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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Giving You the Silent Treatment

I'm heading off on a little junket for the next few days. I've pledged that if the laptop gets booted up before next Tuesday, it will be to get some work done for pressing day-job deadlines, not to blog.

I'm going to try darn hard to hold myself to that promise, and I plan to succeed. Unless, of course, the Guggenheim hands me one more chance this week to take a cheap and easy shot.

Speaking of which....

If I were Thomas Krens, I would be burning the candle at both ends right now trying to come up with a way to annex the land across the street for a couple weeks next month. "The Guggenheim Central Park" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I also hear that there's already a spectacle show organized for the space and that "Germans are coming in large numbers." Perfect brand alignment and target market overlap, right?

Enough, already. I'm off. I'll be back by mid-next week.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

How Can It Be?

That with a title like this, there's no mention of Ana Mendieta in the piece?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Today's Book Report

Looking for an arts fix? Here are a few interesting things I found around the web today, presented with commentary:

Friday, January 21, 2005

Sneak Peak

Last Saturday I got brief previews of two interesting shows that are opening in Chelsea this weekend.

The Nancy Margolis Gallery opened a site-specific installation by artist Ludwika Ogorzelec last night. Ogorzelec has filled the gallery space with one of her signature cellophane structures. The piece also spills out the gallery's front window, forming a transparent awning over the sidewalk (at right). Any visitor over five and a half feet tall will need to stoop to walk beneath the work inside the gallery, but last week when I spoke with the artist she said she was planning to leave a few gaps in the piece so that viewers can stand up. This will be one exhibition where visitors who are short of stature hold an advantage.

Two blocks south on 23rd St., Caryn Golden holds an opening reception tonight for Amy Morken's new show, What's This? A Viking Song... . Morken's work feels like what would result if works by Willem deKooning and Amy Cutler were sent hurtling at light speed through the Superconducting Super Collider before being smashed together. Equal parts surreal narrative played out in a community of women and anger directed at those women's forms, Morken's work is simultaneously troubling and attractive. James Wagner has an image of her piece included in Golden's last group show in a post from earlier this month. After seeing examples of both Morken's newer and older work last week, I'm eager to see the show as it's been installed.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Hubris Squared

What kind of response other than "Huh?" or "Wow!" can you make to the news that Peter Lewis is stepping down from the Guggenheim's board.

Here's how the situation usually plays out.

Fundamental disagreement develops over time between the chair of a museum's board (a powerful business executive, let's say, who has personally contributed $77M to the organization) and the organization's strong-willed director (who, let's say, has been persistently running a deficit, can't retain staff, and doesn't have universal public support for some harebrained growth ideas that have had mixed success to date). The chair essentially fires the director but gives him the opportunity to resign. The director is sent on his way with a nice severance package, a new director is brought in, and the organization starts down the path of righting itself again.

That's what happens in the real world of museum politics. That's not what happens in the bizarro world of today's Guggenheim.

In that world, the director fires the chairman of the board--getting rid, in the process, of the funding source that has been covering his regular deficits and paying for needed maintenance of core operating facilities.

Those who thought Thomas Krens had been running the Guggenheim on hubris instead of rationality up to this point haven't seen anything yet. Imagine what winning this battle will do for his management style. I wouldn't be surprised in the next few days to see Krens hold a news conference where he claims that he's been given a mandate by the board and that he's earned political capital that he intends to use. It's probably just a matter of time now until Krens announces his plans to invade and occupy the Met, the MoMA, or the Whitney, giving the reason that he needs to preemptively protect the Guggenheim's admission revenues.

Robots and Lawsuits

I did more than my share of grousing last week. Should anyone think I’m just a fusty old grump, let me share a couple things that I’ve liked this week. OK, it’s one thing that I’ve liked and one that I found fascinating.

First, a little back story. I have this thing for robots. Why I have an affection for little metal men, I don’t know, and I don’t want to know enough to invest a year in psychotherapy to find out. But I blame Diller + Scofidio’s 2003 Whitney retrospective for activating what must have been a latent affection prior to that point.

Their Master/Slave (at right), created to display Rolf Fehlbaum’s collection of 1960s Japanese toy robots, hit me square in the gut when I saw it in person for the first time. During 2003 I was spending almost every week on the road and was lining up and being processed through airport security checks so often that I really should have been wearing a radiation dosimeter. Those little robots, stuck as they were on their single track in a world of high surveillance, made me see my own situation with new eyes. Ever since, I’ve felt their pain.

OK, so, things that I liked this week.

This post absolutely made my day on Tuesday when it went up on the blog The Long Tail. Since the blog is written by Wired’s editor and doles out fresh thought on a current topic of interest to business strategists, I don’t feel guilty about reading it at the office. I loved the post for two reasons: the surprise factor in finding something about robots in an unlikely place and because it contains a link to a video of the famous Japanese beer pouring machine—my absolutely favorite most useless machine of all time!

I was in an airport lounge in Japan a couple years ago and couldn’t believe that someone had invented (and that someone else had bought) a machine whose sole purpose was to pour a glass of beer. It’s not like it takes training to become proficient at pulling the tap on a keg. I think I had a few too many beers while waiting for my flight simply because I couldn’t help but play with this absurd machine.

It would be possible, I think, to make an argument using Kantian aesthetics that this thing is actually a piece of fine art. Although the object has a utilitarian function, you could claim that the reason for its existence is so completely unnecessary that it negates its own functional utility—turning it into an object of pure contemplation. Or something like that.

Also fascinating me this week was Walter Robinson’s Artnet piece, “A Tale of an Art-World Lawsuit.” If you haven’t read it already, make a point of doing so. It’s by far the best thing—rumor or fact—that I’ve seen on any of the internets in the last few weeks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Love and Beauty on the Subway

One gallery of work in Tanyth Berkeley’s current Bellwether exhibition, Love Parade, has been haunting me since I saw it last weekend. Its memory hasn’t stuck with me, though, for the right reasons.

Berkeley rides the subway scouting for portrait subjects, and she certainly finds interesting ones. Each of the 16 young women photographed for this show has facial features that are slightly “off” in some way. There’s Claire the albino; Deana, Alexis (at right), and Suzanne with their self-conscious hipster-chick hairstyles and kitchen-sink color; Maya with her bulbous nose and a style sense teleported direct from the late-70s; Emily with an acne problem; and Meredith who resembles a young Sissy Spacek with a mild case of Down Syndrome.

As a rule, our society overly compensates the beautiful. These portraits all show women who don’t get any of those rewards. Because of their appearance, they must face passive (if not active) discrimination on a daily basis. Their lives have to be difficult and filled with disappointments, simply because they don’t fit the standard definitions of beauty.

None of that emotion, though, comes through in Berkeley’s photography. The portraits are all surface—slick and passionless. Any sense of empathy, any hint of pathos, has been stripped from the work.

Berkeley earned her graduate degree at Columbia last year—another example of a promising artist identified young and launched early into a high octane market by an ambitious dealer. Berkeley’s work, no doubt accomplished, still carries the aftertaste of an MFA program. She knows what she wants to do, but she would have benefited from more time to work and edit before her Chelsea debut. Seeing this project made me wish that Berkeley had more exposure to Dorothea Lange’s work in school and less to that of recent Yale-MFAs. If she had, her individual pieces might have gone deeper than the surface of her subjects’ appearance. They might have given a sense of the lives these women lead.

But, like I said, I can’t get this show out of my mind. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the individual portraits, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that when the work sells out, as it most probably will, the community that Berkeley has assembled here will be dispersed.

Berkeley’s Bellwether show is that rare example of a gallery exhibition that becomes stronger, much stronger, than the sum of its individual parts. While each of her pieces is lackluster on its own, the combination of them creates an environment that projects a sense of completion. The richness and challenge that arise from her work comes from the gallery installation, rather than from the individual photographs.

In addition to her portraits, Berkeley is showing a video in this gallery. The video (prosaic on its own) serves as the catalyst. On the screen, subway musicians sing love songs. These crooners all fall well short of the ideal set by the songs’ original performers. Their shortcomings make them the perfect collection of balladeers to serenade this group of young women.

Neither these imaginary suitors nor their pursued would be seen as desirable by our culture’s tastemakers. But in the community of outsiders that Berkeley has created here, the promises of love, romance, and happiness seem possible in a way that they wouldn’t if you ran into each of these people individually on the train.

On their own, Berkeley’s photographs and video stand about as much chance of being noticed, lionized, and loved for what they are as her subjects do. The installation is the object to covet here, not the individual works.

But given market dynamics, the installation probably won’t survive. The individual pieces will be forced to stand on their own, and someday in the future they won’t have the ability to show what Berkeley had once done, long in the past, when she brought all of these people together for a short, intense period of time in the back room of a Chelsea gallery. It’s this impending sense of loss, of community disbanded, that has been troubling me.

Love Parade (at Bellwether, 134 Tenth Ave.) runs through February 5.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Physical Impossibility of Formaldehyde in the Galleries of an Institution Striving

Can this actually be true? Has Larry Gagosian really brokered a deal to bring Damien Hirst's famously pickled shark to MoMA?

Surely this donation can't be anything other than a stupendously expensive, $12M tweak of Sir Nicholas Serota's nose.

If that is what it is, things should get really interesting from here. A tit-for-tat Tate responses would ensure that the Judith Rothschild Foundation drawing collection will now end up at Tate Modern.

That's not such a bad trade-off, though. Given the choice, I would much prefer Damien's shark to Harvey's cache of many mediocre works on paper.

But the whole thing makes me wonder. Why would MoMA even let itself get involved in playing this game? Doesn't the organization have enough to worry about these days just keeping the doors open, making the admission numbers, and ensuring that the art isn't damaged?

Related: Felix Salmon on the shark.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Regarding Regarding Clementine

Chelsea visitors currently have the opportunity to see the most self-referential--but also the most fun--gallery show to be mounted there since, well, since I'm not sure when.

Regarding Clementine--curated by current NY Times taste-maker, former gallerist, and Gawker editor emeritus Choire Sicha--turns Clementine's gallery into an interactive laboratory for the creation and display of work about the art industry's impact on artists, collectors, and neighborhoods.

Over the course of the show's run, participating artists will be performing, creating, or finishing their projects in the gallery space during open hours. As a result, the exhibition takes on an earnest, high energy, "Hey, let's put on a show!" vibe. (And I mean that in the best sense possible.)

On Saturday afternoon, for example, Eliot Shepard of Slower was completing his contribution. Before the show opened, Shepard photographed several exhibition artists holding signs predicting how much money they expected to make by selling their works in the show. This weekend Shepard photographed gallery visitors holding signs showing how much they spent on art in 2004. (My moment in front of the lens is captured for posterity at right.) He'll add these photos of gallery visitors to his shots of exhibition artists in time for the closing reception.

Regarding Clementine (at Clementine, 526 W. 26th, Suite 211) runs through February 5.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Petah Coyne at SculptureCenter

Installation view of Petah Coyne's exhibition "Above and Beneath the Skin" which opened today at SculptureCenter in Long Island City.

The show remains on view through April 10, after which it travels to the Chicago Cultural Center, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

My Better Judgment

Earlier today I was going to retract yesterday's statement with a tongue-in-cheek post about how guns and tattoos have finally convinced me that Los Angeles is the one, true center of the art world.

But I thought twice, exercised my better judgment, and stopped myself just as I was about to hit the "Publish Post" button. Angelenos seem to be a little touchy on the topic of New York vs. LA right now, and even though I was only kidding I didn't want to fuel the fire any more.

So how about something serious, then?

I've got a couple predictions for 2005 highlighted in this article, available on-line as of today. (Warning: this is so totally non-art related that you may think I've gone against my better judgment by even posting the link here. You're probably right.) So what if one of my predictions is a total reversal of a 2004 prediction I made last year for this publication? Sometimes the wind starts blowing from the other direction, right?

Let's just hope it doesn't start gusting too strongly from the west. I don't know what I would do if it started blowing guns into the classrooms at SVA and scalp tattoos onto the heads of all my neighbors.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Things That Annoy Me, Part 3

This is turning out to be one gripe-filled week, isn't it? I was just going to ignore all the hubbub about LA being the new center of the art world, but since I've been baited, here's a response.

New York Isn't the Center of the Art World Anymore. New York Is Still the Center of the Art World.
Hey folks, if postmodernism opened our eyes to anything it was that the idea of there being a single center is suspect. How about those who don't live in New York get beyond the persecution complex and those of us who do live in New York get beyond the superiority complex.

Why don't we all look to find good art where good art is. For example, there are lots of interesting things going on in San Antonio, TX, these days. That doesn't mean that it's the new center of the art world. And the fact that work is being shown there instead of elsewhere doesn't mean that it's no good.

That said, major cities with a history of being seen as a center still retain a certain level of influence and importance. But, you know what? Terry already covered this topic. Read what he thinks in the last item of this long post. What he has to say about jazz holds true for the visual arts as well.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Things That Annoy Me, Parts 1 and 2

ArtsJournal started my morning off by reminding me of two things that make me ornery. Really ornery.

Painting is Dead. Long Live Painting.
Yes, painting is dead. It doesn't have the monolithic hold on artistic production and critical discussion that it had during the first half of the twentieth century.

No, painting is alive and well. People are still making fabulous paintings, and a few artists have revivified the medium in the last decade.

Can't we, please, move beyond this hackneyed discussion now. (Why Painting Is Back in the Frame)

Service Charges on Ticket Purchases.
When I make the decision to spend a certain amount of money on a ticket to a performance, I really don't like being told that the ticket will actually cost me 1.3 times that price because of an additional fee for a service that adds no value to my experience of the performance. I really don't like this. Not one bit. (Fees Mount for DIY Ticket-Buying)

Friday, January 07, 2005

Those Wacky Print People

New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman pays a visit to MoMA today to profile chief curator of prints Deborah Wye and her new print galleries. In the process, Kimmelman manages to piss off print enthusiasts, collectors, and curators by calling those who care about the medium "art's endearing equivalents of train spotters."

But he doesn't stop there. Kimmelman closes the piece by playing the cocktail party "what would you grab first in a fire" game with Wye. She ignores the bait and gives the diplomatic answer. She would try to take it all.

Kimmelman's piece has given me a whole new respect for the Times. Before today I thought that only bloggers were able to get away with publishing snarky comments reflecting personal opinion and closing interview pieces with dumb-ass questions. I guess the Times arts desk's infrastructure of editors, copy editors, and fact checkers missed one this week.

No, actually, they've missed two (Iles, not Isles).

So what's going on? Has the Times's visual arts coverage gone blogger since the new year? Is the Times letting its staff writers send their work straight to press using Movable Type, doing a complete end-around on any sort of editorial function?

Interested train spotters want to know.

Related: Are you an more of an etching or a lithograph person?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Gates? How about The Subway?

Now that installation of mile after mile of steel support bases has begun, people are getting all worked up about the new Christo and Jeanne-Claude project for Central Park. The Gates officially opens February 12, but park visitors are able to get a sneak peak now. Carol Vogel from the Times even paid a visit to the park this week to officially kick off the media hype.

At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I’ll make an admission. I’m bored with this thing already.

Sure, it’s a great deal for the City of New York. Vogel reports that the city’s Economic Development Corporation has estimated that the project will bring more than $80M in new revenue into the city. Not a bad return on the $0 investment that art-loving Mayor Mike and his administration have made in the project. It’s not a bad return on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s $20M investment either. Well, actually, it is since it’s the city’s hotels, restaurants, museums, and other entertainment venues that will be the beneficiaries of the tourist traffic generated by The Gates. Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be lucky to break even.

Yes, I know, it’s not about the money for these two who fund their projects through the sale of artworks projecting how the final installation will appear. It’s about the work itself.

Well, as an aesthetic object, I’m afraid to say, this piece looks like it is going to be less interesting than most of their past work.

Their wrapped projects (Pont Neuf, Reichstag) were powerful because they took an iconic structure and forced people to look at it in a new way. Running Fence was interesting (rather than powerful) for the way it sectioned the landscape. In certain respects, it did what Fred Sandback’s string pieces do for space but on a macro rather than a micro scale. The Umbrellas project, though, was terribly weak. Placing kitschy forms in a landscape didn’t make the impression that their other work has made. The Gates, I’m afraid, will be closer in feel to The Umbrellas than to their better work.

Fans of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, realizing that the finished installations can be lackluster, often default to the rather specious claim that the work isn’t really about aesthetics. It’s about how these two manage to work existing political and economic systems to their own ends. The art, they claim, lies in Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ability to manipulate governments and capitalism to realize their projects.

That’s a great claim for art that’s purely conceptual, but Christo and Jeanne-Claude view themselves as formal artists. The object they will be giving the city with The Gates, I’m afraid to say, looks like it just won’t be terribly compelling once its initial impression wears off.

But the fact that they have stuck with this idea for decades and that it will be realized within a matter of weeks demonstrates certain talents of note. It makes me think that if these two want to undertake difficult, complex projects that require years of working the bureaucracy they could do much better for New York than two weeks of fabric gates hanging in Central Park.

Those of us who live on the east side have been awaiting a Second Avenue subway line for decades. The city government can’t seem to get that project done--let alone started. Christo and Jeanne-Claude ought to give it a try. If they were able to install a Second Avenue subway (they could wrap the trains in whatever the heck they want once they get them running), I would be really impressed. And grateful.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Congratulations to Joy Garnett

Joy Garnett, editor of the invaluable site NEWSgrist, leads multiple lives. In one of them, she's a successful painter.

I came to find out today (from a source other than NEWSgrist, I have to add) that Garnett was recently awarded a substantial and important artists' grant by Anonymous Was a Woman.

Anonymous Was A Woman has announced the 10 artists selected to receive the Foundation’s ninth annual awards. The “no strings” grant of $25,000 enables women over 35, at a critical juncture in their lives or careers, to continue to grow, recover from traumatic life events, and pursue their work.

As the name implies, the nominators and those associated with the program are un-named, and artists are unaware that they are being considered for the award.

Join me in wishing Garnett congratulations on receiving this award. You'll be able to see her work, starting tomorrow, in what promises to be an interesting (and blogger-filled) group show at Clementine.

Blogs and the Art Market

Sarah raises an interesting question at Forward Retreat about the blogosphere’s impact on the art market. Here’s my take.

The blogosphere currently has no influence on the market for non-contemporary work. Value and price are relatively known quantities in these markets already, and the information provided by bloggers can’t and won’t do much to influence demand or price.

Blogs will, though, become more and more important for creating a market demand for emerging artists and for solidifying the market for recently emerged artists.

The search engines that index blogs are key here because so few people (relatively) read art blogs. I know that more and more lately when I Google an artist whose work is new to me I find links to blog posts—often with images. More often than not when I’m trying to find out more about a new artist, Google leads me to either bloggy or jameswagner.com. Bloggers like Barry Hoggard and James Wagner are market influencers who will have an increasingly important hand in creating and enhancing demand for young, emerging artists’ works.

How much influence blogs will have on the market for work by more established contemporary artists is hard to say, but I doubt they will have much. Once artists are well known, more institutionalized influencers (critics, dealers, and curators affiliated with art and mainstream media publications, galleries, and museums) disseminate the information and bestow the credibility required to push market demand and prices to higher levels.

But maybe that’s not a totally accurate statement. I found out this week that this piece of misinformation is currently the 19th item returned in a Google search for Maurizio Cattelan. If Glade starts getting calls asking when Cattelan’s Labor Day candle will be available in supermarkets, I’ll have to rethink the previous paragraph.

Related: Google, not always so good at value judgments.

Put in My Place

Last night over dinner I was discussing my thoughts on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's new work for Central Park with Mrs. FtF. She strongly disagreed with my assessment of the project, and she asked if it bothered me that she didn’t agree with me.

“No,” I said, “that just shows that I’m smarter than you.”

“Actually,” she replied without missing a beat, “the fact that I don’t have a blog proves that I’m much smarter than you are.”


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Hit and Miss on 57th Street

Sometimes I can be a real dolt. (No, that’s not intended as an opportunity for the chorus to shout out an “Uh-huh!”) Like today, for instance.

I decided to take the time, finally, to slip out during lunch to see the Adolph Gottlieb Pictograph show at Pace Wildenstein. When Pace does a historical exhibition (think last year’s outstanding Mark Rothko: A Painter’s Progress, The Year 1949), it’s worth making time to see it.

Well, I trucked up Fifth Avenue, made the turn onto 57th, jumped into the elevator at the building, and took my notebook out of my coat pocket so I would be ready to go when the doors opened. Wasn’t I surprised, then, when I was greeted by an empty gallery on the second floor. The show closed last week. D’oh.

The trip wasn’t a loss, though. I rode up to Pace Prints on the third floor where I saw a couple new editions they have available.

James Siena is out with a delightful group of four small wood engravings in an edition of 60. (One of the pieces from the series is at the left.) They exhibit his visual language well, and the wood engraving process gives these very intimate pieces a nice presence and surface that his other prints don’t always have. If I were in the market for prints right now, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick these up. Priced at $600 each or $2000 for the set of four, they are a bargain that won’t last too long, I’m guessing.

I also got a look at Tara Donovan’s recent group of etchings. Larger (and more expensive) than Siena’s recent edition, these prints made an impression on me as well. Done in an edition of 23, these five pieces are available individually or as a group. This set wouldn’t be a bad buy either.

Neither series is either artist’s very best work, but both are situated in a favorable position on the price/quality curve. If you’re a Wall Street biggie, have year-end bonus money burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to begin collecting art, this might be a good place to start. If you can’t afford a historically important Gottlieb, that is.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Flavin Printed and Blogged

If you haven't seen it yet, make sure not to miss Greg Allen's excellent feature, "The Dark Side of Success," on the materiality of Dan Flavin's work in today's NY Times. Allen does a very nice job explaining the contradictory desires for permanence and temporality expressed by Flavin during his life and the decisions the estate is making today to preserve his legacy.

Allen follows up on his blog with excerpts from two additional interviews (curator and collector Emily Rauh Pulitzer and son Stephen Flavin who now controls the estate) that occurred after the article went to press.

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