Friday, July 22, 2011


OK, so the phone hacking scandal is getting far too juicy and I can't stand to sit and watch it from over here, so I'm heading over to the UK next week. (Actually I have some appointments related to Moving Image and such).

Bloggin' will most likely be difficult, but I'll see what I can do.

Try to keep James Murdoch out of jail least until I get over there, will you?

Labels: break

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Under the Influence

It's not quite the epic drama that the crumbling Murdoch empire is providing, but another case of an artist suing another artists over what they see as their intellectual property being stolen has not only made it to the courts, it has generated an extraordinary letter from the defendant's dealer.

But let me back up. It's first important to understand that this lawsuit offers a new take on the theme of what is original and therefore copyright-able.'s Rachel Corbett broke the story last week:
Artist Janine “Jah Jah” Gordon has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against photographer Ryan McGinley for copyright infringement, arguing that 150 of McGinley’s photographs, including several used in an ad campaign for Levi’s, a co-defendant in the suit, are “substantially based” on Gordon’s original work.

According to Gordon’s complaint, the trouble began nearly 10 years ago, when both Gordon and McGinley had exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art -- Gordon in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, and McGinley in his break-through solo exhibition “The Kids Are Alright” the following year. McGinley’s proximity to Gordon’s work “during the preparation and display of the Whitney exhibition in which he participated,” her lawyer argues, gave him “total and complete access to view and examine the Gordon images featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial.”

Both parties have also shown at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt as well as at Ratio 3 gallery in San Francisco; Ratio 3 along with Peter Hay Halpert Fine Arts and Team Gallery, which show McGinley's photographs, are also defendants in the suit. Gordon's complaint alleges that the galleries “had the right, authority and ability to control or supervise McGinley’s actions, failures and omissions.”

McGinley’s guilt was compounded, at least in Gordon’s mind, in 2003, when she ran into him at a PS1 opening and he responded with “a fearful gasp and speedy retreat into the crowd,” according to the complaint.

Among the disputed images is a black-and-white shot of a woman flipping her head back, hair in motion. Gordon’s lawyers say that McGinley’s photo, taken 15 years later, copies her subject matter, its centered composition and its spotlighting, which in both cases illuminates the left side of the body and shadows the right.

The defendant's lawyers have stated that the images in question “do not look alike in the slightest.” And based on the example used at the top of the article, I would say that any comparison seems definitely overshadowed by the thousands of differences:

At left, Janine Gordon, Plant Your Feet on the Ground, 2000, and at right, Ryan McGinley, Levi’s advertisement, 2010

But reading further, we learn that it's not her images that Gordon is saying were stolen, but rather her ideas:
Gordon’s lawyers...are putting forward a relatively expansive interpretation of copyright law, arguing that concept cannot be differentiated from expression. “Unless an artist is content merely to represent a pre-existent object (e.g. a building) or scene, it is part of his task as artist to exercise his imagination and in so doing he may create a pattern of ideas for incorporation in his finished work.

"This idea-pattern may be as much part of his work, and deserving of copyright protection, as the brushstrokes, pencil-lines, etc. The true proposition is that there is no copyright in a general idea, but that an original combination of ideas may [be protected],” Gordon’s complaint argues, citing the copyright reference book The Modern Law of Copyright and Designs.
The image above is the most similar of the ones Artnet juxtaposes (scroll to bottom of that article to see other comparisons), but yes, the two figures are in relatively the same pose. But that looks to me like its only similarity. provides more side-by-side comparisons.

I found all this very interesting of course, feeling strongly that all artists benefit from as loose a definition of "fair use" of copyrighted materials as possible, and not being at all sure that we're even dealing with "fair use" in this case. The images seem so different. Moreover, the notion that "ideas" (as opposed to "concepts") can be copyrighted could bring all art production to a screeching halt. More on that distinction in another post...

But that novel approach to a infringement suit is nothing in comparison with the statement McGinley's New York art dealer, Team Gallery's José Freire, eventually released on the case. It's both a beautiful testament to the gallerist-artist relationship and a fairly convincing dismissal of the merits of Gordon's complaint. Published by, here's but a snippet:
A photograph captures a specific moment in time. A photograph of one girl does not equal a photograph of another girl. McGinley is not a re-photographer. He is an artist who creates dynamic situations in which sometimes thousands of photographs are taken and only one chosen. His editorial choices – which photographs he chooses to actually produce – are, of course, informed by his encyclopedic knowledge of the field in which he works. The photographers that he admires, whether well known or anonymous, have always been openly discussed in his numerous interviews. Gordon’s name has never been among them because she is, quite simply, not an artist he thinks about.
That last line actually resonates more when you read the previous explanation of McGinely's influences:
Among the artists named in reviews and essays about McGinley over the years one will find: Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn, Man Ray, Alfred Steiglitz, Peter Hujar, Edward Weston, Catherine Opie, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, and Dash Snow. Janine Gordon’s name has never once appeared as a comparison. These references, by numerous preeminent critics and curators, were not made to cast doubt on McGinley’s artistic process but rather to describe the status to which his work aspires. McGinley’s photographs sit within an art historical context and, as his art develops, this context becomes larger. The number of photographers to whom his work relates grows exponentially as he continues to move in different directions. Likewise, the number of younger artists whose work now bears the strong mark of McGinley’s influence also increases.
I've always maintained that the "importance" of any artist is best measured by the number of other artists he/she influences. The original report notes that McGinley was in a position to see Gordon's work up close during the installation of one show, but it seems to me a stretch to suggest that means he's spent the same amount or more time looking at Gordon as he clearly has Goldin, Opie, Clark, Tillmans, Pierson, and Snow. And the list could go on. The approach reflects, as Freire notes, a zeitgeist.

The letter gets much more interesting than that, however.

A dealer friend of mine refers to herself as a "Momma Lion" when she explains the ferocious way she protects her artist "cubs." I sense of bit of that impulse to project your artists in Freire's extraordinary take-down of Gordon as both an artist and a citizen:
I had done a studio visit with Gordon in the late 90s and found the work not only ingenuous and derivative but also so badly produced that it appeared, to my eyes, unmarketable.

Gordon has repeatedly sent emails that attack McGinley’s integrity; emails that claim he is a thief; emails that actually threaten him with physical harm and, in several cases, with death. She has acted more like a stalker than as a fellow artist. Her case has so far cost the defendants (who include the artist and three galleries that have exhibited his work) somewhere north of 100,000 USD in legal fees. And it hasn’t even gone to trial yet. Gordon, it seems, is quite litigious. She has in the past sued rappers Dr. Dre and 50 Cent for having stolen lyrics from her.

Of course, Gordon, like everyone else with a complaint has the right to have her case heard in court and not tried in the pages of magazines or blogs. I'm quite sure there is more than one side to this story. Stay tuned....

Labels: art making, copyright, fair use, gallerist-artist relationship

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

The New York Times' Clyde Haberman attempts to put a balanced spin on the decision by a New York town clerk to resign rather than have to issue gay wedding licenses, but he ignores a few contradictions, IMHO, to do so.

Here's the gist of the story:
As usual, Laura L. Fotusky attended Sunday morning services at Union Center Christian Church, which she described as “a nondenominational, Bible-preaching church” in Union Center, N.Y., a town about seven miles northwest of Binghamton. Her life is about to change significantly. But on Sunday Ms. Fotusky described herself as at peace.

“I don’t really have any regrets,” she in a telephone interview. “I feel like I did what I needed to do.”

What she did was to announce her resignation as the town clerk of nearby Barker. Her religious beliefs, Ms. Fotusky said, made it impossible for her in good conscience to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Her last day in a job that she has held for four years is Thursday, three days before New York’s same-sex marriage law goes into effect.

“In Acts 5:29,” she wrote to the Barker town board last week, “it states, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ ” And it is clear to her, she said, that the Bible defines marriage as solely the union of a man and a woman.

As best as can be determined, hers was the first resignation of conscience since the New York law was passed last month. It wasn’t the last. On Thursday, Rosemary Centi, the town clerk in Guilderland, N.Y., outside Albany, said she would stop presiding over wedding ceremonies (a function that Ms. Fotusky does not perform in Barker).

Ms. Centi said she would continue as clerk, and would issue marriage licenses to everyone who was eligible, but she could no longer be Guilderland’s marriage officer. As a Roman Catholic, she said, she felt that she could not perform the actual rituals for same-sex couples.
Haberman offers Fotusky and Centi some fairly generous cover for their decisions in his post, painting them both as nice people who just happen to have strong opinions:
Undoubtedly, some will denounce these women as bigots. But others will find them admirable for standing by their beliefs.
Now here's the thing. I would respect Ms. Fotusky's solution to handling the conflict between her conscience and what the law would begin asking of her, if she had refused to comment in the press about it. If she wasn't taking advantage of others' interest in her decision to broadcast opinions that she must understand will lessen the joy felt by gay couples around the state and to proselytize (with Fotusky's later comments such as “We’re just trusting God” and “The Lord’s going to provide for me and take care of me” and "We ought to obey God rather than men," she is clearly using the attention her resignation brought her to promote her own faith.) In this context, that is a political act, and as such opens her up to political feedback. Had she not wanted such feedback, she could have simply answered "No Comment."

But she didn't, so here goes:

In her position as Clerk I am sure Ms. Fotusky has seen at least a few couples applying for marriage licenses that she thought were ill-advised to tie the knot, and yet she knew to keep such thoughts to herself and do her job. Perhaps she thought one couple was too emotionally young to understand what they were undertaking or some indication that one of the spouses was abusive and the other should run or some couple where the much, much younger one was clearly in it only for the money. I'm sure Ms. Fotusky, if she's like every other persons on the planet, had opinions about such unions.

And like every other person on the planet, she is entitled to her opinions. But whether she's admirable for standing up for her beliefs or not does not negate whether her actions reveal bigotry. And that's what bugged me about Haberman's framing here:
Undoubtedly, some will denounce these women as bigots. But others will find them admirable for standing by their beliefs.
It's not either/or. One can, in general, have admiration for people who stand by their beliefs (Haberman paints Fotusky as a hero for "putting her money where her mouth is") and yet still differentiate certain actions as evidence of bigotry.
"A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs."
To be so obstinately devoted to one's religious prejudices that you're willing to exhibit intolerance in such a public way seems a perfect description of someone who resigns rather than do their job over gay marriage licenses. Ms. Fotusky gives one clue as to what it would have meant for her to stay on and issue gay marriage licenses. Discussing her job as clerk she noted:
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I loved it. I loved the challenge, and loved meeting people, and loved being friendly to people. So I’m going to miss that.”
To be friendly to the gay people who would begin applying for marriage licenses was apparently asking too much of Ms. Fotusky.

Again, had Fotusky simply resigned without grandstanding, I'd be more willing to accept Haberman's second assessment that her actions were admirable. I don't expect everyone to share my opinions, but I can't agree that standing by bigoted beliefs is all that admirable in any context.

Labels: politics

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shut Me Up

Murat and I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of artists last night, organized by our dear friend and hot new blogger, the art historian, critic, and curator Jane Harris. Much of the conversation focused on what galleries wants with regard to artist statements, or bios, or jpegs vs. links to websites, etc. It was an open and frank conversation about networking in New York and how best to go about approaching galleries, and, well, it covered a lot of the same ground we've hashed out in these posts.

But it led me to climb up on my soapbox at one point and preach a bit more about something that really began sink into my consciousness during #class. In a nutshell, it's the idea that the art world (galleries, museums, collectors, etc.) doesn't exist because artists are nice people. It doesn't exist as some charity for the sensitive or perceptive types who'd much prefer to spend their time making things than getting a job like everyone else. It's not your surrogate parents. It doesn't care how famous you want to be. It doesn't care how much you really, really put your heart and soul into that painting or video or performance.

The art world exists to find, support, and ultimately preserve the objects or ideas worth preserving. It's not about you or what you want. It's about the most amazing artwork being created in our time. Either bring that to the plate or stay in the dugout.

Too frequently in such discussions (not so much last night, but in general), I get the sense that 1) artists feel getting a gallery will be the key to all their career dreams (it ain't so); and 2) because they feel that, they spend way too much time considering what it is they think a dealer wants. How should I craft my artist statement? What types of shows should I include in my CV?

Who cares?!?!?!

You want to know what we really want (...and I know it's a tall order...the tallest, actually...but...)? We want you to shut us up.

We want you to show us something so jaw-droppingly amazing, we're left speechless.

Do that, and the art world will do anything for you. We'll be your charity. We'll be your surrogate parents. Just keep feeding us that jaw-dropping art crack.

Or get back in your studio until you can.

Labels: art practice, art world

Friday, July 08, 2011

Fleet Street Follies

Just when you thought the biggest challenge facing the newspaper industry was whether/ how to migrate online, we're shown once again not to take the most basic assumptions about a free press for granted (like assuming certain newspapers understand certain basic standards of human decency). The extraordinary events taking place in the UK right now are simply spectacular in every way: the revolting editorial decisions being revealed (the NYTimes has a handy graphic to help you make sense of it all), the swiftness of the end of Britain's best-selling Sunday newspaper, and the widespread expectation that this is just the beginning of the revelations. I can only imagine how giddy the media reporters at the non-Murdoch papers must feel each morning when they get up.

And it's not just the media reporters. Now that the scandal that brought down the 168-year-old News of the World has reached up into the very highest office of the government, the non-Murdoch political journalists are probably feeling pretty frisky as well.

And as dramatic as the decision to close the paper was (presumably to help prevent the investigations from spreading into Murdoch's more profitable media outlets), it seems to have only lowered public opinion of the mogul:
The News Corporation’s decision to shut down the British tabloid The News of the World on Thursday did little to silence the growing uproar over revelations that the newspaper had hacked into the voice mails of private citizens.

In fact, it may have only fueled the outrage.

An outpouring of suspicion and condemnation came from all directions on Thursday, and was directed chiefly at the News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, a figure as powerful as he is polarizing.

The British media establishment, Facebook and Twitter users and even Mr. Murdoch’s own employees questioned his move. Some said it was a ploy to salvage government approval of the News Corporation’s potentially lucrative controlling stake in the satellite company British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB.
Indeed, Murdoch's bid to buy BSkyB now looks to face serious delays and possibly insurmountable hurdles:

BBC business editor Robert Peston understands that Ofcom [the UK media regulator] will not launch an inquiry immediately.

"It will want to allow the police to continue their investigation for a while longer, before making its own assessment," he said.

Ofcom is deeply concerned by recent revelations about the NoW, he added.

"[Ofcom] is likely to make a statement later today, I am told, which will make it clear that it regards evidence that the News of the World's newsroom was out of control for many years as relevant to a judgement on whether News Corporation would be a fit-and-proper owner of BSkyB," our correspondent said.
Of course no one expects any of this to distract Murdoch from his particularly sleazy brand of Sunday yellow journalism for long. Word is there are already plans to have his other UK rag, The Sun, begin publishing on Sundays to fill in the gap left by the News of the World. In fact, someone just purchased the URL
Domain name:


Registrant type:
UK Individual

Registrant type:
UK Individual

Registrant's address:
The registrant is a non-trading individual who has opted to have their
address omitted from the WHOIS service.

Webfusion Ltd t/a 123-reg [Tag = 123-REG]

Relevant dates:
Registered on: 05-Jul-2011
Renewal date: 05-Jul-2013
Last updated: 07-Jul-2011

Of course, it could be a clever cybersquatter, but watch that space.

Labels: politics, traditional media

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Math Can Wait
(or The Problem with Statistical Approaches to Understanding Art's Importance)

Two days ago the world learned of the passing of one of this country's greatest living painters. In the wake of that news, heartfelt tributes began pouring in from around the globe. Here are but a few of the descriptions of the man and his art that speak to his importance to contemporary art:

Roberta Smith: "An Artist of Selective Abandon"
Few 20th-century artists corroborated as insistently Schiller’s assertion that “all art is dedicated to joy.”
"Jerry Saltz Celebrate the Life and Art of Cy Twombly"
Twombly’s fusing of thought, mark-making, narrative, history, myth, and formalism made me see that there is no such thing as purely abstract or representational art. He’s the artist who made me see that all art is equally abstract and that something as simple as handwriting and scribbling, unleashed, can be art.
The Economist: The Art of Cy Twombly: Hypnotic scribbles and abstract allusions
Indeed it is this divisiveness—this singular ability to excite—that has helped to secure his place as one of America's most important postwar painters.
Christopher Masters: Cy Twombly obituary
American artist who drew on the high culture of the past to forge a distinctive, at times thrilling, body of work.
This morning, however, barely two full days after this giant breathed his last, when those of us who marveled at his vision are still processing the loss, I get the following descriptive summary of his life's work via email:
Cy Twombly, the world's 6th most valuable living artist and 49th most valuable artist overall, has passed away yesterday at the age of 83, some 56 days after seeing an all-time record for his art set at Christie's New York auction in May of this year.

With 28 artworks listed in Skate's Top 5000 , Twombly has seen over US $200 million being paid for his art at auctions during his lifetime (his more valuable artworks eligible for Skate's Top 5000 alone being worth $136 million at the day of Twombly's death).
Note that there is nothing at all about his cultural importance (although I guess one could assert that it's implied in the sales tallies).

I really shouldn't make too much of this, I suppose. After all, Skate's exists to translate art world events into dollars and cents, but I can't get this creepy image out of my mind of some statistician coldly switching the tag from "living" to "deceased" in some database to then recalculate Twombly's numbers and standing.

I've had plenty of conversations with people in the art world who are utterly frustrated with the opaqueness of the market, calling for more transparency and regulation in what is a stubbornly secretive domain. But now that I think about it a bit, I realize they're usually speculators, statisticians, or market-based journalists. People who truly trade in or write about information rather than objects. The class of art world insiders who seek to make sense of it all via numbers and trends.

Now, I"ll admit that my first thought when I heard Twombly died was a profound regret that I never had the pleasure of meeting him. His finished paintings are still here for me to stand before in awe, but I had always hoped of shaking his hand. It was a selfish thought, all about my lost opportunity. And I don't imagine for a minute that would provide much comfort to his friends and family. But I still can't shake the sense that the epitaph "the world's 6th most valuable living artist and 49th most valuable artist overall" would simply horrify them.

Yes, the great man's estate will need to be tended to, and considerations for his heirs and his legacy will need to be secured. But someone prepared that email summary less than 48 hours after his passing. Can't we focus on why his art matters for just a bit longer? Is it really that urgent that people begin calculating how they could cash in on his death?

It's not the idea that secrets in business arenas are bad that makes me recoil from the calls for more transparency and regulation, but more this lack of decorum in the purely statistical approaches to the art market. We're talking here about people, their visions, and their impact on others. The math can wait.

Labels: art market, values

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Labels: in memoriam

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Thunder in the Catskills

It stormed most of the day on Sunday.

We sat on the porch of Lisa Schroeder's lovely home in the Catskills, gently rocking on the swing, listening to the thunder rumble through the mountains, enjoying the rain as it watered her blissful garden, wondering if the sky would ever relent and let the picnic and Independence Day celebration take place. We had charming company and, well, plenty of refreshments, but we wanted to see the fireworks.

After a while the rain subsided and we walked into town. One of the shopkeepers assured Lisa that "Peter and Brooke never cancel." Rain or not, the fireworks were on. So we waterproofed our picnic and kept to our original plans. But we need not have really worried. The skies cleared up well before the sun went down, and by the time we arrived at the property I have described as "
Giverny of the Catskills," the cars were lined up and down the small country road. The party was on.

As in the past, the organization of this generous gift to the community was impeccable. Tented tables of food, drink and desert were organized according to one's preference ("Vegetarian? Your feast is waiting right over here.")
Murat and I helped place our offerings on their appropriate tables and then claimed a spot on the sloping hill (precariously close to the "Mortar Zone" tree, but we were ready to sprint if needed). We spread out our blankets and headed for the BBQ station (vegetarians we are not).

The view of the picnickers on the hill from across the pond.

It was hard to know if the fog that hung over the property was from the rain or the the flurry of bottle rockets the kids were setting off. It only added to the mystical feel of the evening, giving the whole scene a bit of a "Lords of the Ring" feel.

We had plenty of time to wander about before the darkness descended, and the foggy landscape added to the sense of timelessness and calm.

Murat by the stream, enjoying a smoke and a patriotic brew.

As Peter and his intrepid crew headed off into the woods with their arsenal, we huddled on the blankets, taking in the idyllic quiet, even calmly plotting our escape route should the Mortar Zone tree soon send flaming coals our direction.

The show began with a suitably serene opening. A dozen or so paper lanterns gently lifting up into the night, as the standing crowd softly sang the National Anthem. Just as we hit that final note "...and the home of the brave..." though, the sky exploded.

Peter later told me that a whole section of the show didn't actually go off due to some technical difficulty, but you would have never known. The 12 friends we were huddled with were all squealing like children as the booming explosions right over our heads kept coming and coming...terrifying close to the ground and the crowd (a few people scurried away from the Mortar Zone tree when it first lit up, but it seemed more controlled than in years past).

Peter received a standing ovation as he passed back through the crowd, who lingered for hours, enjoying the two-story bonfire on other side of the property,
the sparks violently shooting up from the blaze, then gently floating down to be extinguished in the pond.

From the perfectly giddy children running everywhere (scooping up tadpoles in the pond or [hysterically] snapping photos of everyone like paparazzi [ahh, the Facebook generation]), to the humbling sense of community that emerges among the wide range of people who attend, it's difficult to image a more fitting tribute to the founding of this country. Peter and Brooke not only generously open their home to host what remains my favorite event of the summer,
over the years they have created a communal moment and memory that symbolizes the very best of the art world here and the country at large.

"Were you at Peter and Brooke's last 4th of July?"
"Was that the year the tree caught fire?"
" catches fire every year, doesn't it?"

Labels: happy holidays

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Chadwicks an Critics' Pick's Margaret Knowles gets to the bottom of the Chadwicks' shenanigans in our current exhibition...and references one of my all times favorite cultural milestones to boot...too fabulous!

The Chadwicks

621 West 27th Street
June 16–July 29

In William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, the protagonist Case enlists the help of a street gang called the Panther Moderns who create “random acts of surreal violence.” Triggering chaos by simulating terrorist attacks with fabricated threats, the group’s tactics prove that in an age of constant and immediate information dissemination, misinformation alone can be wielded as weapon. Similarly, in “Furling the Spanker: Masterworks from the Chadwicks’ Nautical Collection,” Lytle Shaw and Jimbo Blachly assert that misinformation, too, can be wielded as an art form.

Framing themselves as the archivists of the Chadwick family legacy, Shaw and Blachly meticulously gather and restore false artifacts, embellishing details from history and building a narrative, filling in gaps where they see fit. The Chadwicks, as the story goes, were a distinguished lineage in eighteenth-century British society who saw the height of their preeminence during colonial times, but whose golden age has long since passed. This exhibition––the Chadwicks’ second at Winkleman Gallery––is populated by nautical sketches, shipwreck memorials, and a scale model–cum-bar of the historical ship the HMS Victory. In one of the series, “Contemporary Sterns,” 2007–2009, vertical diptychs of aquamarine images of ruddy canal boats are juxtaposed against black text that relates a broken narrative––snippets “from the family archive”––told through arcane nautical jargon so faithfully re-created as to be comedic. Attempting to decode the language is futile, but the words themselves bob up and down like seasick poetry: THE MIZZEN TOPSAIL and THE LEE SCUPPERS BREAST-HIGH.

The show is littered with these detailed and purposeful “historical reinaccuracies.” Creating what is at once a caricature of what could have been and a fabrication of extreme nonsense, the artists themselves present an exaggerated portrayal of reality so accurate and idiosyncratic that it becomes absurd. Blurring the line between history and balderdash, the Chadwicks’ saga leaves one to wonder––could Jimbo Blachly really be the cocurator’s true name?

— Margaret Knowles

Labels: gallery artists' exhibitions, review