Occupy the museums … or, simply don’t

thumb33I have been watching and, in spirit, am all for the Occupy Wall Street protests because I feel the issues being raised need to be discussed. I truly wish the banks would get involved, to help balance out the conversation, but apparently they’re too busy raking in record profits.

That said, I find the Occupy the Museums notion a bit too misguided (and more than a bit ironic) to let it go without comment.

In a nutshell the message of the Occupy the Museums effort is :

Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are
at your door!

Let’s begin with the fact that despite $20 and $25 dollar entry fees, the people seem more than happy to keep passing through the doors of New York’s museums :

What’s more, they offer alternatives for people who can’t afford those fees. So there’s apparently NOT a serious “access for the people” issue here.

More specifically, Occupy the Museum’s rallying cry is: Continue reading “Occupy the museums … or, simply don’t”

The Appeal of SEVEN

“Art fairs will continue to flourish until the bottom falls out of the art market, or until dealers, who invented them, decide that there is a better way to do things.” — Roberta Smith, New York Times

sevenBack in 2006, in an article titled “A storm of art as Baselmania engulfs Miami,” New York Times art critic Roberta Smith predicted that

Art fairs will continue to flourish until the bottom falls out of the art market, or until dealers, who invented them, decide that there is a better way to do things.

The global recession never quite saw the bottom fall out of the art market, but it has arguably spawned a number of dealer-invented alternatives to the more traditional art fair model, such as Independent in New York, Sunday in London, and ABC in Berlin. But back in 2006, Smith highlighted one pioneering effort as an indication of what she thought the future held:

Two dealers already on this quest are Ronald Feldman, a longtime SoHo gallerist, and Joe Amrhein of Pierogi, a Williamsburg fixture. They have rented a raw one-story building in the Wynwood district here and filled its 12,000 square feet with works by artists they represent.

Fast forward to 2010, and the model Pierogi and Feldman built has evolved into a venture that now includes seven contemporary art galleries, including London’s Hales Gallery, who began participating in 2007, and New York’s BravinLee programs, Postmasters, P•P•O•W, and (my own gallery) Winkleman, who all join for the first time this year. The focus of this expanded effort, called simply SEVEN, is in creating an exhibition experience within the context of Miami’s art fair week defined by the needs of each artist’s work. The press release on the event’s website explains this idea in more depth. What the press release doesn’t explain is how each decision about SEVEN (whether on marketing, installation placements, shipping costs, etc.) is agreed to by us, the participating dealers, and that the costs are so significantly less than participating in one of the larger fairs that the 24,000 square foot space we’ll be sharing this year offers an opportunity to present work in Miami that would be cost-prohibitive, if possible at all, at the big box fairs. Because each of the participating galleries’ programs include presenting large-scale installations, for the first time we new participants have the chance to bring such work to Miami and better reflect what we’re about to that audience. Continue reading “The Appeal of SEVEN”

What’s so wrong with Deitch at MoCA?

Jeffrey Deitch UPDATE: It’s official. Deitch is the new director of MoCA.
_______
The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), which barely survived closing last year, is rumored to be close to announcing that they will appoint New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch as their new director. (Other hats still in the ring at this final stage of the selection process include Lisa Phillips of the New Museum in New York and Lars Nittve of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.) Word that Mr. Deitch was in the running for the position leaked out late last week, and that initiated a flood of opinions about the appropriateness of hiring a xiao cheng commercial art dealer as the director of a museum. Here’s but a small sample:

Jerry Saltz, New York magazine:

It looks like the sacrosanct wall between museums, galleries, and private collectors in the art world is about to come down. In what is a game-changer and a hail-Mary pass that will likely be fretted about by many, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art appears ready to name New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch its new director, according to multiple art world sources. […] American museums usually pick directors from the curatorial or academic ranks; none have ever been run by a former gallery owner. Scolds will imagine immoral scenarios of a wolf in the fold and tut-tut over the possibility of an uncouth, craven commercial dealer trading museum treasures for market-share, making back room deals, and violating ethics.

Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times reporting:

Jeff Poe of the L.A. gallery Blum & Poe [said] “My immediate response was that there’s no way, it doesn’t make any sense” that a leading dealer like Deitch would give up his business to lead a nonprofit museum, Poe said. “But the more I think about it, it would be really interesting. He would be able to deal with the politics involved in a job like that. I’d welcome him with open arms.” Continue reading “What’s so wrong with Deitch at MoCA?”

Recession strategies for commercial art galleries

survival-kit-items-latest2Survival has replaced art fairs as the topic dealers discuss most when they meet in New York (how galleries are going to survive, or not, seems to be among the topics most on the minds of critics as well, as evidenced by recent offerings by Charlie Finch and Jerry Saltz to mention but a few). There are, of course, some universal business strategies to a downturn (cut your overhead, advertise more strategically, do more with less, etc.), but some of the responses I’ve heard dealers indicate they’re following are near opposites of each other, reflecting perhaps a personal philosophy about adversity more than any conventional wisdom to the best path to take. The following 4 categories summarize what seem to be the current thinking among the dealers I’ve spoken with in New York about how to respond to this extraordinary economic climate:

1. “Closing” (yes, in quotes)
2. Money shows instead of concept shows
3. No guts, no glory
4. Consolidation

“Closing”
Unquestionably galleries are closing in New York, but very few are reporting that the decision is related to the economy. If the outlook for the market were not so tough, I suspect the percentage of current closings might plausibly seem normal (partnerships do dissolve, dealers do move on to other interests, etc.), but given how U.S. businesses across the board are filing bankruptcy or going belly-up, it’s difficult to imagine financial difficulties haven’t contributed somewhat to the decisions to shutter their spaces.
Continue reading “Recession strategies for commercial art galleries”

Critiquing with clenched fists

clenched_fist.jpgBefore New Republic art critic Jed Perl penned his latest insights, he visited a good number of recent exhibitions, including

* The inaugural exhibition at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
* ” © Murakami” at the Brooklyn Museum
* Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, at the Museum of Modern Art
* “Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century” at the New Museum
* “Jeff Koons on the Roof” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

and within his essay, he referenced a good number more–including some not-so-recent shows and installations (although when, if indeed ever, he visited each of these is not clear to me from his text):

* Damien Hirst in “Beyond Belief” White Cube, London
* Richard Serra at just about any museum of your choice, but in particular at Broad Contemporary Art Museum
* Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe” at the Guggenheim
* “Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today” at the Museum of Modern Art
* Tony Feher’s March-April 2008 exhibition at PaceWildenstein

and yet, he found precious little in any of them that seems to have moved him. Indeed, he goes on for nearly 6000 words explaining how all he can offer “after all this museumgoing and gallerygoing, is a series of postcards about nothing written from places that felt like nowhere.”

Sigh.

About three-quarters of the way through his opus, he does mention some artists he seems to like, though, including Ry Fyan, Carroll Dunham, Jess, and R.B. Kitaj (although with Kitaj, you get the sense Perl only likes him after he turned away from Pop art and embraced “tradition”). But just in case you’re not sure how he really feels about the state of contemporary art, Perl goes that extra mile to note that “you cannot possibly understand what a safe haven for frauds and con artists the art world has become.” Continue reading “Critiquing with clenched fists”

Art writing reality check (time for a new code of ethics?)

Lichtenstein___Art_Critic.jpgThe recent chain of events that led the Village Voice (one of New York’s most important sources of arts criticism) to end their relationship with critic Christian Viveros-Fauné raises some questions about the practicality of applying The New York Times style code of journalistic ethics to the arts publications that can’t offer NYT-sized salaries.

Indeed, given the widely perceived diminishing influence of art criticism (due to the overwhelming power of certain collectors and the market in general in determining what art is seen as important by museums and other collectors), a question I heard repeatedly in the wake of the Voice’s decision was, is it even realistic to expect quality criticism from writers without deep interest/influence in the commercial side of the art world?

The case in point revolves around a Q&A interview by Tyler Green with Christian Viveros-Fauné (see parts one, two, and three) that culminated in Tyler asking Christian:

You’re a managing director of a commercial art fair, Volta, and an organizer of another commercial art fair, Chicago’s Next fair. At the same time you’re a writer, a journalist, you’re the art critic for the Village Voice. Why isn’t that the most basic kind of conflict of interest?

Christian responded with perhaps a too honest answer that included several of the key issues leading me to wonder just how practical (if not how adhered to) the current code of ethics really is [all emphasis mine]:

I believe you can wear a lot of hats in the art world, and one needs to because, among other things, critics can’t survive on the money that they make from writing. Very few critics can. And, not only that, but I’m interested in curating, and I firmly believe that there is no interest in the art world without a conflict of interest.

Now, that may seem counterintuitive, and it is, but I would argue that the art world is counterintuitive in the extreme. In what other industry, for example, does one of the major magazines that chronicles both the creative and the business end of the art world establish an art fair of the same name. Obviously, I’m talking about Frieze.

And that’s nothing. Examine, for second, the practice of writing catalog essays. You know and I know that there is no such thing as a negative catalog essay and the reason for that is obvious: one way critics make money is by writing promotional copy for galleries and, hopefully, artists they like or love. And then there’s the business of curators and critics slinging their asses around to universities and institutions for speaking engagements.

Shall I go on? I mean, again, what I’m arguing for here is honesty all the way around.

In light of the practicality of living on what arts writing pays and being insightful without inserting oneself deep within the commercial structure in this particular age, and given that whether there’s a more pressing conflict of interest to address is no longer relelvant, perhaps attention can now be turned to the issues Christian raises. In particular, is it time for the code of ethics to specifically address critics lecturing for money at universities whose artists or exhibitions they later write about, accepting paid travel and hotel expenses in return for press (and the rules for acknowledging that), confluences of power like that represented by the Frieze art fair, writing catalog essays for pay, and the rest of it?

Advice to a would-be art scammer

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished.

841.jpgArtworld Salon received one of the lamest (i.e., funniest) new email art scams out there this week. Call it the Nigerian phonescam for the art world, complete with tell-tale awkward English:

Hello,

It was recommended to me by a friend of mine that I contacted you for your advise.

I own a painting by Francis Bacon that seems unfinished, there are big splashes of colours that I have been trying to clean off to reveal the figure underneath, but it just smeared as a result. I have already asked somebody to try to finish it but he did a disaster with it.

Not knowing what to do now I was wondering if you could help me find somebody who could finish it and do a good job, in the Bacon’s style.

Already the artist Peter Doug suggested to help, but I am not sure about his taste, he already did a quick sketch copy of how he could improve the Bacon, but to be honest I did not like much as he also seemed a bit messy and I think he would just rush the job for the money.

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished. If you would know a good artist or just someone interested, please do let me know.

If by any chance you would be in the power to help me I would be ready to share with you half of the value of the painting once sold.

Many thanks for your help, or if you would know somebody interested in the painting even in this state please do let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Many thanks in advance,

Herbie Watsaint

Herbie’s ploy does segue nicely back into our conversations about the Bacon rubbish story and its disheartening conclusions, but this has got to be one of the most poorly imagined art scams I’ve ever read. Continue reading “Advice to a would-be art scammer”