Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Art, American Style
- The Whitney has announced the line up for the 2006 Biennial. For the first time, the exhibition has received a subtitle, "Day for Night." According to curator Chrissie Iles, the exhibition "explores the artifice of American culture in what could be described as a pre-Enlightenment moment, in which culture is preoccupied with the irrational, the religious, the dark, the erotic, and the violent, filtered through a sense of flawed beauty. This reflective, restless mood is not unique to the United States; its presence across both America and Europe suggests a shift in the accepted values that have formed the basis of 20th-century Western culture." Philippe Vergne of the Walker has co-curated the show. A list of artists selected for the exhibition is available via the link above.
- The Smithsonian American Art Museum has launched a new blog, Eye Level. Written by Kriston Capps of Grammar.police fame, the site looks like it's going to quickly become a daily read and the model for what an institution-affiliated blog can do.
- And, speaking of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I recently came across its fabulous Ask Joan of Art service. (OK, the service is great but the name may leave a little to be desired.) Through this website, Smithsonian researchers offer a no cost research service for questions related to American art and artists.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Why I’m Not Going to Miami
I’m more into the art than into the art scene. I get the sense that early December in Miami has rapidly become more about the scene than about the art.
But there is a host of secondary reasons why I don’t make the trip. Here’s a partial list:
- I like having Chelsea all to myself for one weekend a year.
- ABMB is not that interested in credentialing bloggers, so why bother giving the fair the publicity. (Side note to any arts publicists not yet convinced that blogs are as important as traditional print media: Back in the day, I used to work on a small but credible print publication. This site gets more than thirty-five times more unique visits each month than that magazine had subscribers.)
- NetJets gets all maxed out during this week and can’t provide me with a plane to get into Miami at exactly the time I want to go (um, as if...).
- If a huge crowd of people is all looking in the same direction, I tend to think that there’s probably something more interesting going on in another direction where nobody else is looking.
- I do so much travel for work that I’ve developed a philosophical aversion to paying my own way to go anywhere; I haven’t yet found anyone willing to cover my expenses for a trip to ABMB.
- Speaking of work, I can’t afford the time off right now.
- Not speaking of work, I really can’t stand the feeling of having sand stuck in a wet bathing suit while I’m looking at art.
- Finally, I’ve become so fed up with it that I’m sort of boycotting the art market these days. My last several purchases have been commissions directly from artists. I find this a much, much more rewarding way to purchase art than buying from gallery booths at fairs.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
It's Good to be the Wizard
Like when you flatten Dorothy's little dog Toto in that wacky Annie Leibovitz multi-page, artist-filled Wizard of Oz spread in the December Vogue. (See the Wizard crunching his furry victim at right and the penultimate item here for a full description of the spread.)
Or like when you run into the back of Mrs. FtF's seat and then roll over the kid's diaper bag at Sarabeth's at the Whitney on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
We love you Chuck. We really do. But we would love you even more if you wheeled around a bit more courteously.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
What Do You Think?
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
What Can You Do with All That Sublimation?
I have, though, been doing some reading on Tuttle in preparation for the show. One of the things that has struck me is Tuttle's continual emphasis on not asserting meaning through his work. Here's a quote from Tuttle that appears in the catalogue for season 3 of Art:21:
There's a division left over from the twentieth century where certain people might think that art is something that is made outside of any personal expression (Josef Albers or the Bauhaus), that it's really coolly detached. And then there's the other side, where art is full of personal expression. I guess the personal expression side is great, but then you can get an art which is just an expression of some twisted personal idiosyncrasy. In order to get over those polarities between no personal expression and personal expression, the only possible expression is one of some sort of sublimation.I'm curious to see how that sublimation takes shape in the work selected for the show and in the gallery installations. And I'm really curious about how the heck I'm going to put together a coherent talk about work that is so purposely indirect.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Why Do I Bother?
Actually, no art writers did. None. Not that Carol Vogel is known for deep, investigative journalism, but you would think that the list makers would have given her a little love here for the way New York museums bow, scrape, and hold back info to give her those press-release friendly exclusives.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Mistakes Were Made
Charlie Finch visited the Columbia MFA studios recently and returned with an interesting report about how the young painters there are dealing with the pressures of not having enough quiet time to focus on their work.
Paul Schimmel made a similar point last weekend at the panel discussion I attended. Students, he said, are working to make gallery shows, not art. “If you can’t do something awful when you’re a student,” he asked rhetorically, “when can you?”
At the National Museum of Catalunian Art on Sunday, I happened to stumble across a show of video work by eight recent Yale graduates. (The screening was part of the Loop Festival of video art running this month in Barcelona.) I’m happy to report that the video division of this venerable art program hasn’t caved one inch to market pressure. It’s still turning ’em out old school style in a way that would make Schimmel happy. All eight of these Yale grads, I have to say, have made truly awful things.
I don’t mean to slag the artists whose work was included in the screening, so I won't name names (other than that of professor John Pilson who selected the work). But, man, the pieces chosen to showcase Yale at this international event give student work the world over a bad name. And Yale a very bad name.
I can’t help but feel sorry for these recent grads. I mean, imagining paying Ivy League rates for a professional training program that only enables you to produce output like this. Now I understand where the term "starving artist" comes from. Having massive loans to repay and making work that no one would ever be interested in buying (let alone actually watching--even once) must make it pretty darn hard to put food on the table.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Groaners, All of Them
How many curators does it take to change a light bulb?
That’s not a curatorial task. You’ll have to call maintenance.
How many educators does it take to change a light bulb?
That’s a very important question and many artists have addressed it, each in his or her own individual way, since the turn of the last century.
How many development staff does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one. But if we had the funding, we could put two or three people on it, ensuring a much higher quality outcome. Would you be interested in supporting that effort?
How many publications employees does it take to change a light bulb?
Wait a minute. Are you sure you have all the permissions nailed down to do that?
How many communications staff does it take to change a light bulb?
I’m not sure. Let me follow up on that. Can I give you a call back later today?
How many security officers does it take to change a light bulb?
Excuse me. Stand back from that bulb, please.
How many art handlers does it take to change a light bulb?
That’s not really in the job description, but what the hell. Where’s the fresh bulb?
Saturday, November 12, 2005
One the Kid Won't Be Seeing
Now I can't decide who's worse - moms who force their kids to potty train at 6 months, or dads who make their 8-month olds watch films about self-mutilating hookers.Well, when you put it that way....
So I'm glad to say that one of the shows I saw today was one that I saw sans la fille. Günter Brus: Nervous Stillness on the Horizon at MACBA is a career retrospective of work by the Viennese Actionist. One interesting outcome of having so much of Brus's work from the 1960s and '70s assembled is the ability it gives to see the lines of influence running from him to American artists such as Paul McCarthy and Ana Mendieta who emerged during those years.
But, whoa. What a tough show to look at. Take, for example, this description (lifted from the gallery brochure) of Brus's 1970 performance piece Zerreissprobe (Breaking Test) which is documented in the exhibition in stills and on film:
In it Brus, totally shaved, injured himself in the style of the historical and pictorial tradition of the martyr. The action focused on the vulnerability of the individual, pain and "pure" madness, and marked the climactic and final moment of the period.That, I think, pretty much describes the ethos of the whole show. Brus's work makes McCarthy's gross out nastiness stuff look like the child's play it really is. Oh, and I almost forgot. There's another film in the exhibition showing Brus wetting himself. Nice, I suppose, if you're into that kind of stuff.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
The panel, part of a larger conference on museum acquisitions and deaccessioning organized by the American Federation of Arts, featured Raymond Learsy (collector and Whitney Museum trustee), the artist Jeff Koons, Paul Schimmel (chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), and gallerist Marianne Boesky.
Insights by panel members ranged from the obvious (Learsy: the art market isn’t the insular little world it used to be) to the sound (Schimmel: explore more affordable work by underappreciated, mid-career artists) to the surreal (Koons: “This machine, this market, is showing how people love each other.”)
What intrigued me most, though, was a statement that Marianne Boesky let slip.
Boesky has made no secret about the process she uses for determining who gets to buy work by her very in-demand artists: identify a museum where she wants to place a work, find a collector affiliated with the organization, sell the collector a piece with the requirement that it be given as a partial gift to the institution.
Reiterating these well documented points for the museum staffers last weekend, Boesky added, “I work for the artist. We pick and choose who gets access [to work] for strategic reasons, for careers to grow,” adding generously that Whitney trustee Learsy could walk into her gallery and buy anything he wanted.
Not everyone is so fortunate. Boesky clearly has scorn for the new hedge fund collectors who think they can buy access to work by desirable artists. “Waiting lists are not linear things,” she said. “It’s not who gets there first.” Or who arrives with the most money.
None of this is news—surprising as it might be to those who think markets do, or should, operate efficiently. A Google search on Boesky’s name turns up several articles that quote her describing this strategy. What was new, though, was a piece of information that Boesky dropped almost in passing.
She mentioned that a few years ago Takashi Murakami paintings were selling at galleries that represent him for $60,000 while they were fetching $600,000 at auction. Murakami’s dealers from around the world, Boesky told the audience, got together to “do something” in response to this large price differential. (I assumed she was implying that they decided to either raise Murakami’s primary market prices or influence secondary market pricing, but she did not say this directly.)
That’s a fairly innocuous comment taken in the context of the whole of what Boesky does to manage the market for her artists’ works. But it’s one that may indicate that her market practices have crossed a line.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division makes available on its website a pamphlet entitled “Antitrust Enforcement and the Consumer.” The purpose of the document is to help the general public identify antitrust activities. It contains the following advice:
That bullet point (the first of several which I haven’t quoted) summarizes many aspects of Boesky’s market practices—especially the practice of meeting with competing sellers of the same product to “do something” about how that product is priced (if that is indeed what the discussion was about).
How Can You Know if the Antitrust Laws Are Being Violated?
If any person knows or suspects that competitors, suppliers or even an employer are violating the antitrust laws, that person should alert the antitrust authorities so that they can determine whether to investigate.
Price-fixing, bid-rigging and customer-allocation conspiracies are most likely to occur where there are relatively few sellers who have to get together to agree. The larger the group of sellers, the more difficult it is to come to an agreement and enforce it.
Keep an eye out for telltale signs, including, for example:
- any evidence that two or more competing sellers of similar products have agreed to price their products a certain way, to sell only a certain amount of their product or to sell only in certain areas or to certain customers
I’m not an attorney, and I don’t claim detailed knowledge of U.S. antitrust law. But as a consumer of products offered for sale on the art market, it seems to me that antitrust authorities would be justified in investigating whether Boesky has violated the law.
Boesky is a very bright woman and, I believe, an attorney herself. She has also had ample, first-hand exposure to the penalties faced by individuals who do not play by the market’s rules. (Her father, Ivan Boesky, famously plead guilty to involvement in a massive insider trading scandal in the mid-1980s. He eventually served jail time and paid a whopping $100M fine.)
All this would lead me to believe that Marianne Boesky would want to stay on the right side of the law as she makes markets in the work of the artists she represents. But listening to her talk about her activities makes me wonder if she is doing otherwise.
Related: Felix Salmon from last March on the irrationality of the art market.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Getting His Show on the Road
A major benefit of housing a museum in a suitcase? It travels well. MoMA HMLSS has already been on display in France, Belgium, and Kansas City, MO. The next stop after Manhattan is Madrid.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
On the Universal in Art, or Another Post about Crying
All well and good in theory, but I had an experience last weekend that has caused me to start questioning this belief.
Saturday afternoon the kid and I stopped by Gladstone Gallery to see the new Shirin Neshat video, Zarin. The kid is always happy to see art and, believe it or not, at eight months she’s even starting to express a preference for video. Most of the time she’s got an attention span measured in seconds. But put her in front of a large screen of moving light and she’s transfixed. At the Whitney recently she actually sat through the whole 30 minute Robert Smithson film on the making of Spiral Jetty. Given that, I figured we would be good for 15 minutes of Neshat.
When we walked in, the gallery was packed. All the benches were full, so we made our way to the front of the room to sit down on the floor. I took her out of her carrier and set her on the floor next to me. She immediately turned to face the screen and started watching.
We arrived just at the point in the narrative where Zarin, the emotionally disturbed title character, enters a public bath. Everything was fine with us until Zarin’s covering fell away and her washing crossed the line into self-mutilation. (A still from this scene is at right.) All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the kid started wailing. She wouldn’t stop. I had to walk her out of the gallery to calm her down.
I found the point at which she became upset to be curious. It’s exactly the same point at which Edward Winkleman reported that he and others watching the film began sobbing.
Winkleman situates his emotional reaction to this scene in a cultural understanding of the mores that it transgresses:
Now I know just enough about Muslim culture (but not enough about Persian subtlties) to be rather wobbly informed about this, but it's my understanding that total adult nudity is highly inappropriate in the public baths. It certainly is for men, and so this scene was particularly confusing and thereby even more powerful for me.My kid couldn’t possibly know this, yet she reacted in the same way at exactly the same point in the film.
What the other 15 or so folks watching at the same time I was thought it symbolized, I'll never know, but I do know I was not the only one sobbing at this point in the film. (Sniffles carry.)
This makes me wonder if there isn’t something hard coded into humans, something existing deep in the preconscious portion of our brains, that recognizes when certain, basic assumptions about human behavior are challenged.
When Zarin begins scrubbing her skin raw, Neshat shows a person violating something fundamental to human nature—a will to self-preservation, a preference for pleasure over pain.
Witnessing these assumptions being transgressed, I am starting to think, creates an involuntary response in any viewer. Distributing feelings of shock, horror, pity, and perhaps fear arise unbidden. It’s as if we can’t help but feel these emotions if we are human. It’s instinctual.
My daughter’s reaction to Neshat’s work has to have been made at the level of instinct. She’s too young for it to have been anything else. She responded by vocalizing the distress that the video made her feel. I didn’t cry during the scene, but that doesn’t mean that I too didn’t have a strong emotional response. Perhaps it was my ability to dissociate representation from reality (something she is not yet capable of doing) that allowed me to retain my composure.
Could it be that in this work Neshat goes to a place in every viewer’s biological makeup and flips a switch causing an involuntary emotional response to occur? If that is indeed what happens here, that fact should be enough to open up for discussion again the notion that art can carry a universal meaning.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Excuses, Whining, and Moaning
I'm heading back home today, and I have a full weekend of art-type stuff planned (gallery walk with a museum group, auction previews, panel discussion on collecting in the current market environment). So maybe, if time and other paying commitments allow, there will be a few notes of interest showing up here next week.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Where the Power REALLY Lies
We wander for a while, looking at the new shows. Mrs. FtF (usually pretty charitable in her opinions) says of one group exhibition, "This is horrible." She's right. It is.
By 4:30 we've seen enough. But I want to see the Turrell. So we sit down in the hallway outside the room to wait. Soon a crowd starts to form. At 4:45 it's me, the wife and kid, and a group of 20 German tourists. I can understand exactly three words of what they are saying among themselves: "Turrell," "Roden," and "Crater."
At 4:55 the door still isn't open. The Germans are getting restless. One of them starts making paper hats for the kid out of the floor plans they are all carrying. Security staff members are pacing the hallway. Mrs. FtF overhears them discussing the problem. They've lost the key to the door. Brilliant. You put a major piece of contemporary art behind a locked door, and you don't keep a spare key around?
I'm about ready to pack it in when along comes one of the art handlers. He's been installing a show in another gallery on the floor. He sizes up the situation, pulls a Five-in-One painter's tool out of his pocket, sticks it between the door and the jamb, gives a little pull, and pops the door open for us.
Now I know who really holds the keys to the art world kingdom. It's that anonymous guy who nobody trusts with a key but who's always got the right tool in his back pocket.