Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Did you drive your SUV to that "Down with BP" rally?

As I noted a few days ago, I'm not that interested in delving too deeply into finger pointing or pointless outrage about the spill in the gulf. For reference sake, let me just note quickly that although I believe it was arrogance and incompetence on BP's part that's most directly responsible for the accident and a massive FAIL on the part of the US government (going back to Reagan at least) that permitted them to operate without more serious regulation, I think most of the public outrage about it all now is a bit too convenient and a bit too late. Did you drive your SUV to that "Down with BP" rally?

Don't answer that. It's not a serious question.

I've attended enough protests and rallies and debated issues with angry people enough times to know each and every one of us can justify our personal consumption and/or willing participation even as we wag our fingers at others who can probably rationalize theirs just as convincingly. The truth of the matter is that everyone (anywhere) reading this has oil on their hands. You'd have to live like a hermit without any electricity to truly be blameless in the amount of energy consumed with abandon globally (and yes, especially in the States). So, although I find the "redesign BP's logo contests" [scroll down on that page] humorous, I can't quite agree with the folks demonizing that particularly unfortunate (and yes, perhaps criminally un-careful) company as if before the accident they weren't just as happy to fill up their car at a BP station as they were any other. Such is the nature of many helplessness-fed protests, though. Outrage for outrage's sake with little to no introspection.

Where I find the lack of introspection most bothersome is in the art world (because I gravitate to it for its claim to that very rare self-awareness...usually). reports on how the backlash against BP has entered the hallowed halls of the Tate:
Do corporations even support the arts anymore? Well, one big funder in England is British Petroleum, and if the oil giant might have thought that its good deeds in the realm of arts patronage would gain it any relief from the gusher of bad publicity (and worse) that has come its way during Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, then it was sorely mistaken. Or perhaps BP does benefit in a peculiarly perverse way, as the wrath of protestors that might ordinarily been exercised at the oil company itself is instead aimed squarely at the arts institutions who are recipients of its largess.

In a supreme example of bad timing, Tate Britain held a "summer party" on June 28, 2010, to celebrate 20 years of BP sponsorship, allowing BP executives to mingle with curators and artists at the museum. In a letter to the Guardian, a long list of arts professionals protested the association of Tate with BP, claiming that "the BP logo represents a stain on Tate’s international reputation." Signers of the letter include Hans Haacke, Suzi Gablik, Lucy Lippard, Peter Fend, Maya Ramsay and Helene Aylon.

Here's the gist of that letter in the Guardian:
We represent a cross-section of people from the arts community that believe that the BP logo represents a stain on Tate's international reputation. Many artists are angry that Tate and other national cultural institutions continue to sidestep the issue of oil sponsorship. Little more than a decade ago, tobacco companies were seen as respectable partners for public institutions to gain support from – that is no longer the case. It is our hope that oil and gas will soon be seen in the same light. The public is rapidly coming to recognise that the sponsorship programmes of BP and Shell are means by which attention can be distracted from their impacts on human rights, the environment and the global climate.
Now I don't actually question how upset any of these artists or writers truly are and I know a few of them to be life-long advocates of change. I simply question the convenience of their objections now as opposed to when, for example,
And I'm not suggesting that just because someone was involved with an institution at one point they're forever obligated not to criticize that institution, but the Tate is celebrating 20 years of BP sponsorship. It's not like that relationship is new. Indeed, the point at which these objections to oil sponsorship would have had the greatest impact would have been during such events, when they were close to the museum. Of course, that would have been boorish, but it would have certainly gotten their point across.

Labels: art museums, politics, protests

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The "Quality" Component : Open Thread

In first listening to the NPR interview with David Kestenbaum last Friday in which I discussed the way emerging art is generally priced, I thought the information provided was solid, but in reading through the comments on the NPR website for that interview, I realized that perhaps the full context of my statements isn't as clear to others as it would obviously be to me. Indeed, after reading one commenter's response : "why shud i be surprised that quality was not one of the criteria cited by your expert?" I was more than a little surprised myself. How did this listener translate my statements to conclude that quality was something unimportant to me?

So I went back and listened to the interview again and, well, there it digital sound:
Winkleman: "OK, so there really is a system."

Kestenbaum: "Yep, a system for pricing art. At least for new emerging artists, like the artists at Winkleman's gallery. And it has almost nothing to do with how good the art may be."
In hindsight I think there's a bit of interpretation bias in the commenter's response, but I'll leave that at that.

My statements were specifically offered in the context of all else being equal and an emerging artist having essentially no market of any note for their work yet, but the wider context (the one I presumed everyone would know that I was considering this question within) is the gallery itself. In case it's not clear, this is a context in which after looking at thousands of works of art over the past few decades, doing untold hundreds of studio visits, and continuously looking, reading, and talking with curators, critics, collectors, and artists about contemporary art, I (or a curator or exhibition organizer I have good reason to trust) make choices that I believe (strongly) reflect extraordinary quality among the artwork being created today. That's the only way a work of art makes it onto the walls of our gallery. To my mind, by simply being there, my accounting for its high quality is implied.

Of course, this still leaves open the question of quality determining price among works by the same artist of equal size, medium, and intensity. But at this point, we're really splitting hairs.

Not that I mind splitting hairs, mind you:

Say, for example, a show includes 10 paintings of nearly equal "intensity" (that is, how much work obviously went into them...hyper-detailed work sometimes warranting a higher price, but not always) and each sized exactly 24" x 36". Generally speaking, I'd encourage the artist to price each of those works at the same price, even though a viewer (or the artist) might feel that painting 5, for example, is much, much better than painting 8.

I've had the conversation with artists. "Painting 5 should be more money," they'll argue. "It's a much better piece." And often, in my opinion, they'll be right about that. It's rare for any exhibition with multiple works by the same artist to be of the exact same quality from piece to piece.

On the other hand, while the artist and I and perhaps a majority of other people will agree painting 5 is the best in the show, others might disagree...for some, painting 2 might be their favorite. At that point, rather than potentially insult their tastes and, more importantly, rather than creating some byzantine system for adding to or subtracting from the price according to mostly subjective criteria, it simply makes life much easier all the way around to keep the prices the same.

Of course this is in the primary market and for artists with emerging-artist-sized markets. Once there is serious widespread demand for the work and especially in the secondary market, perceptions of quality begin to separate out the more expensive from the less expensive works by any artist.

Consider this an open thread on splitting hairs in pricing art.

Labels: art market, pricing

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summertime....and the Blogging is Lazy...

I have now officially spent two hours starting about 4 different blog posts, just to get a few paragraphs into them and then call it quits. Each seemed too involved or redundant or irrelevant to the reason people read here (do you really care what my feelings about the oil spill in the gulf are...aren't we all watching it like some colossal train wreck in slow motion...feeling as horrified as we do helpless? Yes, we can protest and beat up on BP, but will that stop the flow? Ugh...)

Besides, the mercury in my thermometer is supposed to be edging up near the 100-degree mark today.

I'm pleading a severe case of MBS (melted brain syndrome) and rather than work my way diplomatically through some complex issue, I think I'll be super lazy today... here's a soft, slow favorite that sums up my central disposition today: "I don't want to talk about it" by Everything But the Girl. Please share your favorite lazy songs (if you like).

Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.

Labels: break

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Face for Radio : On Pricing Art

OK, so I don't even really have a voice for this (my allergies were acting up so much and my voice was so froggy it's kind of amazing that David Kestenbaum managed to get anything he could use for his story on pricing art), but there's a nice bit on Morning Edition today called "Nice Art! How Much?" that includes an interview with yours truly. There's reportedly a longer version coming out shortly in their Planet Money podcast later.

Mr. Kestenbaum was phenomenally easy to talk to...he had this effortless way of putting you at ease and getting you to chat that I'm sure is so much more difficult than he made it look. He's also quick as a whip, as they say...not missing a note in helping steer the conversation along in a lively manner.

I haven't heard the podcast yet, but I hope it includes part of the conversation in which I warned against emerging artists setting their prices based on how good they feel their work stacks up against that of artists with more established markets. My sense of that is that your work may be just as good or better (and that if indeed the world agrees, your prices will rise nicely as a result), but to try to set your prices too high before there's actual demand for your work is to ensure you'll need plenty of storage for quite some time. Let the people who snap your work up for a competitive price (not an insanely low price, just a smartly competitive price) start working for you by hanging your work, talking about it to their friends, and essentially promoting you! So long as you keep careful watch on your prices and raise them when true demand justifies it, you'll be so much better off than if you sell fewer works at a price that seemed too high for what could have been your other collectors.

Labels: pricing, radio

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Not Even Nominated | The Politics of Being Selected | Open Thread

Sorry for the silence yesterday...had to fly to Miami (because it's just not HOT enough in New York!!!)...and to make matters worse, I get back to New York just to learn that once again, I have been snubbed by the power brokers who select the Top 200 Collectors of the World over at ArtNews. I mean, Bambino and I bought more art last year than perhaps any other year in our lives...what do we have to do to make the list???

Seriously, though, every year the list comes out I try to imagine what it must feel like for the collectors who fall in the upper echelon of the field. Are they notified ahead of time? Do they anxiously scan the list and then, not finding their names, think perhaps it was simply mis-alphabetized? Do they call Milton Esterow and demand to know who they have to sleep with to finally see their name in the Summer issue?

I am, of course, projecting what it feels like from a gallery's point of view when the question is getting one of your artists into a prestigious museum group exhibition or securing a spot at that choice art fair. Further, I understand that this is not all that different from how artists awaiting news on grants and exhibition opportunities feel. So in one sense, it's comforting to think that everyone participating in the art world shares this same just-open-the-d*mn-envelope-already anxiety at some point or other.

The politics of such selection processes remains the part of the art world I find most obnoxious, to be totally honest, but the more experience I get, the more I realize it's not quite what it seems from the outside. While many of us (especially those of us with a weakness for trashy spy novels) tend to assume there's some vast conspiracy behind our being overlooked at times or an arch rival on the committee determined to rain down ruin on your head, the truth is generally far less intriguing. Having been in the position from time to time to help select among the ocean of applicants for some event, I've never once seen naked politics actually work. I've seen it attempted, but...most such committees have a series of checks and balances in place to maneuver around such efforts.

So what does it mean, though, when you're convinced an honor should be yours but the committee doesn't see it the same way? This is where networking plays an important role. Now I know that networking might strike some as a euphemism for "politics," but it can also be thought of as merely "education" (introducing the decision makers to the merit of your efforts so that when your application comes before them again, they're able to make a much more informed choice).

Oh...who am I kidding? It boils down to good old fashioned "sucking up."

Er...uh...I mean, nothing succeeds like success. Perhaps the least painful way to campaign for your desired reward is to ensure the decision makers are (casually, of course) aware of your triumphs. The best way to secure those triumphs, is, as always, to educate yourself and to work your ass off. When that doesn't get your name on the list, well, there's always muffin baskets and full page "For your consideration..." ads.

Consider this an open thread on the politics of selection processes.

Labels: art collecting, open thread, selection process

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

White Is the New Black

There's a parlor game posing as a psychological quiz I used to like to use when teaching English as a foreign language (many years ago) to get more advanced students talking a bit less self-consciously in the classroom. It asked students to respond to the following questions and then supply three adjectives to describe how their answer makes them feel:
  • What is your favorite animal? Which three adjectives best describe that animal to you?
  • What is your favorite color? Which three adjectives best describe that color to you?
  • What is favorite body of water? Which three adjectives best describe that to you?
  • You're in an entirely white room with no furniture, fixtures, no doors, no windows. Which three adjectives best describe how you feel in that room?

Stop reading here if you want to spend a few moments writing down your responses before you read their purpose

In the wholly unscientific rules of the game, the first answer (and its adjectives) reportedly reveal how you see yourself, the second how you think other people see you, the third how you feel about sex, and the final one how you feel about death. How accurate this quiz might be was entirely beside the point in the classroom, I used it to get the students to push themselves in recalling good adjectives as well as to spur a lively conversation.

Much of that conversation often centered on why the color white was associated with death. Many people associate life with light and white, and associate darkness with death. Someone would always bring up in discussion how the light at the end of a dark tunnel was reportedly seen by those having near-death experiences and then someone inevitably suggested white was how those who knew they were going to heaven envisioned death. By this time the conversation had the potential to veer off into depressing or too-controversial-for-a-classroom territory, so I'd bring it back round to animals and bodies of water (nothing clears a morose air like awkward sex talk with relative strangers, although this always gave me the opportunity to introduce vocabulary that helped the students discuss sex in polite company...terms like "physical relations" or "making love").

I thought about all this again while reading Charlie Finch's truly gorgeous response to Janet Biggs' latest work, Fade to White, now showing at Conner Contemporary in Washington DC
[Full disclosure: Janet will have her first solo exhibition at Winkleman Gallery in early 2011.] Here's a snippet of Mr. Finch's response:
[In Fade to White] Biggs contrasts an epic quest, that of a handsome bearded kayaker rowing up through the globally warmed arctic, where polar bears drift on broken glaciers and open water glistens ominously, with the performance artist John Kelly chanting an obsessive lament in a minor key. Just as you cannot take your eyes of the good-looking, virile kayaker, so you are mesmerized by the bright Kelly green of Kelly’s eyes, the only true green that appears in a video that subtly nods to environmentalism.

John Kelly is dressed in white, against a white background, and, in his emaciation, channels a bit of the emcee as portrayed by Joel Grey in the film Cabaret. But death and dissolution are not the end for Biggs; love is. I suspect that the absence of her longtime companion Robert (a white male, incidentally), who commandeered Janet’s reports from the Arctic from their New York home base, provoked an understandable romantic longing, that is the ever-present underpinning of Into the White.
I think that last phrase is a typo and Charlie means "Fade to White," but indeed, it's impossible to watch any of Janet's videos and not have your thoughts eventually circle back around to love. If you're in DC, don't miss this show at Conner (it ends July 3).

Image above: Janet Biggs, Fade to White, 2010, single-channel video, 12 minutes, 28 seconds.

Labels: gallery artists' exhibitions

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is Bigger Better? Perhaps it Depends on How Old You Are

An art dealer who achieved a considerably quick jump in stature in the art world and truly international presence for his artists once told me that the secret to his rapid success was an epiphany on scale. He realized and shared that as soon as they began exhibiting really large works, everything else seemed to fall in place. Insane numbers of sales, more serious curatorial attention, acceptance into more prestigious art fairs...everything a dealer could want. Mind you, that dealer went under during the recession, but...

During the heyday of the boom, I had also heard of another dealer who pressured one of her star artists to work harder toward an art fair deadline. We're gonna have the largest painting in that fair, she reportedly insisted, as if the decision on scale were hers and not the painter's. That dealer remains in business.

Armed with these anecdotes, I've tended to think that the pressure on an artist to go bigger than they would normally has at its core the goal of succeeding more in the market arena, rather than in critical arena. [I'm not one for pressuring our artists either way. My fallback position when asked about scale is that the work should be the size it needs to be in order to be best conceptually resolved.]

Of course, the notion that bigger art is better is hardly new in art-making, but from an artist's point of view it may not be entirely related to either marketing concerns or strategies to gain critical attention. The Boston Globe's Sebastian Smee offers another explanation in his article "Living Large" [via Tyler]:
What is the state of contemporary art today? Lord only knows. Things are so teeth-gnashingly topsy-turvy out there that only an amphetamine-fueled fool would dare propose an answer. But if you’re looking for trends, one seems undeniable: Artists today love displaying ephemeral materials on a grandiose scale.

In every case, the results take up space. Lots of it.

A brisk attempt to account for the phenomenon might point out that the humble materials bespeak a desire to undermine clichéd expectations of preciousness in art, while the grandiose scale betrays art’s envy of the culture’s more spectacular entertainments.

But two new contemporary shows at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and one at the nearby Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute suggested to me an alternative reading: an attempt to reconnect art with the enchantments and marvels of childhood. Confusions of scale, as Lewis Carroll knew, are central to every child’s experience of the world. And all materials can seem ephemeral and full of transformative potential to minds not yet schooled in the difference between worthlessness and worth. [emphasis mine]
In my opinion, this enchantment with larger-than-life objects excuses a wide range of rather one-note artwork out there, but then I fell among those who forgave "Avatar" all its lapses in story quality because it did indeed manage to instill a renewed sense of wonder for me. So I don't underestimate how difficult enchantment is, especially in this day and age.

Still, none of the larger artworks that makes me initially catch my breath as I feel shrunken down to a child's point of view tends to impress me anywhere near as long as the work that is sublime for far more complicated, mature reasons. That work I can return to again and again...the spectacular work, well, you can only truly be surprised the first time. That's not to say artwork can't do both--be spectacular in scale AND complex in conception, but most of the time my parting thought with big-for-bigness-sake work tends to be only "that's gonna be a bitch to dust."

Labels: art appreciation, art making

Friday, June 18, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Ourselves | Open Thread

Bear with me on this one, it's an idea in its infancy and needs some molding. Feel free to push it around a bit.

I talk a lot about art, art making, art selling, art viewing, and art appreciation. A while back, I wrote a post titled "Who we talk about when we talk about art" (riffing off Raymond Carver's title for his collection of short stories and swinging off Oscar Wilde's declaration that "I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so," which has been interpreted by Pierre Bayard, author of Comment parler des livres que l’on n’a pas lus? to suggest "For Wilde, a fanatical non-reader avant la lettre, the object of criticism was himself.")

Indeed, I'm fairly sure after all these years of talking about art that what we're all really talking about in doing so is ourselves. Seriously, how many conversations about art that you have stay focused on the object? How many quickly veer off into discussions about the person you're taking with? Think about it...I'll wait.

For the artists who made the work, this is sort of understandable. They are, after all, putting so much of themselves into their art. For collectors, as well, whose collections as a whole usually reflect more about who they are than it does much about most of the individual artists in it, it kind of makes sense. For critics too, whose unique eye and opinions serve as the only distinction between their reviews and reporting...I can see why it happens. (Dealers have much less of an excuse---although some of us like to flatter ourselves into thinking our programs reflect who we are---but just try and stop us from talking...go ahead, give it your best shot). For most of us in the art world, art is simply a pretext for self-reflection where the dialog is concerned.

And I think that's OK. Art objects can ignore our narcissistic chatter as easily as any other thing on the planet and we always return to them again anyway, after we embarrassingly realize we've stopped talking about them.

But after thinking about this for a number of years, I've begun to wonder a bit more about those self-indulgent tangents. If indeed we're talking about ourselves when we're talking about art, what is it exactly we're talking about when we talk about ourselves?

T.L. Stanley seems to have been thinking along the same lines when he asked recently "What happens when 'Work of Art' judge Jerry Saltz recaps his own show?":
Not only is Jerry Saltz deconstructing art-in-the-making as a judge on Bravo's new reality series, "Work of Art," he's also laying bare the innards of the show itself -- as a recapper for New York magazine's Vulture blog. (His day job is being art critic for the magazine.)[...]

Especially helpful for viewers who aren't steeped in art, Saltz lets us know that sometimes a pile of trash is just that. Contestants this week worked with discarded electronics, appliances and gadgets, while waxing philosophical about it. Saltz wasn't buying into competitor Jaime Lynn's vacuum cleaner-centric project, which he said looked like a department-store window display. "I actually think that you're not creating art here," he said matter-of-factly.

And Saltz sees right through overused art-world jargon like "figurative painter" and "conceptual art circles." One competitor had described another as "well-known in conceptual-art circles," to which Saltz replied on Vulture: "There are no conceptual-art circles. There haven't been any since the late '60s."[...]

Just know that he's as interested in the artists' process as in the finished product (that may or may not describe the TV audience too) but at least he has a distinct point of view and doesn't require pantomimes and a translator to understand it.

On the surface it would seem straightforward enough that Jerry Saltz is talking about his own experience on the show, but looking closely, I think it's more than that. Here's a bit from his latest recap:
Maybe I am an “attention whore” (as someone called me on Facebook), because I really perked up when the artists presented their work to the judges. I told Jamie that her vacuum-cleaner sculpture did not even look like art to me — that it resembled a store window display instead. I also said more mean stuff about how it looked like set design and that she needed to step things up, but all of that was edited out. Contestant Judith later complained about me, describing what I said to her as “over-the-top harsh.” I like Judith a lot. But I did accuse her of arranging “a bunch of junk on a table.” I also told her she was going on and on in her explanation and that it was driving me nuts; none of that made it onto the show, either.
So what do we learn from that? Jerry remembers what people call him on Facebook, he knows what he feels other people's "art" should look like, he knows when what he said sounds "mean" to its target, he knows when something someone does drives him "nuts," and he keeps tabs on what it is he says that the show's producers edit out.

While on the surface it would seem that this is All About Jerry, each of those statements is actually about a relationship. Between Jerry and his "friends" on Facebook, between Jerry and the artists of his time, between Jerry and the recipients of his critique, between Jerry and the producers of the show. OK, so I left out the item in which he was being driven nuts...perhaps that one's between Jerry and himself (or the voices in his head or whatever :-), but even that is a relationship...and arguably a very healthy and important one (to cite Wilde again "To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance").

So perhaps that's what we're talking about when we talk about ourselves...our relationships with those around us. And, because we can't experience the world through anyone else's eyes, what we're really doing in discussing those relationships is trying to connect.

Samuel Beckett wrote once, "To restore silence is the role of objects." Indeed, the best kind of art is that which stops you in your track, mouth hanging open, but no sounds coming out. It needn't be spectacular to do that either...a small Agnes Martin can do that as easily as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But another role of objects is to launch the sort of conversations that ultimately are not about the objects, but about what connects us to each other. Good art does that. Good conversations about art do that too.

Again, these ideas are still forming in my head...consider this an open thread on discussing art, even as it digresses into talking about ourselves.

Labels: art appreciation, collective consciousness, communication, open thread

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Perils of Viral Means of Communication

Part of me really just wants to sit back and enjoy the confusion, but part of me feels guilty for what I suspect will eventually embarrass otherwise well-meaning people. I noted a while back that an April Fools Joke I posted here (on April 1, 2010) has spiraled out through the Internets and was being reported as true in some places. Now the same (incorrect) item has found its way into a serious New York source for culture news [h/t Helen S]. From the New York Observer:
The artist and James Franco met last year at the Raleigh Hotel during Art Basel Miami. Mr. Franco was in the midst of filming his own artistic investigation of soaps, his own role as an artist/serial killer on the soap, while Mr. Linzy was performing at a party thrown by Picasso granddaughter (by Marie-Therese) Diana Picasso. But Mr. Franco said he actually first saw the artist when Mr. Linzy gave a lecture at Columbia, and was impressed enough to pull him into the job of playing a performance artist for the General Hospital project. Since Mr. Franco has been selected as the U.S. artist for the 2011 Venice Biennale, their collaboration may be showcased on a global stage. So, now, Mr. Linzy is poised, interestingly, right between widespread acclaim, even over-saturation, in the contemporary art world, and virtual anonymity outside of it. [emphasis mine]
I mean, really now...the New York Observer wasn't just a little skeptical that one of the highest honors the US can bestow upon its artists was being given to a relative newcomer in the fine art areana?

There's this notion I have about "truth" (in the art world or elsewhere) as it pertains to the value of some effort which is that I tend to assimilate as "true" anything I've read in three places. I think this extends to my art world assessments that an artist is well known (if I've read three reviews of their work) or that a gallery is up and coming (if I've seen three instances of increased stature) or that a curator is onto something, etc. etc. Before my main source of new information was the Internet, when I read magazines or newspapers for verifications, that generally turned out to be accurate. Today, however, with RSS feeds and other instant-distribution-via-multiple-channels-type-technologies, I can read something untrue but presented as true many more than three times before the sweat from the fingers of the original author has dried on their keyboard.

So what to do? Increase my threshold to 13 or 23?

I'm not sure. In the end, I've decided, it's wise to take any information you find online, in any source, with a digital grain of salt.

Back when I was writing on political blogs...after being slammed a few times for not having checked my sources...I got in the habit of not only verifying what I thought was "true" in three reliable sources, but also systematically seeking out sources that contradicted the "fact" and assessing their veracity. At the very least, I was going to write my opinion with a good sense of what the dissenters thought about the issue. This generally made my arguments stronger, despite how time consuming it was. And I wasn't being paid (I'm just anal that way). The New York Observer really has no excuse.

Labels: art joke, journalism

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yevgeniy Fiks "Ayn Rand in Illustrations" Opening Friday, June 18 @ Winkleman Gallery

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “Ayn Rand in Illustrations,” our second solo exhibition by Russian-born, New York-based artist Yevgeniy Fiks. Continuing Fiks' exploration of repressed micro-historical narratives that highlight the complex relationships between social histories of the West and Russia in the 20th century, “Ayn Rand in Illustrations” presents a suite of large works on paper in watercolor, ink, and pencil. This first exhibition from Fiks’ ongoing series examining the uncanny resemblance between Rand’s aesthetics and that of Soviet Socialist Realist Art presents works referencing Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.

Author Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, better known in the US as Ayn Rand, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905. As a teenager, Rand saw the Russian Revolution unfolding from her bedroom window on the city’s largest avenue Nevsky Prospect. Shortly thereafter, her father’s pharmacy was nationalized and her family’s hardships began. According to Rand, she had rejected the Revolution from the outset and spent her teens and early twenties in a self-imposed "internal emigration," finding escape in 19th century romantic literature. Rand left Russia for the United States in 1926, when the aesthetics that became later known as "Socialist Realism" were just in the process of formation.

For each of these drawings, Fiks and his studio combined sections of Rand’s prose (as they appear on the page in his copy of Atlas Shrugged, including the page number) with images of Soviet Socialist Realist paintings and sculptures, found in art books and magazines. Each letter of the text was rendered, as was the image of the painting or sculpture in grisaille. In the artist’s own words, “The Capitalist utopia of Ayn Rand and Communist utopia of Stalin become symbiotic and interchangeable in this project. The two ideologies rely on the same approach of representation through propaganda, idealization, romanticization, glorification, etc. "Ayn Rand in Illustrations" exposes the mechanics of Rand’s aesthetics and that of Socialist Realism indiscriminately. Through the juxtaposition, Socialist Realism and Ayn Rand effectively cancel each other: while Socialist Realist imagery become possible illustrations for Ayn Rand, Socialist Realist Art appears to be only useful today as illustrations for Ayn Rand's writings."

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the Post-Soviet dialog in the West, among them: “Lenin for Your Library?” in which he mailed V.I. Lenin’s text “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” to one hundred global corporations as a donation for their corporate libraries; “Communist Party USA,” a series of portraits of current members of Communist Party USA, painted from life in the Party’s national headquarters in New York City; and “Communist Guide to New York City,” a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement. Fiks’ work has been shown internationally, including solo exhibitions at Winkleman Gallery and Common Room 2, both in New York (USA); Contemporary City Foundation, Marat Guelman Gallery, and ARTStrelka Projects in Moscow, and the State Museum of Russian Political History, St. Petersburg (Russia); and the Lenin-Museo, Tampere (Finland). His work has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008); Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2007); and Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2009, 2007 and 2005).

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or

Labels: gallery artists exhibitions

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Measuring the Success of a Museum's Vision

From the New York Times:
When it opened a new glass entrance in 2004 meant to beckon the masses, the Brooklyn Museum said it hoped to triple attendance in 10 years by concentrating on a local audience. It had stopped worrying about competing with Manhattan museums or about its image — despite its world-class collections — as a poor man’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Instead, the museum invited the neighborhood to view its McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts building as a community resource and openly celebrated popular culture with shows like its recent photographic history of rock ’n’ roll.

But six years in, the effort to build an audience is not working. Attendance in 2009 dropped 23 percent from the year before, to about 340,000, though other New York cultural institutions remained stable.
There's a wealth of data and opinion offered in Robin Pogrebin's article (titled "Brooklyn Museum’s Populism Hasn’t Lured Crowds)," but by the end of it, I still wasn't sure what I thought were the most important measures in determining whether a museum's vision is succeeding. Complicating the matter for me are three factors that I assume need to be considered in conjunction with attendance tallies: the economy, the shifting demographics of the area, and the percentage of populist efforts.

Of course, from the article's title, you'd think the last factor isn't so important, but not only does Pogrebin note that MoMA's recent exhibition on the work of director Tim Burton "drew 811,000 visitors, its third-largest audience ever for an exhibition," among the Brooklyn Museum's most populist recent exhibitions, “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present,” also "drew large crowds" according to the piece. [I've offered my opinion of such shows here before, so I'll press on.]

Taking every factor into account, it would seem that the title of the article should read simply "Brooklyn Museum Hasn't Lured Crowds," which leads me back to the other two factors I assume would be important to consider: the economy and the shifting demographics of the area. Those would seem to be perhaps more relevant here, no? Perhaps the answer is no for the first one. Reports far and wide suggest people are flocking to some museums like never before.

So what does determine whether a museum's vision is successful?
Experts say many factors lure visitors to museums, including location and marketing, not just the quality of an institution’s collections or the nature of its exhibitions. And Brooklyn is far from the only museum that has suffered a sudden attendance drop....
Ah yes, location and marketing. Brooklyn would seem to have a location disadvantage with New York's other major museums, but I think it's the other factor that really holds the key here if you compare museums within Manhattan. According to the annual review in The Art Newspaper (pdf file), of the top 30 museum exhibitions in the world, the top 10 that took place in New York were:
  1. Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting, Museum of Modern Art
  2. Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out, Museum of Modern Art
  3. James Ensor, Museum of Modern Art
  4. Ron Arad: No Discipline, Museum of Modern Art
  5. Martin Kippenberger: Problem Perspective, Museum of Modern Art
  6. Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, Museum of Modern Art
  7. Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night, Museum of Modern Art
  8. Vermeer’s Masterpiece The Milkmaid, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  9. Frank Lloyd Wright: from Within Outward, Guggenheim Museum
  10. Aernout Mik, Museum of Modern Art
Eight of them were at MoMA. And this despite the fact that total attendance was higher at the Met than at MoMA, suggesting that it's the success of MoMA's marketing of specific exhibitions that's giving them the big crowds for specific shows. Moreover, looking at those MoMA shows, it's possible to conclude that populist offerings were part of their key to success (Van Gogh and Miro might fall into that category at this point), but Kippenberger, Dumas, and Mik are hard to classify that way as far as the general public is concerned (note: the Burton show will be part of next year's analysis).

As for the demographics of the area factor, here I think perhaps the Brooklyn Museum director, Arnold Lehman, is making a very bold (and possibly more provident) investment:
Mr. Lehman says he takes pride in the fact that even though the Brooklyn Museum’s audience hasn’t grown, it has become younger and more diverse. A 2008 museum survey showed that roughly half of the attendees were first-time visitors. The average age was 35, a large portion of the visitors (40 percent) came from Brooklyn, and more than 40 percent identified themselves as people of color.
Making a younger and more diverse crowd feel welcome might pay off big in the long run, in my opinion, but not everyone agrees:
“The core constituency of collectors who matter, and people who are members of an art museum, want to be taught and stretched and learn,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art who now runs the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “You may get people in the door for a motorcycle show or a ‘Star Wars’ show, but they don’t return, and there is no residual value from their visits.”
Personally, I think location is probably the number one challenge for the Brooklyn Museum and that unless they could mount blockbuster after blockbuster, there's not much else they can do to improve attendance. I say that based on my visitations to museums in other cities (where I'm too pressed for time usually to visit the out-of-the-way institutions, and so I don't...unless it's clearly a must-see show). I'm willing to bet a very high percentage of MoMA's or the Met's visitors are from out of town, that they're on insanely busy schedules, and that the trip to Brooklyn means not doing several other things they want to fit in while in New York.

Having said that, perhaps the best way to measure the Brooklyn Museum's success isn't by comparing it to other museums or even against its own ambitious attendance goals (such efforts seem so corporate to me, I can't help but think they confuse a curatorial program), but against its mission statement:
The mission of the Brooklyn Museum is to act as a bridge between the rich artistic heritage of world cultures, as embodied in its collections, and the unique experience of each visitor. Dedicated to the primacy of the visitor experience, committed to excellence in every aspect of its collections and programs, and drawing on both new and traditional tools of communication, interpretation, and presentation, the Museum aims to serve its diverse public as a dynamic, innovative, and welcoming center for learning through the visual arts.
Being dedicated to "primacy of the visitor experience" is a seriously lofty goal, in my opinion (and something MoMA can't hold a candle to Brooklyn in, given its outrageous crowds and awkward building), so long as the programming is comparable. Charlie Finch's recent tribute to Sigmar Polke suggests that perhaps that's where the Brooklyn Museum needs to refocus:
When I think of the Brooklyn Museum the way it used to be, I think of a place that nobody visited, with a strange wing of Egyptian art and huge airy vaults and skylights that were a spiritual oasis for a lone visitor on a weekday afternoon. And I think of Sigmar Polke's solo show at the museum in 1991.

[...]I remember the day I went, that I was all alone in the gallery and that Polke's work surrounded me like a twilight full of ghosts.

Low attendance isn't the worst thing in the world.

Labels: art marketing, art museums, attendance

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Luxury of Safety and Free Speech and its Resulting Art : Open Thread

Deadly violence has returned to Kyrgyzstan, with Kyrgyz thugs in the South burning homes and murdering Uzbek families living there. Speculation about what's fueling the violence runs from poverty and its subsequent scapegoating to intentional agitation by former Kyrgyz president (currently in exile) Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has denied involvement, but hasn't condemned the violence either. This is, of course, very disturbing for us personally. Bambino's family live mostly in the north and east of Kyrgyzstan, but he does have some relatives in Osh, the city that's apparently been reduced to ashes. Word from there yesterday was that people from the North were preparing to head down to join in the fighting (on which side exactly wasn't clear).

Violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of Kyrgyzstan erupted in the early 1990s as well, but that time the Soviet Union sent soldiers to quell it. Hundreds of innocent people died then (the count might reach that number this time as well). The image above is from a series of work called "The Shadows," which Kyrgyz artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev made in response to that earlier violence.

When thinking about the sort of art that emerges from truly dangerous places in the world, I generally have two responses. My unkind, knee-jerk response to is feel disgust at the petty concerns of artists who term the relatively minor disappointments they have about their careers as "suffering." We had a few artists use that word in #class discussions. They were "suffering" because of the perceived inequalities of the art market (which usually translated as they weren't as rich and famous as they thought they should be yet). Bambino and I discussed later just how pathetic that sounded in the context of artists working in other, truly dangerous parts of the world.

When I stop to be a bit more thoughtful (and admittedly generous), however, I realize that while some art that emerges from conflict regions is amazing, not all of it is. The most conducive environment for making great art (if history is any indication) is a calm and safe one. Even if the art making environment is safe, though, the exhibition environment can still be treacherous in some parts of the world. Via I found this story in the Financial Times (you might need to register, but it's free) about how much of the contemporary art being made in Iran today is hidden from officials:
Some, fearing punishment, prefer private displays or to send works abroad – sometimes under false names. A prize for contemporary Iranian art will be awarded at the Royal College of Art in London next year after a global search to identify the “most talented emerging Iranian artists”.

A sculptor says: “Art, in particular new media art, has been gradually going underground as rap, rock and hip-hop music did.”

Some university professors estimate that about 20 to 30 per cent of the works of young artists during the past year are secret. Of about two dozen art galleries in Tehran, only a few have shown works related to the unrest. To date, they have not experienced specific harassment. [emphasis mine]
In this context as well, it's hard to compare the "sufferings" of American artists with those of Iranian ones and not feel a bit embarrassed, but that's not what ultimately matters the most. How good is the art being hidden in Iran? That's the question history will care most about.

I don't have any conclusions about any of this. I'm too heartbroken over the violence in Kyrgyzstan at the moment to really process it all. I simply wanted to get this out of my system. Consider this an open thread on the luxury of making art in safe environments and the results.

Labels: art making, open thread, politics

Friday, June 11, 2010

Monkeys and the Appeal of Infinity

In talking with our artist Christopher K. Ho the other day (Chris' upcoming exhibition with Kevin Zucker at Santa Fe's Fisher Press Gallery is, somewhat coincidentally, titled "Sooner or Later, like death, New Mexico will catch up with you in the end"...but I'm getting ahead of myself), I noted how the biggest frustration in my life isn't the economy, or my stompy upstairs neighbors, or the way the size of my waistline seems to be inversely related to the number of hairs on my, my biggest frustration is how little time I have to do everything I want to do in my life. All the places I have yet to visit, all the museums I have yet to visit, all the books I have yet to read, all the people I have yet to meet, all the foods I have yet to taste, these are the things that haunt my nightmares....there isn't enough time!

infinite monkey theorem posits (in one variation on the theme) that if you set a chimpanzee at a typewriter (that's how old the theorem is [btw, this made me laugh]) and give it an infinite amount of time, that eventually it would type out some recognizable text of great value, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. Another variation on the theme, popular where I grew up, was that the monkey would eventually type-out the great American novel. Why chimpanzees (not native to America) would be expected to have some sort of cosmic access to the great American (versus Chinese) novel is not explained by the theorem*, but you get the general idea.

I'll admit to being fascinated by the idea, but note that the appeal of the theorem to me has never had anything to do with monkeys, but rather with the notion of greatness through infinity. In fact, despite all the other food for thought in that film, it was this idea that fascinated me most in "Ground Hog Day." If I could just have more a little more time than everyone else, I could accomplish everything I want to...I could have the life I want.

This idea came back when I read a bit in The Observer deflating the pride that must have felt by the writers identified by the The New Yorker's summer issue as "twenty young writers who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction." The Observer does admit that their piece might be fueled by envy, but still:
Enough arguing about whether the "best young writers" are really best—are the "best young writers" even young?

Not really, says Sam Tanenhaus in The Times:

It is a mistake to assume that because they are young - at least according to our culture's ever expanding notion of youth, when 40, or even 50, is "the new 30" - they must be poised midway up Parnassus, with higher achievements to come. The trouble, perhaps, is that this definition of "young writer," which owes less to literary considerations than to the intersecting categories of sociology and marketing, muddies our understanding of how truly original, enduring fiction comes to be written.

The Tanenhaus pantheon of young achievers who produced masterpieces—not just "promising" work—long before 40: Flaubert (29 when he began Madame Bovary), Thomas Mann (24 when he finished Buddenbrooks), Tolstoy (began writing War and Peace at 34), Kafka (29 for "The Metamorphosis"), Melville (32, Moby-Dick), Fitz­gerald (28, The Great Gatsby), Hemingway (27, The Sun Also Rises), and Faulkner (32, The Sound and the Fury—his fourth novel).

Basically everyone except Tea Obreht is already behind.

Talk about leaving a turd in a punchbowl.

*"Popular interest in the typing monkeys is sustained by numerous appearances in literature, television, radio, music, and the Internet. In 2003, an experiment was performed with six Celebes Crested Macaques. Their literary contribution was five pages consisting largely of the letter 'S'."

Labels: mindless rambling

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hurried Thoughts on "Work of Art"

Didn't make it to the "Work of Art" viewing party we had been so generously invited to last night...almost did, but then came down with a touch of food poisoning (not pretty). Anyway, did manage to watch the show at home and wanted to join in the fun of playing amateur TV critic.

Long story short, the show was better than a touch of food poisoning, but Bambino nailed what's fundamentally flawed about it. The contestants are being judged on their rapid-response creativity, and that's not the same thing as making art. A work of art is completed when the artist says it is, not when the buzzer goes off. Time to fail, to make mistakes, and to correct them is built into the process. You wouldn't judge Michelangelo's David after only 12 hours of carving it, and in that respect the show needs to toss words like "great" or "masterpiece" (really?) around a bit more carefully in my opinion.

Having said that, as Reality TV goes, I'd give it fairly high marks, especially for moving it along as efficiently and effectively as they managed to do. I'll note, with not just a little silly pride, that I had guessed correctly both the winning work and the work that ultimately "didn't work" for the judges. Basically, I used as my ultimate criteria for judging that what the instructions were: "create a portrait." The OCD kid's work succeeded on just about every level in that regard and was much more compelling than the other final two artists' approaches. The photo-shopped portrait was solid as "portraiture," but not as good as "art." The red painting struck me as a bit cheesy (sorry, it did).

On the bottom three artists, I agreed with just about everything the judges (who were overall impressive in not talking down to the contestants or the audience, I thought) said about that work. Neither the minimalist painting nor the abstract painting conveyed "portrait" to anyone other than their creators. The clown was simply embarrassing. I don't necessarily disagree with the artist who chastised the judges saying she was not responsible for their experience of her work, but that cuts both ways...they are not required to experience her work as a "portrait" if they're not compelled to either. Saying they could walk around and see the little photo was ridiculous.

Before heading to bed (glad the regular time slot will be earlier), I asked Bambino what I think is the ultimate measure of the show's success: Will you watch it again? He answered what I would answer. Yes, if only to know what it is people are talking about. The producers should be proud...the participants on the other hand, well...we'll have more time for that.

Labels: art reality tv show, Work of Art

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"The artist is a shy genius who may well die very soon..."

Most fictional portrayals of the art world, whether in film, TV, or books, fall rather flat for me. It's not only that usually the author resorts to caricatures and grossly exaggerates their motivations and/or failings, but rather that they usually can't seem to resist piling all the sins of the art world into each and every scene. It's like some writing professor somewhere gave them an F if they didn't hit each item or category option on a checklist:
  • Ugly, pointless, over-thought artwork : check
  • Misanthropic or immoral artist : check
  • Sinister, greedy dealer : check
  • Clueless or pretentious collector : check
  • Salacious or nebbishy art critic: check
  • Obsequious or bored curator: check
  • Chorus of sycophantic fashion victims and wannabes : check
  • Banter that "inadvertently" reveals more interest in money than in art or the well-being other fellow human beings: check
And it's not just the completeness of the writer's mixing in each and every cliche, but the seeming unawareness that they've overdone it that makes me sigh.

I normally attribute such cartoony portrayals to the writer's lack of familiarity with the art world, something easily researched away, IMO. This is made all the more obvious to me when I see a portrayal that hits home (even one using cliches) because the writer varies the checklist somewhat, giving at least a few of the characters some integrity.

Or maybe the writing students simply heard their professor wrong. Maybe the checklist was never intended for serious fiction...but rather for parody. Indeed, the only really convincing portrayals I find of the art world seem to be the funny ones. Of course, a good sprinkling of real insights (you know, those nuggets of wisdom brought about only by researching or knowing one's subject) are still needed to make the work ring true, as Jim Kempner demonstrates in his hilarious series "The Madness of Art" (there are some new episodes up now...don't miss 'em).

Another pitch-perfect parody was emailed to me recently by the artist (and my friend) Doreen McCarthy (who has some great work in one of my favorite group exhibitions up at the moment at the Lower East Side's Allegra LaViola Gallery). It's hard to top French & Saunders when it comes to lampooning the excesses of just about anything, but they really excel when it comes to the art world. Enjoy:

Labels: art world, humor

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Politics of Recommendations : Open Thread

It seems an obvious and simple enough thing to do as a dealer or curator. You receive a submission or do a studio visit and are asked, once you note that the work isn't quite right for you, to suggest other galleries or commercial opportunities that might be right for the artist.

Even when this is obvious, though (meaning you can clearly identify which segment of the market the work falls within and know which galleries are specializing in that segment), most dealers and curators preface any suggestions with one of two common caveats. "I'm not sure they're actually looking to increase their roster." or "You might not want to tell them that I said you should approach them."

The first one of those is usually simply true (although it might be an attempt to prepare the artist for a rejection)...few galleries will broadcast the fact that they're looking for a new artist of a particular flavor, per se (although they may inadvertently send telltale signals). They are, after all, in competition with other galleries and, because it can be assumed they feel they can sell said flavor or benefit from it otherwise, that kind of information is best kept to oneself.

The second one is one I've frequently noted, usually to be met with a quizzical look. "You're telling me to believe that you know this gallery is a good one for me to approach, but that I can't drop your name?"

Well, yes. That is what I'm saying.

The reason is that even if I suspect a gallery is looking to beef up this or that part of their program (because I would in their position), the first thought that most dealers have when another dealer recommends an artist to them is "If they're so great, why aren't you working with them, eh? What's the matter with them?" Even when it's obvious that you don't specialize in the type of work that artist makes, unless you know the other dealer and their program very well, they'll tend to be skeptical.

Moreover, most dealers don't like to be put on the spot like that, just in case the recommending dealer had it wrong. Essentially, if a dealer ends up feeling that a colleague wasted their time by sending over an artist who insists that their work is right for your gallery (and why shouldn't they insist? they have it on good authority), it can lead to resentments between dealers. It's a much more comfortable conversation if there's not the added pressure of working through the recommending dealer's opinions or endorsements.

So what do I suggest? You've had a conversation with a dealer who says "Great work...just not right for us." You want to maximize the visit and think it's a good opportunity to ask for a recommendation. Perhaps the best approach (meaning you'll get the most helpful advice) is to eliminate the potential awkwardness of having the dealer go out on a limb by asking them to suggest who they should approach. Instead, turn it around and ask what they think your chances might be with Gallery A, B or C. Make sure these are feasible options if you want real advice (in other words, as I always say, do your homework first).

For example, in response to an artist asking "What do you think about Gallery B?" I'm much more comfortable offering a bit of insider info, such as "Well, Gallery B might be a good fit, and I've heard they're doing studio visits with a lot of new artists," than I am with declarations such as "You should approach Gallery B."

But that's me...what has worked for you an artist or as a dealer in this situation?

Labels: art galleries, getting a gallery, open thread

Monday, June 07, 2010

Too Much Internet Can Ruin Your Ability to Focus on Other .. .Oooo, a New Twitter Alert

I've been noticing this myself, so it was both reassuring and distressing to read in the Times today how spending too much time online can impact your ability to focus. And we're not talking spending days in your basement playing Warcraft, but more like simply trying to use the social networks and online tools to do your regular job. In other words, simply living in the 21st Century:
In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.

The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

Those consequences, apparently...

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people ... these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life. [emphasis mine]

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

OK, so like, I already pray for Ritalin to fall like manna from heaven (or at least to be added to our water supply like Florine) so noticeable is my inability to focus like I used to (I've attributed it to a busy lifestyle, or age, or the repercussions of too many cocktails), but what to do? Stop blogging? Delete my Facebook account? Switch back to a phone that doesn't receive email and simply let my contacts know that after 6:00 their messages won't be seen until the next morning?

That might not make much difference, actually:
[S]cientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.
I know...someone needs to invent a new website that emails me prompts to remember to focus!

Interestingly, the research doesn't suggest a cold-turkey approach, but merely disciplined consumption:
“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.
The article looks at a wide range of impacts on users' lives (concluding mostly that such technology is driving us apart), but I wanted to focus (if I can!) on why this would seem to be important for the arts. Again, the researchers claim that these habits "can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought." Of course the least concrete word in that statement is "can." Does that mean that for some folks these habits do not impact their creativity or deep thought? Do they possibly even increase creativity or deep thought for some people?

We attended an info-party last week hosted by Boyd Level for the San Jose-based, but becoming global "a
rt and technology network," ZERO1, whose primary public activity is the 01SJ Biennial, but they're also supporting many other smaller projects as well. One of the projects discussed at the event was an upcoming multimedia, interactive piece called Plug-in-Play designed my members of the Interaction Lab at Rockwell Group. Rather than suggesting the technology we're embracing necessarily will drive us apart, this project speculates on what it can connect us:
Plug-in-Play represents a playground of ideas related to how we engage our urban environments. By taking a number of objects –some existing and some placed – in San Jose City Hall Plaza and connecting them to the building via oversized theatrical plugs, we suggest a new type of environment where social interactions, citizenship, and personal activities are more dynamically reflected. Using a projected environment on the facade of the City Hall we are able to display both physical and virtual activity in the plaza. The resulting effect is an attempt to create a more accurate representation of the vitality and complexity of our urban environments.
I would tend to agree that the best chance for enduring, if not thriving in, the "vitality and complexity" of the 21st Century is to open our minds to a wider range of interconnectivity, not over-react and entirely unplug so we can live like pioneers again. It's not surprising that we're struggling to find the right balance between online and offline life. It's all very new. And so new etiquette and best practices needs to be developed to go along with the new reality. If we can only focus on those efforts long enough between Tweets...

UPDATE: Joerg Colberg kindly points us to this earlier article on the same focus-shattering impact of the web.

UPDATE 2: Apparently this topic is all over the place. But not everyone agrees. [links via C-Monster].

Labels: cultural priorities, digital age, technology

Friday, June 04, 2010

There Goes the Neighborhood!!!

Today, in a Federal Courthouse of what should probably remain an undisclosed location, a certain person (let's call him "B") will take an oath and finally become a full-fledged American Citizen!!!!

It's been a long hard slog for B, but Today is the day!

B says that he's been holding back until after he received his citizenship. Those of us who know him are terrified by this....if he considers that "holding back"...what the hell are we in store for now?

Congratulations, you new Yankee Doodle Dandy! You've worked hard for this day and totally deserve it!

all my love,

Labels: personal notes

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Eve Sussman & Rufus Corporation, This Sunday @ MoMA

Eve Sussman & Rufus Corporation
[beta version]
work-in-progress screening

The Museum of Modern Art
Titus Theater 2
11 West 53rd St.

Sunday, June 6, 2010
5:30pm to 7:30pm
Doors open at 5pm

The film is running.
There is no start or end time.
Please enter and leave as you wish.
The length of the film is determined by you.

Feel free to walk to the front of the theater to read the code screens.

There will be a Q + A at 6:30pm
with Eve Sussman, Jeff Wood, Kevin Messman and Jeff Garneau

On June 6th, The Museum of Modern Art will act as a black box testing site for a “beta version” of Eve Sussman & Rufus Corporation's whiteonwhite:algorithmicthriller. The film will be powered by code, programmed exclusively for the project, that edits the film in real time culling from a server loaded with over 2,000 film clips, sounds, and narration. The guided nature of the code causes it to pull video and audio, based on voice over and tags written into the metadata of each file and the narrative. The movie mixes chronology, intertwining beginning, middle or end, never repeating the same way twice.

White on White is supported by Creative Capital, The Richard Massey Foundation, CEC Artslink, New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), The Trust for Mutual Understanding and Sisita Soldevila/Amister Collection - Barcelona

Labels: gallery artists exhibitions

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Reason to Love CVF #2478 (or the Return of Art Criticism as Blood Sport)

His short-termed foray into other, non-criticism ventures must have worked liked a dam, holding back a furious ocean of feedback, because now that's he's writing again at the Village Voice, Christian Viveros-Fauné is unleashing and how! His take-down of the "Greater New York 2010" exhibition is so brilliantly devastating that it's made me want to go see the show. (I didn't have anything against it before, just haven't had an opportunity to get out there...but I'll make the time now.)

And, yes, I'm partial to this review because in it he says something nice about our current show, but even if he hadn't, this would have gone down as one of my all time favorite art world reads because of gems like these in the piece:
  • "Rather than a proper survey of emerging art in the five boroughs, this exhibition pips cool, energetic, largely clueless young artists for a rundown that proves a swampy, unproductive, talent-sucking bog."
  • "Squarer in its American Apparel nonconformity than a tramp stamp, this show is the spiritual heir to car commercials scored by Dirty Vegas and backward trucker hats"
  • "It should be said that "Greater New York 2010" is nothing if not strenuously politically correct. Some 43 percent of its artists are women (when the ratio of women to men in an exhibition actually changes its quality, someone please let me know), it is overwhelmingly filled with video and installation (as if those mediums don't sell!), appears as the least "white" of such displays on record (if the works devoted to "blackness" are any guide), and proudly promotes itself, in the words of one wag, as "the gayest show ever." No matter—black Jesus floating down from on high with a strap-on would not improve this disaster of an assembly one iota."
  • And perhaps the best harsh line I've read in ages : "Works like these only really make sense inside an MFA program. Before the crit."
As cruel as it might seem to focus on this, I actually believe that criticism with this much fire and wit is a service to its readers and its subjects. As they say, the opposite of love isn't's indifference. Again, this has made me really want to go see this exhibition, if only to satisfy my hunch that it can't really be that bad.

Either way, I've been publicly bellyaching about all the softballs being lobbed by New York critics through the boom years and into the recession (yes, I know, if this fiery passion is turned toward our gallery, I wouldn't like it...unless it brought in droves of visitors, that is). As much as folks have hoped that the downturn would spur a new era in art making, I've been secretly hoping it would also inspire a new boldness in art criticism. It's not at all surprising to me that CVF is out there leading that charge.

Labels: art criticism

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Dare of Anonymity : New and Possibly Improved

The discussion on the post exploring the pros and cons of an idea for an exhibition (The Anonymous Show) led to some pretty amazing feedback. Thanks to everyone who has participated thus far.

In thinking through why I thought this show might be a good idea, I was stuck on one central provide a context in which collectors (and others) would have no choice but to focus on the artwork at hand, no other information about the creator of the work being offered. As an experiment, I think it's still a worthy idea. But in thinking it through in practical terms I began to become a bit uncomfortable with parts of it. None the least of which was the potential quality of something an artist would be willing to sell without receiving acknowledgment for it. It wouldn't make sense if it only included the kinds of works most artists are willing to donate to benefits.

Also complicating the idea for me was the value of a narrative.

David Carson (artist, entrepreneur, and all around neo-Renaissance man) kindly forwarded me a link to this great discussion on the Significant Objects project. Here's how the SO project worked:


A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!


Significant Object’s first “volume” of stories — by Sheila Heti, Nicholson Baker, Lydia Millet, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem, and 95 others — ran from July to November 2009. SO v1, as we’ve nicknamed that first volume, was a quasi-anthropological experiment whose hypothesis was: “Narrative transforms insignificant objects into significant ones.” The experiment’s parameters were as follows:

  1. The experiment’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
  2. A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
  3. Each significant object is listed for sale on eBay. The s.o. is pictured, but instead of a factual description the s.o.’s newly written fictional story is used. However, care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers. (Doing so would void our test.) The author’s byline will appear with his or her story.
  4. The winning bidder is mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale are given to the respective author. Authors retain all rights to their stories.
  5. The experiment’s results — photos, original prices and final sale prices, stories — are cataloged on this website. The project’s curators retain the right to use these materials in other venues and media. For example: Maybe we’ll publish a book.

The results of our experiment? If an increase in the thrift-store objects’ “value in trade” can be accepted as objective evidence of an increase in the objects’ significance, then our hypothesis was 100% correct. We sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51, all of which went to SO v1’s contributing writers.

In her discussion with SO creator Rob Walker, the article's author Rebecca Cullers asks some very insightful questions getting at whether, beyond just the narratives, it's not the celebrity factor (writer's name recognition) that accounts for the increase, but the SO project seems to have accounted for that (or at least the results are inconclusive).

But I've gotten a bit a head of myself. Let me back up for clarity. Cullers writes:
It's an idea that writers adore: the notion that a good story can impart value to an insignificant object. Already desirable or at least useful objects—booze, coffee, everything ever written up in the J. Peterman catalog—can obviously have their value increased through a robust back story. (It's called advertising.) But what about objects that are undesirable? That are poorly made, useless or ugly? Can they ever become valuable or sellable?
Even as I read that I could hear certain voices snickering to themselves and insisting that "Of course they can, how else do you explain our contemporary art market?" (but we've been all over that...). What interested me in this story, in relationship to The Anonymous Show idea, is finding some way to acknowledge the part narrative clearly plays in imparting value to art works. (And I believe it does : Had the Mona Lisa never been stolen, would it be as famous/valuable, or just another among Da Vinci's works?)

Therefore, to address both the original goal, the quality issue, and the narrative issue, I began to wonder if the show might not be improved upon by noting that anyone who purchased a work from the show would be told who its author was (complete with bio and full narrative) in two years time. At that time, if the collector wished, the artwork would be bought back by the gallery for the same price. No questions asked.

The most interesting part of this delay, to my mind, would be to see who, having spent two years contemplating the work they bought because it appealed to them, would be unable/unwilling to part with it. Should the piece they chose turn out to have been created by someone famous, I would expect them to want to keep it (rather than lose out on two year's potential increase in value). Should the work turn out to be by someone they didn't know, would they still have fallen in love with it even more and refuse to part with it (it will have by then also taken on its own, new narrative)? Or would they, not recognizing the name of the artist decide to deaccession it?


Labels: art appreciation, art viewing, narrative