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Artworld Salon » Art & Politics
Artworld Salon

Opinion Analysis Debate

Too much of a good thing?

Sunday March 4, 2012 | 23:58 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

300px-supply_and_demand_curvessvgWith the Whitney Biennial, Armory Show, ADAA Art Show, Independent, Moving Image, Nada, Scope, and Volta fairs, their sundry offshoots and side events, innumerable gallery openings, and the auction season about to rain down on us here in New York, this may be a good time to talk about artistic overproduction. And right on cue, along comes Adrian Ellis’ cogent essay on the supply-demand problem in Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, an obscure but important journal for cultural-policy wonks.

Some Reflections on the Relationship Between Supply and Demand in the Formalized Arts Sector” is more titillating reading than its title suggests. It’s framed in response to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman’s refreshingly impolitic claim, not long after his appointment, in 2009, that the arts sector may be overbuilt. The Chairman was met by predictable howls of indignation at the time. The reigning orthodoxy is that no amount of art can be too much—economics be damned. But let’s admit he had a point.

Ellis credits Landesman (brother of Artforum publisher Knight) for sparking a conversation about the imbalance between the amount of art emanating from the cultural-industrial complex of 501c3 organizations and the amount of art that regular folks actually have an appetite for consuming. In fact, this debate has been quietly raging for years, especially inside foundations. In any event, the article is a must-read for anyone who wishes to speak knowledgeably about our besieged arts infrastructure, and what should be done about it. Read More »

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Hey friend, can you spare $150 million?

Sunday February 26, 2012 | 17:30 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

sundancesolar_1868_1630372Here comes news that Kickstarter, the three year-old online fundraising company, is set to distribute more money next year for cultural projects than the National Endowment for the Arts. That’s right: Kickstarter’s bootstrapped giving may exceed the agency’s circa $150 million budget. And it’s growing.

The announcement signals just how rapidly our funding mechanisms are turning obsolete. It also highlights the roundly different priorities that come into play when funding choices are left to “regular folks” rather than “experts”. Kickstarter’s top three, million-dollar-plus earning projects so far have been an animated film, a design for an iPad dock, and a computer game.

None of this bodes too well for the sort of organizations and initiatives that benefited from arts funding in the past.

For half a century, US philanthropy consisted of a cozy collaboration between tax exempt fine arts organizations and tax exempt giving bodies. For all the efforts foundations spend analyzing their own behavior and chasing innovation, as organizations they remain stunningly risk-averse. Now along comes a giving method that blithely sidesteps the old categories of patronage. Its very success is an indictment of the inefficiencies and blind spots of the old model.

The problem is that the direct democracy represented by Kickstarter will not provide a full answer to arts funding, any more than blogs and tweets can replace professional news gathering operations. Read More »

What would you do with $250 million?

Sunday February 5, 2012 | 16:34 by Ian Charles Stewart in Beijing | permalink

Card PlayersAccording to ArtWorld Salon contributor Alexandra Peers, in an article for Vanity Fair online, the Royal Family of Qatar has celebrated a decade of high profile Art buying by spending that amount on the last of Cezanne’s Card Players.  (The painting was purchased from the estate of the late Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos.)  That is quite a number, and a new record for the highest price paid for a single work of Art.  You could pay for the entire budget of the Museum Of Modern Art in New York for almost two years with that sum.

And what else?  I started to wonder.  Here is my quick list.  In January 2012, US$ 250 million buys:-

1 Cezanne
10 decent sized mansions in the Hamptons
100 upper-middle class family homes in Beijing
1000 Ferrari 458 Italia Coupes in Rome
10,000 Ducati 1199S motorcycles in Paris
100,000 complete (3 yr) high school educations including accommodation, food and healthcare in Lhasa, Tibet
5,000,000 milking goats in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
50,000,000 egg-laying chickens in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Interesting, no?   So let me ask you again.   What would you do with $250 million?

Occupy Museums, MoMA and insta-history

Friday January 20, 2012 | 22:08 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

occupy_museums2-sqOne week ago today the Occupy Museums (OM) offshoot of OWS staged a protest inside MoMA during which a banner was unfurled and promptly confiscated by MoMA security.  (Read a decent account here.)  Today, in a cheeky but perhaps brilliant move, OM sent a letter to MoMA’s Acquisitions Committee claiming that the “confiscation” of the banner was in fact a “unilateral acquisition” of a work of art that is by, and so belongs to, OM.  In the letter, the banner, which quoted Camus and called for the end of the Sotheby’s lockout of its art handlers, was designated by OM as both a work of art and ‘historical’ by OM.  Writing that “institutions around the country are negotiating with OWS to acquire archival materials for their collections,” OM designated its banner as one such artifact and then enumerated the three conditions that would have to be met for its return, none of which, in good OWS fashion mind you, were monetary.

The rhetoric of the letter and its demands aside, the OM letter to MoMA raises a host of interesting questions, one of the least salient being, Is the banner a work of art or an artifact, however limitedly ‘historical’?  One could go around and around on that one for a while.  More interesting is the question of how OM is playing the institution’s game against itself.  If MoMA doesn’t take the banner, which it likely won’t, who will pick it up?  The Whitney?  The Met?  Another American, or European, Latin American, or–wouldn’t it be great–Chinese institution?  (I’d like The New York Historical Society to step in personally, but I imagine it won’t get any takers for a while.)  Does the claim of the banner’s immediate historicity, so seemingly easily and retrospectively secured by the letter itself and by the rapidly disseminated documentation of the protest, hold legitimacy? And legitimacy for whom? (Paradoxically, the letter demands recognition from the very institution whose policies it questions.) What’s puzzling, though, is how quickly a protest over the treatment of people–namely the art handlers at Sotheby’s, who are being held up as emblems of labor in general–is being mediated through a conflict over an object?  Is this not the logic of the commodity fetish itself?

Filed Under: Art & Politics
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On seeing a performance of exploitation…

Saturday November 12, 2011 | 04:23 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

augustsanderMaking its way across the web as I write is a story about the exploitation of performers at the hands of Marina Abramović.  ARTINFO is running the best recap of the story, and Hrag Vartanian at Hyperallergic has picked it up and carried it as well, but here’s a brief:

Abramović was tapped by LA MOCA to produce a performance work for the Museum’s annual gala.  The outcome?  Each table at the gala comes with a performer getting paid $150 to sit under it on a slowly-rotating lazy-susan with his or her head protruding up through the table’s center, which carries the promise of intermittent and likely uncomfortable eye contact throughout the evening.  One human-centerpiece-to-be was none too happy about such future prospects and sent a missive to Yvonne Rainer, presumably because Rainer’s position in the artworld is unassailable, her politics predictable, and her network far reaching.  Rainer in turn decried the spectacle in a letter to Jeffrey Deitch, which was published on the web as co-signed by Douglas Crimp, Taisha Paggett and, according to ARTINFO, Tom Knechtel and Monica Majoli.

In response to Rainer, Abramović told ARTINFO, “All these accusations, you can’t have them before you actually experience the situation and see how I can change the atmosphere [of the gala], that’s my main purpose.”  And in a comment to the LA Times, Jeffrey Deitch said, “I would just hope that when people make allegations like this, they would actually come to see the performance and talk to the performers.”  To make good on that, Deitch invited Rainer to a rehearsal of the piece.

Read More »

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Occupy the museums … or, simply don’t

Thursday October 20, 2011 | 12:57 by Edward Winkleman | permalink

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: Read More »

The season of our disconnect

Tuesday June 21, 2011 | 14:21 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

bigstockphoto_ear_2677195I got back from Art Basel this weekend on a plane full of artworld types, with fresh impressions for my interesting disconnects file.

First, between the ebullience of the art fair and the dark financial clouds roiling over Europe, where states teeter on the edge of insolvency and people are taking to the streets. There is a yawning chasm right now between the revived luxury spending boom and the malaise that grips the bottom ninety-eight percent. The subject kept coming up, quietly but persistently, at parties around town.

Second, during an Art Basel Conversation I moderated on the future of museum collecting, a London-based curator from Bangladesh pressed the assembled directors, and in particular Chris Dercon of the Tate Modern, when and how they will genuinely engage his community and others like it—not just through occasionally showcasing artists, but in a deep way. All agreed that, good intentions and planned initiatives notwithstanding, we’re a long way from making art institutions truly inclusive.

The third contrast arrived by way of the 430-page summer issue of Artforum. The tome was not in my mailbox, which proved too small, but on my doorstep. It was shrink-wrapped with the current issue of Bookforum, which includes a review of a new book on the “internship economy,” by Ross Perlin. Titled Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, the study documents the stunning and roundly depressing rise of unpaid labor in our creative industries. One can see why Bookforum reviewed it. The art world, it seems, can fill a glossy with almost as many ad pages as the September issue of Vogue. Yet how many of those ads were placed by young folks working for a pittance, or pro bono, just to get a shot at a job? Read More »

Enlightenment comes to Tiananmen Square?

Tuesday April 5, 2011 | 15:14 by Ian Charles Stewart in Beijing | permalink

NMCThe Art Newspaper leads this week with a thought provoking and fact-filled article on a huge co-operative Arts project between the German and Chinese governments to bring major works from German museums to the newly re-opened National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square.   The theme of the exhibition is the European Enlightenment, and the story is by our own András Szántó.

A glimpse of the exhibition:-

Over dinner on a bitterly cold January night in Beijing, I asked Cordula Bischoff, the Dresden-based curator of “The Art of the Enlightenment”, which object in the exhibition best represents its message. Without hesitating, she pointed to a silhouette print in the advance catalogue. The work, attributed to Johann Heinrich Lips, depicts Voltaire, the French philosopher, holding a lantern that shines a light outward beyond the picture frame. “He is carrying the light and leading the visitor out of the exhibition,” she said. “It tells everything.” Bischoff’s counterpart, Chen Yu, a curator at the National Museum, nodded in agreement. “This picture is a metaphor of the Enlightenment,” he said. “The European Enlightenment is still influencing people everywhere in the world. Chinese people are still enjoying its fruits.”

And a comment by a local resident:-

This is an era of tremendous change. It is time to pause and reflect. Are we a leader economically? Spiritually? It’s part of the opening up after 30 years. What have we lost and what have we gained?

As Andras points out, Confucius was an inspiration to many of the leading lights of the European Enlightenment and so it seems the cycle of inspiration returns.   One wonders, though, what the results will be as China is really only taking its first hesitant steps forward culturally, even as it charges forward economically.

You can read the full article here.

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Painful cuts for Dutch arts funding

Friday March 18, 2011 | 14:55 by András Szántó in Amsterdam | permalink

vrom_holl_china
FROM ANDRAS SZANTO AND JONATHAN NEIL, ON THE ROAD IN THE NETHERLANDS

They knew it was coming. A succession of governments in the Netherlands had warned over the years that the country’s arts subsidies are not sustainable. But the recent economic crisis gave Holland’s right-wing political leaders an excuse to do the unthinkable. They will ax $200 million of the $900 million federal arts budget. Factor in 20-40 percent cuts in local funding, and the Dutch system may lose $1 billion in support by 2013. Europe’s most generous arts funding regime is about to turn into a laboratory for transitioning to, well, no one knows what exactly…

Many arts officials are blindsided. In discussions with artists, museum directors, and art dealers this week, on a study tour with the Sotheby’s Institute, we heard complaints about the sudden cessation of public largesse, but little in the way of solutions. Hopeful arts managers spoke of how “the market” and “companies” will need to share the burden. But there are few incentives for the private sector to do it.

In fact, Holland’s usually circumspect and methodical policymakers are being less than consistent. Appeals for philanthropy and sponsorship are not being counterbalanced with tax breaks. Even while the government seeks to shift arts promotion to the private sector, it has raised the gallery sales tax by 13 percent.

Arts institutions find themselves in a fix. They lack tools to function in a more “American” system. Museum directors are looking for expertise in fundraising and marketing. Endowments, private patrons, and boards of directors with fiduciary responsibilities are still largely unknown here. Cultural groups have little access to credit facilities. Experiments with bonds, subsidized loans, and art landing are in their infancy. Institutions are being asked to act independently, yet they don’t control their own assets and destinies. And as government representatives, they can hardly raise their voice in protest.

Where will it all lead? Some believe the current government is simply anti-art, seeing culture as a left-wing “hobby.” Others are more realistic. They acknowledge that Dutch arts leaders have refined the craft of lobbying government, but they don’t quite know how to court the public and the commercial sphere.

Whatever the case, look to Holland in the next few years as a test case for what happens when a great welfare state’s cultural machinery is pushed into a closer alliance with the market.

For Museums, a New Twist on Instrumental Benefits

Monday January 31, 2011 | 17:33 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

right-way-wrong-way1For years the debates have raged about how to argue for the arts, and never more so than now, when public money for museums is everywhere drying up. As I wrote not long ago in the Art Newspaper, a thorny problem for arts advocates is that they have boxed themselves into a corner by developing instrumental arguments for the arts. According to the now widely-used reasoning, investments in the arts are supposed to yield tangible returns — tourism dollars, construction jobs, white collar citizens, booming maths scores, etc. — which, in turn, advance cities and their inhabitants in the global economy.

The trouble is that in the meantime the art community has lost sight of what in the first instance is important and intrinsically valuable about the arts. And as far as policy arguments go, funding cultural institutions to obtain the aforementioned outputs is a rather inefficient way of going about the business of improving education, competitiveness, and neighborhood health.

Now philosopher Alain de Botton has waded into this fertile rhetorical swamp by proposing a new twist on instrumentalism. Let museums be a means to and end, he argues in a polemic published on BBC’s website. But let those ends be moral. Did anyone say moral?

Invoking the old chestnut about museums being our secular churches, de Botton argues: “I try to imagine what would happen if modern secular museums took the example of churches more seriously. What if they too decided that art had a specific purpose - to make us good and wise and kind - and tried to use the art in their collections to prompt us to be so?” He goes on to ask, “Why couldn’t art be - as it was in religious eras - more explicitly for something?”

The philosopher has pointed out a valid contradiction. While arts advocates have willingly instrumentalized their cause when arguing for subsidies, they insist on a neutral, open, cause free definition of the contributions of artists and cultural institutions. But what would museums look like in the scenario suggested by de Botton?

Enter the activist foundation

Tuesday December 14, 2010 | 20:31 by Pablo Helguera | permalink

fire-in-my-bellyWhile assessing the extent of this country’s liberals political apathy, Harper’s magazine writer Thomas Frank remarks: “say what you like about the Tea Party movement, but at least they showed up.” It is precisely the combination of the dormant state of progressives (be it due to either disillusionment, boredom, or exhaustion) and the huge motivation of conservatives that tables have turned in this country’s politics, and the art world appears to be only a tiny turf where the latest battle is being waged. It is playing out in the current Wojnarowicz-gate at the Smithsonian, where the bigots showed up to tell us what art should be; but instead of protesting in front of the museum, the art world went to Miami.

Until yesterday, when the Warhol Foundation entered the fray. The fact that a Foundation has taken such a brave stance is significant in many levels. The Warhol Foundation was established in 1987, the same year than David Wojnarowicz made “Fire in my Belly” and amidst the culture wars. Ever since that time, it has continuously been an advocate for the central issue that caused the NEA debacle then — the idea of an individual artist grant (as it is exemplified by its funding of organizations like Creative Capital), so its announcement to suspend funding to the Smithsonian is more than a simple act: it is a restatement of its founding mission, and a reminder to us of that history. Equally significantly, though, the noise of the Warhol’s announcement also underlines the deafening —and really, unacceptable — silence of the contemporary art world about this affair up to this moment.

Are we really so comfortable with letting art being criminalized this way? Is our reaction going to be limited to sign some Facebook petition? The Warhol has done what very few in the visual arts has had the guts to do yet, and we should look at their example to follow suit and press others to do so as well. A curator friend of mine had recently told me: “when institutions take the initiative in art, it means that artists are not doing their job”. Who knew that two decades after the culture wars art foundations would have to take the lead in defending culture? Say what you like about our supposed liberalism as the cultural producer class, but in this case it was the foundation who showed up.

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It’s Friezing over here

Thursday October 7, 2010 | 17:16 by Ossian Ward | permalink

My barometer keeps jumping. One minute it’s backs-to-the-walls time, art2095friezejeppe_heinthe next it’s all lavish parties and third venue vernissages. It has seemed like a growing, healthy trend for performative, lively and cheap art would be neatly distilled in the line-up for this year’s Frieze Art Fair Projects, curated for the first time by Sarah McCrory, formerly of south London’s small curatorial hotbed, Studio Voltaire. McCrory has commissioned Spartacus Chetwynd (née Lali Chetwynd) and her travelling troupe of players to create daily spectacles in the fair on the obscure subject of tax havens (of course, much inter-fair art revolves around the necessarily thorny question of the perceived evils of the surrounding arena of commerce). A wandering group of ‘Ten Embarrassed Men’, by Swedish-born artist Annika Ström, will prowl the fair looking shamefaced – the emasculation of artists or bankers, maybe? There will also be judiciously placed charity boxes (designed by artists, of course) to tempt collector’s monies elsewhere, as well as lots of free-to-air fun in the surrounding park.

Who are they all kidding? Hauser & Wirth are opening their third or fourth space in London (I have genuinely lost count, but it’s definitely the biggest) with a retrospective of fabric works by Louise Bourgeois. Sadie Coles upscales next-door, the Blain-Southern dealership duo split from their Christie’s holding pen, Haunch of Venison, to open a new gallery as well. Then there are Russian squillionaires galore putting on one-week one-offs including pricey Picassos, New York galleries dipping their toes here… I could go on, ad infinitum. My magazine lists some 200 shows on, or opening, in the now designated ‘Frieze week’ frenzy, most of them seemingly launching on Tuesday with a brunch, lunch, press view, rooftop after-party or oyster-laden dinner. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Is art in some kind of reactionary, recessionary funk? The more it gets hit, the harder it fights back? Or are the commercials slowly moving back into easy street, while the public sector prepares for a governmental pounding at the hands of David Cameron’s October 20 spending review/slash-fest? It could be a fall bounce or just the preamble to another, bigger fall.

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Eli Broad raises the stakes in Los Angeles

Friday August 27, 2010 | 19:25 by András Szántó in Los Angeles | permalink

los_angeles-3I’m in Los Angeles, where the chatter is about Eli Broad’s decision to build a museum for his art collection downtown, in a 120,000-square foot complex designed by Diller and Scofidio. The choice puts to rest some questions about the fate of Mr. Broad’s collection. It also leaves a larger question open: Is adding another museum to LA a good idea?

The answer is complex, and responses vary depending on the professional and institutional loyalties of the folks doing the talking. In my view it boils down to this. Adding another art institution to LA’s “cultural corridor” is probably good urban policy and it may not be the best cultural policy. In the long term, however, what really counts is not whether Mr. Broad builds his own museum, but whether he can get other Los Angeles philanthropists to follow in his lead as an art patron.

Downtown LA has come a long way since MoCA opened across the street from the planned Broad museum. Diller and Scofidio, coming off recent triumphs in New York, will no doubt deliver an edgy-yet-contextual neighbor to Frank Gehry’s iconic Disney Hall and Rafael Moneo’s sublime Cathedral, just around the corner. But the area still lacks critical mass. For Los Angeles, a city trapped in a state of permanent becoming, filling another empty lot downtown will be another step toward creating a lively cosmopolitan district with enough density and foot traffic for someone to want to hang around. It may even be a kind of tipping point.

But sound urban policy is not always great cultural policy (as much as arts advocates would like to believe). Read More »

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Meanwhile, in South Korea

Tuesday June 1, 2010 | 21:32 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

dsc04620While North Korean art is making a bid for attention in Vienna, in South Korea, where I just spent a week at the UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education, the art world is showing remarkable vigor. This peninsular country of 60 million, one-fifth the size of France, is the real miracle of Asia. It suffers from few of the chronic structural weaknesses of Japan, or the social and environmental ills of China or India, or the artificiality and overreach of newly rich Gulf nations. It’s the Switzerland of the East. And art is a key part of the equation.

There is no shortage of science-fiction-like mega-projects here, including the Global City of Saemangeum, to be built on the world’s largest reclaimed land mass behind a 33 km sea dyke, the world’s longest, which was just completed after 19 years of effort. But this is no Dubai. I asked a government official in the ancient city of Jeonju, which hosted my group in a bid to become a UNESCO Creative City, what’s the goal for South Korea in the years ahead. He said, “to get to between 5th and 10th in GDP in the world.” He didn’t mean per capita.

Underlying South Korea’s epic success, of course, is the most comprehensive public education effort in its hemisphere, and possibly the world. South Koreans are simply obsessed with learning, and the results are plain to see. Korea’s literate, world-wise population is, among other positive traits, deeply interested in the arts. This is probably the only place in the world where Bach can be heard in the bathrooms at a highway rest stop.

Here’s the most impressive thing about South Korea: It seems to have found a balance between warp-speed development and respect for local identity. As part of this balancing act, the state is extremely generous to local art. Seoul alone installs more than one thousand public art works a year. Historic sites are preserved and documented meticulously. Local governments are building creative complexes for artists where they can live, create, and interact for six months at a time. Arts patronage is considered obligatory for big firms and wealthy business clans, for reasons of both national pride and marketing. There is no interest in the wholesale franchising of Euro-American culture here. The country is open to foreign influences—Seoul’s top Zagat restaurant is Italian, the pastries of choice are French, Starbucks is ubiquitous, and women are as label conscious as anywhere—but the country has avoided drowning in globalization. Read More »

Blumen for Peter Noever

Friday May 28, 2010 | 08:42 by Lisa Ruyter | permalink

Flowers

As South Korea and the world tries to sort the best response to the latest provocations from North Korea, an exhibition of contemporary ‘official’ art of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea) opened at the MAK (the Museum of Applied Arts) in Vienna, with a rather dodgy title. “Flowers for Kim Il Sung” was launched despite opposition and questions about the nature of the museum’s collaboration with the Pyongyang regime.

By admission of MAK director Peter Noever in a number of interviews, the work is presented without any critical context.

Perhaps there is no other art in North Korea, as it seems the MAK believes. While that may be true, it is hard to imagine that much first hand research went into that position being taken. Perhaps the director’s trip to the DPRK was not so unlike this one taken by Vice correspondents:

http://www.vbs.tv/watch/the-vice-guide-to-travel/vice-guide-to-north-korea-1-of-3

Watch all three episodes. But perhaps it is another experience for a European museum director.

Surely there is a difference between exhibiting a display of historical propaganda versus a contemporary, active one constructed through forced labor and dictated entirely by one family’s aesthetic viewpoint, if you can even call it that.

The MAK makes a case that this show fits in a tradition of previous exhibitions centering about specific political systems, and yet the defense of this show is that it is about aesthetics, not politics, and about seeing the visual production of an ‘other.’ It is hard to imagine that this will open doors for us to see anything except what the current regime wants us to see. Read More »

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Money for nothing

Tuesday May 18, 2010 | 15:47 by Ossian Ward | permalink

For its tenth birthday weekend just gone, NSFS logoTate Modern staged No Soul For Sale, a non-profit ‘Festival of Independents’, bringing 70 artists’ collectives, publishers and non-commercial spaces from all over the world to fill its Turbine Hall. Well, perhaps ‘inviting’ would be a more accurate word to use, rather than ‘bringing’, as each participant had to pay their own way, with resourceful galleries doing last minute fundraising events and even garage sales to afford their flights to London from as far and wide as Beijing, Rio and Melbourne. A necessarily scrappy and messy affair ensued, with many No Soul For Salers showing only what they’d been able to squeeze through hand luggage or the symbolically empty packages they’d sent ahead of themselves.

This perceived lack of financial support drew fire from an anonymous British group of artists and arts professionals, calling themselves Making A Living. In an open letter to Tate, widely emailed and posted online, they took umbrage with No Soul For Sale’s ‘romantic connotations of the soulful artist, who makes art from inner necessity without thought of recompense’ as well as the concomitant expectation that ‘we should expect to work for free and that it is acceptable to forego the right to be paid for our labour.’

In an interview I conducted beforehand with the curators of No Soul For Sale – Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani, with Vicente Todolí on behalf of Tate – here, they defend the event (once previously staged as part of X-Initiative in New York) variously as ‘a tribute to the people, the artists and the art lovers who work beyond the traditional market system’ (Cattelan), or an act of ‘hospitality and generosity’ (Alemani). While Gioni adds that, ‘Nobody really ever pays respect to the people who work in situations in which there is very little money involved and yet a lot of energy and enthusiasm’, Todolí qualifies this by saying: ‘Obviously we are not the only ones being hospitable here. All the participants are … as generous as Tate, if not more. But that’s when things get interesting: when people are willing to share, going beyond any immediate quantifiable gain.

Read More »

Museums and salaries

Monday April 26, 2010 | 13:50 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

humanpyramid-1The New York Times today reported the incomes of cultural leaders. Look for the imminent brouhaha about how much some directors are making (even though compensation for many has recently been reduced). Yet if salaries at leading museums run between half a million and a million dollars, that seems reasonable in light of the complex responsibilities and unrelenting pressures involved.

The real issue with nonprofit compensation, I believe, lies not at the executive, but at the mid-management level, and at the lowest rungs of arts organizations.

Not long ago, someone I know interviewed for a job in a museum outside New York. The position involved responsibility for a core aspect of the museum’s activities. The candidate had a decade of experience and a great track record. The pay being offered turned out to be about one-twentieth of the director’s $1 million salary. That kind of discrepancy between a manager and a chief executive is one thing cultural groups don’t need to copy from the private sector. No wonder museums are plagued with morale problems.

The situation is worse further down the ladder, where staffing is left to volunteers and interns making little or no money. The rewards for entry level positions are now so low that they are scaring off the best talent. One can only wonder if today’s struggling interns and junior assistants will change the situation once they make it up the slippery pole to those seven-figure jobs?

Rather than worry about arts salaries at the top, the press would do well to focus on income patterns among the rank-and-file. I’d be curious to hear what others think about equitable wages in the sector?

Win, place, sell

Monday April 19, 2010 | 13:41 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

blacklist_3Randy Kennedy has finally brought the Craig Robins v. David Zwirner legal spat to the pages of the great Grey Lady; so, now would seem to be as good a time as any to open up this issue for debate.  That issue, as laid out by Kennedy, turns on the presumptive practice of art-world “blacklisting,” whereby collectors are kept from purchasing works by artists they covet because the dealers or artists fear that those same works will soon find their way to the auction block.  In this case, Robins sold a work by Marlene Dumas, and allegedly did so a bit too early for the artist’s taste, which is why, according to Robins, he was blocked from buying new pieces from Dumas’ recent show at Zwirner’s.

You see, the art world doesn’t like speculators.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  The art world doesn’t like anyone else speculating on what it’s already speculating on.  And it’s this attitude, largely hypocritical in character, which has likely brought Zwirner’s lawyers to characterize Robins as a petulant child who is being told he can’t have the big red and white lollipop in the gallery window.  Or rather,

“By bringing suit,” the gallery’s lawyers argue, “the wealthy Robins has literally made a federal case of not being able to buy what he wants, when he wants.”

Kennedy goes on to offer some choice quotes from Allan Schwartzman and Jeffrey Deitch about dealing with speculators and the difficulties of “placing” works of art with the right “serious” collectors (as opposed to those who will flip the work to make a quick buck) or simply selling them to some schlub just in off the street with a briefcase full of cash.  But then to “place” a work is a form of speculation in and of itself, no?  After all, even if that schlub loves the work so much as to never even entertain the possibility of selling it, “Some Schlub’” under the “Collections” column on the artist’s CV doesn’t exactly send prices soaring.  We call this the problem (and power) of “access.”

To my mind, though, the “blacklist” issue misses the point (and perhaps purposely so, if Zwirner’s lawyers are trying to deflect attention). Read More »

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The state of the arts is … blah

Thursday January 28, 2010 | 13:33 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

nai_one_pager_graph_thumbnailPresident Obama in his address last night studiously avoided the phrase, “the State of the Union is strong.” If there were a State of the Union for the arts, the speaker—Who would it be?—would likely have made the same choice. For all is not well on the cultural ramparts. Just as “Wall Street Prospers while Main Street suffers,” we’re seeing some profligate spending on art again, here and there, while artists and organizations on the ground are having a really tough time.

To measure the pain and the sorrow, Americans for the Arts, the Washington based advocacy group, has come up with a National Art Index, “the first study to measure the health and vitality of the arts in the United States.” It’s not a pretty picture. The index fell 4 points last year, reflecting steep drops in attendance and support, along with other downward trends. Thirty thousand arts nonprofits have been added since the index peaked, in 1999, so demand clearly “outlags capacity”—a problem that won’t go away even when the economy perks up.

Meanwhile, a group of arts wonks (myself included) are debating the language of arts-policy and advocacy this week at ArtsJournal. The headline so far: we lack compelling and uncompromised language to galvanize support for the arts and expand the purview of cultural policy to include the things that really matter, such as technology, media, and intellectual property regulation.

What does this mean for the visual art world? Americans for the Arts is largely concerned with the nonprofit arts. Its indeces may not faithfully reflect the condition of visual art markets and institutions. Are we any better off? What would be the right measures to diagnose the health of the visual arts? And where do you see the trend lines leading in the year ahead?

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Developing sino-criticism

Thursday December 31, 2009 | 18:45 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

9780713992540hWhile taking a brief vacation from the cold this past week (in Panama of all places; as an aside, the rapid and apparently unconstrained development of Panama City since 2003 is a phenomenon worth looking at) I finally had the opportunity to plow through Martin Jacques’s When China Rules The World (Penguin 2009), which I found to be an excellent counter-consensus account of how China’s rise will be anything but a process of ‘westernization’.

Not that I have done all that much reading on the topic, but it seems to me that Jacques offers a thoroughgoing introduction to the many promises and problems (for the globe, not just the West) of China’s rise.  But more than this, the importance of Jacques book, for me at least, was to have disabused me of my habit of utter skepticism with which I met nearly all (positive) accounts of anything having to do with ‘Chinese Contemporary Art’.  The ‘emerging market’ chorus and so many artists’ tendency towards the worst ethno-kitsch, combined with the extensive accounts of ‘pay-to-play’ networks of curators, critics, galleries and museums, simply put me off.  My major criticism being that it seemed impossible for anyone ‘in the West’ to get a clear or honest assessment of Chinese art from Chinese critics and curators.  Yes, books by English-language critics (Richard Vine’s fine recent survey among them) have been appearing.  But without access to the thinking that was going on within the networks of Chinese art (and networks purged of monetary grease), I simply felt that its landscape would necessarily remain obscure. My reaction, unenviable and small-minded, was to put my head in the sand and simply hope that this too would pass, chalked up as a mere symptom of globalization.  As I said, small-minded.

The rise of Chinese contemporary art is surely a function, not a symptom, of globalization; and it’s here to stay.  Jacques’s book attuned me to this (and it has perhaps only twenty words on art, contemporary or otherwise).  All of which is to say that, post-Jacques’s book, I was able to read with some optimism this report on the announcement of Wang Chunchen of the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts as the most recent (and only second) winner of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award prize in criticism–and this for a work entitled ‘Art Intervenes in Society - A New Artistic Relationship’.  I have not read Wang’s piece, and would be interested to hear from anyone who has; but it seems to me more generally that this prize in criticism is exactly the kind of thing we need.  The discourse of Chinese contemporary art needs to be shaped from a perspective internal to its own culture.  The CCAA prize promises to do just that.  And now that I’ve got my head out of my as…I mean, out of the sand, I’ll be looking for more such platforms (and their beneficiaries).

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