Friday, July 30, 2010

Leslie Thornton in "The Comfort of Strangers" @ PS1

You know you've been meaning all summer to get out to the Warm Up parties on Saturdays at PS1 (give me a few years to start calling it PS1MoMA, ok?? I'm stuck in my ways...and besides, if their URL is still www.ps1.org, clearly I'm not the only one hesitant to embrace the new, longer, absolutely-rolls-off-the-tongue [not!] moniker) ...

...but it's been too fuh-reeeeeaking HOT to bounce your way through a sweaty throng of hipsters.

Well, this weekend, the weather is supposed to be absolutely perfect! And if that weren't enough, it's the truly awesome Cecilia Alemani's turn up to bat for their ongoing Rotating Gallery series. From PS1[MoMA]'s website:

The Comfort of Strangers, opening at MoMA PS1 on July 31, is the third iteration of MoMA PS1’s Rotating Gallery series. Rotating Gallery, a series of five-week installations that are presented in conjunction with quinquennial exhibition Greater New York, showcases the practices of four under-recognized New York-based curators: Olivia Shao, Kate Fowle, Cecilia Alemani, and Clarissa Dalrymple.

Organized by Cecilia Alemani, The Comfort of Strangers brings together work from the 1970s and 1980s, combining figuration with abstraction, monumentality with fragility, and reluctance with exuberance. Borrowing its title from a novel by British author Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers imagines unusual connections between different art works and art worlds, reminding museum visitors that New York is a stratified and complex landscape. Works by four artists living and working in New York comprise the exhibition.

Executed in the 1970s as an evolution of his early expressionist canvases, Jack Whitten’s large-scale paintings reveal hidden geometrical shapes that emerge from an abstract surface. Realized by layering different strata of acrylic paint, which is then treated with a large squeegee, these works freeze the artist’s physical gestures into molecular forms that preserve a lyrical aura.

The portraits of 94-year-old Sylvia Sleigh depict friends and acquaintances of the artist in everyday poses, sitting on chairs, standing in the garden or caught in pensive moments. Reinterpreting traditional portraiture through a saturated palette of flowery colors, Sleigh turns common people into icons of a remote, devoted veneration.

Judith Bernestein’s large-scale charcoal drawings from the mid-1970s intertwine controversial imagery with a political slant. With harsh strokes and aggressive signs, the artist combines mechanics and sexuality to compose intricate diagrams of our desires. The mysterious presences in her piece Five Vertical Panels stand as silent witnesses guarding the exhibition.

Leslie Thornton’s lifetime epic Peggy and Fred in Hell, which she started in the mid-Eighties and has only recently finished, is an otherworldly account of the life of two children as told through their imaginary adventures and unsettling adult behaviors. Pervaded by an eerie atmosphere, Peggy and Fred in Hell animates the exhibition with a surreal sound track.

If you missed Leslie Thornton's groundbreaking and simply sublime film "Peggy and Fred in Hell" when it was screened in our gallery this past Spring, here's your chance to catch it again. And then come boogie your butt off in the PS1 courtyard with the rest of us club kid wanna-bes.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Promises from Conservatives

Back in April, when the election in the UK was in full swing, I noted the stark difference between the Conservative Party's platform (you know, the promises they were making in order to get elected) and that of our Republican party here in the US in terms of commitment to the arts:
[W]hat's happening in the UK is so encouraging, that I hope it sparks a wave of reconsideration in the US. The UK's Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto, just to give you a flavor of how it stands in stark contrast to anything the conservatives in the US would normally be associated with, states:
The Conservative Party is committed to fostering an environment in which sport, the arts, and the creative industries can flourish, and in which people can take control of the most enjoyable aspects of their lives.
In the Republican party's 2008 platform, for comparison, the word "art" or "arts" don't appear at all. Even the word "culture" is used only in the context of "military culture" or "culture of radical terror" or "faith and family, culture and commerce," etc. The only time the word "creative" appears was when discussing how "to master the global economy."

Turns out the difference is just in rhetoric. In practice, the two political parties are not so far apart. From Bloomberg [via artinfo.com]:
Prime Minister David Cameron, who took over in May, plans spending cuts and tax increases totaling 113 billion pounds ($174 billion) to shrink a deficit that has widened to 11 percent of economic output. In May, the arts got a 61 million-pound trim. Bigger scale backs will come by late October, with most departments facing inflation-adjusted cuts of 25 percent by 2015.
The potential impact of these plans has alarmed even London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson (not anyone's top pick for "Arts Lover of the Year"), who apparently sees the Prime Minister's plans as short-sighted:
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said that if the new U.K. government slashes arts spending too radically, everyone will suffer.

“The arts are part of a powerful machine that drives the London economy,” the mayor said in an interview in his office last night. “If you cut too savagely, if you cut the wrong things, the risk is that you will take away one of the things that makes London such an extraordinarily attractive place to live in and invest in.”

Johnson said he wasn’t merely backing the arts for their own sake. “In terms of cold, hard cash, they deliver in London,” he said, “and they deliver for some of the poorest and the neediest people in London, in the sense that they drive investment in our city.”

Mind you, all this comes on the heels of some seriously drastic decisions already made by Cameron's government:
The UK Film Council has been axed as part of the austerity measures being undertaken by the British coalition government.

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a round of cuts Monday to the department for culture, media and sport, including abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

The UK Film Council, which has an annual operating budget of £15 million ($24 million), was set up by the previous Labour government to develop and promote British film. It also fostered the move to digital projection in the U.K.

It has funnelled $255 million in lottery money to produce over 900 films since 2000, including works such as Gosford Park, Man on a Wire and The Last King of Scotland.

It is the highest profile of 16 public bodies cut on Monday as Britain seeks to tame its huge deficit.

The Museums, Library and Archives Council, which has raised standards at regional museums, delivered national museums programs and fostered digitization in libraries and archives, is also to be abolished.
As Michael Chanan of Art Threat noted,
There is something very seriously rotten in the State when the Government can decide to abolish the Film Council to save £15m a year at the same time that the head of BP is said to be about to take a severance package of approaching the same amount.
Echoing Boris Johnson's observation that the Conservatives are being almost criminally short-sighted, Chanan also points out:
The disparity is all the more striking when you register that while BP is writing off more than £20 billion to pay for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Film Council has been responsible for allocating a mere £160m of Lottery funding to more than 900 films which have entertained over 200 million people and helped to generate over £700 million at the box office worldwide, or almost £5 for every £1 of Lottery money thus invested. [emphasis mine]
I know the economy in the UK is in tatters, but recklessly dismantling what their capital's own Conservative mayor calls "a powerful machine that drives the London economy" seems like the last step someone seriously concerned with amending that situation would be taking.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nails and Planks

It seems pretty much a non-issue to me, but apparently some folks are capable of getting their knickers in a bunch by anything even tangentially having to do with religion these days. The Art Newspaper reports:

The Ben Uri Gallery, London’s Jewish Museum of Art has stirred up controversy by showcasing an exhibit of crucifixion paintings by artists including Graham Sunderland.

Critics denounced the show, “Cross Purposes: Shock and Contemplation in Images of the Crucifixion”, as inappropriate for a Jewish museum. Benjamin Perl, a patron of the gallery went so far as to say the museum was “trying to play to the non-Jews. What type of material is this for our Jewish museum?”

First, I'd ask Mr. Perl to consider the precedent of the Jewish Museum here in New York, which evolved into an important player within the international art scene through its decision to exhibit both Jewish and non-Jewish artists' work. From Annie Cohen-Solal's fantastic biography "Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli" comes this description of what was originally called the Museum of Jewish Ceremonial Objects:
With the guidance of art world figures such as Meyer Schapiro, the board voted to rename it the Jewish Museum and announced plans to mount exhibitions of contemporary art, and even show the work of Gentiles! [...] Given the Jewish tradition of involvement with intellectual progress of all kinds, the board reasoned, it was only fitting that the community take a leading role in cultivating the avant-garde of New York's art scene. (p. 271).
Second, of course, London’s Jewish Museum of Art has its own rationale for the exhibition:

David Glasser, co-chairman of the gallery, responded in an email to supporters by saying that the museum is “very proud to represent the Jewish community in the mainstream but this like all our challenging exhibitions are totally from the artistic context. Ben Uri as a museum does not address issues from a religious context.”

Glasser was also concerned by a poll on the website of the Jewish Chronicle (since finished) asking whether or not a Jewish museum should stage an exhibition of Crucifixion art. The poll came out overwhelmingly in favour of the show, with 63% of responders supporting it.

Not surprisingly, Glasser also noted that many of the complaints about the show came from folks who hadn't seen it yet.

Within a historical context, I'd always considered crucifixion something that would be emotionally very loaded for Jewish people (albeit in a different way from how it is loaded for Christian people), given its usage by the Romans on Jews as well as Gentiles, especially with the practice being forbidden by Jewish law. From Wikipedia (with the usual caveats about that source):

Ancient Jewish law allowed only 4 methods of execution: stoning, burning, strangulation, and decapitation. Crucifixion was thus forbidden by ancient Jewish law. The Aramaic Testament of Levi (DSS 4Q541) interprets in column 6: "God [will set] right errors. [He will judge] revealed sins. Investigate and seek and know how Jonah wept. Thus, you shall not destroy the weak by wasting away or by [crucif]ixion. Let not the nail touch him."

Mind you, I'm aware that today any historical subtitles are heavily overshadowed by crucifixion's symbolism within Christianity for many people, but, I don't mind noting how many of those same people sport tattoos, earrings, bumper stickers, t-shirts or what have you bearing the same imagery they supposedly consider "sacred." Indeed, this self-generated transformation of the imagery from the sacred to the secular (the focus of the exhibition intellectually [see Ben Uri Gallery]) seems an uber-timely exploration as fundamentalists of all stripes work themselves in a frenzy suggesting it's the "other" who poses the greatest threat to their traditions and values. If only by its hopefully helping folks notice the planks in their own eyes, I applaud the effort.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pap-art-azzi : Open Thread

Just a few months ago I was lamenting that there were no pop star artists, no visual artist you would not be surprised to see make a guest appearance on "Dancing with the Stars," no contemporary versions of Warhol.

Flash forward a few months and, well, the adage never seems to fade in relevance: be careful what you wish for.

Not only does the art world have its very own reality TV show, but from the front page of ArtInfo.com, you'd guess that the line between art and celebrity has been fully and utterly blurred. And I don't mean in the way the Artforum.com diary punctuates its stories with apparently the single most unflattering photo of the event-in-question's guests they could take, but more the way you'd be hard pressed, should someone take out the text from their front page, to know you hadn't accidentally landed on the site for Access Hollywood.

Seriously, have a look:

Mind you, editorially, I think you could justify any one of those stories/photos appearing on the home page of an art magazine (and admittedly, it's hard to know just who is cuter, James Franco or Alex Gilkes [truly a prince among the art world denizens]), but taken altogether, well, it does begin to seem a bit silly.

No, that's not what I mean. It begins to seem, combined like that, a bit fluffy.

Now, artinfo.com has been very good to my gallery over the years and they have some of the smartest and most talented journalists in the field, no question, and I probably cite them for stories here on average about twice as much as I do any other source, so they're clearly doing something very right. It's just that this morning, when perusing for a topic to write about, I was struck by the abundance of fashion meets celebrity meets (barely) the art world type stories all appearing at once. James Franco, Lady Gaga, gossip, fashion, parties, etc., etc. etc.

It is summer, and well, things do slow down a bit in art circles, and I've yet to inject my daily dose of java, but....I'd hate for this ratio of gossip-to-news to become the new normal. Just sayin'...

Consider this an open thread on whether the paparazzification of arts coverage is a bad thing, or perhaps Ed simply can't get to his summer vacation fast enough.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Thornton's "In the Studio"

OK, a bit pressed for time today, so I'll acknowledge I'm no journalist and could have/should have spent the time finding out, who, what, when, where, why here, but didn't. It doesn't seem to be that difficult to sort out though (and I have heard a bit about this through the grapevine).

Sarah Thornton has a piece up at the Economist (who end up archiving stories behind a subscription firewall, so don't wait too long to read it) described as "In the Studio : The artist at work : A new series." I'm not sure whether it comes out weekly, monthly (more?), but if the first one on Francis Alÿs is any indication, I'd say Thornton's exceptional ability to see through to the most vital (and hence most interesting) aspects of the art world will make this a must-read series of portraits. Here's but a snippet from the series's premier:
What kind of an artist is he? The question seems to surprise Mr Alÿs, who hums and claims not to have given it much thought. “A partera,” he finally says, as distant church bells chime over the whirr of a free-standing fan. “What do you call a partera in English? A midwife.” The metaphor is unexpected. It's a shift from the cliché of the artwork as the artist's own offspring. “Yes, I am just the one on the side!” he laughs. “Some artists may be inventors but I'm more of a 'catalyser'.”

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Corban Walker to Represent Ireland at Venice Biennale 2011

OK, so, with my track record on this topic (the Venice Biennale 2011), it clearly behooves me to reassure you there is no such thing, as far as I know, as a July 23 Fools Day joke.

This is actually true.

News has just come out that the wildly talented, and personally delightful, Corban Walker has been selected to represent Ireland at Venice in 2011!
From the Irish Times:

Emily-Jane Kirwan, a director of The Pace Gallery in New York, has been appointed Irish commissioner for next year’s Venice Biennale. She has nominated sculptor Corban Walker as Ireland’s representative and the director of Lismore Castle Arts, Eamonn Maxwell, as the curator.

Walker, whose parents were the architect Robin Walker and the art critic Dorothy Walker, has been based in New York since 2005 and has been represented by The Pace Gallery since then.

He has built a substantial reputation for his sculptures and site-specific installations, often relating to architectural scale and spatial perception, and utilising such industrial and construction materials as steel, aluminium and glass.

This is big news around our neck of the wood because not only has Joy Garnett include a stunningly gorgeous sculpture by Corban in our Curatorial Research Lab (see here for more info), but Emily-Jane is married to our own Jay Grimm!

It's a double reason to break out the Bushmills!


Congratulations to Corban and Emily-Jane!

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Curmudgeons Often Make the Best Collectors

Marfa, Kassel, Rozel Point, and now Hobart, Tasmania?

If the description in Cristina Ruiz's Art Newspaper article about the nearly complete Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) is any indication, travelling to the bottom of the world may soon become a major art pilgrimage. Here's but a small snippet of the article:

David Walsh is not like most collectors. For starters he does not seem to care what people think of him or his museum. Here are his views on the potential benefits Mona will have to local business: “We don’t know whether I’m going to make any difference to the economy and I must say I don’t particularly care. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t happen, I don’t give a shit.”

The 48-year old Tasmanian, who made his money by developing complex gaming systems, describes himself as a “full-on secularist”. “Mona is my temple to secularism,” he adds, explaining that he is interested in “talking about what we are”, in other words what makes humans human. “People fucking, people dying, the sorts of things that are the most fun to talk about.”

The first of many surprises for visitors will be the building itself. When you approach Mona from the ground, it is nowhere to be seen. Visitors to Moorilla, Walsh’s six-acre estate overlooking the River Derwent, will see a glass-fronted restaurant perched on the edge of a cliff, eight pavilions offering luxury accommodation, a vineyard and a brewery but no sign of a major museum building. The entrance is a small pod-like structure leading to an elevator and a staircase which winds its way underground.

What awaits you inside is both spectacular and completely unexpected. Mona is huge, with around 6,000 sq. m of display space over three floors. Because it has been excavated out of a cliff, the architect Nonda Katsalidis of the Melbourne firm Fender Katsalidis had to remove around 60,000 tonnes of earth and sandstone, before building could begin. The result is breath-taking. One wall of the museum is the sandstone cliff. From there the architect has built out towards the river using steel and concrete.

While most galleries greet the public with a ticket or information desk, the first thing visitors to Mona will encounter is a bar in the foyer. Drinks will not be allowed inside the galleries but Walsh says he likes the idea of “visitors revisiting the art with an accumulating alcoholic insight”.

All museum viewing should be prefaced with cocktails, in my humble opinion. But it's not Walsh's unconventional attitude toward the museum experience that captivated me most about this profile, but rather how it dovetailed with a conversation I had had the other day about being a curmudgeon with an artist who self-identified as one. I aspire to be a curmudgeon I had told her, so I was curious why she admitted to being one herself (her disposition validated her self-assessment).

It's not that I want to be sour, she noted, but it's very important to me that I respond honestly in all situations. Yes! I responded...that's it. Attempting to be honest in all situations makes one appear to be curmudgeonly. But there are few things more important to aspire to, although it's very exhausting, we agreed.

Mind you, I don't flatter myself by assuming I've reached any layer of true curmudgeon-ness as of yet. My job description tends to require a degree of all-around obsequiousness (call it "diplomacy" if you prefer). But I'm watching and learning, and hopefully one day I'll figure out how to balance the two.

But more than just living in total honesty (the ultimate achievment for any human in my opinion), curmudgeon-ness seems to also go hand-in-hand with breathtakingly original collections. Mind you, being a curmudgeon, to my mind, doesn't mean you're not a nice person to people who return the favor by being honest with you. It simply means you have no time for fools and are focused like a laser beam on what it is you're doing. In the collecting fields, that would cover legendary collectors like Albert C. Barnes or even Herb Vogel.

But why does being a curmudgeon seem to be a common prerequisite for building a fabulous collection? Stick with me on this one...it's all fairly clear in my head, but that doesn't mean I'll easily be able to set it down in words.

What makes a collection most exciting is its singularity. That requires that the collector truly doesn't care what other collectors think about their acquisitions; he or she is collecting to meet only his/her own standards. Friends or competing collectors who don't approve of certain choices can take a long walk off a short pier.

More than that, though, it requires an obsessive commitment that the collection be a reflection of one's tastes. Because one's taste is defined by more than simply the art one collects, any presentation of the collection attempting to reflect those tastes may not be limited to just what we'd now consider "fine art." Barnes famously and formally installed his Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings in among African sculpture, as well as decorative arts and metalwork.

Walsh too seems to be interested in connecting the dots historically and aesthetically:

The art on show will cover three main areas. There will be the antiquities Walsh first started buying 20 years ago—his collection includes seven Egyptian mummies, ten Roman mosaics, Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and thousands of Greek coins.

Then there are the Australian modernists: Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd and John Perceval. His collection in this field is “extraordinary”, says Mark Fraser, former head of Sotheby’s Australia who has worked for Walsh since 2007 as director of his art operations. It includes Nolan’s monumental work Snake, 1970-72, made up of 1,620 individual panels which will cover a 45-metre curving wall in Mona that has been designed specially for the work.

Finally there is the international contemporary art which Walsh has been buying for around ten years. He now owns some 300 works, many of them large-scale. More have been commissioned for the opening of Mona. These include a new version of Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca. The machine, which simulates the human digestive process, creates excrement which is apparently indistinguishable from the real thing. It will be the first version of the work which Delvoye has sold to a museum.

The other characteristic of curmudgeons (in addition to not caring what other people think) is to have very strong opinions about why other people have it all wrong. Walsh passes the test here too:

Walsh’s changing tastes will of course dictate what goes on show at Mona. He is keen to stress there will be no formal curatorship. “I believe most curation is bullshit…curators tie together a bunch of stuff they can get their hands on then create the most abstruse and obtuse reality and, in the end, fill an exhibition up with a few things that are slightly connected and the upshot is that about 30% of the art is just there to fill space.”

Mona will do things differently. Works from every period and style will be juxtaposed in ways you are unlikely to see elsewhere. A Roman-period mummy will be displayed alongside “a fairly dynamic video work which hopefully will recontextualise it,” says Fraser. The underlying theme, will be artistic motivation. “No one makes art for art’s sake,” says Walsh. “There are only two reasons to create art: to get laid or defy death.”

I'd quibble that there are only two "serious" reasons to make create art, but that not all art has to be serious. Jesters still have an important place within the overall dialog, speaking truth to power and disarming those clinging too tightly to certain heavy ideas to see how they're being dragged under...but at this point I'm splitting hairs.

A few years back I stirred up a hornets nest by writing that the ultimate motivation within the art world was getting laid. Just because people disagreed with me (74 comments worth) didn't change my mind about that, though. Walsh seems to agree (meaning, perhaps I'm more a curmudgeon that I give myself credit for):

“The point is we’re looking at all art as being contemporary,” says [Mark Fraser, former head of Sotheby’s Australia who has worked for Walsh since 2007 as director of his art operations]. “It’s all survived to this day. It was all made for some interesting reason. We’d like to talk about why people are creative and why they make art. Is it as Darwin might have argued that art was a fitness marker, it basically made us sexy? I think David would argue that artists get more sex than the rest of the population.”

So is Walsh building a museum to get laid? “Absolutely, it’s a blatant case of ‘come upstairs and look at my etchings’ or in my case, downstairs,” he says.

Again, totally honest.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Time to Rediscover : Open Thread

A very nice group of journalists from Central Asia and former Soviet countries stopped in for a visit to the gallery last week (thanks Susan and CEC!). Through an interpreter (my Russian includes all of three words, two of them curse words), we discussed what exactly about the gallery system this blog tried to demystify (what "myths" are there exactly, they asked), as well as who exactly buys contemporary art (I showed them The Collector-ibles by Jennifer Dalton), and what kind of art exactly it is they buy. They were big on specifics.

When it came to answering what kind of art exactly is being bought now, I was actually a bit surprised to hear emerge from my mouth a thought I wasn't aware had fully formed in my head. "Brand names from the 1960s and 1970s that the market had mostly overlooked seem to be the hottest artists at the moment," I told them. What I hadn't said, but was thinking too, was that many of the innovators and influential artists who were perhaps a bit too much of a head-scratcher or controversial during their early days all seem to be getting a serious second look.

Of course you hear this in reports from art fairs, and if you watch the smarter museums (see, for example this [of course, great] review by Ben Davis of The New Museum's current exhibition of work by Brion Gysin) and galleries [I could name three galleries that I positively worship for their efforts in this vein, but their heads are big enough as it is :-).], you'll see this reflected in their programming, but what seemed to spark that "ah ha!" moment when I heard myself answer the journalists' question was how this wasn't what the conventional wisdom had expected of the recession.

Back in the days when the death watch was in full swing, there were plenty of (haughty, I don't mind noting) voices warmly welcoming the bloodshed because it would bring about...what?...a serious new artistic practice in the studio? a chance for undiscovered new artists to get some attention? a return to appreciation for "good" art?

Arguably, that last one is what the recession brought about with this blast from the past we're seeing, but I wonder if there's something more to it than that. Why has the recession turned into a time not for looking forward as obviously as it seems to be a time to rediscover? Does this suggest a collective sense that we had somehow lost our way?

Consider this an open thread.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

"Inception" and the Secret of Character Development in Cyber-Punky Narratives

It's summer, and while there's still plenty of art world business, I'm taking advantage of the sweltering heat and slightly slower pace as my excuse for indulging in another passion of mine, amateur movie deconstruction (which isn't to say I enjoy deconstructing amateur movies, but rather love picking apart major motion pictures in my own less-than-professional way).

Like apparently
millions of other people this past weekend, we saw "Inception" ... you know, that new Leonardo di Caprio flick described variably as "The Matrix meets Oceans Eleven" or "The Matrix meets Casablanca" or "James Bond meets The Matrix" (it's the special effects, not the nearly catatonic under-acting, that's drawing the main parallel).

Each member of our three-person party expressed being somewhat bored at times during the film, but feeling totally invested and engaged by the end, which is a movie experience I rather prefer to the other way around.


MULTIPLE SPOILERS BELOW:
Do not continue reading if you don't want to know certain things about the film.

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What consumed the bulk of our discussion after the film were the holes in the plot, of course. There were two big ones for us. My main problem was why Fischer wouldn't be more suspicious that the people he'd just spent 10 hours dreaming with were in the same first-class cabin on the plane with him. Sure, it was a dream but the exact same people? Not even a bit suspicious?


After that, it might have made sense that Fischer's anti-extraction training would create armed guards trying to kill his kidnappers, but by they time he agreed to enter the third level of the dream (the snowy fortress), why were they still there? He willingly entered that dreamscape.


And while, with the cliff-hanger ending, it's easy enough for the movie makers to argue that all will be answered in the sequel, that wouldn't address the cheater's path they took to getting the Ellen Page character back into the dream team. As one member of our party pointed out, having Leo say "She'll be back" was a lame narrative short-cut. We understood why Nolan chose it (he had a great deal of more interesting story to tell, and to "show" us why she changed her mind would have easily taken another 3 minutes at least), but over dinner this opened up a discussion of two central critiques (I'd go so far as to call them genre flaws) of cyber-punky narratives.


The first one is central to the second one---which is why the Ellen Page short-cut stood out so much---actually, so forgive the careless leaping transition here.


One failure of the film (and of cyberpunk stories in general) is that the villains (usually uber-wealthy egomaniacs or corporations) and/or their geopolitical situations are generally left so generic that it's difficult to relate to the peril they pose or the characters' conflicts in any depth.
Funny enough, and I have to wonder if self-aware on "Inception"'s writers' part, it's kind of like the "projections" (other people walking around in a collaborative dream) noticing that something isn't quite right with the central dreamer and becoming annoyed with or aggressive toward him/her. If you make the details of the villain or geopolitical time/space too specific, your reader becomes subconsciously obsessed with the anachronisms and their suspension of disbelief falls through. By leaving the landscape more vague, you assure the audience won't notice the anachronisms (as much) and will let you lead them through the story. Moreover, in stories in which the suspension of disbelief is the only way some technological advance seems plausible (such as the notion that you can extract memories/ideas from other people's dreams), the more specific the landscape you set that in becomes, the less likely the reader/viewer will be able to dismiss the nagging doubts they'll unquestionably have cropping up.

The big problem with these vague landscapes, and the second flaw of the genre in general, is that it is precisely specific details that one can relate to that most quickly endears any story's characters to the reader/viewer. Without those shared experiences, empathy is much more difficult. Of course, like ramming a blunt object into your audience's mind, you can introduce some defining tragedy (and "Inception" does) to make the audience care a bit, but even there, to truly feel their tragedy requires that you know this person a bit first, and cyberpunk stories are too bursting full of clever inventions and plot twists generally to leave the time to let you get to know more than one or two of their characters, if that.

Because of this, many people complain that they just don't care about the characters in much science fiction or cyberpunk stories. What happens to them might as well be happening to a crash-test dummy.


By the end of "Inception," we had all climbed on board the thrill ride emotionally; we felt we cared about the characters, somewhat.

Maybe we had been forcefully manipulated into it, I can't tell, but we agreed that our early favorite among the characters was Eames (the forger, who could make himself look like other people inside a dream).
The reason we liked Eames the most (and a simple trick that too many science fiction / cyberpunky storytellers forget) is because he made us laugh. It was also his fantastical talent as a shape-shifter, but mostly it was his charm and humor. Charming characters are much more attractive and seem to cut right through our empathy defenses.

More than even charm, though, humor seems to be the most powerful antidote to the empathy problem introduced by necessarily vague landscapes. Unfortunately, too few "serious" science fiction writers (I know, we literary snobs consider that an oxymoron...as life goes on, I really don't care as much about such things) seem to remember that. Humor is the fastest path through most types of defenses, which is why I like it in literature and visual art. Done well, it's universally disarming.

Of course, doing it well is anything but easy.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Art as Pawn in Russian Power Game

I'm not informed enough on contemporary Russian society to know what to make of the trial of two Russian curators found guilty of inciting hatred for showing mildly provocative artworks (like the one at right by Alexander Kosolapov).

On one hand, it felt as if the ultra-nationalists who filed the complaint that led to the trial must be kidding...this image is a serious threat to the Russian Orthodox Church, "the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and second only to the Roman Catholic Church among Christian churches, numbering over 135 million members world wide"?

On the other hand, the impact of this on the fledgling contemporary art scene in Russia, which has been making impressive strides over that past 10 years, seemed unfortunate. As the New York Times noted when the judge handed down only a fine for curators Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev (rather than the anticipated jail sentence), "Andrei Yerofeyev and some of his supporters said they believed that the Kremlin had intervened to prevent a prison sentence that could tarnish Russia’s image abroad."

Too late for that, I'd say. The trial was ridiculous, and what's worse, as Samodurov noted, “Now any exhibition on religion showing works that are not straightforwardly religious can be deemed criminal."

With all the oligarchs delving into the international contemporary art scene these days, I wouldn't be surprised that the Kremlin is image conscious on this front, but the Kremlin is also the body that can modernize Russia's free speech laws, so their assumed intervention is obviously the least they could do. Of course, they'll argue that the difficult job of cooling down religious tension in Russia requires some flexibility in the free speech department, but by all accounts this exhibition was hardly gonna lead to blood in the streets on its own...it would require some serious manipulation to help it do that.

Which brings me back to what I noted up top, that I'm not informed enough to really know how to interpret the trial. So I turned to Matthew Bown over at IZO, a great source of all things Russian art related in English. Here is his take:
I think this trial was only nominally about art and chiefly about power. The artists themselves were not charged. The owners of private galleries that showed some of these works were not charged. The reason being that they are not figures in the post-Soviet apparat, just private entrepreneurs. Samodurov, as head of the Sakharov Centre, and Erofeev, as head of the New Art department at the Tretyaklov Gallery, were figures in the apparat. The aim of the lengthy prosecution, which has been accomplished, was to expel these bearers of an alternative ideology from the corridors of power.
That would seem to explain it quite well.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How Best to Respond to Your Critics

The immediacy of the Internet has opened up a new dilemma for those who feel compelled to respond to criticism of their artwork. No longer is the ear of the critic's audience the private domain of the publisher. It's now so easy to let all those same people who read the critique know how you feel about it.

I highly discourage the urge.

Oh, I've heard all the rationalizations. But whether the comments are complimentary ("It would be rude not to thank them, no?") or the comments are critical ("What does that sniveling, illiterate imp know about art?"), responding on the Internet rarely accomplishes anything good, in my opinion. And I've been thinking about this for quite some time.


When the first exhibition in our gallery was positively reviewed in the New York Times, a good friend of mine who works in Hollywood took me out to dinner to celebrate. I forget where we ate, but I'll never forget his advice: "I'll tell you the same thing I tell my actors," he said. "Don't believe the good press. If you do, then you'll have to believe the bad press. Just be happy for the press."

Mind you, I'm not suggesting other people don't believe the reviews of the art exhibitions out there (personally, I can't get enough of informed opinions on the ocean of artwork we're swimming in), just the artist(s) in question. Indeed, the artists I know who refuse to read their own press tend to have the healthiest attitudes about it.

Of course, this wasn't quite as big a deal before the Internet handed everyone immediate access to their own personal editorial page. In the past, if you were infuriated with a critic's panning of your work, you might dash off an angry letter or leave a nasty message on their answering machine, or snub them at the next opening reception you both attended.

If you wrote, then maybe your blistering retort would be subsequently published (after most people ceased to remember much about it), but the impact of even the most public of those options was limited to a small circle. Today, however, before most people have even read the original review or have any clue what's making all the heads explode across the spectrum of social networks (this time), the artist in question (thanks to Google alerts) and his/her friends can have worked themselves into an online frenzy that results in some tipsy typer very publicly speculating on the relationship between said critic's mother and a barnyard of large farm animals.

It's temporarily empowering, I imagine...but once it's out there, well...

My sincere advice is to think of the artwork you exhibit as your statement. You presumably had as much time as you needed to prepare that statement. You agreed to put it out there for others' feedback. Your part in this particular round of exchange is complete. Whether the viewers' response is praise or condemnation, you had every opportunity to put your best foot forward...you had your chance. Once the exhibition opens, its the audience's turn.

If you find the response disappointing, you can comfort yourself with the assumption that you're ahead of your time, or the audience needs to learn more, or whatever, but at this point any defensive response by you is parallel to the comeback you finally come up with after your heckler has left the room. It's simply too late. It makes you look lame to hurl it at the door they just exited. Your only recourse is to ensure that your statement is even better in the next round.

There was some Afterschool Special I recall from my youth in which a mentor tells a troubled young soul being harassed that there are four groups of people in this world: those who like you for the right reasons; those who like you for the wrong reasons; those who dislike you for the wrong reasons; and those who dislike you for the right reasons. That last group, the mentor said, is the only one you should really spend much time worrying about.

As applied to our current topic, I would interpret that to suggest you should send a private thank you note to any critic who likes your work for the right or wrong reasons, and simply ignore any who dislikes your work for the wrong reasons (or be big about it and thank them for choosing to respond to your exhibition when there are so many others they could have instead). That may not be easy, but if you're confident they're wrong, why expend the energy arguing? The critic who dislikes your work for the right reasons is probably the only one you should spend much time considering. Or not...it's not always productive to do so sometimes.

Either way, you have much, much more to lose by disagreeing in public with someone whose opinion you invited. If you didn't want it, why ask for it? The best way to respond to your critics is, again, to show them next round why they were wrong.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Violence and Anarchy in the WWW

It's no accident, I'm sure, that the initials of "wild, wild, west" are "www."

As I've hinted at before, I'm beginning to strongly believe that the Internet is the repository and/or physical expression of the collective consciousness of humanity. As such, it would undoubtedly reveal our collective human personality which, if history is any indication (and what else would be?), has long been defined mostly by our penchant as a species for violence and anarchy.

After some consideration of this subject, I am pretty sure this penchant is driven by covetousness. We want what they have. Even if what we have is sufficient for our needs, very human urges drive us to want that over there as well.

Show us something unclaimed as of yet, and we'll risk life and limb to rush in to plant our flag, piss all over it, and declare it part of our domain. Of course, some of us are braver than others in that department. Early adopters, early explorers, early invaders blaze the trails that others will pompously stroll through later, plotting and surveying as if imposing control on it were part of their birthright...but it's those early days of violence and anarchy that concern me most immediately. Again and again, this cycle of exploration, creation, destruction, re-creation (you know, it's like art-making) pushes history forward. Just as soon as one part of the universe is conquered, we'll discover another big wide open frontier, teeming with danger and beauty and riches beyond the imagination.

Of course, a certain, bold brand of adventurer will find this new potential irresistible and set off, caution to the wind, to find what's out there. Whereas others will sit back and fret, wringing their hands over the uncertainty of it all. Both are human, but they are not the same.

These frontiers, these wild places, in my opinion...they represent the edge where
humanity truly progresses...where our best and worst combine, where thinking advances in conjunction with destruction, where the new vital metaphors are forged, where what we must look like from afar and what we have the potential to become swirl together in that vortex in which we truly thrive.

This frontier-seeking tendency is preferable to our control-seeking fallacy, in my opinion. It's messy and violent, I know, but it's so grand in its ambition, so horrific in its voracity, and, by all evidence, perhaps even genetic in its inevitability--it makes me both mortified and immensely proud to be human.


Oh, and there's this too.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Friday Headline Pun-vitational

Lindsay Pollock points us to this story that's giving me the munchies:

Bringing a whole new meaning to “high art,” David Allison surprised a public information session on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s proposed move this week with his tales from the vault. As a member of the VAG’s acquisitions committee, Mr. Allison has visited the gallery’s basement storage, and reports not only an “appalling” leak down there, but that he has also detected the scent of marijuana smoke in the air.

“It wafts in from the front steps. So here I am in this room surrounded by Emily Carrs and Group of Seven pieces and all these amazing, amazing contemporary artworks that we have in our possession as a city and as a citizenry, and there’s dope wafting through the air.”

Mr. Allison, a Vancouver marketer specializing in real estate, made the observations about the storage facility on Wednesday night to illustrate the need for the move.

“It’s not an ideal situation for us to be storing our legacy for the future.”

The VAG is a notorious gathering point for pro-marijuana events (such as the annual 420 gathering) and it’s not unusual to see – and smell – pot being smoked outside.

“On average, there’s someone smoking a joint here every hour,” a bike courier who would identify himself as only The Kid said outside the VAG on Thursday. He and a group of colleagues said they gather there every day and, yes, they indulge.

While Mr. Allison said, “it just seems like common sense” that pot smoke would affect the art collection in storage, gallery director Kathleen Bartels assured The Globe and Mail that the works are protected.

“We monitor on a daily, hour-by-hour basis,” she said, suggesting Mr. Allison was in a different part of the basement from the vault when he smelled the smoke. “We don’t have leaking water in the vault,” she added.

The pot-smoking bike couriers dismissed the idea as well. “You’d think those things would be secure,” The Kid said. “Isn’t the vault a self-contained unit? Air tight?”

Yes, I know the diehards dedicated to legalizing marijuana HATE pot puns ("You're trivializing a serious issue, Dude..."), but, well, they can be really funny -- or at least seem so when you're under the influence -- so I'm offering a follow-up blog post praising your unquestionable genius for the best, punniest headline submitted for this story. My early-morning effort :

"VAG Trustees Hash Out Reasons for Proposed Move."

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Larry Rivers Tapes : Open Thread

Talk about a taboo topic and conundrum. Today's New York Times reports on the efforts by Larry River's daughter to get back tapes of her from the archive of her father's work. In the videos he reportedly photographed his two daughters over a number of years naked and talking about the development of their bodies. On the surface it would seem easy enough to say, Rivers' actions were debased and no one has any business insisting that the traumatizing videos aren't the rightful property of their subjects. But then there's the obligation of the foundation to protect the artist's work. Here's the Times account:
The archives of the proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers, who died in 2002, will arrive at New York University in a few weeks, filled with correspondence and other documents that depict his relationships with artists like Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol and writers like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery.

But one part of the archive, which was purchased from the Larry Rivers Foundation for an undisclosed price, includes films and videos of his two adolescent daughters, naked or topless, being interviewed by their father about their developing breasts.

One daughter, who said she was pressured to participate, beginning when she was 11, is demanding that the material be removed from the archive and returned to her and her sister.

“I kind of think that a lot of people would be very uptight, or at least a little bit concerned, wondering whether they have in their archives child pornography,” said the daughter, Emma Tamburlini, now 43.

Ms. Tamburlini said the filming contributed to her becoming anorexic at 16. “It wrecked a lot of my life actually,” she said.

Her older sister, Gwynne Rivers, declined comment.

N.Y.U. has agreed to discuss the matter and has already, at the urging of the foundation, pledged to keep the material off limits during the daughters’ lifetimes. Two years ago Ms. Tamburlini asked the foundation to destroy the tapes, but it declined.

The Rivers Foundation’s director, David Joel, said that he sympathized with Ms. Tamburlini but that he could not agree to destroy the tapes.

“I can’t be the person who says this stays and this goes,” he said. “My job is to protect the material.”


The article goes into a lot more (disturbing) details about the videos and what might have prompted Rivers to shoot them. It also notes how the situation resembles the case of artist Jock Sturges whose photographs of adolescent and pre-adolescent girls in “naturist” communities (shot with their parents’ consent) led to an F.B.I. raid of his studio. (A grand jury declined to indict him.)

Reading how the videos made his one daughter in particular feel makes me want to side with them that they should receive them to dispose of as they see fit, but there's no doubt that Rivers saw the edited videos as a work of his art:
In 1981 Rivers edited the footage into a 45-minute film that he planned to show as part of an exhibition. The girls’ mother, Clarice Rivers, who also appears in parts of the film, intervened and stopped him.
The hardest part of reconciling my feelings about this is my hard-held opinion that no subject matter is, as a subject matter, immoral (see my post on the Art:21 Blog for more in-depth discussion of that position), even though actions taken to explore certain subjects might be. Does asking his daughters to do something that clearly made them uncomfortable qualify as an immoral action? I would say it does. Does that make the resulting video something immoral? I can't see how. It's a document, not the action. Would I sleep better if everyone agreed to give the daughters the tapes and they disappeared off the earth? Probably.

Consider this an open thread on whether the resulting art from immoral actions should be destroyed.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Opposite of Love Isn't "Hate"; It's Indifference

I'm having trouble thinking of what else to write about today (might be the way the heat has fused certain cortexes within my skull into one gelatinous blob), so I figured I'd pull apart this pro-"Work of Art" piece published on Salon...you know, kind of the way on a hot summer day as a kid you'd find a dead bug in the backyard and pull apart its legs and body. Just to see what that felt like.

Indeed, it's not so much that I disagree with its author enough to really care, to be honest, as much as (whether it was his or the Salon editors' decision) that framing the piece so that the "art world" comes off as one gelantinous, like-minded blob annoys me enough to make me want to point out a few of the piece's failings. Besides, the heat makes me grumpy. So here goes.

Via Artnet.com I found Glen Helfand's article "Why the art world hates 'Work of Art.'" He cites four sources as evidence of this hate: one facebook posting by an artist friend of his; great snarky comments by critic Jenn Graves; a fairly even-handed comment by critic Regina Hackett; and a comment by judge Jerry Saltz that Helfand himself felt compelled to categorize as "ambivalence."

This totals "hate"? Only two of those examples were strong enough to qualify as "dislike."

More importantly, this qualifies as the overall opinion of "the art world?" Ignoring the number of parties held weekly in which art world insiders gather to watch and respond to the show, let alone the Twitter-fest and live Facebook responses (that might have balanced out the piece a bit too much, eh?), Helfand leaps from these comments into a totally backward conclusion, in my opinion:
Contemporary art has never quite jibed with mainstream media.
Not for lack of trying (says the art dealer who was thrilled to no end when an artist he worked with was featured on CBS Sunday Morning once).

IMHO, it is the mainstream media (like, er, Salon) that seems only interested in talking about contemporary art when they can either point out the gob-smacking prices some piece yielded at auction or mold the facts to suggest the art world is united in its disdain for the rest of the world.

Helfand does attempt to justify this assertion that contemporary art doesn't like the mainstream media:
Part of the reason art so rarely flourishes on TV is that most artists are reluctant to be represented in the mainstream media.
I don't think you can use the reluctance of many contemporary artists to appear on a reality TV show that makes a mockery of the creation process, something very important to them, to support the notion that "most artists are reluctant to be represented in the mainstream media." Indeed, despite his criticism, Helfand explains quite well why this wouldn't be an attractive vehicle for artists:
"Work of Art" attempts to offer an intimate view of the place where artistic creation happens, but it doesn't quite pull that off, in part because it sticks faithfully to the reality TV structure. Like other shows in the genre, the producers make contestants jump through hoops, in accelerated time frames, to make stuff — a format that has very little to do with real-world creative activities. Artists are as likely to make a portrait in nine hours as a chef combining Cheetos and balsamic is likely to make a great meal. In episode 3, the contestants created book covers, a challenge that ignores the distinctions between fine and commercial art. It's no wonder the results weren't very good.
Still, Salon had its editorial angle, and despite the obvious contradictions, Helfand veers right back into it:
That said, the show does seem to be getting better, and it's unclear what, exactly, the show's harshest critics are so worried about. That "Work of Art" will create the unfounded expectation that artists can produce at the snap of a finger? Or that they might actually appreciate winning that grand prize and getting some air time? Or are they just worried that the "mysteries" of the art world will be exposed to middle America?
The "mysteries"? Let me solve those for you right here. The mysteries of the art world boil down to three things: being talented, working your fucking ass off, and being in the right place at the right time. Just like any other creative field. The rest might be good fodder for a half-hour of TV that distracts you from your real-world problems, but it ain't gonna spark no life-altering epiphany for you.

But here's my ultimate problem with Helfand's piece. He spends the vast majority of the article speculating on the motivations of a wide range of professionals and enthusiasts he lumps together as if of one mind (can I use "gelatinous blob" again here? I love that phrase), but never comes around to explaining why that opinion is wrong. The closest he comes is to note "the show does seem to be getting better."

First, to "get better," the show obviously had to leave something to be desired, thereby at least potentially justifying the criticisms of those who didn't rave about it. Second, Helfand never fully explains what about it is good or now, supposedly, better.


He does seem to hint at its potential to bring about change as being worthy:
To cross over into pop culture, we need art icons who can flourish in public, the way Marina Abramovic — an artist whose power and charisma courts and can withstand the glare of the media lights — did with her MOMA retrospective. [And he hails the show's potential to] to put working artists, semi-realistically, on the cultural radar.
Surely Helfand, "a Senior Adjunct Professor at the California College of the Arts, a curator and a critic," knows that while the performance-based practices of artists like Abramovic or contestant Nao Bustamante (who was booted off) might benefit from the "glare of the media lights," that actual daylight is preferred by most painters and sculptors, and that much more controlled lighting is needed by artists working in video or photography, no? In other words, you can't lump artists together like that any more than you can the opinions of art world insiders watching the show.

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Jennifer Dalton @ The FLAG Art Foundation

We are simply thrilled to announce the opening of Jennifer Dalton's solo project MAKING SENSE at The FLAG Art Foundation, with their new (more summery) hours : Tuesday - Friday, 12pm-5pm. Here's the scoop on Jen's project:
Like an archaeologist of the present-day, Jennifer Dalton collects and examines cultural information, organizes and evaluates this information according to her own personal criteria, and then displays her findings. These displays take the form of drawings, photographs or sculptural installations consisting of assembled or handmade objects. In Making Sense, she analyzes the cultural institutions Facebook, the New Yorker, and Artforum, testing her own biases and hypotheses and applying taxonomies where they might not be expected. Her process is quasi-scientific, at the intersection where apparently objective data encounters low-tech and personal methods and conclusions.
Many of you will likley find yourselves reflected in Jen's new Facebook piece, a 15-foot drawing titled "What Are We Not Shutting Up About?" It's perhaps her most ambitious project yet in which she, in her own words "obsesses on and statistically analyzes Jerry Saltz's Facebook page entries as the catalyst for what has become a hotbed of cultural production and discussion." Here's a description of how the project was conceived and just a snippet of what she found:
She analyzed the period from January 1, 2010 through May 31, 2010 (5 months). She color-coded all Jerry's posts by subject topic so one can see which topics tended to generate the most responses and the most "likes". The 2 posts that went through the roof with over 800 responses were on two of the more "bland" seeming subject topics: "old dead artists" (a post on Picasso's auction sale) and "art in general" (a post on the best artists' names).

There were over 155,000 words published in response to Jerry's posts during this time. From the 5 months of comments, Jen then concentrated on January's approximately 20,000 words and a few of the things she gleaned from them were that:

- more men than women posted responses
- the word "disagree" is used 9 times more often than the word "agree"
- 5 of Jerry's "friends" post almost 20% of all the responses
Also part of the exhibition is an update of Jen's signature piece "What Does An Artist Look Like? (Every Photograph of an Artist to Appear in the New Yorker Magazine 1999-2001)." Presenting just the 1999 photographs and the newly mined 2009 ones, and continuing to arrange the artists by discipline within a scale ranging from "genius" at one end to "pin-up" at the other, Jen set out to learn how much (or little) has changed over the past decade. Both a look at how our cultural icons are marketed and sold back to us as celebrities AND a cataloging of the disparities by gender and artistic fields in how seriously artists are taken, WDAALL? is the piece that made me fall in love with Jen's work and remains as engrossing to me today as it was when I first saw it in her studio nearly 10 years ago. It's simply fabulous.

And there are other surpsises, but I'll let you discover those for yourself. I hope you can make it.

Also part of the Summer line-up at FLAG are projects by our good friend Robert Lazzarini (Yo, Robert! Bambino wants a ping-pong rematch!) and Noriko Ambe. Don't miss it!
The FLAG Art Foundation
545 WEST 25TH STREET, 9TH FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10001

June 30, 2010 - September 10, 2010
Tuesday - Friday, 12-5 pm

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Shock of the Old

Two weeks in a row now I've missed the "Work of Art" airing, but that's OK, as I find judge Jerry Saltz' recaps generally more interesting than the show was, and they're available online. According to Jerry, "this week’s artist challenge was to 'create a piece of shock art.'”

Ugh and double ugh.


The only justification for art that shocks, in my opinion, is that it reveals a shocking truth and that the artist is sincere in wanting to express that. Otherwise, it's "contrived" in every connotation of the word.


I was doubly glad I missed the show when I learned that Andreas Serrano agreed to be a guest judge. On this particular challenge, and especially for those viewers unaware of his work, this association essentially served to reduce Serranos' entire practice to a one-liner. Really bad choice for the producers and the artist, in my opinion.

Ironically, the reason I missed the show last night was that I had attended the opening at the Whitney with my good friends
Amanda Church and Sharon Louden and Vinson Valega (let's call it Shout Out Thursday).

The Christian Marclay exhibition is a gorgeous, super-smart installation that you'll want to visit time and again...trust me on this one (and kudos to curator David Kiehl!).

But that wasn't the ironic part. The irony of missing the episode in which the producers of "Work of Art" asked the young contestants to create a piece of "shock art" is that hanging on the walls of the Whitney's third floor is some of the most truly shocking work you'll see anywhere this season.

Curated by Robert Gober, the exhibition "
Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield" is a true thunder bolt of daring spirituality, unsettling yet divine composition, and those colors...my lord, those colors! As one fan perfectly put it "Why do I like the art of Charles Burchfield? His paintings stir up emotions I didn't even know I had!" What could be more shocking than that?

This sense that nothing being made today is anywhere near as shocking as that which came before was also echoed in
Jerry's recap:
For real shock, one should go to Goya, an all-white painting by Robert Ryman, a pale grid by Agnes Martin, or an eight-hour Andy Warhol film of someone sleeping.
But this too simply points back to what's fundamentally wrong with "Work of Art." Asking an artist to create a piece of "shock art" is bad enough (is that even a valid term?), but asking them to create something we the audience would truly find shocking in the tiny window of time allotted is unfairly asking for the impossible. It takes time, sincerity, and vision to really rattle people's cages. And it's paradoxical in that the more that rattling people's cages is your goal, the less successful you're likely to be. Asking the artist's to do that was just plain dumb.

Then again, I'm thinking of this from an art lover's (as opposed to a TV lover's) point of view.

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