Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mysteries of the Press

Because of this blog, I have a fairly open dialog with most members of the arts press, including main stream media writers and other bloggers. We talk rather casually about the art industry, the state of criticism, and all those non-art industry things most writers I know like to talk about (books, travel, music, and of course sex). Because of our gallery, though, there are certain topics that I'm less comfortable talking with many of them about, such as the widely presumed relationship between paid advertising and free coverage, the widely presumed relationship between certain powerful collectors' interests and free coverage, the seeming focus on what's happening in certain geographical areas over others, and the unstated in-house formulas that prohibit this or that combination of reviews per artist or space (I know of one monthly, for example, that reportedly never reviews consecutive solo exhibitions in the same gallery by the same artist).

Before I, er, press on, I should note (because it's both true and probably prudent), that I genuinely feel our gallery gets its fair share of press (although I never grow tired of it, I should make publicly clear ;-). And, I should also note that I have some working experience in the publishing world, and I know how the decisions made are both more complex and intuitive than any of the issues above suggest.

Still, there was something I read in Jonathan Franzen's new book Freedom (which, at least so far for me, is more of a slog than The Corrections was) that piqued my interest on this topic on a whole new level and probably relates to arts coverage as well. The passage was about the consistently positive press coverage a small alternative band (the Traumatics) received for each of their early releases, but then completely stopped getting all at once (positive or negative) at a certain point:
[The Traumatic's front man] Richard theorized...that he'd been buying press attention on credit all along, without realizing it, and that the press had finally concluded that familiarity with the Traumatics was never going to be necessary to anyone's cultural literacy or street credibility, and so there was no reason to extend him further credit.
---p. 143
A similar observation has been made by many a dealer, and artist, I know. The press faucet just seemed to shut off one day. The number of New York Times reviews most Williamsburg galleries received when we all first opened there, for example, was stunning compared to how rarely you read one today (although, with apparently all the universe's irony at their disposal, the writing gods prompted me to write on this topic on the same day The Boiler gets a very nice Times review for William Lamson's gorgeous video installation [very deservedly...you have to see this show]).

Today, the geographical focus for emerging galleries seems to be the Lower East Side (where our friends at DCKT got a lovely review today for the Cordy Ryman show up there right now, another must-see, and Salon 94's impressive exhibition by Liz Cohen did as well [I soooo want to drive that car!!!]), and based on what Bambino and I saw during a fantastically fun tour of the Bushwick gallery scene this week, it may move soon again to that neighborhood. (Indeed, the smart, enthusiastic Bushwick galleries are ready for their close-ups...Storefront, Famous Accountants, English Kills, Norte Maar, the space of the Arch Collective, etc. etc. are cooking up some off-the-charts energy out there.)

But, yes, if I were the editor at a magazine or newspaper, I think I'd extend a little press credit to even the shaky upstarts. I think it's wise to do so. No publication wants to be the last to cover the next big scene. And if one day I decided it wasn't really going to take off and not worth my readers' time, well, who are the recipients of the initial generous gesture to complain? I gave them a chance.

The trick for the upstarts (and I include ourselves in this) is to understand what the Traumatics's front man finally figured out: that the early press may be being purchased on credit, and to not let it go to their heads or make them complacent. As well as how some scenes or galleries that seemed to get coverage for every thing they did had it bluntly stop one day, I've seen press interest in more established spaces' programs revive like a hurricane in some instances. That too can end one day, though, so...the same advice applies here too.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cult of Personality 2.0 | Open Thread

We were talking in the gallery the other day (over Kyrgyz brandy, if I recall correctly) about the state of the art world, as we're wont to do, and noted how the top artists of our day seem to be lacking in what used to be a central requirement in the cult of personality department: i.e., an interesting personality. Try as they might, the big money makers in contemporary art don't generate as near as much interest in their personal lives as they do their bank accounts, and, on the other hand, the artists we see grabbing all the head-lines on the gossip pages don't generate as near as much interest in the secondary market as they do, if at all, in the primary market. Something has shifted, we concluded over cocktails, since the days when Warhol was both raking it in and still the most interesting person to sit next to at a party.

Was it just that the top money makers have become too burdened with the CEO obligations of their studio factories to continue to the devote time to sating our hunger for bad boy antics or sexy girl photo sessions? Or was something else afoot here?

I didn't give it too much thought at the time (there was Kyrgyz brandy to attend to), but in reading the latest edition of one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures (ARTNews' monthly Retrospective column), I thought about the cult of personality issue again:
75 Years Ago

The widespread popularity of Lust for Life, Irving Stone's ­recent fictionalized biography of Van Gogh renders it almost inevitable that the Museum should be crowded to capacity by a public whose interest and curiosity has been heated to fever pitch. Rarely is there an exhibition which can be approached by so many persons thoroughly acquainted with the dramatic details of an artist's life and career, as in the case of Van Gogh. All the lurid ups and downs, and mostly downs, of his profession . . . are nearly as familiar to the reading public as was the progress of the Hauptman trial.

—"The Van Gogh Exhibition," November 9, 1935
And then it hit me. The cult of personality in contemporary art isn't (and perhaps has never been) about worshiping a hero. It's entertainment, akin to watching a rodeo or NASCAR race. Despite protests to the contrary if questioned, a good chunk of the audience is secretly hoping to be witness to a tragedy....in real time. The more fine artists flirt with the mass media channels usually reserved for celebrities, the more our expectations/hopes become that they, like celebrities, will fabulously self-destruct while we're all watching. All the "lurid ups and downs, and [God willing] mostly downs," are the attraction.

Now, of course, when we talk about cult of personality within the art world in the classic sense, we mean how people will pay big money for a napkin doodle by a famous artist just because they did it. It's a projection of value onto all of their output, based on the assessment that it's them, and not only their work, we want to take home a part of. It explains why inferior works by famous artists will sell for more than masterpieces by lesser known artists. It also explains the entirety of Damien Hirst's market.

Now back in 2008 (oh, the memories), in an excellent article, Linda Yablonsky argued that the success of both Hirst and Koons could be attributed to the cult of personality:
Moments after a press conference for “Jeff Koons on the Roof,” this year’s outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, a clutch of reporters made a tight circle around the artist. Clean-shaven, dressed in a metallic gray business suit and gracious to a fault, Koons hardly batted an eye as he linked the three bright and shiny chromium works on the roof—monumental replications of a child’s drawing, a wrapped candy and a balloon toy from his 1994–2000 “Celebration” series—to contemporary, early Christian, and Greek and Roman sculptures inside the museum. The reporters didn’t just hang on every word. They clamored for autographs. And they got them. “This is going right next to my Mickey Mantle,” announced a lumbering photographer, holding his prize aloft.

Only one other artist today excites this kind of hero worship: Damien Hirst. Koons and he both create provocative work. But that alone can’t explain their star power.
Maybe it's just the economic bruises the world is still recovering from since then, but somehow, today, only two years later, neither of those artists' stars seems so bright. Was it really their personality that garnered all that attention? Or their (now somewhat less stunning) markets? In 2008, Yablonsky attributed the attraction to their charisma. But charisma is fueled by confidence. If the Hirstian and Koonsian brand of confidence came from the number of 0's at the bottom of their bank statements, it's not surprising that they seem a bit lackluster in comparison today.

My central question here, and please consider this on open thread on the topic, is whether what makes for hero worship has fundamentally changed. Have commercialism and ultra individualism shifted the focus away from "interesting personality" as defined by the quirky or inspiring way one views the world to "interesting personality" as defined by power and money?

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Announcing SEVEN

The website for SEVEN is more fully fleshed out, although you can turn to it leading up to and throughout the event for updates and other info.

What's most exciting about this opportunity for me is that we'll have more than twice the space to present work in Miami as we have in the gallery (which means about 15 times what we normally have at the fairs).
What delights me most about this exhibition is the company we're fortunate to be included in.

If I were asked to select the art dealers I admire most in this industry, those working at these six legendary spaces would be at the top of my list. It's simply an honor to be working with them.


In case you don't already know, here's what all the hoopla's about:
Since 2006, Pierogi Gallery, Hales Gallery and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts have presented a special exhibition in the Wynwood District during the art fair week in Miami. Defined by large installations and collaborative curatorial projects, the exhibition has consistently stood out among the multiple fairs taking place at the same time and been hailed for its “room to stretch out, taste and class to spare, and good stuff.”1

This year BravinLee programs, Postmasters, P•P•O•W, and Winkleman galleries will join the original three in a new 24,000-square-foot space in the Wynwood Art District. Called simply SEVEN, this expanded project looks beyond the art fair model to create an alternative platform for presenting and experiencing contemporary art.

Asked why they were expanding the effort this year, Pierogi Gallery’s Joe Amrhein replied, “Why not? We are not challenging the ubiquitous tradition of the 'Art Fair' but think we can improve upon it, especially in Miami with its unique possibilities. If you feel that most people who visit the fairs really want something that allows for a different, more comprehensive interaction, it shouldn’t surprise you that artists and their dealers feel the same way."

P•P•O•W’s Wendy Olsoff added, “"The chance to have our artists’ work in a dialogue with the other artists exhibited without the constraints of a three-sided booth is an interesting experiment, as well as a truly exciting concept.”

With a number of one-artist installations and collaborative project spaces, SEVEN has been conceived to provide an exhibition experience defined by the needs of each artist’s work. In addition, SEVEN’s second floor space will be an open zone for teach-ins, sponsored panel discussions, screenings, and gatherings both intimate and large.

Entry to SEVEN is free

SEVEN
2214 N. Miami Avenue (Wynwood District)
Miami, FL 33127

HOURS:

Tue Nov 30: 1-8 pm (opening reception)
Wed Dec 1: 11 am – 7 pm
Thur Dec 2: 11 am – 7 pm
Fri Dec 3: 11 am – 7 pm
Sat Dec 4: 11 am – 7 pm
Sun Dec 5: 11 am – 5 pm


For more information, please email us at info@seven-miami.com or contact Joe Amrhein at Pierogi Gallery, 718-599-2144. In Miami at 917-348-8093

1 “Miami Madness,” artnet.com, Dec. 2, 2008
As I noted before, too, in addition to some very special installations, we're pleased to sponsor the evolution of the #class project at SEVEN this year. Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida are busy building what's shaping up to be a rockin' deconstruction of the art world's pecking order (evidenced no where as transparently as in Miami in early December) in a series of events they're calling "#rank." Keep up with the mayhem at their website here.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

A Note to Disenfranchised Gay Democrats

This is not a GOTV cheerleading session. I believe it's everyone's civic duty to vote, but I don't believe it's anyone else's business if you choose not to (from time to time, anyway). So I'm not going to try to fire up the crowds or offer to bus everyone I can to the polling stations.

No, this post is limited to one simple point: not voting for the Democrats in this election because they haven't yet given you everything you wanted when you worked so hard to get them elected in 2008 is the quintessential example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

In particular, let me note to my fellow gay Americans, who, as MSNBC reports are particularly dissatisfied with the democrats:
Across the country, activists say gay voters are angry — at the lack of progress on issues from eliminating employment discrimination to uncertainty over serving in the military to the economy — and some are choosing to sit out this election or look for other candidates.
that the choice in 2008 wasn't between Obama and some super liberal, pro-gay-marriage candidate who had repealing DADT at the tippy top of his domestic agenda. The choice was between Obama and this man.

And if you simply opt out this round because you haven't yet gotten everything you wanted, the choice in New York will still be between Cuomo and this man. And in the Deleware Senate race between Coons and this woman. And in the Nevada Senate race between Reid and this woman. And in the Governor race in California between Brown and this woman.

In other words, in race after race after race across the country, if the Republicans win (because you're just too unsatisfied with the Democrats' lack of progress on the issues important to us), it's not like the only outcome will be that those two-faced politicians are going to learn their lessons and then next time around work harder to keep their promises to us. The next time around they'll be struggling just to legislate us right back to where we stand today. The Republicans you'll be letting into office aren't going to just freeze the progress we've made on equality issues; they're going to rewind the clock as best they can.

Maybe your disgust with the current crop of spineless sloths in office is so great you're willing to let their opponents drag us back again just to teach them a lesson. I, for one, am not willing. The Democrats may not be doing enough, fast enough, but they're not working round the clock to unravel all the progress we've made.

The choice is crystal clear.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

There's Something Rotten in the State of Denmark (and France and Switzerland and Hungary)

From the same country bold enough to publish cartoons of Mohamed that led to an international uproar comes a surprising stream of news about intolerance for other types of controversial images. First there was this:
A cartoon depicting the Danish royal family taking part in an orgy has led to the cancellation of a retrospective of works by satirical Danish artist duo Surrend (consisting of Jan Egesborg and Pia Bertelsen). “These people just want to attract attention, nothing else,” said Thomas Bloch Ravn, the director of Den Gamle By in Aarhus, Denmark's second city. “It turned out that I cannot trust them and therefore I decided it's better not to collaborate with them.”

The show was due to open in the Danish Poster Museum, part of Den Gamle By, on 13 October. “We agreed on a retrospective exhibition, but when Surrend announced it was including a totally new poster depicting the Danish royals in a pornographic scene, that was against our agreement,” Ravn said. “This is a clear case of censorship”, said Egesborg. “Denmark pretends to encourage freedom of speech and argues for publishing a cartoon hurting millions of Muslims, but when it comes to its own royalty it's a different story.”
Imagine! Artists who want to attract attention! Of course, they must not be permitted to do any such thing!

Then there is this:
Employees at the town hall of Roskilde near Copenhagen have apparently taken offence at images, on show in the building, of two men made of Duplo (a Lego-style material) having sex. According to Danish press reports, artist Svend Ahnstrøm’s racy piece, which shows ‘Kurt and Anders’ pleasuring themselves in a public park, has prompted three internal complaints. But no objections have been raised about Duplo depictions of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. “It’s hard to believe that something like this can offend people in today’s Denmark,” said Ahnstrøm.
Hard to believe indeed. My Danish is nonexistent, but I do find it telling that the same online article that displays the offending image has a side image with two scantily clothed women with obvious enhancements, with no sense of irony, as if there's nothing objectionable to anyone about that.

Moving south, we learn that "Although the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris has banned visitors under eighteen years of age from seeing the current Larry Clark retrospective, some believe that the X-rating does not go far enough. As Le Monde’s Clarisse Fabre reports, an association has called for the entire show to be banned. "
Alliance Générale contre le Racisme et pour le Respect de l’Identité Française et Chrétienne (AGRIF) (General Alliance against Racism and for the Respect of French and Christian Identity) addressed a letter to the Paris police and the mayor of Paris. The association is headed by Bernard Antony, a longtime militant for the right-wing Front national. According to the police, the letter states that AGRIF is currently considering a legal complaint against the organizers of the exhibition for including pornographic images of minors in an exhibition. The infraction carries a maximum penalty of five years of prison and a $103,700 fine.
Wait, there's more:
While Paris debates the X-rated Larry Clark retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Bern has taken more direct action. As Le Monde and Agence France-Presse report, two photographs of young nudes by Clark were removed from an exhibition at the Paul Klee Center. The organizers of the exhibition, which is dedicated to the seven capital sins, also removed a watercolor by the late German artist George Grosz.
You read that right. Organizers at the Paul Klee Center removed a watercolor by George Grosz. A watercolor....by Grosz!!!

Why?
As for Grosz’s work, which shows the vulvas of two women, Steiner admitted that the decision to remove the work was last-minute. “There is a certain cruelty in Grosz’s approach, which was intentional for an aggressively politicized Berlin Dadaist.”
Yes, that certain cruelty was actually the entire point of Grosz's Berlin-based work. You couldn't have possibly not known that before you initially included him in the exhibition. So this does nothing to explain the decision.

From London throughout most of central Europe it would seem, artwork dealing with sex is having a tough go of it. This rise in censorship/cancellations/avoidance just so happens to align with a societal embrace of conservatism across Europe, which is the choice of their voters, no question. Still, it's not only over there that artists are feeling this backlash. Hungary's recent turn to the right has had an impact here in New York:
The heavy hand of Hungarian politics seems to have streched across the seas to blight the life of New York artist Janos Stone. Back in May, the artist was commissioned to present a large-scale sculpture at the Hungarian Cultural Center in SoHo, Sept. 14-Oct. 31, 2010, alongside another artist, Thomas Lendvai. However, days before installation was to begin, the exhibition was abruptly cancelled, leaving Stone to pay more than $3,000 in fabrication costs himself (Lendvai had not completed his work, and was able to recoup the cost of his materials). According to the artist, he suspects that his show was "collateral damage of what happened in the elections in Hungary."
Full disclosure, Thomas Lendvai is represented by our gallery.

Given that, as they say, the only two subjects worthy of serious artists are "sex and death," this trend suggests a rather grim horizon for the type of exhibitions one should expect throughout the European Union.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lost in Translation | Open Thread

We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.
--Oscar Wilde
There is a notion oft discussed in the context of the increasingly global art market, especially when it comes to predicting what type of art you can sell to people who live in a different part of the world. It is asserted that the nuances of most visual art will be lost on people not intimately familiar with the culture of the artist who produced it. This notion is used both to explain poor sales when, for example, an American gallery ships its wares half way around the world, and to dismiss harsh criticism of artwork by writers from outside the artist's culture.

It's a convenient notion, but I'm not entirely sure it's as simple as whether or not one gets the political or socioeconomic double entendre of this or that work. Only visual one-liners would be truly inaccessible because of such cultural language limitations, or so it seems to me.

Then again, I read something the other day that made me wonder whether it's not only being born in another part of the world that leads one to lose much in translation, but also relating to the world through a different set senses.

But I should back up.

Last week I continued a conversation with someone kind enough to stop by the gallery about "straight" photography (see earlier discussion on this here) and the difference in opinion between photographers who feel that those in the field who simply point and shoot what they see around them (the "straight" photographers) are being marginalized by those who support artists who see the medium as essentially more plastic than that (the "conceptual" artists who set up scenes or otherwise manipulate the world and only use photography as a raw material in their work, for lack of a better term). As I've noted before, this is not a fight I have a dog in. I have always thought that there is plenty of truly wonderful "straight" photography being made today, and I get excited by the new ideas in photography I see.

Shortly after that discussion, though, I re-read the following (in the production notes of "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams [reading and re-reading plays is one my guilty pleasures...don't ask me why...I'm not sure]):
Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance.
This was written about 1944 or so, long before photography truly came into its own as a fine art form (at least within the art market), but rather than suggest Williams wasn't prescient enough to see how important the photographic would become in art, I wanted to explore whether or not it was his focus on the written (rather than visual) art form that led to his missing its potential. (Of course, I'm opening a second can of worms by suggesting the theater is less visual than fine art, I know, but let me see if I can wiggle myself out of it.)

More than simply the subtitles missed by people from another part of the world, I wonder: are the nuances of one art form's languages (visual, written, dance, musical, etc.) also lost on those who are not fluent it it. In New York, in particular, we like to see ourselves as culturally literate. We attend concerts and performances in between visits to museums or simply reading at home (or, more often, on the subway). We like to think of ourselves as well-rounded consumers of culture and able to intelligently discuss a wide range of creative efforts.

But the truth of the matter is that, there are important degrees that can lead to major misunderstandings or miscommunications via missed subtitles. For example, my German is better than my French. Not only because I studied it longer, but because I had the chance to practice it more recently. A month or two in France, though, and my French might catch up to and surpass my German again. In other words, most of us are not equally fluent at all stages of our lives in the various languages (spoken or arts) that we know, and our fluency ebbs and flows with the degree of usage or interaction.

More than that, there are ongoing changes in the every language: new slang or coinages that are easily misunderstood if one doesn't keep up. Just because someone really, really knew what was happening on the bleeding edge of contemporary art 10 years ago (but then turned to other things) doesn't mean they'd be the best judge of some new ideas percolating in the studios of Bushwick or Beijing today. One needs to continually interact to remain fluent.

So is a playwright the best judge of what's important in visual art? He might be if he remains current in the latest thinking. (We do turn to poets for much of our most insightful art criticism.) But I suspect there are subtitles in, for example, a painting that only an artist who paints can appreciate. Extrapolating that to consider non-painting viewers from a different country with a different culture and a different language, and it begins to seem the notion is true: a great deal is undoubtedly lost in translation.

Oh...you were expecting some sort of conclusion here, weren't you?

My bad...

Consider this an open thread on the tower of Babel that is our global cultural scene.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Sex Is Dirty, Again (Or Is It?)

At an AIDS volunteer training session I attended (seemingly a life time ago now), one of the instructors was this amazing hard-boiled and hilarious nurse who ripped through the political correctness gauze woven throughout the three-day event and taught us about what the AIDS patients we'd be helping were really going to be like (it runs the gamut, she said, from obviously overwhelmed to obnoxious little sh*ts, just like in any other realm); what they really needed from the system, from their families, from us volunteers; and most of all how to listen for the questions the patients would ask that indicated they needed to talk about their feelings. I'll never forget, for example, how she explained that if a patient asked "What do you think happens after we die?" that they weren't really interested in my musings on religion or the afterlife as much as they were in talking (and being listened to) about their own fears.

She also said the most memorable thing I've ever heard a health care professional say about sex. "Sex is dirty," she announced to muffled gasps. "Save it for someone you love." In the politically chaotic days before pharmacological regimens had extended life expectancies as much as they can today and having sex was still often viewed as an act of defiance against hopelessness, this was a very controversial (and yet ultimately comforting) approach, I thought. It helped me cut through the awkwardness of discussing sex not only as a volunteer, but in my own life as well.

Flash forward a good number of years, and uninhibited sex was everywhere, especially in the art market during the boom. I remember walking through fair after fair with my friends calculating which body part dominated at each event: vaginas, penises, or simply breasts. "It's a dick show," we'd conclude at this fair. Or at another, "Tits...definitely more tits."

As Lindsay Pollock reports in the The Art Newspaper, however, we seem to have entered another era in which "sex" is awkward for us again. At least if Frieze is any indication:
This edition of Frieze appears to be one of the most asexual in recent memory: quite a switch from the boom, when titillation, testosterone and temptation-stocked stands helped fuel sales. “Normally you see a wiener in the first 15 minutes at an art fair,” says Los Angeles dealer Marc Foxx (B6). “There is a lack of glitzy-type art at the fair this year, perhaps a cumulative effect of the recession,” says Matthew Higgs, the director of New York’s non-profit White Columns art space. “Along with the bling, out goes the sex.”
In this atmosphere, it seems noteworthy then that sexually charged images from Jeff Koons's "Made in Heaven" series have been dusted off and re-presented by Luxembourg & Dayan Gallery. They weren't particularly popular the first time around, and the response to this reshowing has been rather deflating from high-profile critics, like:

Christian Viveros-Fauné:
There is, to put it simply, absolutely no valid reason besides money to exhibit this dreck today.
And Roberta Smith:
Occupying some no woman’s land of female objectification, they are visual train wrecks.
Many of the other online reports on the exhibition treat it rather matter-of-factly, though (yes, there's very explicit sex here, but we're mature enough to not judge), perhaps inadvertently confirming the aforementioned, return of awkwardness that Smith and Viveros-Fauné both simply side-stepped to actually judge the work on its merits as art, being the pros that they are.

Personally, I've always found the "Made in Heaven" series about as sexy as my Grandmother's doily-covered end tables. Maybe it's the butterflies and cheesy strip mall photographer's backdrops. In the overall body of Koons' work they have been among my least favorites, but as I have never actually seen them as highly sexual (which may be simply my own sexual preferences) I haven't actually been as embarrassed by them as I have been embarrassed for Koons (and Staller) for putting them out there. To my eye, they make sex look not only sterile, but somehow very lonely. Again, sex is (or should be) dirty. And some folks should definitely save it (only) for someone they love.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

A Few Hurried Thoughts on Private Museums and Public Funding

We have an opening tonight (!), so I'll try to make this quick (which for me means less than three pages of text).

In the "Art for Everyone (?)" thread, I again suggested that artists (including Franklin, who I was addressing) have the power to alter the current system (and its exclusionary "grouthink") if they feel it's not working for them, the same way artists have always done it. I offered, "History shows us...that even groupthink had a genesis and if you want to change things, all you need do it take a page from the previous books: i.e., inspire one wealthy patron to open a different type of museum that shows the way toward a better tomorrow." Franklin (who was offering more on his well thought-out objection to the use of public funding to exhibit/promote contemporary art), noted:
Right. I'll get to work on that.

I have reasonable career goals that hinge on finding viewers who are sympathetic to my work, or at least not antipathetic, some of whom operate in the public sphere and most who don't. If I win the ear of someone with enough money to singlehandedly open a museum, I'll work on them, but to my knowledge the last collector to do such a thing was Isabella Stewart Gardner. In the meantime, artists who are not supported by the groupthink cited by Bernard are being forced to underwrite their own exclusion. If you think this is fair, make a case for it.
I'll get to public funding in a moment, but one notion in that statement strikes me as too pessimistic to let it go.

Collectors who opened their collections of (at least partially contemporary) art to the public (sometimes calling it a "collection," sometime calling it a "museum" but always in the process helping to educate the public about particular artists or movements they championed as well as help further their careers and/or change art history) have also included Peggy Guggenheim, Duncan Phillips, Albert Barnes, and John and Dominique de Menil, just to name a few. Privately owned and operated institutions today in the process of becoming the same thing include The FLAG Art Foundation, the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, the Rubell Family Collection, the Boros Collection, The Hoffman Collection, and on and on and on and on.

Whether each of these collections relatively recently opened up to the public will go on after their founders pass away to become actual self-sustaining museums or not, only time will tell, but clearly the model is alive and well. And so are the non-public-funding opportunities they represent for contemporary artists. So, I reiterate: if the system isn't working for you, inspire one wealthy patron to offer an alternative. This is how artists who were not part of the academy or in-crowd or groupthink group have changed art history for centuries.

Mind you, in regards to Franklin's first somewhat snarky comment ("Right. I'll get to work on that.") just because it isn't easy doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Other artists before you (and those around you now) weren't daunted by how hard this obviously is. There are artists and collectors collaborating as we speak to advance this or that idea in contemporary art-making. If that seems too pie-in-the-sky for you, please note that that doesn't change the fact that those artists are still your competition. Their willingness/ability to team up with a wealthy patron will give them an advantage in how history is written.

As for the final sentiment in Franklin's comment ("In the meantime, artists who are not supported by the groupthink cited by Bernard are being forced to underwrite their own exclusion. If you think this is fair, make a case for it."); although this post is about a different funding option, the bottom line is the same for both options: Fair ain't got nothing to do with it. If the private sector can advance a new idea or new group of artists to where the public-at-large wants to see more of them, then that new group will eventually get public funding too. Every popular (i.e., funded via demand) movement/idea/artist group has a genesis. But taking away the public funding of the arts (because it's perceived as unfair) will have repercussions beyond who is excluded and who's embraced by the curatorial preferences of the day. I don't think that's the way to go.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Opening Tomorrow! Joy Garnett's "Boom & Bust" and in the Curatorial Research Lab "To John J. O'Connor from Nam June Paik", Oct 15 - Nov 13, 2010

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “Boom & Bust,” our second solo exhibition by New York artist Joy Garnett. In six dazzling new paintings, Garnett continues her investigation of sublime spectacle through works on canvas sourced from photography of military events. For the “Boom & Bust” series, her focus has shifted to the sky. Gone are the horizon lines or objects on the ground used to convey a sense of scale in her other works. Instead, Garnett’s explosive, phantasmagorical shapes evoke painterly tropes and pop iconography. They also bring to mind the psychological, cultural, and economic cycles of creation and destruction.

Garnett continues to develop her methods of the past decade, pulling source images from the Internet and other mass media outlets, where there is never any shortage of spectacular and apocalyptic imagery. Acknowledging that news footage and generic imagery of war, natural disasters and man-made catastrophes form much of our common, day-to-day experience both directly and through their derivatives in movies, gaming, television and entertainment culture, Garnett’s work diverts such imagery yet again through the “lens” of her painting, rendering it with a twist that is personal, playful, and moving.

Without a horizon line, the frame of both landscape and painting is suddenly afloat, aloft, escaping the original narratives of their source imagery and representations as we might come across them in vernacular settings. This approach permits a direct exploration through specific traditions in painting, as well as pop culture motifs. Hence, while presenting us with a central explosive form, each painting draws upon a range of cultural tropes, from the loose geometry of "O.P.P." and the evocative homage of "Rose," to the cartoon-like whoosh of air in "Poof," and the cataclysmic but no less compelling abyss of "Lost."

As Garnett has written about this work: “Perhaps perversely, the very unctuous medium of paint is an excellent tool to turn on the dominant form of the image today, which is electronic and photo-based. Paint offers us a real counterpoint as a material and as a mode of communication, and it packs a serious backlog of motifs, languages and genres that can be called into play literally with the flick of a wrist. What’s important to me, from the point of view of someone who makes paintings, is to allow the viewer to come to any meanings – any interpretations of content – on their own. What matters most is contemplation.”

Joy Garnett's paintings, based on images she gathers from the Internet, examine the apocalyptic sublime at the intersections of media, politics and culture. Notable past exhibitions include”That Was Then...This Is Now,” MoMA P.S.1 and “Image War,” Whitney Museum of American Art. She is a recipient of a grant from Anonymous Was a Woman, and serves as Arts Editor for the scholarly journal Cultural Politics. Garnett lives and works in New York.

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And in the Curatorial Research Lab

To John J. O’Connor from Nam June Paik
Organized by Seymour Barofsky

Beginning in the 1970s, in response to the early appreciation expressed in reviews of his artwork appearing in The New York Times, artist Nam June Paik mailed a stream of materials to the Times’ television critic John J. O’Connor. In one of his earlier letters, Paik declared O’Connor “the savior of video art itself.” For more than two decades Paik kept him abreast of his thoughts, work, and travels.

“To John J. O’Connor from Nam June Paik” comprises a selection of the letters, drawings, postcards, holiday greetings, and annotated books and articles sent by Paik and set aside by O’Connor over the years. Serious, yet full of whimsy, they remain as telling and delightful as they were when they were meant to charm a newspaper reviewer. They offer an insight into the long-term interaction of a significant and groundbreaking artist and an important and influential critic of his work.

The exhibition, which includes a sampling of O’Connor’s writing on Paik as well as an example of Paik’s work that was broadcast on television, is a fascinating record of the mutual appreciation of an artist and critic. It is timed to coincide with and commemorate the first anniversary of the death of John J. O’Connor.

Nam June Paik (1932-2006) was a leading exponent of media-based art. He has had a profound influence on art, video and television.

John J. O’Connor (1933-2009) was television critic of The New York Times from 1971 to 1997. Before that he had been arts editor of the Wall Street Journal.

The exhibit was organized by Seymour Barofsky, a former editor (Schocken Books, Random House, etc.) and teacher.

Winkleman Gallery gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Electronics Art Intermix (EAI) in making this exhibition possible.


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

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Art For Everyone (?)

Ben Davis has once again managed to both impress and frustrate me in equal measure with a piece published on artnet.com. Ben's good at doing that...the best out there, in my opinion.

His latest effort takes the form of a Tale of Two Art Worlds:

On the one hand, it is the Best of Times. This year has seen not one but two artworks sell for more than $100 million at auction, an almost unheard of feat: $104.3 million for Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche I; $106-million for Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust. To put such numbers in perspective, the price of the Picasso Nude alone is a wee bit less than the entire annual budget for New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group, which gets $110 million to fund the city’s storied museums.

Which, in turn, points us to the Worst of Times. Michael Bloomberg’s 2011 budget for New York City featured a $20-million cut for culture, though this was taken with relief because it was not quite as catastrophic as feared. The Billionaire Mayor is already back for more. In Los Angeles, smooth-talking Mayor Villaraigosa proposed a "crisis mode" arts budget earlier this year. The Illinois Arts Council is in such dire straights that it has had to chronically delay the delivery of funding. In Florida, the state arts council ate a cut of over one half this year. And so on.

It's a thoroughly researched, very well considered think piece, elegantly synthesizing the countless details into a convincing big picture view (truly, Ben's second only to Frank Rich in my book for this type of writing). Then, as Ben often does, though, he leaves me shaking my head, by offering something short of a workable solution to the problems he so accurately describes. This time the solution is not so much outlined as hinted at by the poster used to illustrate the article:



Poster by Jeremy Deller, Scott King and William Morris, for Save The Arts in the UK [via artnet.com].

That poster bugs me on several levels, I must say. First and foremost is the assertion that art (a personal expression that may or may not appeal to any other being on the planet) is parallel to freedom (a human right) and education (a requirement for meaningful freedom and a workable democracy, as well as a economic advantage) in any meaningful way. We can legislate that education must be made available for all citizens (forcing children to attend school or be schooled at home), and we can legislate that certain freedoms are made available such that combined they provide as much independence as possible (ensuring speech, religion, press, etc. are free from government interference), but we cannot legislate that someone be forced to view art, or make art, or even like art without violating their other rights. Certain religions forbid certain types of art, for example.

Furthermore, there's an implied spoon-feeding of art in that sentiment that strikes me as too authoritarian. Again, we force education on children (many of whom would rather have dental surgery than sit through their lessons) because we understand that without it they will be at a significant disadvantage as adults. Forcing art on children as part of their education is a defensible action, but I can't connect that idea through to adulthood. If someone is more interested in sports or science or whatever than art, that should be their choice. If they wish to live as free from art as humanly possible, who is anyone else to object?

Which brings me to another aspect of that poster that bugs me: the assertion that people who want it are being denied access to art. As an art dealer, one of hundreds in this city, whose exhibition are 100% free to the public, I find this absurd. You can argue that only certain types of art are exhibited in galleries (the type that sells), but you'd actually find as many examples of art that don't sell (and most recently, due to the economy, often more art that doesn't sell than does sell in the art galleries) with just a little exploration of the more edgy spaces. But if you dismiss the art that's free for the viewing in galleries (because it's too commercial or whatever), then the argument shifts from being solely about "art" to actually suggesting one type of art deserves state support over other types of art: the type that you won't find in commercial galleries or non-profit spaces without entrance fees (which again, in New York, where a very wide spectrum of work gets exhibited, isn't as much as you might think).

So that leaves open the question: if art is readily available for viewing in commercial and non-profit (non fee charging) spaces, what the hell is the point of that poster? It can't be arguing that art should be inexpensive enough for everyone to own some. There's no workable solution to that I've ever heard, short of unlimited multiples, which is hardly something you can insist upon without interfering with an artist's personal freedom. So what is the point?

I suspect the point isn't to ensure each man, woman, and child can either view or take home a work of art, as much as it is to argue that each person who wants to live as an artist can be supported by the state to do so regardless of whether or not anyone else on the planet cares what they output. That's the only clarification of their point that makes any sense. And that's a point of view I entirely reject.

Red-meat admission: OK, so I don't actually believe exactly what's written above...I do feel that the state has a very important role in supporting the arts and ensuring access via funded arts centers spread throughout the country. Not everyone lives in New York, and not everyone out there who is an artist has the money to move here. Still, I wanted to deconstruct the oversimplified sentiment of that poster because I don't believe it will lead to any meaningful change. Any real solution will have to address the points I raise above: how to actually frame the issue so it doesn't seem so absurd or ignore obvious realities; how to balance the importance of art with the chosen (and entirely OK) indifference about it by some citizens; how exactly the state should support the arts; and how exactly the arts community is failing to get more people interested in the arts (the most sure-fire way to ensure support).

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What It Takes | Open Thread

One of the sub-themes running through The Social Network (which we thoroughly enjoyed and talked about for hours this past weekend) was whether Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (worth something like $7 billion dollars at this point) was truly an asshole* or not. This question permeated nearly every aspect of his life. By the end of the story he had been called an asshole by his girlfriend, by his best friend, by nearly every woman at Harvard, and I'm sure (in real life at least) by the lawyers representing his classmates who were suing him for stealing their idea. The Social Network is, of course, just a movie, but as its advertising campaign notes "you don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies." The implication of which seems to be that being an asshole is simply what it takes to become successful (let alone to become the youngest billionaire in the world).

This notion comes up a good deal in the hyper-competitive art world: does one have to be an asshole to make it here? I have some thoughts on that, but before we delve too deeply, it might make sense to flesh out a working definition. What do we mean when we call someone an asshole? Its official definition is "a stupid, mean, or contemptible person," but in the context of being successful we generally also apply it to someone willing to make enemies to get what they want. It's not that they'd be mean or contemptible if everyone else would simply stay out of their way and let them reign as #1 in their field, and in this context it certainly doesn't mean they're stupid in the traditional sense. It's just that, should someone challenge their dominance, they're more than willing to be viewed as aggressive or conniving or offensively persistent to change the situation more to their liking.

I've done a fair bit of thinking about this question and discussed it with artist, dealer, curator and writer friends of mine, and the essence of it always seems to come back to that one issue: how you are willing to be viewed by others. Is it OK for you if other people despise you? Is it more important that you succeed than be liked, or vice versa? If it's more important that you be liked, a lot of observers will tell you to just settle for second best....you'll never make it.

Of course, many of us like to believe that isn't true. We can point to very successful people who we're sure everyone adores. But the truth of the matter is, even if you never intentionally offend anyone, with success comes restraints on your time and resources to be all things to all people who would want something from you. I know of people in the art world who call so-and-so an "asshole" because that person didn't include them in a show or buy their work or invite them to this or that party or art fair or whatever. What was most likely a professional decision gets interpreted as a personal slight because the stakes seem so high and because it's an industry trading in personal visions.

I am sure, for example, even though I have been told to my face that I'm much too nice (read: soft) to reach the top of my game (we'll see), that there are plenty of people who consider me an asshole. Over the years, I have had to make decisions that put my best interests ahead of someone else's. I don't regret any of them, though. (I generally only regret things I didn't do; I'm pretty good at living with the choices I make.) No, my problem is, at least by many others' account, that I don't do that often enough. Again, we'll see.

The thing is, if you're working in the art world, where there are insanely fewer seats at the head table than people wanting to eat there, any success you find is likely going to piss off someone. The choice here seems to be between having people not like you for the wrong reasons (you didn't really owe them what they wanted from you) and people not liking you for the right reasons (you did probably screw them). Few of us get through life without doing a little of the latter...and in the overall scheme of things that just makes us human. Making up for those times is always good karma, though.

Consider this an open thread on whether it takes being an asshole to be a success.

*I'll apologize in advance for clogging the Internets with this vulgar term, but there's really no other way to discuss this issue than using it. I will point you to this inadvertently hilarious video of a Korean instructor teaching his students how to swear (or at least how to recognize swearing) in English. He notes how the translation of the word "asshole" into Korean is a term only a child would ever use in their culture. I imagine it sounds to their ears the way "poopyhead" sounds to ours. Or something like that.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Sarah Peters on the Paris Review blog

Sarah Peters' gorgeous essay on the making of her current body of work appears on the blog of my all time favorite literary magazine, The Paris Review. Here's a snippet:
Sarah Peters, Sept 8, 1620, 2010, ink and pen on paper.

The passengers' experience on the Mayflower is documented by William Bradford: They were huddled under the deck, without privacy, and they were seasick. There was hostility between the Pilgrims and the other passengers. Adding to their misery, the mainmast cracked in the middle of the voyage.

Sarah Peters, Sept 24, 1620, 2010, ink and pen on paper.

William Bradford describes a crew member taunting the Pilgrims, saying that he would relish throwing them overboard as they died from illness. He was described as haughty, cursing and swearing bitterly. The seaman’s own death is noted by Bradford as “the just hand of God upon him.”

Sarah's solo exhibition continues at the gallery through tomorrow. Don't miss it!

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Freedom and Responsibilities

No subgroup of citizens generally stands up for freedom of speech and the individual's civil rights more than artists. Being free to make the artwork one wants and living in a society that supports that right are essential to most artists' sense of professional and personal well-being, and so it's no surprise that artists are often among the champions of most efforts to protect both freedom of speech and the societal support structure of that freedom. As such, they often lend their stature as independent thinkers to the perceived integrity of political causes. Having a well-known artist among the signatories of a petition letter lends it credibility (at least in my view).

But championing civil rights doesn't always go hand in hand with being a conscientious citizen it seems. There's a truly awesome scene in Stieg Larsson's final book about the anarchist hacker and civil rights poster girl Lisbeth Salander (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)....spoiler alert: if you haven't yet read the book and intend to, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph...in which a judge that Salander has all but dismissed as irrelevant finally gets through to her when he explains that with freedom comes obligations. If you want to have free reign to live as you wish, then you must also contribute to the system that works to ensure that freedom. It only works when we all contribute our part to keep it going.

This brings me to a small controversy brewing about another infamous "bad girl," British artist Tracey Emin. From the Guardian's Deborah Orr:
Not that the Conservatives are the only people who seem politically confused. I'm a wee bit worried about Tracey Emin too. Last week she, along with many other former Young British Artists – themselves great beneficiaries of the recent investment boom – signed a campaigning letter abhorring the cuts in arts funding that are awaiting us on 20 October, with the spending review. Yet what's the alternative to spending cuts? Higher taxes for the rich? Here's Emin, in October 2009, on the new higher tax rate for people earning more than £150,000 a year.

"I'm simply not willing to pay tax at 50% . . . I reckon it would mean me paying about 65p in every £1 with tax, national insurance and so on . . ."
I've long held that the quickest way to tamp down a dangerously popular revolutionary is to give him/her a bunch of money or property. Nothing turns a rebel into a bourgeois conservative like having something material to lose.

Orr goes on to write that Emin backed down from her inconsistent stance, saying that "too much had been made of her remarks." Orr nails the results of this change of heart, noting:
I don't suppose the [government] coalition will be making "too much" of that 100-signatory arts-cut letter either.
Don't get me wrong. I generally agree with Emin and her co-signers' position that the state stands to lose much more than it gains by focusing on cutting the tiny amount of money spent on the arts, when it barely even exists next to what they continue to spend on defense or corporate handouts. Such budgetary gestures are political grandstanding and nothing more in most cases. The setbacks that result from cutting the support for arts too much can dash the aspirations and achievements of an entire generation of artists. And you don't get that back.

Still, I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is here (perhaps because I don't have the kind of money I assume Ms. Emin must, but I would hope I'd be consistent on that as my income [hopefully] rises.... I have been throughout my life thus far). Then again, I'm sure my revolutionary tendencies could be tempered by, oh, let's say, a 30-acre ranch in Montana with breathtaking views and a four-story brownstone with its own garage.

Are you listening, arts funding cutters and their deep-pocket lobbyists in Congress?

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

NUTUREart Benefit Update

There is less than one week get your NURTUREart benefit ticket. It's next Tuesday, October 12! There's so much great work to take home, and this event is so much fun: you don't want to miss it!

(I know the info below is too small to read, but that's all the bigger blogger will let me make it...click on it to see in readable size).

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Super Foul Mood List of Pet Peeves

I'm in one of those moods so foul that even though my better self knows I should really keep away from the keyboard, my less-than-better self has rudely shoved my better self out of the way, grunting, "Step aside Tinkerbell, Papa's gonna drive this time."

What's put me in this puppy-punting state of mind is none of your damn business. Thanks for asking. What's important is how I intend to work my way out of it. Hence, my newly updated and freshly frothing list of pet peeves. You got a problem with any of these, you write it on some extra coarse sandpaper and then... [censored]...

OK, here we go. Ed's less-than-better self's revised list of art world pet peeves:
  1. Museums with no apparent crowd capacity limits. The thinking here must be that if the public are stupid enough to part with $20 for the privilege, they're most likely too stupid to realize that Monet probably didn't feel his etchings were more powerful if you had to try to view them through a forest of other people's heads. Just call it "speed contemplation," eh? I've had longer moments of jostle-free, meaningful reflection in a mosh pit.
  2. Popular filmmakers' portrayals of the art world. You'd think after (what is it now, 90?) years of living in Manhattan, that Woody Allen--of all directors--would have a much better sense of how to write what happens in the gallery world than what he offers in his laughably lame (and that's one of the only laughs you'll get from it) attempt in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." The studio visit dialog of supposedly London's top gallerist would embarrass a strip mall poster framer. The artwork they were touting as the next big sure thing in their space would embarrass the poster framer's dog.
  3. The "Is contemporary art too elitist?" question. To my mind that question is as relevant as "Are the Bulgarian names for the ingredients in this casserole too alliterative?" Who cares? The only question I see as truly important is "does the casserole taste good"? Likewise, for art, "is it compelling for me or not"? What's all this sphincter twitching over whether or not it also appeals to other people who consider themselves intellectuals? Do you force yourself to eat a quiche that invokes your gag reflex just because other people say they like it? If you like the art, enjoy it. If you don't, walk three feet (at least in Chelsea) and try something else. Then again, you can't know if you like the quiche until you try it, so don't be afraid to give new things a go.
  4. Hotel price gauging during big art events. Try to stay at Loews Miami Beach hotel between December 1 and Dec 5, and the starting rate is $539.00 a night. Book your stay beginning December 8 (same day of the week, only after the fair has ended), and the rate magically drops down to $299.00 a night. I know, I know, cry you a river that I can't afford to stay at some luxury hotel...but their towels are so-o-o-o-o-o fluffy! Don't even get me started on the insane gauging during the opening of the Venice Biennale.
  5. Running out of vinegar when trying to be a caustic curmudgeon. OK, so this has calmed me down a bit. Now it's safe for me to walk among my fellow humans. (I think.) Please excuse the flying digital spittle.
Do feel free to share you own art world pet peeves.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

The Mother of All Arts news round-up

Architecture is making news everywhere you turn today, it seems. Here's a quick round-up:

1. Guggenheim to Create Architect-Designed ‘Labs’. As explained on the Guggenheim's website:
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a long-term global collaboration between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and BMW. Spanning six years of programmed activities that will engage people in nine major cities across the globe, the BMW Guggenheim Lab is conceived as an innovative movable structure, which will travel from city to city bringing together ambitious thinkers and becoming a public place for research, experimentation, and the sharing of ideas about major issues affecting urban life.
2. London-based architect Zaha Hadid wins the Riba Stirling prize for the The Maxxi contemporary art museum in Rome. Click here for some images from the Zaha Hadid website.

3. The NYTimes offers a sneak peek at Park51 (the new, less controversial name [I guess] for the proposed center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site). The center's website itself presents this impressively careful (and might I note impressively progressive) vision for the center:
Park51 is a nonsectarian community, cultural and interfaith spiritual center along with a Muslim prayer area and a monument to honor all those we lost on 9/11. Park51 enriches lower Manhattan in body and spirit, with ecologically conscious design and operation. Our goals are pluralism, service, arts and culture, health and healing. A group of downtown Muslim-Americans envisioned a sanctuary where everyone is welcome to learn, experience the arts and culture and explore their relationship to faith. In the near future, Park51 will offer green, world-class recreational and educational facilities, and a friendly and accessible platform for conversations across our identities.
I should clarify, that as much as I'll continue to argue for the rights of Americans to build what they want where they want [legally of course], I don't subscribe to any religion, per se, and so I don't get too excited about any building that focuses on one. Still I do like the fact that, as the Times notes, they are planning "a 9/11 memorial and a space open to people of 'all faiths and of no faith' for prayer, contemplation and meditation." [emphasis mine]

4. Also from the NYTimes we learn that "The Morgan Library & Museum’s landmark McKim, Mead and White building will reopen to the public on Oct. 30 after a $4.5 million restoration of its interior spaces." What's not to love about that? (image below from Morgan website):

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