Friday, December 31, 2010

2010

Well...

...that happened.

Wishing you and yours a better decade, or one at least just as good.

_e

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Top Ten Things I Didn't Understand in 2010

I'll be the first to admit that I've never been the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but quite a few things that made headlines in the art world left me more than a little confused me over the past year. I do have this unsupported faith in accumulative human knowledge and experience and perhaps wrongly expect that we'll all learn from past mistakes and make better choices than our predecessors. Either way, here is my top 10 list:

In 2010 I didn't understand:

10. The notion that an art dealer is automatically a bad choice to head a museum, when clearly years of putting one's personal money where one's mouth is to champion artistic expression and studio practice is no more a guarantee that one will stand up to a bit of public pressure than never having done so is.

9. How the Republican Leadership managed to turn all our clocks back to 1989.

8. Why so many American art students feel that if they haven't attained certain career milestones (such as a solo museum show or having their work highlighted at an auction) by the time they're 25, they've somehow failed at their chance to be a success. Oh, no, wait....this is why.

7. Why there no longer seems to be a meaningful phrase in Greek for "conflict of interest."

6. Why there no longer seems to be a meaningful phrase in American English for "parody."

5. How so many super smart people fail to recognize that approaching the art market the way, say, David X. Li did the stock market, will not only most likely lead to a similar ending, but that it's distracting them and us all from art's more important value.

4. Why people were so willing to be so publicly concerned with how Marina Abramovic urinated during her performance at MoMA. I mean, I realize that hours and hours and hours and hours of waiting for one's turn does tend to make the mind wander, but what ever happened to keeping certain thoughts to one's self?

3. Why the European Commission is apparently willing to recognize video and media as "art" in competitions that their members jury, but not when it comes to taxing imports.

2.
Why Tony Fitzpatrick isn't simply coronated King of the art world and empowered to run the whole shebang.

1. How to follow a conversation on Twitter without monitoring it constantly...and even then. How about a few freaking absolute links??? I mean, come on!
:-)

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise

Giving himself the ability to declare someone an "enemy combatant" (and leave them without access to American courts or the protections of the Geneva Conventions) was, after his approval of torture, the most chilling of Executive abuses seen during GWBush's presidency. It was the sort of unchecked power that we were taught as children to recognize as a hallmark of tyranny. Literally, the president could now make anyone he wanted to disappear forever, and that person had no recourse at all.

I strongly objected to that power when it was created, but found that my objections often fell on deaf ears. I also found a surprising number of people say they didn't think it would be abused...that essentially only the "bad guys" had to worry about it. This despite the fact that the enemy combatants had no access to their lawyer.

Then came Obama, with his promises to close Guantanamo, close CIA black sites around the world, make CIA interrogators abide by the Army Field Manual, define waterboarding as torture and ban it, suspend trials for terrorists by military commission, and eliminate the label of enemy combatants. As it turns out, the first one was obviously harder than he thought and that last one was merely a cosmetic shift in rhetoric.

Much is being made in the news about the Obama administration's proposed revision of how the Guantanamo detainee's are being handled:
The proposal would replace the “annual review boards” that the Bush administration had used to revisit its decision to hold each prisoner. Under that system, which the Obama administration shut down, a panel of military officers periodically reviewed the accusations against and talked to each prisoner who wanted to participate. The prisoners were not represented by lawyers. Officers then decided whether a prisoner was still a threat or should be released.

The Obama proposal, by contrast, would establish a “periodic review board” drawn from many agencies, not just the military, and modeled on a parole board, one official said. Detainees would be represented by lawyers and would have greater access to some of the evidence against them.
This is certainly a step in the right direction. But it should not be seen to overshadow what the proposal is NOT doing: addressing the President's unchecked power to designate someone as, what? not an enemy combatant perhaps, but still "a perpetual detainee" in the future:
Civil liberties and human rights groups — many of whom dislike any policy that involves holding prisoners without trial — reacted with ambivalence to the report that the Obama team has been working on an executive order to establish formal reviews.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said such an order could provide additional safeguards for those prisoners who are already being held in as wartime detainees, but worried that it could be used to entrench the idea of detention without trial.

“My sense and my hope is that it would be limited to the detainees whom Obama inherited from the Bush administration, rather than serving as a permanent regime for the detention of anyone the government may decide is dangerous in the future,” he said.
Indeed, my biggest objection to this power was always how it might be abused, not by Bush (who I found terribly misguided and dangerously arrogant but not really hard-core evil by any stretch), but by his successors. Left unchecked, a power becomes absolute. And an absolute power, as we know, will corrupt absolutely.

Big deal, Ed, I've heard in response to such warnings. Only those "terrorists" are being hauled off under this plan, and we hate them anyway...they don't deserve the same considerations decent people do. Even if that argument wasn't an abject rejection of the concept of universal human rights, the thing for me is to remember that one person's "freedom fighter" is another person's "terrorist," and so it all depends on who's the person making the designations.

Take for example Wikileaks leader Julian Assange:

Speaking on Meet the Press, Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, terming him a “high-tech terrorist.”
As I've noted before, the Justice Department is scouring the law books for some way to prosecute Assange, despite the fact that many experts insist he has broken no laws. Flash forward though. What if Assange decides to leak documents that might not only embarrass the White House, but cost it the next election. Could this person, already declared a "terrorist" by one of the most powerful lawmakers in the country, be made a perpetual detainee under this existing executive power?

I know, I know...don't be silly, Ed. The Obama administration isn't going to whisk Assange away to Guantanamo, never to be heard from again.

The thing is, it's not really the Obama administration I'm personally worried about here. Not that I trust him blindly, but stay with me on this...

Say Obama loses the 2012 election and we have a new President. Say this new president gets wind that Wikileaks is going to leak documents that will cost them the 2014 mid-term elections. Say this new president is someone who's
on the record as saying Assange should be "pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders." Are you so sure Sarah Palin wouldn't make Assange disappear if her interests were at stake?

To my mind, that's how you have to view this issue: Do you really want Sarah Palin, who has already been reprimanded over "abuse of power" as the governor of Alaska, to have access to this power?

If not, you shouldn't want Obama to have it either.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who Will Present "Hide/Seek" Next?
Come on, You Can Do It!

As much credit as the National Portrait Gallery deserves for presenting Hide/Seek in our nation's capital, a symbolic gesture that no one who champions the art therein should take lightly, at this point I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibition presented as the curators envisioned it and that may mean waiting until it arrives in its next location. There were hopes that the David Wojnarowicz video might be returned to the exhibition in DC, but not only has the Smithsonian decided not to restore the exhibition, as Tyler Green has reported, there are other issues here that continue to overshadow even that outrageous act of censorship at NPG, making that context less than ideal for serious contemplation at the moment.

Indeed, with a growing list of artists and collectors whose artwork is included in the show asking to have it removed (first was artist AA Bronson and now collector Jim Hedges, who has encouraged other collectors to "please consider pulling your work from the National Portrait Gallery"), the context at the NPG has shifted considerably. Even should NPG evoke contractual agreements to keep those works in the show, it would be near impossible now to view Bronson's "Felix, June 5, 1994" or Hedges' lent "Untitled, Self-Portrait" by Jack Pierson and see only why the curators included them.

As obvious as moving the exhibition to a private museum (where the Republicans' threats of cutting funding could be derisively and properly dismissed as the political grandstanding it is) might seem, though, one of Hide/Seek's curators, Johnathan Katz, suggested a while back on Culture Grrl that this was not likely:
Do you honestly believe that a privately funded museum would even go for this exhibition in the first place? I tried for 15 years to slate variants of this exhibition somewhere without so much as a nibble.

Private institutions are entirely in the thrall of their boards, which is to say, their donors. Controversy in general is bad for donations. Surely you've noted how extensively the American museum world has become an extension of private capital and in the process lost any commitment to public service.
Ouch! (It hurts because it's true.)

But here's your chance, private museums! Your chance to present an important, historic exhibition sure to come with built-in press. There may already be discussions underway to have the exhibition travel (I don't know), but don't let that stop you. Show your support for curatorial integrity and freedom of speech by convincing your boards to present it in your institution too. Give this exhibition the life it deserves as a complete entity. Give the public a chance to actually debate the work in it without having politicians condescendingly make their viewing choices for them. Reinvigorate the faith today's curators have obviously lost in your commitment to public service.

Present Hide/Seek as it was curated. The nation is waiting.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Goodwill Toward All (kind of)

I've learned through the years that the perceived value of "bi-partisanship" seems to fluctuate according to how much power one actually holds. In America, the party out of power is always more interested in working together than the party with control. Depending on who has the White House or a majority in Congress, you'll hear different arguments as to why bi-partisanship is pointless.

On the left, the anti-bi-partisanship argument tends to be that the right isn't truly interested in working together or even particularly trustworthy, so we'd be suckers to lend them an olive branch. On the right, it tends to be that the left are a bunch of pinko wack-jobs and we'd be idiots to try things their way...besides, we know what's best (for us, anyway). Until the right or left is out of power, that is. And then, well, the argument shifts to how bi-partisanship is the "American way" to govern the country...it's what "the people" want of their leadership.

The longer you pay attention to such hypocrisy, the more you understand the attraction to becoming an Independent in this country. At least that way you can be consistent in your self-interest.


The truth of the matter is, I love debating politics with Republicans...I always learn something, if only how to strengthen my argument (and the confusion on their face at times is priceless), and, to be honest, many of them are more fun-loving than their counterparts tend to be. Feeling you own the place tends to help you relax and enjoy life.

Moreover, I cringe at the thought of spending dinner sitting next to a certain breed of Democrats, who aren't content until everyone else at the table acknowledges that they are more liberal and more righteous than anyone else present.
Yes, yes, Jesus was to the right of you...we get it.

And I would rather spend a long airplane ride next to an independent than anyone else. As much as I clearly love it, there are certain contexts in which politics is a painful topic to engage in, especially those where you can't get up and walk away, and independents tend to shy away from bringing up hot-button issues, which is probably connected to why listening to independents talk to each other is a good substitute for a sleep-aid while traveling.


Now that I've likely offended someone of every political stripe, let me write what I really feel:


At the end of the day, I honestly don't care what your politics are. I've never felt the need to change anyone from who they are or what they believe. I will object strongly to statements I disagree with that someone puts out on the Internet, but mostly just to try to consistently counter the assumption that silence = agreement. And, because I love to debate. So sue me.

In the end, though, I'll enjoy a cold beer and non-political chat with anyone. People are people. And people are interesting. As Bambino will attest, I don't particularly like noisy people or those with a warped sense of personal space, but that usually only depends on the context.

And so this Holiday Season, I'd like to wish goodwill to all people, regardless of whether we violently disagree on this or that issue. May you find a few moments of nonpolitical solace during this time and enjoy the people around you for who they are (irrespective of how they vote). May you find a human connection that sparks, if just for one brief moment, a mutual appreciation with even those you can't stand.

There will be plenty of time for acrimonious bickering in 2011. For what's left of 2010, I wish you and yours peace...or at least a meaningful break from all that...in whatever form that makes you most happy.

Images shamelessly lifted from Google searches, but for more, check out http://dogs.icanhascheezburger.com/ and http://www.loldawgz.com/2008/08/10/kung-fu-fighting/ and http://www.catspictures.net/

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Reviews and Links for Final Week : Christopher K. Ho's "Regional Painting": an Artforum.com Critics' Pick

This is the last week for the two great exhibitions we have up at the moment: Christopher K. Ho's "Regional Painting" and "What is left," the Curatorial Research Lab exhibition organized by Rachel Gugelberger and featuring work by Nina Lola Bachhuber, Elissa Levy and Nick Herman.

Both shows have stirred up a fair bit of discussion in the gallery, as well as online. The openings for these shows were back in November, so unless you have a time machine, you're not able to join in that discussion. You can, however, get a feel for how packed it was from Amir Shoucri and Julia Halperin's wonderful video of the opening for the New York Observer:

Christopher K. Ho @ Winkleman Gallery from The New York Observer on Vimeo.


More importantly, you still have time to stop by and see the exhibitions and join in the conversation yourself. Here's a taste of what how critics are responding:

Artforum.com's Critics' Pick by Nuit Banai:
Judging from the caliber of the paintings and the memoir’s sophisticated register of discourse, Ho’s/Rothko’s conclusion is every “insider’s” escape fantasy. Yet, as Paul Gauguin, Marcel Duchamp, and Claude Lévi-Strauss have aptly shown us, the fabrication of such cultural myths and artistic personae has been crucial to the regeneration of intellectual and aesthetic production during modernism’s constitution and critique. Rather than assessing the truth status of such constructs, we need to ask why they appear at specific historical junctures and what artistic and institutional possibilities they might engender.
Hyperallergic's review by Stephen Truax:
If Ho is seriously proposing regionalism as the next and only logical step forward for artistic production, why then does he reinforce his paintings with performance, philosophy, and fictional narrative? Much of the show’s conceptual apparatus occurs in the press release, the price list, the book, and subsequent interviews with the artist and Ed Winkleman; it demands much investment and thought and work from the viewer.
And regarding the Curatorial Research Lab show, Bradley Rubenstein notes in Culture Catch:
The premise that the traces of the changing exhibition (nail holes, plaster, etc.) is as good a metaphor for the curatorial process as we are likely to get -- the materiality of moving works of art around is, in the end, what curating is, all money and politics aside.
And, there are still copies available of Christopher's brilliant book (the memoir of Hirsch E.P. Rothko). They make great stocking-stuffers for those art world lovers on your list. And, they're FREE!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 Days to Christmas

More and more I see religions as comparable to nuclear weapons, that is, too powerful to let fall into the hands of the willfully ignorant, toxically bitter, or dangerously arrogant. And yet those seem to be the personality types most drawn to conversion and/or extremism.

And so it's odd to me that the older I get and the less personal interest I have in religions of any stripe, the more I grow nostalgic for the magic I felt as a child at Christmastime.


To be clear, "Christ" was always the first part of "Christmas" in my father's house. He had no time at all for those disrespectful "X-ers," and no amount of historical justification (about how "X" was a valid synonym for "Christ") would sway his opinion. And that's OK...he's consistent and, more than that, he's entitled.

So Christmas was a religious holiday in our house growing up (we attended church services, we said a prayer before opening presents, my brothers and sisters and I even sung "Happy Birthday" to Jesus). But I have to confess, those aren't the memories that keep coming back to me most (although they are a part of the nostalgia). What really stands out for me is how my older brother and I, in our pajamas, would press our noses up against the icy window of our bedroom for hours Christmas Eve, scanning the skies for that flash of red light, convinced that if we could just stay up until midnight, we'd see the jolly fat man in the red suit flying by. And how we had decorated every nook and cranny of the house with both secular and religious symbols of the holiday. And how, bounding down the stairs Christmas morning at the first indication that our parents had finally gotten up, the sight of those shiny wrapped gifts that now appeared under the tree took our breath away.
And the bulbs on the tree with our names spelled out in sparkles that my Mom had made. And Mom's surprisingly delicious homemade TV dinners, created from leftovers at Thanksgiving, so she didn't have to cook on Christmas day. And how, on this day, I didn't mind being tickled to death by Dad because the way he smelled of the new Old Spice cologne we had given him made me feel safer than any imaginable force on the Earth could.

________________________

There's an obnoxious video making that rounds that equates progressive values with being "anti-Christmas." Andy Sullivan dubbed it "
a pure culture war IED...designed to persuade no one but those already inside the tent." It's illogical in that it suggests Christ, or those who follow his teachings, would need to be anti-diversity, pro-gun, ambivalent about the health of the Earth, and against tolerance. Having spent years studying the teachings of Christ, I'm pretty sure he was none of those things. Indeed, that video seems more designed to celebrate willful ignorance, toxic bitterness, and dangerous arrogance than it does the birth of Jesus.

What annoys me the most about this pathetic victim stance taken up the people who see a "war on Christmas" behind (perhaps misguided, but I suspect sincere) efforts to simply comply with the Constitution is how they're ruining the unbridled joy and optimism I remember and wish to continue to associate with the holiday. Rather than simply celebrating with their loved ones, they seem hellbent on demanding ubiquitous control over the symbols of the season, as continued evidence of their superiority one must assume. In the process, they are making the enjoyment of the spirit of the season impossible for the rest of us.

Indeed, it is they, and not any non-Christians, who are destroying Christmas for me. Nothing in that video is optimistic or joyful or even remotely Christian, as far as I can tell. It's simply a bitchy little pity party drenched in mean-spiritedness. And it's all the more farcical because,
after such bile is spewed all over the place, no publicly placed Nativity scene is going to all of a sudden bring peace on earth or goodwill to man.

There are 10 days to Christmas...with any luck that's enough time for me to forget I ever watched that vile little video. Actually, I know as I gather with my loved ones, I will...they're generous and charming and fun-loving and yes even tolerant, and even those who aren't Christians, are much more Christ-like than the makers of that dumb digital diatribe.

We have a bazillion holiday parties over the next week to attend. Should I not see you at any of them, I hope the season brings you moments of true joy and optimism. I'll be back tomorrow with some art world rant or whatever, but I'm feeling all nostalgic these days for some reason, and so let me be among the first to wish you a Warm and Happy Holiday Season.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How aware should an artist be of their own market?

In the chapter of my book that I assume most people skip over fairly quickly, especially those not planning to actually open a gallery, like, say, artists looking for insights into how best to navigate the gallery system, I make a big point about thoroughly understanding both your market and who your competitors are. That chapter, on "Writing a Business Plan," details a document so daunting to create that I am willing to bet more than 70% of galleries under 3 years old in New York have never written one.

I know we opened Plus Ultra back in the day without one, and that it wasn't until I approached a bank for capital to move into Chelsea that I ever considered taking the time to do so. Beyond potential investors, though, the most important reader of your business plan is you. This should be a document you refer to like you would a road map, to guide you on what your focus should be as the ride gets bumpy or more complicated.

The part of writing a Business Plan that isn't about your own vision for the business and thus is the one that takes the most time (or did for me) is the subsection generally called "Description of the Industry," in which you not only familiarize your reader (a potential investor or perhaps a new employee in your gallery) with how the industry you're going to be working in operates, but more importantly you demonstrate to them that you're a safe investment (or how you wish them to think as your employee) because you actually know that industry well. As I note in my book, you do this:
[B]y offering your readers a detailed description of the art gallery business, including how it operates, how well it is doing at the moment, and how well it is likely to be doing in the foreseeable future. It is important that you cite reliable sources for your conclusions here and not simply offer your own opinions or conjecture.
Another part of your Description of the Industry in your plan should be a description of your specific niche in The Market. Here again, it's important to convince your readers that you understand this well enough that they can trust their money in your hands or know how best to work with you to help you meet your goals:
In The Market section you should describe the specifics of how you’re positioning yourself within the overall market you’ll be competing in. As is true throughout your business plan, your goal in this section remains to provide yourself a roadmap, as well as to convince your readers you have a firm grasp of this topic. To do this, describe the following: who your customers will be, what their needs are, and how you plan to meet those needs; go into detail about the size of the market and how recent market trends will impact that size; provide a matter-of-fact evaluation of your competition, including a list of who they are and what their strengths and weakness are; describe how you plan to position yourself within the market; discuss how your pricing strategy will work to help you meet your goals; and describe how you arrived at your sales estimates based on these combined factors.
Of course whether or not a dealer will engage in the painstaking research and reflection required to do all this probably depends on how competitive they wish to be in the market. Believe me, your competitors are doing all this and more. We've all heard the stories of the lengths powerful dealers have gone to to be competitive (one reportedly memorized all the contemporary auction results from the time he was a child, another visits collectors in their home and then, when the collector leaves a room, snaps photos of all the art they have on the walls for future reference), and indeed there's every reason to believe the most competitive forces in the business are gearing up in earnest for a battle for global domination like none ever quite seen before. To fight on this scale, though, you need real power and in the art market, like most other markets, information is power (hence the seemingly mindless memorization and secretive categorization efforts).

Yes, yes, yes, you're probably saying by now...that's interesting and all, Ed, but what's that got to do with artists? Your post has "artist" in the title. Art isn't about knowing your competition inside out, art is about something higher.

I'd agree that Art is about something higher, but an art career is exactly about knowing your market and knowing your competition. Just look at many of the giants of the last century. These included artists who wrote manifestos, most of which usually began with a devastating take down of their competition (including their predecessors, probably each artist's fiercest competition). These manifestos were not easy to write. They required a great deal of research and reflection. They required truly understanding what the competition was doing and what their strengths or weaknesses were. (Sound familiar yet?)

Today few artists are invested or even interested in the polemics of the manifesto career model, but the most financially successful among today's contemporary artists (like Hirst, or Koons, or Murakami) are certainly intimately aware of the market and what their competitors are doing.

OK, so several of the artists I know reading this are probably ready to head back and take another shower by now. Let me switch this around to make it a bit less about money and (hopefully) demonstrate why what I'm saying is important even if you're queasy about "the market." Let's change the question in the title to "How aware should an artist be of their competition?" Assuming that you're not only competing as an artist for collectors' money but also for critics, curators, and historians' attention, do you need to know what other artists are doing or can you simply burrow away in your studio and focus on your own work?

That probably depends mostly on what your own work is, but even more on what your career goals are. But stick with me here a moment. Let's take the high ground...let's say the career you're most interested in is one outside the gallery system...one in dialog with serious curators and other connoisseurs you personally invite to your studio.

Few things are more frustrating for an artist during a studio visit, I'm sure, than to have their work compared to that of so-and-so (especially compared as lacking in some way), but how can you possibly respond to such comparisons, pointing out the important differences, if you're unfamiliar with so-and-so's work? By not being able to respond, your work is perhaps left looking derivative to that curator. Of course, if the curator takes the time and is observant enough, they will eventually see the differences for themselves, but many of them are extremely busy, it took you months to get them over to your studio, and you can see them already checking their watch while you struggle to respond to the comparison. To me, this is a clear cut case in which being well aware of your competition is important.

Mind you, I fully understand that you can't know every artist out there, and that curators will compare work with some obscure artist they did a studio visit with while traveling through Central Asia or wherever, but should they compare your work with someone who's had a recent museum exhibition or highly acclaimed gallery show, you're left looking "out of the loop" if you can't at least comment on that other artist's work. Which is only to say that if you're a painter focused on geometric abstractions, you might want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with other well-received artists focused on geometric abstractions, and not to say you need to be an expert on the latest thinking in political performance-based work or whatever.

But that's another way of saying, know your niche. Or, know your market. There's a market for buying art, and another market for simply discussing and exhibiting art, but whichever is important to you, you'll do much better reaching your goals the more you understand that market.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Confluence of Censorship | Open Thread

Maybe it's in the water.

Now that I think of it...back in 2005 the BBC reported:

Russia's NTV channel showed a huge, muddy basin where the lake once was, in the village of Bolotnikovo.

"It looks like somebody has pulled the plug out of a gigantic bath," said the TV's correspondent, next to a deep debris-filled hole.

Local officials in Nizhny Novgorod region say the lake was probably sucked into an underground cave.
Maybe that water from that lake from the former Soviet Union, you know, the former censorship capital of the world, has simply drained into one of the main US water supplies, because something has got everyone in a censorship or censorship charging mood in the art world lately.

Full disclosure: I've had my own run in with a censorship-based misunderstanding of late that I hope has now been clarified sufficiently. I will reserve further comment on that topic until the #rank debrief we'll be having in person (where people can measure each others' body language and facial expressions) at the gallery (date to be announced).

Still, from the National Portrait Gallery's removal of the David Wojnarowicz video from their "Hide/Seek" exhibition (and let's hear it for the Warhol Foundation!!!) to the news yesterday that the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art director Jeffrey Deitch had "ordered the whitewashing of a mural by the well-known street artist Blu on the outside wall of the Geffen Contemporary building," it seems something is stirring up the urge to purge art coast to coast.

Now I know the political climate is tense, but this confluence of censorship issues in the US strikes me as highly improbable, all else being equal. For the NPG issue, we've already discussed how many feel it's simply a distraction from some other, larger issue (like the tax compromise or something more sinister, perhaps :-p).

For the Blu issue, Deitch has insisted it's simply a curatorial decision, not a case of censorship. Indeed, in Jori Finkel's excellent report in the LA Times, Deitch "rejects the talk of censorship":
"This doesn't compare to David Wojnarowicz. This shouldn't be blown up into something larger than it is," he says, describing a curator's prerogative to pick and choose what goes into a show. "Every aspect of the show involves a very considered discussion."
but Hrag Vartanian has been effectively deconstructing the PR coming out of MOCA, and I have to agree that something still seems to need clarification here. Deitch's central argument is that he has a responsibility to the community:
"Look at my gallery website — I have supported protest art more than just about any other mainstream gallery in the country," he added. "But as a steward of a public institution, I have to balance a different set of priorities — standing up for artists and also considering the sensitivities of the community."
Fair enough.

I am much more sensitive to not offending veterans than many of the people I know (each male member of my family other than myself having served, and some having paid a high price for it), but I agree with this sentiment from Hrag:
I think veterans are more sensitive to the abuse of soldiers in wars based on lies and a neocon agenda (i.e. the Iraq War) than anyone
Deitch has explained that this boils down to a miscommunication between him and the artist (he was supposed to meet with Blu in late November, but the artist changed his flight...then when Blu had to begin painting, Deitch was in Miami, so they never got to compare notes)...all of which seems understandable.
When he returned from Miami and saw the mural, then more than halfway completed, Deitch said he made the decision to remove it very quickly, unprompted by complaints. "There were zero complaints, because I took care of it right away." He asked Blu to finish the work so it could be documented as part of the exhibition and appear in the accompanying catalog.
But, as also reported in Finkel's article, the impact of this decision will be larger than just one curatorial choice or one interpersonal relationship between a museum director and an artist he's worked with before:
Daniel Lahoda, founder of LA Freewalls Project downtown and one of the few people to photograph the work as it was being removed, said that the street art community is "really upset by this — everyone is talking about it."

"If you're planning on mounting the largest graffiti show in a major institution, you've got to give the artists the freedom to do the movement justice — so there's a big failure in what just happened," he says. "The last thing we want is an art institution, someone supposed to support creativity, to destroy it."
And that gets to the heart of all these issues me. What is more important, the community's feelings or artistic freedom? Mind you, I don't think artistic freedom means the artist should be free to work outside of an agreed upon framework. The artist is a member of the community too. Had Blu gone off and painted on a different wall of the museum, or over the entrance doors, or on someone's nearby car, I would criticize that strongly. But within a mutually respectful context that the community understands is reserved for art, it's difficult for me to approve any interference with how the artist wishes to express him/herself. It seems condescending to the public for politicians or even museum directors to presume they should protect the community from ideas clearly bubbling within it already.

Yes, I understand that for some artists to truly express themselves they need to break out of the mutually respectful contexts and purposely interject friction into the dialog. I understand how such actions can move art and meaning forward. I also think, though, that if you insist on revolutionary, provocative tactics, you have to be willing to suffer the consequences if people over-react to them. It was your choice to push their buttons, to push them out of their comfort zone, and yet your freedom of choice doesn't trump their freedom of choice to react as they see fit within the law.

OK, so I'm skimming along the topic I promised to hold off until we can all meet face to face, and so will stop with this. Consider this an open thread on censorship.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

New York, New York: If you can make it here...you probably should...or not. You choose.

I received a cold submission from a painter living in the Midwest a little while back that was memorable because of the appeal in its handwritten cover letter. The artist noted that they had reached a great age (almost 90) and enjoyed many achievements over the years, but that a solo exhibition in a New York gallery was the one missing part of their career that they truly wanted while still alive.

My first response to the appeal was to have my heart go out to this artist. I know it's not easy to network from outside New York, and with how long it can take to arrange a show in New York, time was surely running out for this goal. But my next two responses to the letter were resentment for how emotionally manipulative it was, and even more than that, exasperation at the notion that a solo show in a New York gallery (apparently any New York gallery, as the work was unlike anything the artist would have any reason to believe we would exhibit if they had done just a little research) is somehow still viewed as this goal unto itself, completely irrespective of which gallery or which context the work is viewed in. Ask the thousands of artists who have had one or two or even more solo exhibitions in New York if it made all their dreams come true. More than 95% will tell you "no."

I brought this appeal up when talking with a few folks while down in Miami, one of whom is a highly accomplished New York based artist with magazine covers, plenty of glowing reviews, mid-career retrospectives, and high-priced sales under their belt. This artist expressed a resentment of another kind in response that I hadn't felt at first, but that I totally understand. If this painter wants a show in New York, the artist said in Miami, then he/she should have moved to New York and become an active member contributing to the artist community.

Mind you, this New York-based artist worked hard for many years before success came their way, and is indeed an active voice for artists in the community. And I can fully understand that with the sacrifices such artists make, they would feel resentment toward someone who thought a solo gallery show should be theirs for the asking.


So I'm torn. On one hand I believe New York is quickly becoming just one of a series of art centers around the globe and that holding it up as some crowning achievement on one's resume seems a bit out of the loop. On the other hand, I cannot tell you how amazing the art community in New York is...how rich the conversations can be, how committed the artists are, how exhilarating it is to find myself challenged again and again during studio visits here, and how high the standards are among the very competitive galleries here. It's a feast for the eyes and mind nearly every day.

But it's just one of many centers that are growing in that same exciting direction. And with more and more artists connecting more and more online, what constitutes a "community" is shifting even as we speak.

So I guess I wish to tell that Midwest artist (and everyone else out there in a similar state of mind) that New York is great. I simply love it. And if you want to make it here...you probably should...make it here, that is, as in move here or at least visit frequently. Become a generous member of the artist community and you'll see that generosity come back to you. But don't hold up New York as the Holy Grail or whatever. Without being here all the time, your chances of landing a solo show are pretty slim. It's probably smarter to take advantage of the Internet or one of the art centers closer to you to reach your goals.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Wikileaks : Better than Ludlum

OK, Stefano...here we go!

The other day I picked up the next trashy spy novel I intend to read over the holidays (Black Ops by W.E.B. Griffin) and in the dust jacket copy read the following:
[T]wo conclusions are immediately reached.

One: These are no coincidences---this is payback.
The context or what the second conclusion was is irrelevant to my point today, so you'll have to pick up the book yourself if you're curious. The dots that this text connected in my muddled post-Miami mind were between Wikileaks' leader Julian Assange's arrest for sexual "something" and the Justice Department's stated intent to scour the books for some law under which to prosecute Assange once they got their hands on him.

The fact that there isn't an obvious law that Mr. Assange has broken, and indeed many experts insist he hasn't broken any...

A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.” –Judge Murray Gurfein, June 1971.

Since August, when Wikileaks first published 91,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, and in October, when they published approximately 400,000 more relating to the War in Iraq, many conservative commentators have been clamoring for the Justice Department to prosecute Wikileaks for publishing classified information.

But in the United States, generally publishing classified information is not a crime. The sort of information that a news organization can be prosecuted for publishing is limited to: nuclear secrets (Atomic Energy Act), the identities of covert agents (Intelligence Identities Protection Act), and certain forms of communications intelligence (Section 798 of the Espionage Act).

...suggests that the Justice Department's hunt is motivated by vengeance, not jurisprudence.

This alone should cause fair-minded people around the world to be alarmed.

Now I'll admit to understanding why the delicate and very, very important work of diplomacy (the alternative to which is often war) requires secrecy. I'll admit to understanding why the State Department is furious with Wikileaks (imagine your best-kept secrets being published across the Internets, and you will too). I can even imagine the chills the release of the documents sent down the spines of world leaders everywhere, leading them to rush out to buy more shredders and better encryption software.

What I can't imagine, however, is that the timing of the arrest of Assange in the UK is simply a coincidence. In fact, back in August, it had been reported that Assange had been cleared of all allegations in this case:
The Associated Press reports that Wikileaks frontman Julian Assange has been cleared of all allegations of rape and "molestation" in Sweden. From all available reports, it sounds like the story involved a trip down the drama-hole between Assange and two female acquaintances, one of whom apparently volunteered with Wikileaks—not any act of physical coercion, and not any crime. Reason deftly debunks the conspiracy theories of Pentagon/CIA "dirty tricks," "smears," and "sex traps," which Assange himself blamed as the scandal spread this past weekend. Newsweek reports way, way, way more than I wanted to know about Mr. Assange's (alleged) intimate habits.
The fact that the charges were revived under an "obscure Swedish law against having sex without a condom," though, suggests desperation on the part of someone to get Assange into their grips.

Surely, though, I'm seeing a conspiracy where none exists, right?

Perhaps.

The most credible news sources do seem to be giving the Swedish government plenty of reasonable doubt about the timing of the charges. But
not everyone is:

One [of Assange's two] accuser[s], Anna Ardin, may have "ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups," according to Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett, writing for CounterPunch.

While in Cuba, Ardin worked with the Las damas de blanco (the Ladies in White), a feminist anti-Castro group.

Professor Michael Seltzer pointed out that the group is led by Carlos Alberto Montaner who is reportedly connected to the CIA.

Shamir and Bennett also describe Ardin as a "leftist" who "published her anti-Castro diatribes (see here and here) in the Swedish-language publication Revista de Asignaturas Cubanas put out by Misceláneas de Cuba."

OK, so who needs trashy spy novels? I can just keep reading about Assange's legal troubles and get all my cheap thrills from those. One thing is for certain in all this, though. The mass sphincter twitching inflicting the world's diplomatic circles proves that the old fascist adage that "you have nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong" applies equally to those in power now.

Long live Wikileaks!

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Lee and Kizys Jump to the Big Screen

One of the films screened in our mini-film festival organized by Eve Sussman last spring has since haunted my imagination. It's due in part to the fact that it's an interpretation of Ted Hughes's devastating Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow, but also due to the powerful vision of filmmaker Simon Lee and the otherworldly score by Algis Kizys. And so I am delighted to report that this work is going to larger theater than we had for a special screening at New York's IFC next week. See invite below
We invite you to a screening of 'Where is the Black Beast?' at the IFC Center in NYC on 16th December at 6:45pm. Details below. If you want to reserve complimentary tickets please rsvp by December 10th to ensure a seat. Hope you can make it --


Where is the Black Beast?
a film by Simon Lee and Algis Kizys
Screening at the IFC
December 16th, 2010 at 6:45p

On Thursday, December 16th at 6:45pm, Where is the Black Beast? by Simon Lee and Algis Kizys will screen at the IFC Center in Manhattan.

Where is the Black Beast? is a film interpretation of Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow by Ted Hughes.

Lee pieces together hundreds of abandoned photographs into a film driven by Hughes’ epic cycle of poems. Kizys’compositions guide the piece, with original scores written for each reader: Nesbitt Blaisdell, Carla Bozulich, Julie Spodeck, Flaminia Genari, Eve Sussman, Simon Lee and Algis Kizys.

The mythical imagery and dark cadence of the poetry create a narrative from ordinary familial snapshots. The basic human interaction and gesture between the subjects in the photos becomes imbued with a larger universal meaning.

There will be a brief Q&A with the filmmakers following the screening. This is a single event, so it’s not to be missed. The IFC Center is at 323 6th Ave at West 3rd St., New York.

To reserve a seat please contact catherine@rufuscorporation.com.

Simon Lee works in photography, video and installation. His public arts project, Bus Obscura , was part of Miami Basel in 2004 and has since toured extensively in the US and abroad. He has shown work at the Tinguely Museum in Basel, The Passenger’s Festival in Warsaw, Roebling Hall, New York; Pierogi, Brooklyn; Univeristy of Hertforshire, London and Colgate University, Hamilton. He was born in Yorkshire and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Algis Antanas Kizys has played bass/toured/recorded with Swans, Foetus, Pigface, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Of Cabbages and Kings, The Glenn Branca Ensemble, Bag People, The Problem Dogs, and NeVAh amongst others, and non-bass in Prowers, The Termites and The Hallicrafters-- a short-wave radio ensemble. Through the years he has had the delight to have worked with Alex Hacke, Lydia Lunch, Nels Cline, Jonathan Bepler, Eve Sussman, Matthew Barney, to name a few. Film credits include Eve Sussman’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and whiteonwhite:algorithmicthriller, and Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester. He has also participated in Experimental Skeleton, Inc with their Dream Machine Project.

Where is the Black Beast? has been shown at the LOOP video festival in Barcelona, the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, and Decalogue: Films You Can Count On Two Hands at Winkleman Gallery in New York.

With thanks to IFC
Remember to RSVP by tomorrow. We hope to see you there!

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Why David Wojnarowicz Is Much More Important to America Than Those Campaigning Against "A Fire in My Belly"

David Wojnarowicz's memoir Close to the Knives changed my mind about the nature of the political issues involved with homosexuality in the United States. Growing up gay, I had always felt that there was something tyrannical about how gay Americans were treated (we were asked to pay the same taxes but were not accurately or fairly represented in public discourse and certainly not treated equally via federal or most state legislatures [things have improved in that department since I was a kid]). So it was simply an issue of fairness to my mind.

Wojnarowicz however got me to see that the struggle by homosexuals in this country isn't just about civil rights, but rather about human rights. He didn't tell his story from the position of a subsection of culture that's oppressed...an "other." Rather, he told it from the position of a human. A compassionate, flawed, kind, generous, vulnerable, determined human. Anyone with a heart and open mind could identify with his anger. He loved life, and his, as troubled and full of misery and bigotry as it had been, was being extinguished far too early. And like the prince of a man he seemed to be, he would not go quietly into that night...so he told us how things really were, how things really felt, how people really behaved, and what it meant to be so freaking alive and want to see so much of the world that you could barely stand to sit still. He saw things, Mr. Wojnarowicz, about who we are as a nation that only those with the clearest of vision would notice. It wasn't a pretty picture he offered us. There will be no Disney musicals based on Close to the Knives or "A Fire in my Belly" or any of his other work perhaps. But it was a heart-breakingly honest human picture.

And so I find it remarkably ironic that leaders of this country who reportedly never bothered to visit the exhibition from which the cowards at the National Portrait Gallery removed Wojnarowicz's video "A Fire in My Belly," but still jumped up on their soap boxes only after seeing a snippet of the film, have framed their objection as: "American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy."

If the nation has more honest, and more reassuring depictions of human frailty and the struggle for survival than Wojnarowicz's work, I for one would love to see them. Where are they? Why are you hiding them from us in this economy?


Now I will acknowledge and even applaud the diligence of the Catholic League in protesting what it sees as disrespectful treatment of Christian images. It is as important to ensure their freedom of speech as it is anyone else's. I do, however, wish Bill Donohue would watch the film with a more open mind than I think he has and with a bit more art history under his belt. As the Los Angeles Times' critic Christopher Knight so aptly stated the case:
Ants and bugs are an age-old artistic symbol that laments the frailty of human beings and earthly existence. As Ecclesiastes puts it: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas -- “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Ant-covered flora, bodies and animals turn up in everything from still life paintings in the largely Protestant 17th-century Netherlands to the silent Surrealist film, “An Andalusian Dog” (1929) by the Spanish director Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali, a conservative Catholic.
Beyond the Catholic League, though, the GOP leaders lining up to protest in front of the cameras in this case are acting so transparently that it's kind of amazing they're showing up on video at all. Here again, Knight nails the irony:
Objectively speaking, an artist bent on making an anti-Christian diatribe would not spend just 15 seconds of a 13-minute video making it. Those images instead serve another function: To rebuke the same self-righteous moralism of those who are attacking the Smithsonian now.
Indeed, there's a scene in "A Fire in My Belly" during which ants crawl over US currency, something their actions consistently suggest the GOP views as much more sacred than they do true Christian values or imagery. If they were protesting that scene, it would be easier for me to believe in their sincerity.

Of course, many suspect that this brouhaha is just the typical Washingtonian distraction from some other more important issue...a circus for the masses while DC insiders hand out billions of our tax dollars to their true overlords. None of the outrage I've read online from those opposed to the video seems to be coming from people who've seen it or even people who are bothering to offer anything other than the pre-written talking points. It's a made-for-the-internet sort of controversy. But as such, it's hardly important to "American families."

Well, except perhaps those American families with gay members in them (who are once again being scapegoated here for political posturing), but even we don't really care if the National Portrait Gallery flushes its credibility down the toilet. We've seen the film and you too can see it without visiting NPG. You can watch it here, here, and here in person or here, here, here, and here online. (It is as stunning and soulful as it is heartbreaking...so I do encourage you to make the time).

What is important in a tough economy is that we resist the temptation to drive wedges between the subgroups of our population. That we remain as united as we can, work to help each other, and perhaps even take the time to reflect on our humanity as a reminder of why we're all in this together. No one has taught me more important truths about humanity than David Wojnarowicz. He's one of America's most important artists. He belongs in our museums. Now or any other time.

Also, don't miss this brilliant essay by Dan Cameron on Why Wojnarowicz Matters.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Dalton and Powhida's #class on Jerry Saltz's Top 10 Art Shows for 2010

So Bambino and I are still recovering from the SEVEN experience (it was an awesome event, but it takes a shocking amount of work to fill 24,000 square feet with art...a heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful artists who worked so hard with us to pull it off [extra special thanks to Jimbo, Lytle, Shane, Leslie and of course Jen and Bill] xox) and our eternal gratitude to our colleagues for inviting us and working so hard themselves to make SEVEN the kind of event we were so proud to be part of. Extra special thanks and admiration go out to Joe Amrhein and his team for what was nothing short of a heroic effort. Those guys are machines.

During SEVEN, #rank proved to be as chaotic and inspiring as it was nerve-wrecking for me (really? we're still sneaking smokes in a wooden installation with no ventilation...is this junior high school or simply a death wish :-P ?)....Hyperallergic is collecting responses to the events here.

Still we get home late last night to find that 1) it's f**king snowing at the airport...where are my lovely palm trees??? and 2) Jerry Saltz has selected #class as one of the Top 10 Art Shows of 2010.

Congratulations to Jen, Bill, and all the #class participants!!!

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

In the news today...

The spirit of China’s student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square was dramatized by a lone man standing defiantly before a column of tanks in the heart of Beijing. But military force prevailed; communist leaders crushed the protests, killing hundreds, possibly thousands. The Berlin Wall came down, proof that the Cold war was finally over — and that the communists who built the wall had lost. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini condemned British author Salman Rushdie to death for blasphemy. And officials at Washington's National Portrait Gallery, bowing to political pressure from tax-exempt religious organizations and grand-standing members of Congress, removed a work of video art by the late artist David Wojnarowicz from an exhibition there.

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