Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Finally, Some Depth in Auction Coverage

A few weeks back, in a post about how poorly the auction houses were treating arts journalists, I noted "Part of me truly wishes the art press were as anxious to cover gallery exhibitions or art in general as they are the auctions."

As is often the case for this Mid-westerner raised to be polite, I had understated my true feelings. What I really wished to say at that point was something more like "part of me has little sympathy for the arts press that seems to contribute
so willingly to the sense in this country that the 'value' of art can only be measured by auction results."

Indeed the "story" of the arts in the 2010's may indeed be how, despite a lingering recession and nearly epidemic art world ennui,
still nothing grabs the art world's attention like how many zeros you're placing after that dollar sign. But the "story" is, and always has been, to a very large degree what the press says it is. And so, they are complicit by default.

All of which is my way of saying how refreshing I found the article in The New York Times this morning that takes a less operatic, indeed much more sober point of view on the auction results than we normally get:
As all the talk of record prices demonstrates, contemporary art has soared in value over the last 10 years, outperforming stocks as an investment and drawing attention to possible bonanzas to be found in the market.

But not all boats have lifted with the tide.

Prices for the work of a variety of artists, including some top names like Larry Rivers, Eric Fischl and Francesco Clemente, have declined or stayed flat at auction in recent years, according to data compiled by Artnet, a company that tracks such sales.

For example, a Dutch Masters painted cigar box, created by Rivers and valued as high as $40,000 last year, sold in September for less than $4,000. Last month Mr. Fischl’s untitled painting of robed figures in a church sold for $194,500, $70,000 less than it fetched six years ago.

And Mr. Clemente’s “Parabola,” a painting Sotheby’s had valued as high as $90,000 a year ago, sold for a third of that in March. Often these are temporary descents. Other works by these artists can still command hefty prices. A Clemente painting estimated at $30,000 to $50,000 at auction this spring sold for $76,900.
Why is this an important topic? Because Clemente, Fischl and Rivers are important artists, and because the class of MFA grads just now entering the big scary art world needs to know that artist careers more often than not have ups AND downs (if they have any ups at all). If all you read is how this record was broken or that record fell at the contemporary sales, you'll have little more than those milestones by which to measure your own success.

Now I'm sure some of the arts journalist reading this will argue that there are other factors that contribute to the usual boom-or-doom approach to auction coverage. One, I sure, is a lack of time to much else other than report the final hammer prices and a few anecdotes. Another is a lack of perspective being fed them by their auction house contacts:

Nonetheless, at a time when so much attention is paid to skyrocketing values, the dreary performance of some artists’ portfolios is a topic seldom broached.

“We in the auction business want to put our best foot forward, so when we get a good price, we make a big fuss about it,” said Elaine Stainton, the director of the painting department at the auction house Doyle New York. “When we have a disappointing sale, we keep our mouths shut.”
In this case, I can't blame the auction houses. No one should be asked to advertise their shortcomings.

I guess the ultimate thing for me in all this, though, is how the focus on whether or not each individual sale was a "success" or "failure" based on tallies only demeans the art exchanging hands. There, in front of the auction house audience and the press alike, are very often great works of art by historically important artists, and yet usually the only thing we're told is whether they've met their estimate or not. Oh, if you're lucky the auctioneer will drop a sound bite about its provenance or quality, but for something so rare that's about to potentially disappear into a private collection and not be seen again for decades, shouldn't a bit more reflection be in order, at least by the press? Hammer prices are such a short-sighted take on what's truly important. Artists trying to make sense of it all, in particular, should be reminded of one thing the auction results are truly revealing:
“There is a constant ebb and flow in art historical reputations,” said Jeffrey Deitch, a longtime New York gallery owner who now directs the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. “The reputation of even the greatest figures like Picasso are in flux.”
The article goes on to do a real service to collectors and artists alike in more seriously translating auction results:

Representatives for artists who have not done as well at auction say the data does not really measure the true value of their work. More ambitious pieces are often sold privately, by dealers, they said, and those prices are generally not made public. Only about half of all art purchases are made at auction, where prices are announced and can be analyzed.

“It’s a tool that you really need to use with caution,” said Ron Warren, the director of the Mary Boone Gallery, which represents Mr. Schnabel and Mr. Fischl.

Some also worry that whatever the accuracy of auction data, using it to track values is a crude exercise that considers aesthetic expressions only as commodities.

“Auctions are a blunt instrument,” said Marc Glimcher, the president of Pace Gallery. Better measures, he argued, would be criteria like: “How many galleries are trying to get a Murakami show from Murakami’s main dealers? How many museum or gallery shows of X artist are there per year? How many different continents do they show on per year?”

The article also discusses a trend that annoys me even more than tallies only auction coverage:
[M]ore and more people now consult auction data compiled and analyzed by a growing number of companies that seek to provide quantitative measures of value. These consultants acknowledge that auction data is an imperfect tool.

“But there is no other verifiable measure of fluctuation of value — up or down — and the overall health of the market,” said Michael Plummer, co-owner of Artvest, an art investment advisory firm. “Without it, we would all be fumbling around in the dark.”

No, without it, we would all still have plenty of light. All the better to judge and/or buy with our eyes and not our ears.

Moreover, it's not a better understanding of statistical trends or data points that will elucidate the value of contemporary art or the true state of the art market...it's the kind of wider- and longer-term view offered by this Times article. And so I say kudos to the article's authors, Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn, for doing a thoughtful, and ultimately much more useful auction analysis piece.

More of the same, please.

Labels: art auctions, arts coverage

Friday, May 27, 2011

Suddenly, This Summer!

Trading in my keyboard for flip flops for a few days.

See you when it's cool to wear white shoes!

Have a great weekend, y'all!

Labels: happy holidays

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kill the Messenger; Don't Kill the Messenger

There's an old man who sells newspapers where I enter the subway every day. He's quiet, unassuming, and gentle. He provides a calming, subtle, reassuring start to my commute. That endears him to me.

Recently another man began hawking those free newspapers at the same subway entrance. He's loud, obnoxious, and makes the older gentleman selling papers cower in a smaller and smaller corner everyday.

I have to believe this is intentional on the part of either the paper's publisher or at least the man working so hard to disturb my mornings.

I don't like those free newspapers in general. They're very light on news, way too heavy on conservative points of view for my taste, and I assume part of a long-term plan to put the other papers in New York out of business.

Having said that, where I exit the subway there is another man handing out those free newspapers. This man is a giant, but he's courteous, whereas the entry way free-paper man is all up in your face. The exit man is also respectful, not only leaving you plenty of room to exit the subway (as opposed to the entry way man, who nearly blocks the entire entrance), he also softly says "Good morning, sir" when he sees me (as opposed to "Hey New Yorkers! Free Papers! Get Your Free Papers here!" ---which might actually endear him to me much, much, much later in the day...post-caffiene).

And, so, knowing that all the guys handing out the free papers are doing so to make a living, I gratefully take the paper from the exit guy. Even though I don't end up reading it (I pay for The New York Times digital subscription and get my news online).

Now, I struggle with this just a bit (thinking of dead trees and such), but now that I've started contributing to just how soon the polite exit guy can declare his daily mission accomplished and move on to other things, I can't stop taking them.

Moreover, I realize that if I really wanted to help support those in the newspaper distribution business that I'd do more good overall to buy a paper from the small, old guy at the entrance stop. This would have the added benefit of pissing off the obnoxious guy there.

None of this has much to do with anything. I simply had major technical difficulties with blogger.com this morning, and now don't have time to write about the art world, and this was the only thing I really wanted to write about this morning, so, as Bambino says "Boom. Done!"

Labels: personal notes

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What We Look Like From the Outside

President Obama was reportedly treated to a special tour of Queen Elizabeth II's art collection yesterday. Jonathan Jones has the details:
It is a custom of state visits for the Queen to show the visiting dignitary a specially chosen selection of highlights that may be of interest to them and their nation from her extraordinary collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings, photographs and objets d'art.

The Royal Collection is one of the last surviving examples of monarchical collections, which in most countries have long since become part of public museums; from a historical point of view, it is the finest collection in the world, with treasures such as Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings and Holbein's portrait studies.

Barack Obama will get a personal view of it this afternoon in the picture gallery of Buckingham Palace, where he will see paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Titian. Among these masterpieces, he will see a special "American" display.

This may seem unpromising – after all, the monarchy lost America back in the 18th century – but in fact the Royal Collection has a fascinating haul of Americana in among its Leonardos.

Indeed, this art collection tells of British enthusiasm down the centuries for all things American, offering plenty of material for a presidential private view.
The rest of the article seems to confirm Jones' first supposition (it required a bit of a stretch in places to flesh out the full customized tour). But more than that, the art that the Queen chose to represent the monarchy's interest in the US art seems to paint a particularly antiquated portrait of the relatively new republic as a romantic Western wilderness:
One of the most evocative American images in the Royal Collection is a photograph of Buffalo Bill that [Queen Victoria] purchased as a souvenir of her favourite frontiersman.

It shows the famous hunter and scout posing with his rifle, long hair and cowboy hat, and wearing a leather tunic in the style of a Plains Indian. It was taken in 1892, the year the Queen enjoyed a special performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Windsor Castle. This was the second time she had seen the show. She praised Buffalo Bill, real name William Cody, as "a splendid man, handsome and gentlemanlike".
Indeed, whereas Jones insists "You can chart the cultural history of two continents from this venerable art collection," none of the work described seems to have come from the 20th century, the era in which American art began its international dialog in earnest.

All of which leaves me with the impression that England still views the US via an only-slightly-post-colonialist lens, which I guess, given their more mature sense of history, is understandable.

Another recent opportunity to see what we look like from the outside is the fanstastic exhibition of recent work by German-born artist Josephine Meckseper up at the FLAG Art Foundation through tomorrow. As you consider Meckseper's vitrines and mixed media wall pieces, there's no question that you're seeing something familiar to you as an American, but the point of view is decidedly from the outside. Things we might not even notice (so comfortable are we with them as part of the "natural" landscape around us), look virtually alien in Meckseper's compositions, reminding us of how insular we can be over here in the "new world."

The difference between the shiny chrome and hyper-branded products in Meckseper's vision of America and the more flattering (if ultimately condescending) vision represented by the Queen's collection strikes me as more than just a matter of chronology. Bill Powers nailed it in his artnet.com review of Meckseper's show :
Josephine Meckseper's show at the FLAG Art Foundation reminds me of Robert Frank's "The Americans" because often it takes a foreign perspective -- insert Alexis de Tocqueville quote here -- to tell us who we are as a nation.
Meckseper's show left me too with the impression that I had been treated to a Tocquevillian update. It may be all the shiny reflective surfaces, but in the end it made me rather self-conscious and even a tad insecure. My vision of myself is not necessarily how others see me. The metaphors and loaded symbols I use to communicate and assume that the people around me understand the exact same way are far from universally agreed upon. This would not appear to be much of an epiphany in the golden age of globalism, but I was still surprised to learn a bit more about what we look like from the outside.

Again, you can catch the FLAG show through tomorrow. You can get a private tour of the Queen's collection if you run for and win the US presidency.

Labels: art viewing

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Art: It's Good for You...No, Really | Open Thread

I've noted it several times, that many of the collectors we work with view gallery hopping and buying art as a way to relax, which is why we try to get younger artists with unrealistic demands about the way their work is collected to understand how that can hurt their markets. When it stops being fun and/or relaxing for them, many collectors stop collecting. Which is understandable when you realize how many of them have high-profile, high-stress jobs.

Now there is evidence that art can indeed help you relax and make you a healthier person in the process...well, for men anyway. From MSNBC:
Men who enjoy taking in the ballet or browsing art museums are more likely to be happy with their lives and satisfied with their health than men who don't enjoy the finer things in life, a new study finds.

And although greater enjoyment of cultural activities is associated with higher income, the arts have a beneficial effect regardless of other factors that might influence health and happiness, including socioeconomic status.

The results suggest that encouraging cultural participation may be one way to encourage healthfulness, the authors reported online May 23 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"There has been a focus on physical activity as an instrument to promote good health in the last decades, but who is sure that all people are equally capable of doing five days a week of intensive training?" said study author Koenraad Cuypers of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in an email to LiveScience. "I doubt it! Studies suggest that 50 percent of leisure time is spent in other activities than physical activity, so we aimed at investigating whether participation in cultural activities would also be asociated with good health/good satisfaction with life/low anxiety and depression.
The gender disparity here is hard to figure out, though:
"Men seemed to get more of a percieved health benefit from being involved in different receptive cultural activites than women did," Cuypers said, adding that in both genders, there was a dose-response effect: The more activities a person participated in, the happier they tended to be.

Health, happiness and gallery openings
In other studies, Cuypers wrote, high cultural participation has been linked to increased physical activity, suggesting that a taste for the arts is a marker for an otherwise healthy lifestyle.
The article doesn't suggest that art isn't also good for women, just that the benefits to men seem to be higher. Perhaps it's just how differently men are treated in arts settings from the way they're treated in the business world and/or home settings.

Consider this an open thread on why art is good for you.

Labels: art viewing

Monday, May 23, 2011

If Nobody Tweets About a Tree Falling in a Forest, Does It Make a Sound?

I don't even have to think about it any more. Even before my muddled morning mind has time to form a meaningful thought, my fingers fly across the keyboard and move my mouse to check in on the growing list of ways to measure the efficacy of my efforts. It's essential, it seems, that I begin my day with electronic evidence that I"m still here and that my world is still working:
  • How are the hit counts on the gallery website, any unusual patterns?
  • Anyone Tweeting about my artists or exhibitions?
  • Where's my book on the Amazon.com list?
  • Who's checking out the Moving Image website and from where?
  • How many new people want to be a Facebook friend?
  • Any new google alerts come in?
I can easily recall a time when the thought of buying a personal computer for my home seemed the height of nerdy self-indulgence, and yet now I seem to go into www.withdrawal if I don't get of my daily dose of digital validation.

From a pre-Internet/pre-SmartPhone perspective, I'm know that seems insane, but the truth of the matter is that it's easy to do it all, virtually subconsciously, and move on. Thinking about it is distracting (heh!...what you doing here?), but simply doing it is painless.

I thought about this when reading two things this morning. First was something MoMA curator Barbara London said about Cory Archangel, who has a highly anticipated exhibition opening up this Thursday at the Whitney.

From the NYTimes:
“Cory is one of the first in a young generation of digital hackers to really enter the art world,” said Barbara London, associate curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art, who has included Mr. Arcangel’s video works in several shows. “Now the boundaries between art forms are dissolving, and working digitally is just normal practice. But Cory was among the first. I think that’s really important.” [emphasis mine]
The second was Art in America's Brian Boucher reporting on Creative Time's commissioning of three Twitter art projects, including one by Winkleman Gallery fave, Man Bartlett (who has some great drawings in our current group exhibition, [be always plugging...always selling ;-)]):
For his Creative Time project, #24hPort, Bartlett will spend 24 hours at New York's Port Authority bus station, asking passengers and passersby, "Where are you going?" and "Where have you been?" and tweeting their responses, contrasting the drudgery of humble, real-time travel with the instantaneousness of networked messaging. [emphasis mine]
Again, the idea came up...digital is more than just normal, it's somehow, in some parallel universe sort of way, better.

Now I know there are folks who are concerned about the impact of our constant contact and the lack of courtesy we're showing each other because of it. A Palm Beach-based etiquette expert has even gone so far as to declare July as "National Cellphone Courtesy Month" (but as CNET has pointed out "The "National" part is debatable, since no national body like the U.S. Congress has backed the event.")

But count me among those not so worried about the way we spend so much time online (whether via our smart phones or personal computers). Count me among those much more worried about the kind of technology coming where you won't know someone is online (i.e., and not paying attention to you) because it will look like they're paying attention to you, when they're really reading their Tumblr on the inside of their wireless compu-glasses.

Labels: digital age

Thursday, May 19, 2011

And So the King's Men Just Blinded All the Cats

`A cat may look at a king,' said Alice. `I've read that in some book, but I don't remember where.'

`Well, it must be removed,' said the King very decidedly.

---Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Two recent developments in the visual art world have been bugging me. I tried to write about them before and then decided to just let it go, but they keep haunting my thoughts.

I'm sure the instigators of the changes have their reasons, but their methods cut across what I (and apparently even cats) consider a universal right: to look at what's in front of you as you will. The first incident was reported by someone I've always found to be exceptionally polite and mild mannered, Artforum's David Velasco:
On Tuesday evening, those arriving at Sotheby’s for the biannual Contemporary Art Evening Sale were greeted by a massive inflatable rat and a line of picketers who passed out information sheets decrying the auction house’s hiring of presumably nonunion painters. Sotheby’s handed out their own information sheets—a new, passive-aggressive “Media Guide to Attendance at Sotheby’s Auctions”—to reporters checking in at the entrance, each of whom was then escorted by an official representative to the auction room on the seventh floor. “All journalists must remain in the designated press areas,” read item one (of eight)—a rule that doesn’t apply to the New York Times’ Carol Vogel, who always stands beyond the ropes.

Sotheby’s sale began convincingly enough in the scheme of these things but never fully picked up, with audible bids for the most hyped works (Lot 10: Koons’s porcelain Pink Panther, 1988, put up by Benedikt Taschen, and Lot 21: Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies, 1964) staying below the low estimates. “This is a tough night for Tobias,” someone in the press pack observed sympathetically, referring to chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer. In the end, the sale brought $128.1 million with premiums, just over the house’s low estimate of $120 million. “We took slightly larger steps, anticipating a market that isn’t there quite yet,” Anthony Grant, one of the house’s senior contemporary art specialists, explained during the press conference.

“I’m asking please that you stand in the designated area.” The next night, just before Christie’s evening sale, Toby Usnik, the house’s head of communication, tried to corral press behind the crowd-control stanchions at the back of the room. “Do we really need to suffer the additional humiliation of standing behind the line?” one writer cried. “I’m asking nicely,” Usnik grimaced. “And I’m telling you nicely,” came the retort. The face-off fizzled when a bulky security guard picked up the velvet rope and placed it in front of dissident reporters.

The press pack is a kind of collective hermeneutics—a para-society forming around a common impossible task and a similarly restricted view of events. Members try to divine meaning from the smallest gestures: a glance at the phone banks, a stutter in the bids—any wrinkle in the proceedings is weighed and interpreted. Thus, seeing is everything: “Those ladies better get out of our way,” a writer said loudly before the proceedings. “Press don’t get many perks, but one is a fucking sight line.” Penned up like unruly sports fanatics, or unmanageable oracles, reporters are the Greek chorus of the auction drama.

Now I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me truly wishes the art press were as anxious to cover gallery exhibitions or art in general as they are the auctions, but I get that the auctions assemble an irresistible cast of characters and often do produce high drama.

But the other part of me is sure the auction houses would soon be sending limos to collect reporters should they cease to show up at these events at all, so it's rich for them to treat the press as if they were a nuisance. A "fucking sight line" would indeed seem to be the least anyone wishing coverage should offer.

Speaking of lines and sight, though, another art world development is even more disturbing as it impacts how the public gets to view actual art. Also from Artforum:
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Julia Voss reports on a troubling new restriction for museum visitors. In the wake of crowded blockbuster shows, London’s National Gallery is considering limiting viewing time at its Leonardo da Vinci show, which opens in November, to 4 minutes 17 seconds per painting. “In the past, museum-goers who only glanced at pictures would be made fun of,” Voss notes. “Now this sort of visitor is being cultivated—any other sort is a disturbance.”
The image this conjures up in my mind is a monorail for museum goers, jerking to a stop in front of the next da Vinci, with a digital stopwatch just inside their periphery ticking down from 4:17 to 0:00 before they're whisked away to the next painting. Consider it the Disneyland approach to crowd management:

It's known to have taken da Vinci quite some time to paint his best known works (three years he worked on The Last Supper; reportedly he took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa). But what the hell...four minutes and 17 seconds should suffice each person wishing to view one of his works.

Labels: art viewing

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Didn't Mean What You Just Heard Me Say

First there was Jon Kyl's attempt back in early April:
On the Senate floor yesterday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), eager to prove that the budget debate wasn't just about Planned Parenthood, spent some time on the Senate floor going after Planned Parenthood.

"Everybody goes to clinics, to doctors, to hospitals, so on," Kyl said. "Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don't have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that's well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does."

That's not even close to being accurate. Just 3% of the organization's work is related to terminating pregnancies, while "well over 90% of Planned Parenthood does" relates to preventative health care services.

Yesterday, CNN, to its credit, sought an explanation from the senator about the glaring error. CNN anchor TJ Holmes told viewers:

"We did call [Kyl's] office trying to ask what he was talking about there. And I just want to give it you verbatim here. It says, 'his remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions.'" [emphasis mine]

This Orwellianism led to a blistering Twitter attack, led by Steven Colbert, under the # NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement (which continues to haunt the Arizona pol to this day). Some of my favorite Colbert "Non-Facts" about Kyl:
  • Jon Kyl assassinated Archduke Ferdinand. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement
  • Jon Kyl's knees bend both ways. He's part racehorse. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement
  • Jon Kyl once ate a badger he hit with his car. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement
  • Jon Kyl calls the underside of his Senate seat: "The Booger Graveyard." #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement
One would think that such a public bruising would encourage politicians to be a little more careful in attempting to reframe their unfortunate statements, but one would be wrong.

Enter newly announced GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.

Talking Points Memo:
In a bold laying down of the gauntlet tonight on Fox News, Newt Gingrich banned Democrats from attempting to retrieve his Meet the Press quotes from the memory hole he's spent the day consigning them to. And he formally decreed that "any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood."
Josh Marshall, usually a very nice guy by Washington standards, went for the jugular:
Examining the Gingrich wreckage this evening, I'm starting to wonder if we might simply be in the filming stage of Gingrich's own version of "I'm Still Here", the in-character 'mockumentary' Joaquin Pheonix and Casey Affleck made about Pheonix's phony descent into personal and professional self-immolation.

Who'll give me 3 to 1 that Gingrich shows up in Cannes next year clean-shaven and lucid recounting how he had everyone going?
While it is encouraging (and, I'll admit it, fun) to see politician's lame attempts to simply erase their clear statements then served back to them so quickly as piping-hot plates of "Crow a-la-ridicule" you do have to wonder about the obvious contempt they must have for America's intelligence to think for even a moment they'd get away with it.

More than that, eventually what must occur to a population repeatedly being told "I didn't mean what you just heard me say" is that perhaps you don't mean what you're saying now either. In other words, perhaps nothing you say is worth listening to at all.

Labels: politics

Monday, May 16, 2011

Items of Note

A few items to share on this damp Monday:


You have one more day (today!) to get your Momenta Benefit tickets at the discounted price of only $200 (price goes up to $250 tomorrow).

Now I know I urge you to support this brilliant non-profit space every year (it is my personal favorite, and their benefit is usually so much fun), but this year more than ever I'd ask you consider this for two very good reasons:

1. Momenta is moving! From that rather out of the way place down by South 4th street to right across from the Morgan Street entrance on the L Train. Bambino and I visited their impressive new space last weekend, and we're thrilled for the Momenta gang.

56 Bogart Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn
The benefit, however, will be generously hosted by Loretta Howard Gallery
Auction & Raffle at Loretta Howard Gallery
525 West 26th St, New York, NY
Wednesday, June 1st
Doors open at noon

Cocktails: 6-8pm

Raffle: 8-10pm
hosted by Michael Waugh and Christopher Gaillard
Silent Auction: 6-10pm
2. The second reason to get your ticket is this year the artists who have so kindly donated artwork have truly outdone themselves. Nearly every work is a good-sized painting or framed drawing or sculpture. The generosity of these artists should hopefully encourage you to respond in kind. Buy a ticket...or two! and take home some great art at the bargain of the century.


You have even less time, but there is still some, to support another of our favorite art world non-profits: Visual AIDS. Tonight's benefit, appropriately called "VAVA VOOM," is truly one of the more fabulous and outrageously fun events of the year. Tickets for an evening of cabaret, cocktails, and some really terrific deals are only $275.00. Bambino and I will be there...and hope you'll join us.


Monday May 16, 6:00 – 9:00 PM

The Park, 118 Tenth Avenue, NYC

The 6th Annual Visual AIDS Vanguard Awards honoring:
Geoffrey Hendricks presented by William Pope.L
Brent Sikkema presented by Hilton Als
Richard Renaldi presented by Lesley A. Martin

Join co-chairs Mixed Greens, P·P·O·W, Kara Walker, and Pavel Zoubok for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and a night of cabaret. Cocktails provided by Pernod Ricard.

VAVA Voom Cabaret hosted by John Fugelsang and starring:
Justin Vivian Bond accompanied by Nath Ann Carrera
Phoebe Legere

Music by DJ Senti-mental.

Plus "Fair and Honest Appraisals of Your Appearance" by The Bumbys.

RAFFLE · $100 ea.

  • Oliver Peoples sunglasses · 3 men and 3 women frames (valued at $2,400)
  • New York Health & Racquet Club · 1 year membership (valued at $1,590)
  • HUGO BOSS $1,000 shopping spree
  • commissioned portrait by Richard Haines · one 11x14 mixed media portrait (valued at $500)
TICKETS · Purchase online here or contact Visual AIDS 212-627-9855


Get a sneak peek at what the Chadwicks are up to at Cabinet:
Please join Jimbo Blachly and Lytle Shaw, editors of the Chadwick Family Papers, for the land launch of the Nelson Manobar. The Chadwicks’ recently restored occupiable model of Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory has never before been exhibited publicly in the United States.

The event features:

Nautical electronica

Drinks from the hull of the Manobar

Rare recordings of Chadwick Dalton’s legendary sea chanty collection

This one-night event at Cabinet presents a VIP preview of the Nelson Manobar before its installation as the centerpiece of "Furling the Spanker: Masterworks from the Chadwicks’ Nautical Collections," which opens June 16 at Winkleman Gallery.

Beer for this event has been lovingly provided by Brooklyn Brewery.

Date: Thursday, 19 May 2011, 7–9 pm
Location: Cabinet, 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn (map and directions here)
FREE. No RSVP necessary


This next item might be a bit easier for you if you happen to know people who lived in the Soviet Union before it collapsed. Having spent most of my life sure that the Cold War would end in a fireball, I find rather unexpectedly that today I happen to know quite a few. If you do you as well, please consider helping our artist Yevgeniy Fiks with his up coming project to be exhibited at the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art:
Portrait of 19 Million

Call for Participation
Portrait of 19 million is an open participatory project organized by artist Yevgeniy Fiks. This project will be presented in the Viktor Misiano-curated exhibition, The Impossible Communities, at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMoMA) in Fall 2011.

According to official Soviet statistics, 19 million people were members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) during the Perestroika period. These were people who joined the Party at different times and under different circumstances. CPSU was not homogeneous with regards to its social make up nor ideology. Who were the members of the Party then? What united them and what could alienate them from each other? Who are they now? Portrait of 19 million focuses on the fates of concrete individuals, using purely artistic and sociological tools in an attempt to understand the Soviet and post-Soviet subjectivity.

Everyone is welcome to participate in this project regardless of profession. Participants are invited to submit a portrait (or self-portrait) of any person who was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the last years of the USSR. Age, occupation, social status of the portrait's subject doesn't matter. The portrait can be done in any style and technique: amateur photography, studio portraits, mobilography, video, painting, drawing, collage, etc.

Conditions of Participation
Prospective participants should contact Yevgeniy Fiks by July 15, 2011 at: portraitof19million@gmail.com. Yevgeniy Fiks will discuss with each participant the project details.

After confirming participation in the project, each participant will receive a questionnaire to be filled with biographical data of the portrait's subject. Both the questionnaire and portrait will be exhibited in the form of an installation at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art in Fall 2011.

The names of all project participants will be listed in MMoMA materials. Participants will retain copyrights of their work. All materials will be returned to their corresponding owners.

Labels: items of note

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Call for Modest (or not) Proposals

I guess, being helpless (or thinking I was), I was simply hoping the Chinese government would slap some fine on him, but eventually relent and let Ai Weiwei go. I mean, the whole world is watching...they couldn't really keep him that long or harm him could they?

Apparently, there's a lot I have to learn about the world's rising super power. Ben Davis, who corrected a previous misunderstanding regarding another Chinese artist, cautiously reported the following update on the case of Mr. Ai:
The most sinister development — and the only real glimpse yet of what might be going on with the artist himself — has been the release of an account, penned under a pseudonym by someone identifying himself as a disaffected reporter with the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. The piece was published in English translation by ChinaAid, a United States-funded organization dedicated to tracking religious persecution in China, with the caveat that the organization could not independently confirm its veracity. It states that a "Public Security Ministry official with a conscience" told Xinhua insiders the details of the brutal means used on Ai: "Fu Zhenghua, the chief of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed those handling the case to show Ai Weiwei the video of [dissident lawyer] Gao Zhisheng being tortured, including shots of electric batons being inserted into Gao's anus and his blood, semen, feces, and urine spurting out," the account alleges. "Fu Zhenghua also issued an order saying: Whatever methods were used on Gao Zhisheng, use the same ones to make Ai Weiwei give in. After several consecutive days of torture, Ai Weiwei was finally compelled to sign a statement of confession, admitting to tax evasion."

The ChinaAid account also contains a detailed narrative of how Ai's past activism personally offended several powerful Chinese officials, asserting that the current persecution has been spurred by high-level grudges. Whether or not the nightmarish descriptions of Ai's torture can be confirmed, in the absence of any word from the artist since he disappeared, observers are bound to imagine the worst.
Yesterday, artist Anish Kapoor dedicated his giant sculpture "Levithan" (which just opened at Paris' Grand Palais) to Ai Weiwei:
"I've never met Ai Weiwei but he's a colleague, an artist," said Kapoor. "In a very simple way he is heroically recording human existence. All he's done is to record death by administration, death by corruption, inefficiency. I don't even think he's pointing that sharp a finger, frankly."It is more than a month that he's been completely disappeared. It is a true tragedy. Accuse him of something. Give him a lawyer. Let him defend himself … The state is not threatened by artists."
He also called for more unified protest from the art world:
"It's a month now that the poor man has been held without a voice, but not only that, his family doesn't know where he is," Kapoor told the BBC. "This is not a situation that is acceptable in any circumstances. It does bear witness to the barbarity of governments if they're that paranoid that they have to put away artists. It's a ridiculous situation." (There is a kind of symmetry here, as Kapoor's massive tower is going to highlight the London Olympics, while Ai designed the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics, famously disowning it as a protest against the political situation in China.) Kapoor also used his stature to call for the art world to do more to take a stand, proposing a possible day of global solidarity: "Perhaps all museums and galleries should be closed for a day across the world. I think some such campaign needs to form itself."
I would agree. What I think we don't need, though, is the sort of divisive comment offered up by a curator you'd expect better from:
Roger Buergel, known for helping put on the iconic Documenta art exhibition in 2007, slammed the international art community for failing to speak out strongly enough on Mr. Ai’s disappearance. “I think most of them are glad to be rid of Ai Weiwei,” Mr. Buergel, who invited Mr. Ai to Documenta, said in an interview with Germany’s Spiegel Online. “Young Western artists are producing works that amount to nothing more than footnotes in art history, and then this Chinese artist appears who takes a totally different approach and makes 98 percent of the art world look very, very old.”
Even if Mr. Buergel sincerely feels his silly mind-reading exercise might prod people and lead to more action, it's a bit much to suggest jealousy would lead most of the art world to be glad Ai Weiwei is being detained. Besides, any such suggestion is demonstrably countered by the fact that his detention has done little to prevent Mr. Ai's work from being exhibited or bring him attention:
Exhibitions of Ai's work continue to proliferate. New York, of course, has just opened Ai's "Zodiac Heads" at the Pulitzer Fountain as a public art commission. In London, Lisson gallery is going ahead with an Ai Weiwei retrospective, while Berlin's Neugerriemschneider has recently debuted a show of his works.

Also in Germany, the German Academy of Arts announced on Saturday that Ai Weiwei had been named a member.
No, rather than Mr. Buergel's counterproductive scolding approach, I think Mr. Kapoor's call for unified campaigns sets the right tone. Clearly, more needs to be done. Organizing the art world can be akin to herding cats, but I would be willing to join other galleries and institutions by closing in protest. It would take someone like the Met being involved to really make it work (hint, hint), but spreading the idea is step one.

But I'm also willing to consider other actions. Consider this an open thread on what the art world could do to send a stronger message to our government and the Chinese government that Mr. Ai's detention is entirely unacceptable. What could send that message?

Labels: ai weiwei

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Working After Art School | Open Thread

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (based at Indiana University) recently released a survey of art school graduates. According to the New York Times:
The results of the 2010 online survey include responses from more than 13,500 students who were in fine arts, theater, dance, music, creative writing, media arts, film, design and architecture programs and graduated in the past 15 or so years from 154 arts high schools, undergraduate and graduate institutions.

Although the respondents did not represent a random sample, the survey found that 92 percent of alumni who want to work are doing so (the unemployment rate for April in the United States was 9 percent), while two-thirds said their first job was a close match for the kind of work they desired. Fifty-seven percent are working as professional artists, but don’t be surprised if your bedroom doubles as your office. More than 6 in 10 were self-employed since graduation. Working or not, 9 out of 10 reported they were pleased with their art training, and three out of four would attend the same institution again.
The study has a handy dashboard at which you can drill a bit deeper.

Apparently, those who go to art school teach. Not surprisingly, more artists are employed within "Arts Education" than any other category within the arts. But outside the arts, the highest percentage of arts graduates also indicated "Education / Training / Library" as their occupation category.

Zooming in on graduates of Fine & Studio Arts programs, we see that 70% of the respondents in this category were female (which doesn't necessarily correlate to percentages in the classroom, but I do hear that there are more women than men in graduate programs).

The top three occupations for graduates of Fine & Studio Arts programs were:
  1. Fine artist (very reassuring)
  2. Sales related occupation (understandable when you know what it takes to sell yourself as an artist to the world)
  3. Food preparation related occupation (should Rirkrit Tiravanija be concerned?)
The breakdown for "Important Skills and Competencies in Profession or Work Life" reveals some interesting factoids. For example, the further along the spectrum ones goes from "Never a professional artist" to "Currently a professional artist" the more importance the respondents placed on artistic ability or technique. There is more of a disparity in importance on this factor than all others along this spectrum.

The other skill or competency that revealed a large difference of opinion was on entrepreneurial skill, with, again, those categorized as "currently a professional artist" rating it as much more important than those categorized as "never a professional artist." In fact, entrepreneurial skill was the single lowest rated skill/competency among those who had never been a professional artist. This makes total sense to me. There is no shortage of evidence that being a successful "professional" artist IS being a successful entrepreneur.

There were no surprises in where arts professionals choose to live...where the arts jobs are, clearly:

Screen shot from the The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project website.

Perhaps the most telling factoid, though, was that "44% of those have never been professional artists said higher pay or steadier income in other fields was a reason." It's not quite the same situation, I know, but a mentor of mine once told me that the LAST reason to go into the gallery business was to make money. There are simply too many other easier ways to do that. Personally, I believe the same applies to the artist business. If you're anxious about getting that money back quickly that you're spending going to art school, you might want to take a few law courses along the way.

Consider this an open thread on all issues "professional artist" and working related.

Labels: artist survey, artists careers, artists lives

Monday, May 09, 2011

Torture Nation

If you needed any indication how intellectually and morally bankrupt the GOP is in terms of any optimistic vision for this country, all you need to do is see how quickly its leaders are rushing to not only embrace, but actually reverse their previous positions to embrace, the state-authorized use of torture. Embarrassed by the fact that the President they've worked so hard to paint as weak on foreign policy managed to do what they were unable to do while controlling all three branches of the Federal government (i.e., track down and kill the terrorist who ordered the murder of thousands of Americans), but still needing some rhetorical device to differentiate themselves from the current Commander in Chief as they seek to unseat him, these Einsteins have apparently concluded that because torture remains popular with the ignorant cowards that form one segment of their base, that catering to this lowest of human impulses will make them look more presidential than the current occupant of the White House.

The consequences of this are not just what promises to be round after round of nationally aired and humanly humiliating defenses of the indefensible throughout the campaign, though. We're seeing the fruits of Bush's labor appearing in internationally shameful ways as well. From Sully:

Under the Convention Against Torture, member states can refuse to extradite citizens to another country where they might be subject to torture. A Canadian court has just denied extradition of an al Qaeda suspect to the US on exactly those grounds. We are no longer trustworthy when it comes to prisoner treatment:

The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to halt extradition proceedings for an alleged Al-Qaeda arms supplier, citing the extent of US human rights abuses tied to his capture in Pakistan. A 3-0 ruling by the court ruled that a Toronto judge was justified in releasing Abdullah Khadr, the older brother of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp's youngest detainee Omar Khadr. Both are Canadian. Khadr's lawyer Dennis Edney hailed what he called a "victory for the rule of law." "Evidence should be (obtained while respecting) human rights, and it was not," he told AFP.

Of course, all kinds of folks with guilty consciences are rushing to connect the use of torture with the intel that led to bin Laden being tracked down. All kinds of folks who are talking out their asses, that is:

More and more evidence suggests a key piece of intelligence -- the first link in the chain of information that led U.S. intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden -- wasn't tortured out of its source. And, indeed, that torture actually failed to produce it.

"To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a wide-ranging press conference.

Moreover, Feinstein added, nothing about the sequence of events that culminated in Sunday's raid vindicates the Bush-era techniques, nor their use of black sites -- secret prisons, operated by the CIA.

"Absolutely not, I do not," Feinstein said. "I happen to know a good deal about how those interrogations were conducted, and in my view nothing justifies the kind of procedures that were used."

For me personally, there's no moral issue more pressing in this country than whether we are the kind of people who endorse or condemn torture. The idea that "it's ok when the good guys use torture" ignores the central oxymoron of such arguments: you automatically cease to be the good guy when you brutalize another defenseless human being. Full stop. No debate. Via that one decision, you cross over to the dark side.

I've posted on this topic before and pointed to sources that convincingly (for me) argue that torture doesn't actually work, and in fact, even with this most recent high-profile case (bin Laden) the flimsy arguments that it did work here are far weaker than the carefully constructed outlines that prove it didn't.

But one part of me sincerely doesn't want to even have that argument. Torture is so obviously repellent that anyone coming to its defense is morally suspect in my opinion. I mean, I can sit there and listen to people try to argue about ticking time bombs or "actionable intelligence," but all the while, the only thing I'm really thinking is "What the hell happened to your humanity? Are you truly that terrified of another attack that you're willing to become a monster to stop it?" Forget that that mind frame, one driven by fear, makes one a less effective analyst . . . so you stop a bombing, but because you choose to do so via torture you damn your own soul and that of your nation?

I don't get it.

Labels: politics, torture

Friday, May 06, 2011

Opening Tonight @ Winkleman Gallery "Idée Fixe : Drawings of an Obsessive Nature" and In the Curatorial Research Lab "The Beauty Process"

Idée Fixe : Drawings of an Obsessive Nature
Featuring work by Man Bartlett, Astrid Bowlby, Jacob El Hanani, Dan Fischer, Shane Hope, Joan Linder, Aric Obrosey, Michael Waugh, and Daniel Zeller

May 6 - June 11, 2011
Opening Reception: Friday, May 6, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present Idée Fixe: Drawings of an Obsessive Nature, a group exhibition of black and white drawings by Man Bartlett, Astrid Bowlby, Jacob El Hanani, Dan Fischer, Shane Hope, Joan Linder, Aric Obrosey, Michael Waugh, and Daniel Zeller. The drawings in Idée Fixe either build toward or seem to disintegrate away from complex systems through what is obviously a time-consuming, perhaps even obsessive process. Running the gamut from highly photo realistic representation to abstractions that suggest imagined landscapes or fields, these works are created from intense, often repetitive gestures.

Man Bartlett, spiritus mundi, 2008, ink on paper, 18" x 24" (46 x 61cm), courtesy of the artist.

Astrid Bowlby, 11.1.07 (Dark Garden), 2007, ink on paper, 11" x 17" (28 x 43cm), courtesy of the artist and Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, PA.

Dan Fischer, Battered Nan Goldin, 2000, graphite on paper, 15" x 22.25"

Joan Linder, Black Weed (Front Lawn), 2010, ink on paper, 60" x 65" (152 x 165cm). Courtesy of the artist and Mixed Greens, New York.

Aric Obrosey, Turbulent Fond, 2006, graphite on Japanese paper, 30" x 39.75" (76 x 101cm). Courtesy of the artist and McKenzie Fine Art, New York.

Jacob El Hanani, Gauze, 2001, ink on paper, 23.5" x 37.5" (59.7 x 95.3cm). Courtesy of the artist and Nicole Klagsbrun, New York

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


In the Curatorial Research Lab

The Beauty Process
Featuring work by Nancy Lorenz and Jeffry Mitchell. Organized by Jay Grimm.

May 6 - June 11, 2011
Opening Reception: Friday, May 6, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

The curatorial intent of this exhibition is to prove that an intelligent sense of beauty in contemporary art needn’t preclude an emotional response to a work’s decorative qualities.

Consisting of a dialog between two artists who harness the initial attraction of ornament into something more lasting, The Beauty Process is an inquiry into the way in which this stance at once hinders and enhances the production of art that has meaning to contemporary viewers. The works of Nancy Lorenz and Jeffry Mitchell possess an initial seductive impact which gives way, over time, to a sophisticated, almost timeless form of aesthetic appreciation and demonstrates that true, lasting beauty penetrates deeper than the surface.

Nancy Lorenz uses traditional Asian art-making techniques in her work, such as gilding and inlay. The time-consuming methods result in lustrous, contemplative paintings, where the meditative mood echoes the slowness of their creation. For The Beauty Process, Lorenz has created a small-scale screen, consisting of 12 interlocking panels which are decorated on both sides. On one side, a dragon is depicted in watercolor over gold leaf; on the other abstract shapes which recall a rock garden arrangement float on a field of etched lines referencing the geometry of raked stones. The miniature screen, over 6 feet wide but just over 2 feet tall, brings to mind the form of a ‘tea screen’, used in the late Victorian era. These objects (used to protect table-top burners from being extinguished by a breeze) were often transformed from the merely practical through elegant decoration, becoming a focal point for an aesthetic experience, a very apt metaphor for Lorenz’ work.

Jeffry Mitchell will exhibit two ceramic vessels that echo Lorenz’ reference to tea. In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, participants pass a cup of tea to each other, pausing from time to time to appreciate the beauty of the cup itself. Mitchell’s vessels, while much larger (and, because they are pierced in many places, not functional), provoke a similar response in the viewer. Inscribed lines depict floral forms in a loopy, charming manner, while a rich, glossy glaze invites prolonged contemplation. Mitchell will also exhibit a ‘Pressed Snow Flake Sculpture’, done with cut paper pressed between two pieces of glass in a frame. Mimicking the manner in which dried flowers are often displayed, Mitchell here tries to convey the fleeting joy of seeing a snowflake. At once childlike and humorous, the collage/cutting blends ideas of craft, design and beauty without irony.

Lorenz and Mitchell, close friends from the Tyler School of Art, have pursued their own vision over the course of their successful careers. Entirely cognizant of contemporary art, the two have advocated for the importance of beauty in a manner that may seem atavistic. The Beauty Process is an experiment to see how an environment where aesthetics is put above all other concerns is perceived in the heart of the Chelsea art world.

Nancy Lorenz, Rock Garden/Dragon Screen, 2011, gold-leaf, silver leaf, watercolor, pigment bole and gesso on 12 interlocking panels, 27" x 77.5". Courtesy the artist.

Jeffry Mitchell, Ohio Honey Pot, 2010, glazed earthenware, 10" x 10" x 10". Courtesy the artist.

For more information, please contact Jay Grimm at 212.643.3152 or jay@winkleman.com.

Labels: gallery artists exhibitions

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Art World: A Boring Festival of Liberals ?

In a free-wheeling and fabulous conversation about the art world on the Leonard Lopate Show a month ago or so, art critics Ken Johnson, Irving Sandler, and Amei Wallach spent a bit of time discussing with their host how orthodox the art world has become. Led there by New York Times critic Ken Johnson (who has a groovy-looking new book out), the discussion eventually led came around to the idea that the art world has become a lecture-y "liberal festival" and that the only thing that might be shocking in the art world would be to see some ultra-right-wing artist rise in prominence.

Here's a transcript of part of it, showing how they got to that point [all typos mine]:
Irving Sandler: We're in a situation of total pluralism...and this may have had to do with the idea that any conception of avant-garde had become outdated.

Ken Johnson: Art can appear in almost any form, but the orders of the art world are pretty tightly policed ideologically. You see very little...there's no tea baggers art at any of these fairs. There's a lot of kinds of expressions or sensibilities that aren't allowed in these. You could say that it's a "liberal festival."


Leonard Lopate: Now there was a time when artists could shock you. And we still had a situation at the Smithsonian recently, but I remember when Rudy Guiliani wanted to close down the Brooklyn Museum because of Chris Ofili's use of elephant dung on a religious work...

Amei Wallach: ...and he hadn't seen it...

Leonard Lopate: Yeah, well, but that's a whole other issue.... Most recently we had a Marina Abramović show at MoMA where there were nude people standing around, and it didn't cause much of a stir.

Ken Johnson: There's nothing as shocking in the art world as what you can see in the movies.

Leonard Lopate: So the movies have changed it all, Ken?

Ken Johnson: I don't know if that's what changed it, but yeah I think popular culture upped the ante on transgression in a way that the art world finds it hard...

Irving Sandler: This is part of the death of the avant-garde...I don't think that anything can shock anyone who at all follows the art world.

Leonard Lopate: So the Dada-ists could along today and people would say "Ho hum...more of that"?

Irving Sandler: Exactly.

Ken Johnson: No, the only thing that would be shocking in the art world is if a great Teabagger painter came along...

Leonard Lopate: Are you talking about the Tea Party?

Ken Johnson: Oh...I shouldn't say that. I should say...if some ultra right-winger, conservative...

Leonard Lopate: We're on Public Radio, you know. You could be getting me into a lot of trouble, right now Ken. You work for The New York Times, don't you?


Ken Johnson: I'm just saying that the politics...

Leonard Lopate: The opinions expressed by my guests are not necessarily those....

Ken Johnson: The politics of the art world are very orthodox. So the only thing shocking that might happen in the art world that would be shocking to people in the art world would be something that really veers away from that particular orthodoxy...

Leonard Lopate: It's true. I've been to an awful lot of shows where I've been told that I should protect the environment, I shouldn't be a sexist, I shouldn't be a racist...and

Ken Johnson: ...and I'm in favor of all that...

Leonard Lopate: Yeah, but...there's something slightly boring about being told things that you think you already know. Who...who are they addressing with that?

Irving Sandler: Well, you're talking about bad political art...

Leonard Lopate: But there's so much of it...

Irving Sandler: There is, but there's also good political art that really makes you think. Think of someone like Hans Haacke, for example.
Amei Wallach then describes some other good political art (the recent Krzysztof Wodiczko exhibition at Lelong), but I have to say I know what Leonard was talking about. It's sort of my personal pet peeve (as I've said before) that statistically there is so much bad political art. I don't have exact numbers, but I'm very confident in saying that most political art really, really sucks (that is, even more than most art in general).

And, as much as I agree with Ken that perhaps the only way the art world could be shocked would be for some highly conservative artists to claim center stage, 1) we would only recognize an artist as such if their work or life was highly political, and 2) therefore the majority of their work (or that of their followers) would statistically have to fall within the "also sucks" category. Both of which make the rise of some extreme right-wing art star(s) even less likely.

But, most people would agree that the avant-garde is dead (and, along with it, its relentlessly progressive march), and so, even though it may take some time, I do expect to see highly conservative values being expressed in competent art work more and more. I told Ken this recently, and he said it wouldn't matter...because people like me wouldn't show it in galleries.

I disagreed. I said I would.

...to be continued....

Labels: art world, politics

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

No Place for a Super Villian

I recall thinking, when the first post-9/11 James Bond film came out, "What's the point? The fun of such films has been squelched. There is now a constant reminder that the world will not be saved, the tragedy will not be averted, people will die, and there are no super heroes or super spies who can stop it. Bond is useless now, Superman is useless now...they're all useless now. The audience is too painfully and consciously aware of their participation in the required suspension of disbelief to enjoy such fare."

Only thing was, I went to see it anyway...addicted as I am to such nerd-nip...and I did enjoy it.

Turns out, it wasn't just the climax in which the hero saves the world from certain destruction that makes Bond films so alluring. It's also the skimpy bathing suits, the fabulous gadgets, the incredible (in every sense of the word) car chases, the glamor, the cheesy one-liners, the exotic locations, and the luxurious interiors. Those things all still worked to make the film a fun escape.

Indeed, the film still had plenty of escapist potential, because, quite frankly, it ALL required a suspension of disbelief, not just the climax. In the first post-9/11 Bond film, Die Another Day, for example, check out the set for super villain, billionaire Gustav Graves' ice-castle party:

Must have cost a pretty penny.

Compare that, if you will, with what a million dollars will buy you in Abbottabad:

The Guardian has a brilliantly biting piece titled "Why did Osama bin Laden build such a drab HQ?":
If the death of Osama bin Laden tells us anything it's that life isn't like a Bond movie. Rather than running al-Qaida from some spectacular Ken Adam-designed lair under the ocean or inside a volcano, Bin Laden ended his days in an exceptionally ugly and ignoble townhouse – a bland, square, flat-roofed three-storey block with few windows or other features.
Read the whole thing...it's very cathartic.

Interestingly, I did see a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter about how disappointed people were to find out how lousy bin Laden's lair was. In fact, the living quarters of the world's most wanted man have sparked the imaginations of people, including artists, for quite some time, apparently:
Most of Bin Laden's other homes were similarly destroyed by US air raids at some stage. He appears to have been flirting with dictator chic in his half-built house in Kandahar, which was said to include a mosque, 15 bedrooms, western bathtubs, carved wooden window frames and pastel-coloured conference rooms. Oddly enough, Turner prize-nominated British artists Langlands and Bell found another of his bombed-out Afghan residences in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2002, which they turned into a digital art piece.
There's been a lot of conflicted feelings about how to respond to bin Laden's death. The Martin Luther King quote (?) being posted every three seconds by someone somewhere on Facebook:
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
is good to remember, of course, and I'll get right on that as soon as I post one more (er, two more) link(s):

The Daily Show
Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show
Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

You'll note that even Stewart makes several references to 007-esque super villain motifs when discussing bin Laden. That's how large the bearded one loomed in our collective imaginations.

It's OK, in my opinion, to resort to gallows humor to exorcise such demons. Escapist mockery can be the best medicine. A little, anyway. We have the rest of our lives to perfect our better selves.

Unlike bin Laden.

Labels: Art and politics