of which is to say I'm suggesting the Stock Market got hacked yesterday. (It's just eerily similar.) And I can't quite believe the "fat finger" mistake rumor either, which goes that:
A trader at Citigroup, seeking to place an order for 16 million shares in a miniature exchange that mimics the performance of the Standard & Poor's 500 index, accidentally keyed in an order for 16 billion shares of the securities.
Citi said they found no evidence to support that rumor.

No, the electronic trading gone haywire theory seems the most solid, if still highly unsettling. But not to worry, our fearless lawmakers are on the case:
The market rout triggered scrutiny from lawmakers. U.S. Representative Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, set a May 11 hearing. U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman, a Delaware Democrat, questioned whether markets that increasingly rely on computer algorithms to execute thousands of transactions in seconds triggered false trades.

“This is unacceptable,” Kanjorski, who leads a House Financial Services subcommittee that oversees the SEC, said in a statement. “We cannot allow a technological error to spook the markets and cause panic.”
Apparently we're not able to stop it. Today's market should be interesting...even if it's entirely uneventful.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Opening Tomorrow Night: "American ReConstruction": a group exhibition of new photography @ Winkleman Gallery

American ReConstruction :
a group exhibition of new photography

Featuring Matthew Albanese, Jowhara AlSaud, Jeremy Kost, Mark Lyon, Curtis Mann, and Cara Phillips.

Organized by Michael Hoeh.

May 7 – June 12, 2010
Opening Reception, Friday, May 7, 2010
, 6-8 PM

Winkleman Gallery is extremely pleased to present “American ReConstruction,” a group exhibition of new photography by emerging artists Matthew Albanese, Jowhara AlSaud, Jeremy Kost, Mark Lyon, Curtis Mann, and Cara Phillips. Organized by New York collector Michael Hoeh, “American ReConstruction” features artists who construct photography-based work through an array of pre- and post-printing considerations or processes.

“Reconstruction” is the act of rebuilding an object or structure that had been destroyed. Hence, the post-Civil War years in US history were called “The Era of Reconstruction.” In contemporary America, we are witnessing a new need to rebuild a wide series of systems: our economy, healthcare system, political system, consumer confidence, and in the new age of iPads and Facebook even our methods of communication and visual language. In this exhibition, Hoeh has brought together a group of artists whose work all touch upon these issues. Some of the artists’ work is created by physically altering the raw material of photography or its subject matter—by scratching (AlSaud), bleaching (Mann), or directly building detailed models (Albanese) for the making of their images. Others work by innately focusing their camera gaze on society’s impulse to rebuild or reconstruct our appearances (Phillips), personas (Kost), or environments (Lyon).

For his “Strange Worlds” series, Matthew Albanese first creates highly detailed models in his studio from surprising simple materials. By then maximizing the capacity of photographic techniques (such as scale, depth of field, white balance and lighting), he produces highly emotive landscape photographs from these models in which telltale signs of the artifice compete with the astonishing illusions. Jowhara AlSaud, whose "Out of Line" series deals with the language of censorship as applied to photographic images in her native Saudi Arabia (where it’s not uncommon to find skirts lengthened or sleeves crudely added with black markers in magazines or blurred out faces on billboards), etches line drawings directly onto her film and prints her photographs in a traditional darkroom process. By eliminating the faces and skin of her chosen subjects, she circumvents the cultural taboos of photography even as she illustrates how malleable the medium is.

Whether the subjects of Jeremy Kost’s Polaroid collages are drag queens, club kids, or barely clothed young men, his work always presents a remarkable intimate portrait of someone attempting to present themselves in a fabulous light. The paradox of the subtle insecurities Kost’s portraits of extreme extroverts reveal is echoed by the complex, chaotic structure of his collages in which glamor mingles with reality. Mark Lyon’s "Landscapes for the People" series focus on the use of romanticized wallpaper landscape photographs found in everyday environments. For Lyon, these photographic murals seem to serve a psychological function, given their potentially intimidating or banal locations, like dental rooms and Laundromats, as they allow the viewer an alternate mindset to nerve racking procedures or the mundane activities of everyday life.

Also currently on view at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Curtis Mann’s photography begins with found images from online sources and photo-sharing websites that he orders as printed photographs and distorts with household bleach, which he uses to erase and obscure portions of their compositions. His latest series begins with photographs of the Golan Heights found on flickr. Even more abstract than his previous work, these images reference Rorschach test blotches. Titled "foldings" (referencing how they are made [being folded in half]), they also reference the two sides of the conflict in the Golan Heights and who is the rightful owner of this stretch of land. The two series included by Cara Phillips operate from opposite ends of the reality spectrum on personal beauty. In the “Singular Beauty” series of cosmetic surgeon’s offices, Phillips captures the emotional significance of the chairs, beds, machines, and tools through which so many seek happiness. For “Ultraviolet Beauties,” she takes head-on portraits using ultraviolet light (a tool plastic surgeon) use to show patients the damage underneath the surface of their skin. This filter allows us to see what beyond the capacity of the human eye, deeper than what a normal camera lens can record.

SPECIAL EVENT
On
Saturday, June 5, 2010, Cara Philips will set up her UV studio at the gallery and offer collectors the opportunity to commission an Ultraviolet portrait. Please call or email for cost information and to reserve your spot if you would like to participate.

Michael Hoeh is a member of the Guggenheim Photo Acquisition Committee, the Co-Chairman of Aperture Foundation's 2010 Winter Auction, and was interviewed in the January 2010 issue of Art+Auction as one of the "New Guard" of contemporary art collectors. Hoeh is also the author of the art blog www.ModernArtObsession.com, which is listed by The Metropolitan Museum, The Walker Art Center, and The London Times as a top online resource for contemporary art. He has been widely quoted in the press, such as the Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian Magazine, Black & White Magazine, and The Brooklyn Rail about the state of the contemporary art market. Hoeh has also guest lectured or opened his collection to graduate classes at the SVA, FIT, UCONN, and The New School.

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

Image above: Mark Lyon, BIGSKYMT, Ford F-150 Tailgate, 2009, archival pigment print mounted to poly-metal, 21”x54”, edition of 8, plus 2 APs.

Winkleman Gallery
621 West 27th Street (NEW LOCATION)
New York, NY 10001
t: 212.643.3152
www.winkleman.com


Winkleman Gallery is also very pleased to present "MASKS," the second project in the Curatorial Research Lab (CRL), featuring the work of artist Mamiko Otsubo and organized by Courtney J. Martin.

Over the past decade, Mamiko Otsubo’s sculpture has taken on material challenges that play with the conventions of built form and design. For example, in one body of work she structurally rearranged and disassembled known design objects to create her own installations. Recently, Otsubo started working with old books. Calling them “raw material,” she took images from them to create masks that she then mounted onto the book’s cover. As an attempt to work with photographic material, these objects also pose visual questions about sculpture. As books now rearranged, they also push Otsubo’s authority as an artist to author, brand, historicize or mutilate in the act of creation.

Curator Courtney J. Martin is an art historian, having completed her doctorate at Yale University in 20th century British art. Currently, she is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art department at the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to this appointment, she was a fellow at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (2008-2009) and, in 2007, a Henry Moore Institute Research Fellow. Before entering Yale, she was the Interim Head Curator at the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum and worked in the media, arts, and culture unit of the Ford Foundation in New York.

May 7 - June 12, 2010
Opening reception: May 7, 2010, 6 - 8 pm.

Image above: Mamiko Otsubo, Untitled (Calder smile), 2010, cut book pages with acrylic paint, mounted on linen book cover, 9" x 11" unframed.

Visit the CRL website for updates.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It's Picasso...No, It's Giacometti...No, It's Picasso...Ehhhh, What's on Animal Planet?

I don't always agree with Holland Cotter's take on the art market. After all, I depend upon it being healthy, and he doesn't. I want it to be strong; he cheered when it stumbled. But when the man is right, he's right. In his take on the ---yawn---record-setting auction result last night, he echoed my sentiments exactly:
Whatever the state of the global economy, there’s always a ton of discretionary cash floating around looking for some place to land. Last night at Christie’s a chunk of it — $106.5 million to be exact – landed on a Picasso painting called “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” setting the record for any art sold anywhere at auction up till now.

Despite the high figure, the event feels a bit ho-hum. The sales price is, relatively speaking, just a notch up from the $104.5 million that Sotheby’s got for a Giacometti sculpture in London in February, which was in turn only a smidge more expensive than an earlier record-setting Picasso. These days, there’s so much money in so many hands, and so many of those hands are after trophy art, that record-breaking has become routine, de rigueur.

Two, three, four million extra? More? Worth it. After all, if you’re the evening’s big spender, you not only suddenly own some fantastically valuable object, but your extravagance gets a mention in the news. Lay out the same bucks for a hospital wing, and who cares?
Of course, the conventional wisdom is that this rise in the tide will raise all boats, so I should be encouraged. But ask just about any dealer in Chelsea, and they'll tell you that while the bluest of the market's chips are selling at a fast clip, the rest of the market is still just trudging along. Things are better than a year ago (when it felt as if we'd entered the Twilight Zone), for sure, but it's still hard out there.

But that doesn't explain to me why this record seems so "so what." It is, as Mr. Cotter notes, "just a notch up" on the previous record, and good news is good news (and these days, I'll take it). I guess I have this sense that setting the record was the goal here. Someone decided that they wanted to own not just "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" (a perfectly fine painting from what I can tell by jpeg), but "the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction." And once it had been bid up past the old record, well...been there, done that.

It all just seems so 2007.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Less Fear...More Common Sense...and Earning Your Freedom

The headline on the freebie paper read "Never Safe Enough." From the image I could tell that it related to the failed car bomb attack in Times Square (they've arrested a suspect). I can't stand those freebie papers they distribute in New York (their angle is usually too right-wing for my tastes), so I didn't take one, but I had to wonder what the underlying editorial message of the headline was. "Never safe enough" for what? Was it that we're never safe enough to live without constant fear? Was it that we're never safe enough to actually enjoy our liberty? Or, more likely, was it that we're never safe enough to not be glued to the various news channels (and their advertisers' messages) to ensure that what threatens us isn't standing right behind us?

Still, today, almost 10 years after 9/11, the resounding message from media remains: "There is a threat!"

But this "threat" they're selling (and make no mistake...they ARE selling it) is oddly malleable. It's not only a threat to our bodies or well being (in the form of some bomb or other attack), it's also supposedly a threat to our beliefs...to our very liberty. As if our freedom, this thing we threw out the British Empire to secure, defended against the Nazi and Japanese war machines, and stood up to the Soviet Union and their arsenal of nuclear weapons to ensure is now so completely fragile that a loose affiliation of mostly amateur nut jobs with incendiary devices tucked in their shoes or underwear pose a true threat to it?

This time, to me at least, it actually feels different. Even though the headlines still seem to want us to respond in a manic "we have to do something...people can be hurt...people can be killed" hysteria, I don't sense people responding that way as much as I did when Bush was president. I credit the calmer response to Obama...and to a terror-weary nation.

But, the essence (if not the tone) of that message they're selling is correct. People can be hurt. People can be killed. There IS danger out there. The question is how are we going to respond to it.

When I lived in England in the mid 80's (yes, I'm that old), the IRA was regularly bombing London. They bombed office buildings and pubs so frequently, it lost its ability to terrorize you really. Essentially, you knew you were potentially risking your life going to work or hanging out. And yes, the IRA did kill people. But aside from using common sense (if you see something, Dumb-Dumb, say something), we really saw no reason to change how we lived. The risk was there, but so was the risk of a totally random gas-line explosion or a drunk driver running you over. You had to keep living. It wasn't just false bravado (in the sense of "you have to keep living your life OR the terrorists win")...it was more that "this is it...this IS our life...we're not f*cking wasting it cowering inside because some idiotic losers can't find their way to effect political change without hurting total strangers."

Despite what I took to be the headline writers' urge to drag us back to that place, where people cleaned out their local hardware stores' supply of duct tape, I really hope we've grown a bit. There's no doubt that one day (probably soon) some idiot with an S.U.V. will manage to explode his car bomb in a crowded place in the US and people will die. I sincerely hope it won't affect you or anyone you love (just as I truly hope it won't affect me or anyone I love), but because I love them and I truly love this country, I want them to live freely and I want them to live bravely. That means owning their part of defending freedom, by being worthy of it. Not cowering. Not giving away their liberties to ambitious politicians. In fact, as appropriate as it is to praise the authorities for their fast action in this case, it's equally appropriate, and patriotic, to resist further invasions into our privacy or liberties by them.

For my part, I say "Hello" to the police who patrol the subways. I'm thankful for their service. But I say "No, thank you. I'll walk," if they ask to search my bag. (The next subway stop isn't that far away.) It's a tiny gesture, I know, but tiny gestures add up. As important as it is to respect the authorities, it's equally important for them to respect the public. Walking a few extra blocks is inconvenient, but so was standing up to the British empire, the Nazis and Japanese, and the Soviet Union. With a combination of common sense and determination to enjoy your liberties, you are "safe enough," or as well prepared to endure the threat as anyone can be. Keep calm and carry on.

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