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Friday, December 31, 2004

Seeing, Not Having Seen

Last October The Guardian ran an interesting piece by Amelia Gentleman about what it’s like to visit the Mona Lisa. Coming across the article earlier this week reminded me of the time that I spent recently with Leonardo da Vinci’s famously coy lady.

The Louvre has encased her behind a pane of bulletproof glass. Additionally, people (and their digital cameras) are kept four feet back from her cage by a metal barrier. This installation all but insures that no one gets a good look at the piece or spends time closely analyzing da Vinci’s work.

The situation, though, doesn’t seem to matter much to the crowds that assemble in front of the painting. As culture has replaced religion and the museum has replaced the cathedral as reason and destination for the contemporary pilgrimage, the Mona Lisa has become our era’s version of the religious relic. Its cultural value doesn’t derive from its formal properties, its conceptual support, its provenance, or even its authenticity. Its value to those who travel to see it lies elsewhere, somewhere outside the object itself.

The point of seeing the piece, for almost all visitors, is to say that they have seen it. Tourists don’t really go to the Louvre to look at the Mona Lisa. They go so that when they return home they can tell friends that they saw the painting.

Those of us who spend time looking at and writing about art tend to be condescending toward the masses that gather in front of da Vinci’s painting—looking, as they do, to the work to provide validation for their trip to Paris.

Unfortunately, though, many of us do the same. Reading through top ten list after top ten list this month in both the print media and around the blogosphere has made me realize that too many art writers neglect seeing exhibitions in their haste to prepare for saying that they have seen them.

In our rush to publish missives from art fairs, biennials, the right museum retrospectives, and esoteric exhibitions in out-of-the way gallery spaces, we spend too much time trying to one-up each other. “Have you seen so-and-so’s new show at such-and-such? You haven’t?!? Oh, let me tell you all about it.”

When someone offers to tell you all about that latest show, listen to what he has to say—really listen. And ask questions. It won’t take long to determine if he’s describing work that he’s really seen, felt, and understood, or if he’s describing a stop made in an attempt to kill some time between a mimosa brunch and afternoon happy hour.

People who write for print have their own set of issues to deal with. One of the dangers of writing for the blogosphere, though, is that there is no news cycle. The next publishing deadline is always and forever right now. The self-imposed pressure of wanting to be the first to say it and to keep doling out new content so that site stats remain high tends to lead to writing that is less thoughtful, less polished, less rich than it could be if more deliberation and judgment were used.

That’s not always a bad thing, of course. Once in a while this immediacy leads to better and more timely writing than appears in the print media. But sometimes slower, more deliberate, more thoughtful, and more passionate work is better.

If posting becomes somewhat less frequent in the near future on From the Floor it’s because I’m trying to put into practice a new principle for the new year—more seeing, less having seen.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Good, Meaty Art Writing

Here's today's must read. Go. Read. Now.

Miracle on 53rd Street

I've visited MoMA a couple times in the last week. On Christmas Eve, I noticed that all the works on a wall in the contemporary galleries had been taken down. The Ruscha, Celmins, Acconci, Long, and Kawara were all gone. Only the Joan Jonas video being projected onto the wall remained.

The inventory cards authorizing the removal didn't give a reason for the de-installation, and none of the guards on the floor knew what had happened. "As long as there wasn't any damage," I thought, "it's no great loss. The installation was one of the weakest in the house." Such an aggressive Jonas video running next to that meditative Celmins ocean drawing (at right) didn't really work.

Yesterday when I returned, the works still hadn't been re-installed, but I was able to find someone who knew what happened.

It turns out that the wall had been weeping at the tragedy that was that installation.

No, really. It's true.

Skeptics will claim that the loading dock is on the other side of this wall and that last week's cold snap caused condensation to form inside the gallery, putting the works on paper at risk. But I know these people are just aesthetic atheists. I prefer to believe that the building was saddened by what was hanging on that wall and that it decided to do something to call attention to the problem.

Guess what. It worked.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Modern Kicks has a post tonight about a trip to the RISD museum. In the piece, Miguel gets all nostalgic for how that institution opened his eyes to the visual arts.

By chance, I happened to take a similar trip down memory lane today. My epiphany didn't occur in Rhode Island. It happened right here in Manhattan when I was a twenty-year-old college student from the Midwest who had never been exposed to post-war art.

I was reminded of that moment late this afternoon on a quick visit to MoMA. I've been several times since the museum reopened, but for some reason I've missed (or haven't really noticed before) that the curators included Alberto Giacometti's City Square from 1948 (at right) in the permanent collection installation. This piece caused me, as a student visiting MoMA for the first time, to stop and look--to really look. All of a sudden, on seeing this piece, I understood something that I hadn't before. Art didn't have to exhibit verisimilitude to be "good." Art could break the ties to strict representation in order to express something. And sometimes art was more effective if it did.

I can't say that this moment changed my life, but it did open my mind enough to make me want to look (and learn) more. And, I guess, it started me down a path of inquiry that I might not have followed otherwise--a path that has implications for what I do today.

I would be curious to hear about whether others have experienced similar epiphanies. Arts bloggers, any of you care to weigh in?

Art in America Blog Sidebar

The Art in America item that has had the art-geek corner of the blogosphere all worked up this holiday season is finally available (as a PDF file) on the magazine's website.

The image quality of the official AiA download is much better than that lousy scan of the page that somebody was e-mailing around last week.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Year in Review

It’s performance review time around the office, and thoughts are turning to the year's accomplishments. Some of that forced self-reflection has spilled over into the blog today. So forgive me, please, while I get all self-indulgently introspective for a moment.

This year saw the launch of From the Floor. I decided to start blogging for two reasons: to give myself a forum for doing more art writing, and to make tons of money and become famous.

I’m happy with how I’ve done with one of those objectives.

The rewards for doing this come in non-financial ways. Today From the Floor hit a milestone for the first time. Over 20,000 unique visitors have viewed the site in the last month. I wouldn’t have guessed that a readership would grow that fast when I started this project five months ago.

To all you bloggers who have driven traffic to the site since it launched, thanks. To those of you who have written in via email with kind (or critical) words, thank you. Those notes keep me encouraged on days when I don’t necessarily feel like writing something new. To those of you who read every day, thanks to you as well. It’s gratifying to know that people are interested enough in what’s going through my head to make a point of visiting the site. If you like what you see here, don’t keep it to yourself. Spread the word by telling friends and colleagues.

This week also saw From the Floor’s first mention in the mainstream art press. The January issue of Art in America contains a boxed item entitled “Art in the Blogosphere” that highlights From the Floor and eleven other blogs.

If you’re new to the site as a result of that piece, welcome. Feel free to browse the archives. (And if you came just to find out how to pronounce Romare Bearden’s name, here’s a shortcut.) But don’t limit yourself to this site. Also spend some time exploring the rest of the blogosphere. The Art in America list, as good as it is, overlooks a number of excellent art blogs. Take a look at my list of recommended daily reads in the right-hand column. If you see something there that isn’t listed in the magazine, be sure to check it out. It, too, is worth exploring.

Thanks again, readers and fellow bloggers, for making From the Floor’s first calendar year a good one.

Groan of the Day, No the Week, No the Year

Sarah Hromack at Forward Retreat is out with an interesting reversal of this week's topic--the end of year top ten list. She heads for the bottom, rather than the top, of the year's events with a post called The Pits.

I'm not sure how she managed to get beyond this thing, though, in making her list. It, alone, scores low points 1-10 in my book.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Everything New Is Old Again

I came across the following quote last night.
For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century.... And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship.
What's the source? Some high-brow, European news magazine trying to explain blogs to its grey-haired readership? Not quite. It's Walter Benjamin 70 years ago in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"God Will Always Make You Pay"

I used to work with a woman who liked to use that phrase whenever she discussed something she knew she shouldn't have done. The thought never seemed to stop her, though, from reveling in the pleasures of her minor sins.

This might not actually be God's doing, but Artnet brings us what certainly could be seen as a warning from the Pope. Something makes me think, though, that this little message won't take the edge off work by the art world's favorite prankster any more than the threat of divine retribution limited my former colleague's transgressions.

From the Floor's Top Ten, 2004

Since everyone else seems to be doing it this week, I don't want to be left behind.

Rather than getting all fussy with a top ten list, I decided to limit my scope to large museum exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. I did, though, end up breaking my own rule with one item.

Links are to blog posts I wrote on these shows. Items aren't listed in any particular order.
Much more pedestrian than Thelma Golden's picks for Artforum, wouldn't you say?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Tom Wesselmann, 73

Tom Wesselmann, painter of the Great American Nude, passed away last Friday after complications from heart surgery. Roberta Smith has the obituary in today's NY Times.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Agnes Martin, 92

Holland Cotter writes the obituary in today's NY Times. Tyler Green has a very nice tribute on MAN.

For me, the perfect Martin painting will always be Milk River, painted in 1963 and owned by the Whitney. When the work was last on display a few years ago as part of a permanent collection installation that I was lecturing on, I didn't talk about it with my groups. Frank Stella's Die Fahne Hoch was a much easier piece to use to open up the key concepts of minimalism. But after finishing my talks I would frequently retrace my steps through the galleries to spend time communing with Milk River by myself.

Some paintings make for great public lecture material. Others are best used for quiet, personal contemplation. Martin's work from the 1960s never fails to bring me to a place that even other great artists who strove to give the viewer a transcendent moment (artists like Rothko, for example) can't reach. And as much as I would like to think that I can help people see depth and meaning in art that they at first perceive to be inaccessible, I don't think I would be able to communicate that experience effectively to a large group of museum visitors. Sometimes things are just better seen and felt rather than analyzed and described.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Emily Jacir Exhibition to Proceed without Conditions

Wichita State University has announced that the Emily Jacir exhibition scheduled to run January 20 - March 6, 2005, at the Ulrich Museum of Art will do so without any conditions.

Elizabeth King, Vice President for University Advancement, released the following statement late this afternoon:
Wichita State University is aware of the discussion generated by the scheduled exhibition of work by artist Emily Jacir at the Ulrich Museum of Art. The University is committed to going forward with the exhibition without conditions or limitations that could be considered to compromise the integrity of Ms. Jacir's work as an artist. The University appreciates the widespread interest in the artist and the exhibition.
Judy Press, Executive Director of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, said yesterday that members of her group had seen images of Jacir's works on the Internet and had objected to what they perceived to be the single-sidedness of the exhibition. "The work focuses on the inability of Palestinians to travel freely, and it blames Israel for that inability. But it does not explain why Israel must take these measures," Press said.

The Federation had asked the University to display additional information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to balance the presentation. "We made a request to the University, and we are under the impression at this point that this was not an appropriate request," Press said. "We did not realize that this was considered inappropriate or infringing on the artist's rights. We need to not ask for that if it is not appropriate."

David Butler, Director of the Ulrich Museum, said this afternoon, "I'm relieved that we are doing the right thing, and I am happy this has been resolved. I have not spoken with Emily yet, but I hope she will be pleased as well."

Emily Jacir was traveling this afternoon and was not available for comment.

[See the original NEWSgrist post for more information.]

Something More than Just Typologies

Included in the retrospective of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work at the Centre Pompidou is a photograph of Bernd taking a photograph. “How unlike them,” I thought, “to lift the curtain and show their process.”

Why the image was included, I can’t say, but it was interesting to see. Standing on a ladder to reach a large-format camera mounted atop a gigantic tripod, Bernd shows just how much effort goes into capturing each one of the couple’s signature images. This is no point and shoot, decisive moment type stuff. For the Bechers there are locations to scout, pieces of gear to lug, cameras to configure, and backgrounds to neutralize by waiting for just the right lighting conditions to arrive.

And that’s only part of the project. Once the image is captured, there are the archival and analytical functions that need to be performed. When it’s at its best, the Bechers’ work has the dispassionate, distanced rigor that archivists and certain historians bring to their work, a rigor developed through years spent analyzing the details of some arcane subject matter.

Best known for the typologies of industrial forms they have been creating for decades now, the Bechers’ work tends to be coldly analytic. That’s not to say that the work is without conceptual or formal interest because it has both in quantities to spare.

This show presents an encyclopedic overview of the couple’s work and includes multiple examples of most, if not all, of their major typologies. The winding towers, gas tanks, lime kilns, water towers, blast furnaces, and cooling towers are all here in well-known and newly assembled groupings of images. Also included are examples of some lesser known typologies: gravel plants, grain silos, and industrial halls.

The typologies have an emotional distance that leads viewers to focus on the formal details of the structures instead of thinking through the work in a narrative manner. Also included in the retrospective, however, are single image works that engage the viewer in a different way, in a way that is more amenable to the use of narrative as a strategy for understanding the work.

Set dead in the center of the circular gallery installation is a large room documenting the industrial landscapes from which the Bechers have snatched their images. These photographs, not their best known work, show the siting of the structures they have spent years documenting, often allowing the structures to be viewed in the context of both the natural and social worlds in which they actual exist.

When viewing the typologies, people tend to focus on the structures’ formal elements and forget that they were created by people to serve a human purpose. The industrial landscapes remind us that these structures are not abstract sculptures but instead have provided employment for thousands of people, have processed raw materials harvested or stripped from the earth, and—in the process—have contributed to current levels of pollution and global warming.

Also contained within this central gallery (actually situated as a separate installation in the center of the gallery—the inner room of the inner room) are prints from the Bechers’ project to document the company town that was built up around the Zollern 2 Mine in Dortmund-Bövingshausen, Germany.

This town, built at the height of the industrial era, was threatened with destruction in the 1970s. In response, the Bechers and others set about documenting the architecture and design of the buildings surrounding the mine to demonstrate the historical significance and cultural value of the place. Their work resulted in a 1977 book of photographs called Zeche Zollern 2. As a result of these efforts, the town today is a museum devoted to the industrial and social history of the area.

This gallery, and the two projects that it presents, demonstrate the personal, human nature that underlies but remains hidden in most of the Bechers’ work. Human ingenuity, after all, designed the industrial structures of their typologies, and human lives powered and benefited from the structures’ existence. While we may find ourselves forgetting that when we view the typologies, it’s clear that the Bechers haven’t.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher” is on view at the Centre Pompidou through January 3, 2005.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Links, Glorious Links

There's a lot going on today. So much, in fact, that it's time for another links post already.

The Thomas Kinkade Company Acquires Maurizio Cattelan

Deal Will Significantly Extend Mr. Cattelan’s Brand Presence in North America and Will Give The Thomas Kinkade Company a New Growth Platform


MORGAN HILL, CA and NEW YORK, NY, December 15, 2004—The Thomas Kinkade Company announced today an agreement under which The Thomas Kinkade Company will acquire, for an undisclosed cash amount, rights to all future production by the internationally known and critically acclaimed artist Maurizio Cattelan. In connection with the transaction, the parties have also entered into a long-term contract whereby Mr. Cattelan will continue creation and installation of original, temporary, site-specific works for important international museums and biennials under The Thomas Kinkade Company brand. The acquisition does not cover rights to Mr. Cattelan’s past work.

The Thomas Kinkade Company and Mr. Cattelan plan to extend Mr. Cattelan’s brand into new markets. Their union is expected to draw upon The Thomas Kinkade Company’s distribution strengths to sell Mr. Cattelan’s product through nearly 4,000 retailers, about 280 licensed Signature Galleries, nearly 400 Showcase Galleries, and three company-owned stores, as well as through Hallmark, the QVC shopping channel, La-Z-Boy, and a web site. The new partnership will also take advantage of additional licensing arrangements that The Thomas Kinkade Company has in place with other third parties.

Eric H. Halvorson, President and CEO of The Thomas Kinkade Company, stated, “This acquisition is an important first step in our long-term strategy of building a multi-artist portfolio of businesses. The Maurizio Cattelan name has tremendous cachet among art lovers who are not collectors of our current product. We believe this opportunity will provide an exciting, new growth platform with our upscale client base and will complement our existing business. We expect that the acquisition will be somewhat dilutive to the Company’s near-term results. However, we see Mr. Cattelan’s brand as contributing significantly to revenue and earnings over the long term.”

Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light®, added, “Maurizio is a true inspiration. We believe his creative energy will provide immeasurable value to our enterprise. Everyone can identify with a fragrant garden, with the beauty of a sunset, with the quiet of nature, and with a warm and cozy cottage. Not everyone, though, can identify with Maurizio’s current work. We hope that with this new partnership, we will be able to inform his practice with our vision and use our marketing magic to turn him into a household name, much like I have become. Maurizio, of course, will continue to have autonomy in executing his vision on a global scale, while benefiting from having me as a supportive partner. We look forward to the many opportunities ahead.”

Mr. Cattelan noted, “In choosing a partner to expand my business, I was looking for a company that would be a good fit with my working philosophy. If, as many critics have postulated, I am a jokester, what better thing for a jokester to do than to sell his future artistic production to a company that is a joke?” Halvorson responded, “We appreciate his honesty and his ability to strike a nerve through the use of humor. That tone has been absent from our portfolio to date, and we believe that adding it at this time will produce upside potential both for our business and for Mr. Cattelan.”

In conjunction with the new partnership, the Thomas Kinkade Company is also announcing its first licensing deal to leverage the Cattelan brand. “Company partner S.C. Johnson & Sons, Inc. has agreed to produce a special Cattelan Glade® jar candle for next summer’s Labor Day holiday,” announced Halvorson. “We have not finalized the product design, so I cannot yet share all the details,” added Cattelan. “But it will involve a candle that will not stay lit so that one must continually labor to keep it alight. That’s perfect for Labor Day, no?”

Subject to customary closing conditions, the acquisition is expected to be completed within the next 30 days.

# # # # #

The Thomas Kinkade Company has published the works of Thomas Kinkade for over 10 years, and through aggressive sales and marketing efforts Thomas Kinkade has become the most widely recognized and best selling living artist in the world. In addition to the continued development of Thomas Kinkade and his art, The Thomas Kinkade Company provides an unparalleled market presence in the art publishing and gift product industries. Goals for the future provide for continued growth, not only in art publishing and gift products, but also diversification into a comprehensive creative content management company. The development of intellectual property in art, music, film, television, literature, and multimedia will allow The Thomas Kinkade Company to reestablish a lost culture in the arts, representing a culture built upon the foundation of life-affirming, emotionally uplifting ideals and profitable deals.

Maurizio Cattelan refuses to state the purpose, goals, or objectives of his business.

[Inspiration and large portions of text come from this announcement. Other text comes from The Thomas Kinkade Company website.]

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Links, Updated and New

I've done a little site maintenance in recent days and have updated the links in the right-hand column, adding a few new blogs and bringing back a list of recommended current exhibitions. The exhibitions are all notable museum shows I've seen in recent weeks. There are no gallery shows included because, frankly, I haven't spent much time at galleries in the last month.

I've written about all the new shows listed except two: Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Pompidou and Political Nature at the Whitney.

I'll have something to post this Thursday on the Becher retrospective. As for Political Nature, the show is another single-gallery, David Kiehl-curated gem: four artists (three you may have heard of and one you probably haven't) and several remarkable prints held together with a really smart theme that opens an interesting dialogue between the very different works included. Each of the pieces in the Walton Ford series (on display together here for the first time) is visually stunning and conceptually engaging. Stephanie Syjuco's work uses the visual language of pre-twentieth-century botany to explore the morphology of the personal computer. In the process, it sets a new standard for the use of digital technology in print making. Works by Trenton Doyle Hancock and Frank Moore round out the show.

Finally, looking for a little high-brow holiday spirit over the next couple weeks? Visit the Centre Pompidou's website each day for the remainder of the month as the institution turns the façade of its famous home into a giant advent calendar.

The Met's Increased Admission Fee Makes AAM Membership Attractive

The New York Post ran a piece on Sunday about the city's funding cuts for cultural institutions and the probable impact on museum admission fees.

According to the article, next month the Met will follow the lead of MoMA and the Guggenheim and will raise its suggested admission fee 25% to $15. No other New York institutions have announced an increase yet, but the possibility is on the table at several.

This news makes membership in the American Association of Museums look even more attractive for New Yorkers. One benefit is free or significantly reduced admission to most member museums around the country. Individual AAM membership for non-museum staff is $100 per year. The registration form is available here in .pdf format.

Monday, December 13, 2004

A World in an Everyday Object

Contemporary Art: Floor to Ceiling, Wall to Wall at the Wadsworth Atheneum draws from the museum’s permanent collection (with a few supplemental loans) to provide a thoughtful overview of major artistic movements from the early-1960s to today.

Focused on artists’ return to the external world for inspiration in the years after Abstract Expressionism lost its monolithic hold, the show gives a remarkably complete overview of the second half of the twentieth century, considering the relatively small number of works included. By making such strategic use of the resources available to her, and by installing the exhibition as well as she has in the Wadsworth’s contemporary-art-friendly galleries, curator Joanna Marsh has shown just what can be done by a strong regional museum.

While the show as a whole is impressive, I found the exhibition’s small closing gallery to be particularly thought provoking. Gathered together under the theme of “a new objectivity,” are four pieces by Tom Friedman, Robert Lazzarini, Charles LeDray, and Fred Tomaselli. By transforming everyday objects in one way or another, these artists ask us to reevaluate the commoditized products that surround us and to inquire into the nature of our powers of perception.

Friedman has taken a Lucky Charms box, cut it down into pieces that are no greater than 1/3 centimeter square, and reassembled these pieces mosaic style into four single-serving-sized Lucky Charms boxes. I found myself looking at these boxes as closely as I looked at the tiny mosaics made of microscopic tiles in the Met’s recent exhibition of Byzantine art. Has our commercial culture been able to turn everyday consumer products into the devotional objects of our era? Friedman raises the question.

Robert Lazzarini is represented by phone, which he spoke about with me last month. There’s a sadness about this piece, a sense of time slipped away, that makes me look with a new eye at the otherwise overlooked commercial objects surrounding me in my office. Will the ugly black handset that I have on my desk today function for me some day as Proust’s madeleine did for him by bringing to mind memories of things, people, and relationships lost or past? Lazzarini makes me wonder.

Seeing Charles LeDray’s 2000 Pots recalled for me the opening to William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Each of the 2000 tiny ceramic vessels contained in LeDray’s phone-booth-sized steel and glass vitrine differs from every other. The extensiveness of this collection of hand-crafted objects overwhelms and conveys a sense of the infinite through its obsessive repetition of the finite.

Finally, Tomaselli’s painting All the Birds I Remember Seeing, All the Drugs I Can Remember Taking has what must be one of the most interesting wall texts in the show. The materials of the piece listed there include hemp leaves, aspirin, acetaminophen, antacid, ephedrine, saccharin, prisma color, acrylic, and resin on wood panel. Using these items, Tomaselli has created a faux network diagram that ties together bird species (the bird-like figures in the piece have been made from tiny hemp leaves) and drugs both legal and illegal. The piece draws connections between the psychological and the physical landscapes and causes me to wonder how many of the bird species mentioned Tomaselli saw on some drug-induced trip into the inner landscape.

Each of these four pieces begins with specific objects from the everyday world and uses them as a departure point for a meditation on the sublime found either within the human psyche or in the world in which we live. The expansiveness of meaning that emerges from the works installed in this one small gallery is indicative of the layers of interest and meaning that emerge from the rest of the show at large.

Contemporary Art: Floor to Ceiling, Wall to Wall is on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT, through April 24, 2005.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Link a Day Keeps Workplace Boredom at Bay

It’s been a while since I’ve done a links post, so here’s making up for lost time.

First off, by way of NEWSgrist comes the funniest damn thing I’ve seen in weeks. (Update: Some humorless killjoy caused the original piece to be taken down. Fortunately, NEWSgrist has a permalink that gives a hint at what is accessible no longer. Updated update: A reader let me know the original source for the material. If you want to see it in all its hilarity, it's available here.)

I happened to have a pretty good day yesterday, but I didn’t have nearly as much fun as Terry did. And I didn’t get a pre-theater nap, either. Or, come to think of it, any theater.

I've added a couple new (to me) blogs to my daily reads. Life Without Buildings covers architecture, and Insurgent Muse covers the arts in LA.

Artforum’s new sort-of-like-a-blog-thing-but-not-quite has been causing strum und drang among arts bloggers. Some examples: What’s the consensus? Artforum gives bad blog, and arts blogging is something different than either journalism or criticism—neither of which (in its current state) is satisfying to many people who have started blogging.

Finally, Martin Bromirski posts his submission for the next Whitney Biennial on ANABA. You know what? Installed nicely as a large network diagram, this thing would be more interesting than half the work that’s been included in the last few Biennials. Is anyone at the Whitney reading today? (Friendster password available here.)

Update: Here's one more link I found this morning that I'll sneak in before I leave this topic. Courtesy of Modern Kicks, we have a blogging manifesto. In case you're wondering, in the photo I'm the guy on the right in the back row.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Inscrutable M. Huyghe

Last night I trekked downtown in the rain to hear Pierre Huyghe speak as part of the Public Art Fund’s Tuesday Night Talks.

I’ve been fascinated by Huyghe’s work in recent years, but whoa. His Streamside Day Follies project for Dia a couple years ago? Pretty far out there (see the still at right). How can you not love it, though, that he actually convinced Harvard to pay him to put on a puppet show (starring himself) featuring a puppet show within the puppet show (also starring himself) that has a cameo by Le Corbusier. (If only I had tried the puppet show angle years ago when I was applying for a faculty position there....)

Well, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but Huyghe is as delighfully elliptical in talking about his work as he is in the work itself.

Here are a few of the more choice quotes from his talk.

On L'Expedition Scintillante: A Musical which filled three floors at the Kunsthaus Bregenz: “The whole purpose of the journey was to make this concert for the penguins.” (Incidentally, his Light Box on view now at the Centre Pompidou was the second floor installation for this show. I’ve seen the piece twice now and missed the penguins both times. Maybe nobody told them about the concert?)

On the celebration he created for the Hudson River Valley community in Streamside Day Follies: “It was the custom I had to invent for them to intensify the coefficient of fiction.”

On the Harvard puppet show: “It is a parable expressing the condition of production within a predefined context.”

On his upcoming project commissioned by the Public Art Fund: “We’re going to go to this no-knowledge zone where things have no names, and we’re going to do things down there.” He’ll then “recount this journey” on the ice rink in Central Park.

I’ll make a point to be there with my skates on for this one. And maybe Huyghe will be able to get some of the penguins from the Central Park Zoo to waddle over for the fun too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What's REALLY Going on in the Art World?

Carolyn Zick does us a favor again this month by summarizing all the art-related content in the December issue of W. And it's quite a month: stylish trust-funded New Yorkers move to Marfa, Currin and Feinstein (and not just for Marc Jacobs), gossip from the Whitney Gala, Ann Philbin of the Hammer, 89-year-old Arthur Miller's 34-year-old girlfriend who paints, and (totally unrelated to the previous item) how to get away with faking it ("On Books I've Never Read").

Carolyn also mentions that her subscription runs out with next month's issue. It would be a real shame if she stopped providing all of us with her monthly clip service. How about if one of you Condé Nasty readers gives her another couple years on the house, huh?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Jeremy Deller wins the Turner Prize

The odds makers had it right. Just announced from London:

Jeremy Deller wins the Turner Prize 2004
The Turner Prize 2004 has been awarded to Jeremy Deller, it was announced at Tate Britain this evening. The £25,000 prize, sponsored for the first time in a three-year partnership with Gordon’s gin, was presented by broadcaster and Tate Trustee Jon Snow. With Gordon’s support this year’s prize fund has been increased to £40,000 with £5,000 each being awarded to the other shortlisted artists. The prize ceremony was broadcast live on Channel 4.

Jeremy Deller was shortlisted for Memory Bucket, a mixed-media installation at ArtPace, San Antonio, documenting his travels through the state of Texas. In awarding Deller the prize the jury praised his generosity of spirit across a succession of projects which engage with social and cultural contexts and celebrate the creativity of individuals. Find out more about Jeremy Deller and watch a clip of Memory Bucket online.

The jury stressed the strength of the exhibition at Tate Britain and wished to record their respect for the outstanding presentations produced by all four artists.

Turner Prize Short List, Short on Excitement

Tonight at 8:00 PM local time (3:00 PM in New York), this year’s Turner Prize winner will be announced live on British television.

The Turner Prize has become the primary engine for promoting contemporary British art by artists under 50. Since 1984 when the prize was instituted, the Tate (the sponsoring institution) has learned several lessons about managing the contest: ensure that the nomination and selection process is as transparent as possible, partner with an appropriate funding sponsor, and be prepared to deal with the media’s inevitable hoots and howls on announcement of the short list and the prize winner.

This year, the Tate has wrapped the whole experience in a remarkably proficient blanket of public relations savvy. The process (save for the selection panel’s actual deliberations) is clear and open to public scrutiny. Gordon’s, the distillery sponsoring the prize, produces a sophisticated adult product. To preempt public responses to the media’s expected hectoring, the Tate put together an in-depth educational website to contextualize the prize, the selection process, and the nominees’ work. Additionally, the Tate has created both a virtual space and a physical space in the exhibition of nominees’ work on view in London through December 28 to record the comments of anyone interested in making them.

With the public relations machinations in place around the prize, one would expect the nominated artists to be producing challenging, innovate, difficult works that are prone to generate public controversy. This year, however, controversy is in short supply.

Jeremy Deller, nominated for his video Memory Bucket which documents a trip to Texas, is the odds makers’ favorite to win. Memory Bucket and Deller’s larger project of ceding his authorial voice to others in his artistic process would be notable (but not a strong standout) in the context of any international biennial. It only gains its prominence in the nomination exhibition because of the competition’s weakness.

Kutlug Atman’s nominated work Twelve presents interview footage with six residents of a Turkish Arab community who tell tales of their reincarnation. (Six current lives + six past lives = Twelve. Get it?) The videos feel like documentation of field work conducted for a graduate degree in anthropology. Imagine if Clifford Geertz had published the field notes from his trip to Java instead of taking the time to turn them into The Interpretation of Culture. That’s what Altman gives us. The video technique used and his thesis that identity is socially constructed might have made this work interesting in the mid-1980s. Today it feels sophomoric.

The team of Langlands and Bell has contributed two works to the nominees’ exhibition from their larger show earlier this year at the Imperial War Museum. These pieces are even less compelling than Atman’s work. The two artists visited Afghanistan recently and discovered that there are over 280 non-governmental organizations, each with a name and an acronym, operating there. On their return home, they produced flags and prints illustrating this alphabet soup of NGOs. They also commissioned creation of a video game simulation that allows viewers to use a joystick to navigate around the grounds and through a building where Osama bin Laden used to live. The Tate’s website calls their projects “highly political.” In the sense that the work is largely about the existence of political organizations, the assessment is accurate.

Finally, Yinka Shonibare, nominated for a Dutch museum show earlier this year, shows several works at the Tate that may or may not have actually been included in the original exhibition. I found it more interesting to watch a video at the Victoria and Albert of Shonibare discussing his use of that museum’s collection for his practice than I found it to watch his video on display in the Turner Prize nominating exhibition. This piece is the fourth looped video driven by an ambiguous narrative that I have seen presented in a museum in the last year. When process is more interesting than product (especially when process does not play a part in the final product) something is missing.

And that’s the problem. In general, something is missing from this year’s crop of Turner Prize nominees. Something like excitement, the ability to engage viewers, and challenges to tradition that are strong enough to cause controversy. Once the prize is announced and the stories run in tomorrow’s papers, the Turner Prize will fall off the public radar screen for the next ten months. There’s just not enough kindling in the work of this year’s nominees to keep the fires of media and public interest burning until the next short list is announced.

Let’s hope that next year the Tate’s PR machine will have a more engaging set of nominees to promote—a set of nominees whose work is challenging enough to match the Tate’s ability to diffuse the controversy the prize has proven capable of raising in past years.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Paris Notes

Why I Love the French: Aside from the fact that they drink more espresso than should be humanly possible and smoke even while erratically driving motor scooters at high speed, I love the French because they teach tolerance and respect from an early age.

Case in point: while I was walking through the permanent collection at the Centre Pompidou, I crossed paths with a museum educator escorting a group of primary-school-aged children. He brought them into a gallery of portraits from early in the last century and sat them down smack dab in front of the most controversial of the lot—a painting of a transvestite drinking in a bar. I don’t have enough French to understand how he was talking about the work with the kids, but I loved the fact that he took them straight to the most charged work in the room and got down to business.

I can’t imagine the fallout that would have ensued if this scene had played out in the city in middle America where I grew up.

Maurizio Cattelan on a Roof at the Louvre: It’s not a self-portrait, but it’s as unmistakably Cattelan as a work can be. Sitting on a roof of one of the Louvre’s wings, near I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids, is a child-sized dummy mechanically banging a metal drum. With no interpretive context for the work and no explanatory signage, it’s drawing amused and puzzled stares from everyone waiting in line to enter the museum. With this placement, the work is getting as many eyeballs a day as the Mona Lisa gets.

They will let the poor kid come down from the roof next February.

Sounds and Lights at the Centre Pompidou: Sons & Lumières is the best show I saw that I won’t be writing about in a longer piece.

Curators Sophie DuPlaix and Marcella Lista have brought together 400 works from a side path to twentieth-century art history and organized them according to three historically-embedded, coherent themes: correspondences, imprints, and ruptures.

The show even closes with a two-work epilogue—Rodney Graham’s A Reverie Interrupted by the Police and Pierre Huyghe’s L’Expédition scintillante, a musical, Acte 2 “Untitled” (Light Box) (at left). Set, as it is, as the closer to this show, Huyghe’s work looks even better than it did when the Guggenheim exhibited it in New York on Huyghe’s receipt of the 2002 Hugo Boss Prize.

This show requires multiple visits to be able to write about competently. Since I only had a couple hours to spend with it, I won’t do it an injustice by saying anything other than this: it’s an exhibition that any curator would be proud to have assembled.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Cartier Foundation: Sugimoto is showing 19 photographs of old mathematical and mechanical models he found in the museum of the University of Tokyo. The works have the richly toned surface and conceptual coldness of all of his large-format pieces, but they lack the intrigue of most of his other work. Although the concept that Sugimoto has used to design the installation is somewhat specious, the installation itself for the stupendous gallery space in Jean Nouvel’s Cartier Foundation makes seeing the show there a memorable experience.

Update: The December 5 New York Times Magazine runs a portfolio of works included in this show.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The UBS Web Museum Opens for Business

Back in September when I spoke with Petra Arends, Collection Executive for UBS, we discussed the web museum that her team was building.

That new site opens to the public today. Visitors are able to explore works from The UBS Collection here.

London Notes

I’m back in New York after a visit to London and Paris. While the trip wasn’t taken especially to look at art, I did do more than my share of that. I’ll be writing a few in-depth pieces over the next week, but here are some notes from London. I’ll do the same for Paris tomorrow.

Bruce Nauman at the Tate Modern: The Tate Modern continues its run of impressive commissions for the Turbine Hall with Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials. I think of Nauman’s art in the same way I think of Eminem’s music—as being aggressive, self-absorbed, and (every once in a great while) totally engaging. This installation shows Nauman at his strongest, on all three counts.

The great space of the hall becomes a layered cacophony of vocalized nonsense, commands, and ambient sound, creating an environment that speaks to the experience of navigating through our communication-saturated contemporary world. (Bandwidth-heavy Flash site with sound here.)

The Tate Modern’s Permanent Collection: The Tate Modern’s hanging of its permanent collection, though, leaves much to be desired. A staffer told me that significant holes in the collection drove the decision to do the current thematic installation, rather than a chronological one.

One pairing of works, however, shows brilliance. A Monet Water-Lilies has been hung across a gallery from Jules Olitski’s Instant Loveland from 1968 (at right). The two works share the same lavender, green, and wheat-colored palette, and their pairing makes each stronger. Olitski’s work will never look as good as it does basking in Monet’s brilliance. And, in return, Olitski frees Monet’s palette from its shackles to representation, showing the possibilities of pure abstraction implicit, but never realized, in Monet’s late work.

Turner Prize Finalists: The Turner Prize finalists’ work on display now at Tate Britain shows mostly the result of a selection panel struggling to find four artists worthy of this recognition. My unenthusiastic pick for the prize which will be announced on December 6 would have to be Jeremy Deller’s Memory Bucket. A review of the show will follow.

The Saatchi Gallery at County Hall: Last year Charles Saatchi moved his collection to County Hall, a short walk from the Tate Modern and a pint glass’s throw from the city’s newest tourist draw, the London Eye. Always the promoter, Saatchi has put people in special t-shirts and parkas out on the walkway along The Thames to accost the tourists with laminated photos of the collection’s signature YBA works. Visitors to the London Eye are informed that their experience won’t be complete without seeing these great works of contemporary British art.

When this tourist responded that he was in the neighborhood specifically to visit the Gallery, Saatchi’s salesman didn’t know how to respond. I guess it’s not something he’s hearing too often these days. With admission set at a whopping $16.25 (with the current abysmal exchange rate) I can see why. Maybe if they tried the angle that they let visitors stand in the middle of a room filled with used motor oil (Richard Wilson’s permanent installation 20:50, at right) they would have more success—at least with the gear heads.

Inside, the galleries aren’t crowded, but the works are starting to show their age. The formaldehyde that Damien Hirst’s shark swims in has become seriously clouded, and the paper packaging of the consumer items strewn around Tracy Emin’s bed is beginning to discolor. One has to wonder how conservators in the future will decide to “refresh” the used-looking condoms also found there when the latex originals become brittle with age.

Update: The Art Newspaper's readers interview Charles Saatchi.

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