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Artworld Salon » Art Production
Artworld Salon

Opinion Analysis Debate

Too much of a good thing?

Tuesday November 17, 2009 | 22:32 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

creativityWe’ve heard the business gurus: This is the age of creativity. Only the dreamers survive. The MFA is the new MBA.

But hold on. Stefan Leijnen and Liane Gabora, researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, point out that too much creativity may not be a good thing. Their argument boils down to this: Innovation–creativity–is necessary to introduce new ideas. But for any innovation to take root, it must also be copied. Society depends not just on creators but also on followers. If everyone invented and no one imitated, we wouldn’t advance through innovation.

Come to think of it, this latter scenario bears some resemblance to the current state of play in the art world, where following in earlier innovators’ footsteps is seen as a somewhat passé notion. Instead, it’s all creativity all of the time. The Canadian researchers have drawn up a chart to find a productive mix of innovation and copying. Where would a healthy balance lie for the visual arts?

Writers and thinkers have been raising doubts about excessive uniqueness elsewhere. Art market expert Maurice Rheims wrote, quoting an antiques realer, that for a thing to have value “it must be rare, but not too rare.” Read More »

What recession art?

Tuesday September 29, 2009 | 11:10 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

articles_1There was a lively discussion in my class the other day about boom-time art. Some students said fast times produce “vulgar” art; others disagreed. The point was that they found connections between the economic climate and the sort of art being made and sold.

By extension, it’s worth asking if the recession has given rise to any particular kind of art. My informal gallery scan suggests that works on view, on the whole, are getting smaller. Has substance changed, too? Will it? Should it?

There are signs that, beyond what Lindsay Pollock described as “the Darwinian game of gallery musical chairs,” art is being influenced by the downturn. BravinLee gallery in Chelsea is producing limited-edition rugs by various artists, with some of the proceeds going to charity. “Art needs to get out of the white box,” said John Lee in Pollock’s report. “This is born out of the current economic environment in a way.” Another item in my mailbox heralds a group show, opening this week, titled “Art of the Crash” at FusionArts Museum, on the Lower East Side. It’s something to do with sculpture made from the “detritus of Detroit.” Art of the Great Recession? You judge.

Now, with exquisite timing, along comes Morris Dickstein’s book on art in the 1930s, “Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression,” in which the CUNY professor surveys the artistic response to the calamity to which our times have so often (and so misleadingly) been compared. Read More »

Green shoots for arts journalism

Wednesday August 19, 2009 | 13:37 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

light-at-end-of-tunnelI am going through new online ventures submitted for the National Summit on Arts Journalism, scheduled for Oct. 2 at the University of Southern California, a collaboration between the Annenberg School for Communication and the National Arts Journalism Program, with support from the Hewlett and Mellon Foundations and the NEA. Web broadcasting and satellite events at schools and cultural institutions around the country promise to make this something of a benchmark moment in our ongoing narrative about journalism’s transformation from a top-down, dead-tree medium to a digital, democratic, diffuse, dialog-oriented domain that bears less and less resemblance to the news media of old.

The agony of print journalism’s attenuated demise continues to dominate pubic discussion about journalism in general and arts journalism in particular. Nonetheless, as I argued recently in The Art Newspaper, we’re seeing the emergence of new communication and business models, some of which may not look anything like the journalism we used to know, but which are filling the void left behind by imploding newspapers and struggling magazines.

When the idea of the summit was hatched, it was hard to predict how many projects would come out of the woodwork. But after this week’s deadline, the tally has topped one hundred—a remarkable number, in my opinion, and a sign that at long last we have entered a new phase. Read More »

Exhibit or mirage?

Friday August 7, 2009 | 14:11 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

We interrupt the summer doldrums with news that “controversial graffiti artist” Mat Benote has surreptitiously installed one of his own works in the Guggenheim Museum. This cheeky guerilla action raises anew questions about authority and power in the art world.

at-the-very-least

Benote apparently hung up his work—a kind of Russian Avant-Garde-ish abstract composition, in black and red, accompanied by a wall label—during normal business hours, unnoticed by Guggenheim security guards or patrons. The press release somewhat hyperbolically claimed, “a piece of art was added to the museum’s permanent collection in the form of a gift by the artist.”

Really? Much like the Grand Rapids ArtPrize discussed in an earlier ArtworldSalon post, the intervention brings up some interesting concerns. If a work is hung on the wall of a museum, without the sanction of curators, is it to be considered part of the museum’s art program? Can anyone bring in a picture, hang it on the wall, and thus confer upon it the status of museum piece? If so, are then random objects in visitors’ handbags also properly seen as part of the museum’s temporary exhibition programming? By extension, are the visitors themselves to be considered a kind of accidental social sculpture, by virtue of performing their pattern of human interactions inside the symbolically charged confines of the museum? Or will these visitors have to be labeled an artwork, by someone such as Benote, to be so considered?

Questions also run in the opposite direction: If an artwork looks like a run-of-he mill abstract composition, neatly applied on a two dimensional surface, installed like a precious painting inside a top-flight museum, with a wall label, is it still “graffiti”?

Perhaps the most fun question for this Salon may be: What were the Guggenheim’s esteemed curators supposed to do? Lemonade, anyone?

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The middleman as muse

Friday July 24, 2009 | 12:54 by The Transom in New York | permalink

bbagCatherine Spaeth writes…

For a while now, there has been a degree of discomfort with the notion of an ideal viewer. At its extremes, the dangers of such an ideal are the failure of one’s poorly aimed presumptions as to what an audience is, or the presumptuousness of constructing a subject, of producing a consumer.

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s recent contribution to “Cinema Liberte/Bar Lounge,” in collaboration with Douglas Gordon at the Guggenheim’s “theanyspacewhatever,” was - despite its generosity - a coldly sceptical response to this situation. Served Illy coffee by Illy baristas, the failure to mean was offered as a gift, and this gift in turn was a lifestyle brand. As though wishing to correct this situation of art, Michael Fried in ‘Why Photography Matters” describes work so saturated by artistic intent that the audience is shunned from the space of it.

In a July 11th discussion on “Art and Power” at The Drawing Center in New York, the artist Alexis Knowlton shifted the terms away from the ideal viewer and back towards artistic intent. She invoked a term coined by Jerrold Levinson, “hypothetical intentionalism.” Already standard jargon in the philosophy of aesthetics, these words, for better or worse, have not yet found their way into artworld discourse. In October-driven art history and criticism (inaugurated by Rosalind Krauss’s 1976 essay in Vol. 1 on Vito Acconci, “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissicism”), the artworld has been more at home with the problem of the viewing subject.

For Knowlton, the very worst symptom of ceding artistic intent is what she refers to as SLAT: Super Lame Art Thematicization. The current Venice Bienniale, “Making Worlds” and the New Museum’s recent “Unmonumental” are, in her opinion, cases in point. Read More »

Art Gallery 101

Tuesday July 14, 2009 | 13:10 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

978-1-58115-664-5-2This week marks the publication of Edward Winkleman’s How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery. For those familiar with Ed’s writing from ArtworldSalon—not to mention his own blog—the book may come as a surprise. Although fully qualified to speak as an art-world insider, armed with the requisite attitude and gossip, he chose the more difficult, and in my opinion braver path: To share basic, practical information with younger colleagues about the particular challenges of running an art gallery. Never has such information been more needed than now, when every penny counts and when dealers, both novices and veterans, must think anew about every facet of their business.

Part Bible, part user’s guide, Ed’s book offers calm and steady, and above all honest, advice on questions younger dealers always want to know about, but are often afraid to ask. How much should I pay myself? Where should I advertise? When do I need a lawyer? But even the best-laid plans can skid off the tracks because of the minutiae. One of the virtues of Ed’s book is that it delves into seemingly mundane, nevertheless important matters that others might have glossed over. No detail escapes his attention: from staff dress codes to the best choice of gallery paint color; from industry-standard salary levels to the wisdom of including packing tape in your “art fair survival kit.”

If you’re planning to open a gallery, buy this book. If you’re planning to stay in business, buy this book.

New, newest, now, next

Thursday February 26, 2009 | 16:57 by Ossian Ward | permalink

It’s the dawn of a new age. No, not another,tate-triennial-01 deeper stratum to the credit crunch, but a new era of art is upon us and it’s called the ‘Altermodern’. So says French curator Nicolas Bourriaud, who was also responsible for that other recent frisson of novel art-speak, Relational Aesthetics, which – for better or worse – is now firmly established in our repertoire of recognized terminology.

The ‘Altermodern’ is more contentious, not only for being launched by a showy exhibition at the Tate, but also for being far more numinous and complex. Put simply it posits a post-postmodern situation in which modernism is fractured further and has no central geographical focus. These ‘other’ modernities take place simultaneously through an international network of production, with a constellation of ideas pulsing through various media and means of communication. Altermodern artists are nomadic flañeurs and the work is characterised by translation and heterogeneity.

Is any of this terribly new, however? The post-colonial diaspora of artists and the ‘glocal’ proliferation of biennials has long been a point of discussion, Jonathan Neil recently cited Noel Carroll’s definition of the ‘transnational’ and notions of the ‘other’ have been around for decades in Derrida, Kristeva, Said and others.

Even though you can’t all see the Altermodern show (which I liked despite its flaws), you can watch the video, read the manifesto and join the debate, in which most newspaper critics have waded in with a mixture of incomprehension and vitriol. Personally, while another impenetrable ‘ism’ is not necessarily the solution to tidying up the art history books of the 21st century, I appreciate that it does at least take some courage to usher in any kind of movement that doesn’t have an easily marketable model like the YBAs or the Chindian set.

Why evolution?

Monday February 9, 2009 | 21:14 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

evolving1

Evolution, as it should be, is a growth industry.   We should be pleased with this.   And yet I find myself  wary of some recent books and articles that are beginning to look at cultural production, and art more specifically, through the lens of evolutionary theory.   Here I’m thinking in particular of Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct (Bloomsbury, 2009).   Dutton’s aim in this text is to demonstrate how our preferences for arts of all kinds can be traced back to selection pressures–essentially, for Dutton, finding a mate–that have shaped our sensory-cognitive faculties over thousands of years.

Dutton’s appeal to evolutionary pscyhology in itself is not problematic, but I’m  concerned, not because I think that this appeal will somehow strip the arts of their purchase on meaning and significance, but because such arguments offer up the realities of evolution as an ontology for art–i.e. what ‘art’ is, is nothing more than an evironmental adaptation designed to proliferate the species.

It’s not that I’m at odds with this notion; in fact, I find it quite obvious.   Insofar as our cultural products become a manifest part of what the evolutionary psychologists would call our “fitness landscape,” it stands to reason that our adaptations to that lansdscape necessarily take into account that cultural production.   But, as Joseph Carroll, one of the leading proponents of what has been called “Literary Darwinism,” has stated:

Research in the next few years will determine whether we can generate a cumulative body of explanatory principles rooted in Darwinian theory, that are in themselves simple and general but nonetheless encompass the particularities and complexities of literature and the other arts.

The question is: What exactly needs explaining?   If we are hardwired for certain things (as I’m sure we are), if art, or the creative spirit, or the kunstwollen, is innate, then so what?   This doesn’t explain art; it simply means that artistic creation is being taken seriously by evolution-based psychologies and sociologies.   We’re still left with the hard work of understanding–and more importantly, arguing for–why certain works of art (more than others) demand our attention, aren’t we?

At what cost, production?

Tuesday December 16, 2008 | 04:58 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

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The Art Newspaper leads today with a piece by Louisa Buck about “Artists  Clawing Back Control From Dealers.” If the title is a bit hyperbolic, the article itself is a measured account of how artists such as Kieth Tyson and Gavin Turk have begun hiring financial advisors and forming their own companies in order to maintain better and perhaps more centralized control over, and so creativity in, the production of their work.   For a long time, galleries served this purpose for their artists, functioning as the business and finance arm of their activities, which often meant that a gallery would front significant amounts of money to realize an artist’s particular vision.   (It was Jeffrey Deitch’s financing of Jeff Koons’ Celebration series of sculptures which nearly bankrupted the gallery and ended in Deitch’s temporary partnership with Sotheby’s.)

The sticking point in the gallery-artist relationship comes, of course, when that production money comes with strings attached; namely in claims to ownership of the work or some percentage of it, or, perhaps more difficult for artists to accept, sometimes a say in the ultimate outcome of the piece.    Such is the case with Emmanuel Perrotin’s new venture, ‘Artists’ Dreams’, which will use an outside pool of investment capital to produce works which will then be exclusively consigned to his gallery for sale.

So it makes sense that artists who have the means to do so might choose some measure of economic autonomy from their galleries when it comes to questions of production.    But “the means to do so,” as we well know, would seem to exclude a large number of working artists, whose only business outlets are the galleries who stand to profit from the sales of their work, and whose markets and operations are too small to warrant hiring the likes of Frank Dunphy (Hirst’s business manager) or his firm, Hogbens Dunphy, which manages Turk and Tyson among others.

The idea that this move is one of “clawing back control” from dealers is a bit misleading then.   After all, if you can finance it yourself, why would you take on outside obligations?   If you can handle the risk, you get the control.   (It’s actually surprising to me that more artists haven’t made this move sooner.)   I know one artist who finances his own work and then backs those costs out of the sale of his art before splitting anything with his gallery.   Of course, the market for that work had better already be there, or else one may soon be faced with a Celebration-esque economic disaster.   And this question is not limited to the relationship between artists and their dealers.   Many non-collecting institutions underwrite all or portions of the produciton of new works for exhibition.   But often the associated “ownership stake” involves the negotiation of tricky contracts, in which small musuems and kunsthalles have only their prestige to serve as leverage.

So the question is: Are there other options out there that we’re not seeing?   As the economy continues to slide, and production costs become ever more onerous, will the majority of artists working today become ever more indentured to production funds, whether these come from galleries, museums or independent sources?   And might we not also see a change in the scale of operations taken on by artists in the coming months and years as well?

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