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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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The season that was

Monday May 23, 2011 | 10:45 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

large_big-fish-detailLooking back over the season that just passed, consolidation is the word that best describes the dynamics of the art world now. Large entities are getting larger; smaller ones are still squeezed or struggling. The art system is mirroring larger trends in society, where recovery has come sooner to the more fortunate and the gap between the haves and have-nots has, if anything, widened.

Large institutions and corporate entities have locked in gains and begun to expand franchises. It’s a good time to make a deal, whether inexpensive real estate, cheap credit, or distressed partners prompt the opportunity.

Here in New York, large museums are showing anew an appetite for expansion. The Whitney had reason to celebrate at its gala last week, having just leased its Madison Avenue Marcel Breuer building to the Met, clearing the way for downtown construction of its new Renzo Piano headquarters. For the Met, this will be the first foray off Fifth Avenue since the opening of the Cloisters. Meanwhile, MoMA has paid $31 million to buy the beleaguered Museum of Folk Art. And the Guggenheim is eyeing a branch in Helsinki.

On the commercial side, the three main auction houses booked respectable quarters, and Phillips has moved into its flashiest digs yet, on Park Avenue. The houses are aggressively building markets overseas and pushing the boundaries of their operations into new aesthetic, digital, and financial territory. Hiring is back. Furloughs have yielded to pay increases.

Consolidation continued in the gallery business, too. Gagosian’s far-flung satellites are filling mailboxes with thick cardboard invitations almost daily. A small cluster of galleries with a truly global reach is leaving everyone else further behind. Corporate muscle is the most obvious in the seemingly never-ending expansion of art fairs. In a long awaited move, Art Basel has planted its flag in Hong Kong. Frieze announced a bold incursion into the Armory Show’s back yard, on New York’s Randall’s Island, and is also launching an old master’s fair back in London. Read More »

Miami syndrome in New York

Monday March 1, 2010 | 23:03 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

the-birth-of-piggybacking

There must be an astronomical term for this week’s stellar array of events in New York. It’s certainly a cluster of some sort.

Once distant galaxies, the ADAA Art Fair and the Armory Show, are opening on back-to-back nights this year, forming a unified mega-event constellation. They are flanked in time and space by the Whitney Biennial and the William Kentridge juggernaut, which is merrily winding its way from the Southern Hemisphere through the top cultural institutions of Manhattan. Established events with names invoking celestial phenomena—Nova, Scope, Pulse—add to the epic convergence. Toss in the newcomers, such as the Independent art fair-exhibition hybrid, plus dozens of piggybacking gallery shows, lectures, panel discussions, and cocktail parties, and the results will overwhelm the endurance and attention spans of even the most dedicated art-world regulars.

What we are witnessing, in fact, is the Miami syndrome, transplanted to New York. Opportunistic calendaring, mixed with fear that collectors will only fly in once, has created a matrix of activity that is as impressive as it may be self-defeating. Game theorists call this the tragedy of the commons: Too many cows grazing on the too little land. We shall enjoy it while it lasts. But will quantity translate into quality, sales, and critical impact?

Three cheers for austerity

Friday February 19, 2010 | 16:08 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

205_a_a_giff_weight-newThree makes a trend, the adage goes. So here’s one: The upcoming Whitney Biennial, the National Academy’s Annual Invitational, and Site Santa Fe have sharply curtailed their rosters of exhibiting artists. The reason is money. The outcome is just what the art world needs.

Bloated biannials and survey shows were a boom-time phenomenon we can do without. They are self-defeating in terms of their purpose, which is to provide a point of view about what’s going on. And for better or worse, art fairs offer a more comprehensive summary of the totality of artistic activity.

Cultural bloat is an understudied phenomenon. Its effects are subtle and pernicious. On the surface, bloat entices us with more and more of a supposedly good thing: brick-size novels, three-hour movies, fancier museum buildings and cultural extravaganzas that betoken civic pride and scaling national ambitions.

Underneath all this more-ness, however, lurks the shadow of unsustainability. And that’s hardly the biggest threat. The lure of large numbers relieves the pressure to leave material on the cutting room floor. The cacophonous results mimic the quick verdicts and ceaseless profusion of the marketplace. A more restricted format, by contrast, tilts power to curators. It flushes away the fluff and injects some editorial discipline into the enterprise of art. Think of it as slow cultural food: Harder to cultivate and prepare, more satisfying to consume.

There’s been a lot of writing lately about how austerity is good for art. Much of it is sentimental bunk. Artists deserve to live well, like anyone else. But a case can be made, I believe, for trimming output and narrowing distribution channels. We may have less art to see, but more attention to lavish on it.

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The expectation game

Friday June 19, 2009 | 12:00 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

piazza_san_marco_with_the_basilica_by_canaletto_1730_fogg_art_museum_cambridgeHave you ever wondered if the success of today’s visual art mega-events depends less on their content than on the expectations surrounding them? The Venice Biennial and Art Basel’s 40th edition are a case in point.

Venice is a classic example of an event that art insiders love to hate. Every two years, a superstar curator is asked to prepare a vast exhibition in a difficult and historically charged venue, with limited resources, a ridiculous timeline, Italian ineptitude, and a spaghetti bowl of national pride, politics, and pavilion positioning thrown into the mix. Then the art crowd descends and, between bouts of champagne drinking and Vaporetto riding, it delivers a categorical judgment—usually negative. The pop psychologist in me believes that some folks have so much fun in Venice that they have to declare the Biennial a failure and a bore. This is partly intended to make their expense-account journey look more like a hard-working professional chore than the sybaritic fun ride it is. (You may discern a note of envy: I wasn’t there.) After this year’s opening, the commentariat appeared to be speaking from the same talking points. The line was that while the last Biennial was awful, this one—organized by art-world wunderkind Daniel Birnbaum, who is undoubtedly one of the smartest young figures on the scene—was banal and flat. Really?

Contrast with Basel. It’s a trite metaphor, but the world’s leading art fair, which occupies the same space as Baselworld, the epic watch fair, really does run like clockwork. Read More »

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Lessons from Havana

Thursday April 9, 2009 | 18:50 by Pablo Helguera | permalink

cubaIt is useful to remember that there is a place, not far from here, which makes our Wall Street worries look like luxury problems. The average salary in Cuba is around $20 US dollars a month, which is the equivalent of a regular dinner in a tourist restaurant in Habana Vieja. Economic contrasts border on surrealism, and yet Cuban society manages somehow to survive through a system of inventive informal businesses and exchanges that involve outsmarting the government and permanently playing a game of intrigue and paranoia.

The Cuban situation in the art sphere has always been equally perplexing: Cuba doesn’t have private galleries, art magazines or independent art foundations. Internet access is heavily restricted if at all available. Only a handful of artists (who normally live outside of the country) actually get to make a profit of their art. And yet over the years Cuba produced as many or more consequential artists than other countries who may boast of far stronger infrastructure and support system for the arts. Which leads me to ask: amidst all this soul-searching after the fall of the markets, can the Cuban example help the art world re-envision itself?

In Cuba it is really hard to get quick answers to anything, though, as reality is so complex. For starters, the meeting of the art world and the Cuban reality is an awkward one. The Havana Biennial, which just opened its 10th edition last week, is an event that best exemplifies the contrasts and ironies of today’s art world. Officially entitled “Globalization and Resistance,” one could see the event as the ultimate anti-Dubai, anti-Chelsea event. Yet, there was a parallel show precisely entitled “Chelsea,” comprised of New York artists who show at Chelsea galleries. The event seemed to be quite successful, no one seemed to think it was a contradiction to the curatorial premises of the biennial, and everyone seemed happy. The biennial per se, however, as well as the theoretical forum I attended, were much more true to form. Read More »

Dubai on my mind

Friday March 27, 2009 | 14:25 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

museumislamicartWithout exception, every person who heard about my recent trip to Dubai asked if I saw a parking lot at the airport filled with abandoned cars left behind by indebted foreign workers. I didn’t. But that powerful image seems to have been indelibly etched into the minds of newspaper-reading Westerners.

I did see many stalled skyscrapers and more than a few unhappy expatriates. Yet for the arts, the economic slowdown, here as elsewhere, presents a more mixed picture. In Dubai, it’s about switching from golden dreams to silver linings. I had an interesting conversation with an arts administrator who is matching up arts groups with empty real estate—just the kind of win-win deals we saw in New York City during our own years of blight. It may be that by suspending its mega-projects, Dubai will leave breathing room for scrappy local arts initiatives to take root and evolve haphazardly and organically. Culture sometimes works in such unpredictable ways.

Elsewhere, there was scant evidence of global financial Armageddon. The Art Dubai fair was, by all accounts, the best so far. It has matured into an indispensable regional fair, with dealers from neighboring countries reporting decent sales. The Global Art Forum conference (where I was a moderator) drew an international A-list crowd and played to a packed house in its lovely tent by the sea. The gigantic luxury hotel complex where these events took place was completely sold out. The Sharjah Biennial, timed to coincide this year with Art Dubai, was widely praised by those who made the short trek to the smaller Emirate east of Dubai. Going in the other direction, Abu Dhabi, sitting on vast oil reserves, is pressing on with huge cultural and educational projects. And in Doha, Qatar’s thriving capital, we were shown around I.M. Pei’s magnificent Museum of Islamic Arts, just the first of several treasure troves occasioned by the epic collecting spree of the local ruling family.

In the Gulf Region, the global crisis has stalled some plans but not others. So the question arises, two years into this downturn: Will all emerging markets and scenes suffer in equal measure? Which regions will experience the greatest setbacks, and which ones will get through this difficult period unscathed?

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.

Message in a bottle

Wednesday October 29, 2008 | 18:21 by András Szántó in Brooklyn | permalink

us-cover1Sarah Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World, which documents the frenzied peak of the recent art boom, arrives next week in American bookstores, just as that boom appears to be sputtering out. Some would call this bad timing. In fact, it’s a stroke of good luck. It puts Ms. Thornton, a Canadian-born, London-based sociologist-turned-journalist, in the enviable position of having captured an epic chapter in art-world history in its entirety. It’s all here, a message in a bottle to be consumed now, to reflect on what just happened, or later, when the action heats up all over again, as something of a cautionary tale. Each chapter examines a facet of the art world – auctions, dealers, art fairs, and so on – in a fluid, breezy style that masks some serious heavy lifting. The intrepid author has spoken to “everybody” in the art world. No detail escapes her attention, from the desk arrangements of her interviewees to their designer footwear. Underneath the glossy surface, however, lurks a sociologist’s concern for institutional narratives as well as the ethnographer’s conviction that entire social structures can be apprehended in seemingly frivolous patterns of speech or dress. And clearly, Sarah (a friend of artworldsalon) was having fun. We caught up with her on the eve of her US book tour to ask her some questions about the book:

ARTWORLDSALON: You are a sociologist turned writer. What was your biggest discovery about the art world?

SARAH THORNTON: I never had a Eureka moment. Instead, I experienced unfolding revelations. I think that’s how the book reads, too. One reason the art world fascinates me is because it is so full of conflict. It’s at once idealistic and materialistic, exclusive and open, petty and lofty. Moreover, the art world is so full of warring factions that writing this book has been like walking through a minefield.

Your book appears in the US just as global markets, and it seems the art market along with them, are entering a period of turmoil. How does it change the book’s message?

I see the book as having a handful of themes. It is a social history of the recent past - a remarkable period in which an unprecedented economic boom infiltrated every corner of the art world, even the consciousness of art students sitting in a left-wing conceptual art think-tank in the middle of the desert. It helps to have documented the structures and dynamics of a bull art market, because we forget them so quickly. Read More »

Art fairs: one artist’s viewpoint

Tuesday May 27, 2008 | 10:16 by The Transom | permalink

Lisa_Ruyter_03station.jpgWith Art Basel around the corner, this just in from Lisa Ruyter in Vienna:

When I was commissioned to do the art for The Armory Show 2004 catalog, I wrote an introduction that was a rhapsody about my love of art fairs. Not so many years before that, I began showing at Art Basel with Art & Public gallery, with such clear, positive results that I decided to make my largest and most risky piece, a Stations of the Cross, for a five day exhibition at Art Unlimited, with the support of Pierre Huber. This seems like ages ago, but it really isn’t, and my changing feelings about fairs are probably mostly a reflection of my own growth rather than a reflection of trends of the marketplace.

Since then, I have continued to participate in fairs in different ways, including with my own eponymously named gallery, presenting work by other artists. I see the limitations more and more clearly. I am very aware that it gave me an opportunity to develop a broad and solid international system of support for myself as an artist, and with that, secure a large degree of freedom to live wherever I want in the world. I can put my focus on getting involved deeply in local scenes that I really love, and to take much larger risks with my artwork when I want to. It has allowed me to indulge my independence without self-destructing.

As long as these fairs continue in their current popularity and with galleries as their primary clientele, they will continue to be a measure of what makes an important gallery (and also an unimportant gallery). For example, an artist can significantly raise his or her profile by signing up with a gallery that regularly gets into Frieze or Basel, and often there is only room for one or two other fairs in the world to share that top status. To me Basel holds the top spot because it always put the artworks first. But that is another discussion. Read More »

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Dissent and its consequences

Friday April 4, 2008 | 12:44 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

DISSENT_TERRORISM.jpgOne of the leitmotifs running through much of the chatter about the just-closed fairs and the ongoing Whitney Biennial here in New York has to do with the palpablility of politics, or of political content, or of “commitment,” in contemporary art. The question seems to be one of whether our art should or indeed needs to be more “activist.” And following closely is the question of whether we, as critics, historians, artists and other devotees to the art and culture industries, need to be more “activist” ourselves.

I bring this up because I was reading through a recent special issue of October, the contents of which took the form of myriad responses to a questionnaire on the problem of contemporary political “passivity.” Needless to say, the war in Iraq forms the backdrop for such an inquiry. And the last question of the bunch asked “What, if anything, can be done to make intellectual and artistic opposition to the war more active and effective?”

Responses to this question were understandably–and perhaps understatedly–varied, but one struck me as worth reflection, if not debate. Critical Art Ensemble offered that we, presumably as intellectuals and artists, must “be more daring and less afraid,” and then they continued with, “losing a job, being beaten, or going to jail isn’t the worst that can happen.”

I must confess that this bit caught me up. To be sure, CAE’s list is aimed at increasing the numbers of those who would choose to man the (police) barricades in demonstrations of resistance to our current administration’s asinine execution of a debatable foreign policy. But I imagine for many people, and not only in the U.S., these three actions are indeed and exactly the worst that can happen to a human being, especially given the rather sinister way in which their combination has become a hallmark of the war on terror: think extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo.

It occurs to me that only someone who has never lost a job (upon which daily survival depends), been beaten (and so by it lost, say, an eye, or the ability to walk), or gone to jail (without recourse to a legal defense) would think these potential returns for dissent something less than “the worst that can happen.” Nevertheless, the question remains, if opposition and activism is the goal, how does one “be more daring” and of what should we be “less afraid”?

Pointless punditry (why critics don’t matter, ch. 35)

Tuesday March 11, 2008 | 15:14 by András Szántó in Montreal (Quebec) Canada | permalink

Portrait_of_the_Art_Critic_Vladimir_Stasov__by_Ilya_Repin__1883.JPGFor this post, I was going to write about the Whitney Biennial. I was planning to coin the phrase “Unfinish Fetish” to describe the prevalence of inexpensive and coarse materials in the show. Alternatively, I might have written about the surprisingly solid auction sales of recent weeks. Or I might have devoted an article to the excitement of the ADAA fair and its ebullient opening in New York.

But none of this would have mattered much, because, you see, pundits don’t matter much. That was an insight I gained last weekend at a conference organized by the Museé D’Art Contemporain de Montréal.

The Max and Iris Stern International Symposium on the State of the Contemporary Art Market coincided with the worst snowstorm in the city since 1971 (a pundit may have observed the symbolism of this fact). A highlight of the event was a presentation by Michael Moses, the economics professor of Mei-Moses index fame. The talk included fresh figures from 2007, according to which art solidly outperformed stocks last year. The Mei-Moses jumped just over 20 percent, against a 5.5 percent uptick in the S&P 500. (The real money was in gold, which shot up 31 percent.) No surprise, but 2007 was the first year since the inception of the index that fine art values measurably outperformed real estate.

But the statistics that raised the most eyebrows had to do with “citations.” Does a mention by a critic or a selection by a museum curator make a difference in the sale price of an artwork at auction? No. “Art critics and museums are basically meaningless.”

Well, almost meaningless. Only when there had been at least 11 citations by critics or selections by curators (as noted in the auction catalog) did citations make a dent on prices. Of 12,000 works analyzed by Professors Mei and Moses, that could only be said about 185 objects. Even then, the impact was a paltry half-percent.

The findings raise interesting questions when it comes to journalistic accusations of “collusion” by “interested parties” who loan artworks to museums to get them talked about by critics. This may matter for contemporary art, which does indeed get a bump from museum exposure and critical validation, as the creators of the works at the Whitney Biennial, finished or not, will soon find out. But in most cases, where artists already present at auction are concerned, the data do not confirm the conventional wisdom that citations matter.

Last point: If you can make it to Montréal, don’t miss “Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today” at the Museé des Beaux-Arts. It may be the best exhibition you see this year, and it won’t be coming to the U.S.

Singapore’s second helpings

Thursday June 21, 2007 | 18:46 by Heman Chong in Singapore | permalink

px_Fumio.gifThe organizing committee for the Singapore Biennale has just pulled another rabbit out of the hat. Not only have they managed to team up with the Biennales of Gwangju, Shanghai, Sydney and Yokohama to form the next Grand Tour, in 2008 (another soon-to-be recurring art world trend?), but Fumio Nanjo will be appointed for a second term as the Artistic Director of the Singapore Biennale. This is of course, an old trick, as we’ve already experienced two consecutive Venice Biennales by Harald Szeemann and two consecutive Busan Biennales by Manu Park.

While the initial splat of responses to this decision was far from being positive (heh!), I have been thinking about the possibility of Nanjo actually being able to construct a relevant exhibition for the general public in Singapore and for the international art bubble at large, now that he’s been on the island’s case for a couple of years now.

After all, time, experience and access can do wonders when it comes to exhibition-building. Perhaps the Singapore Biennale has thrown up an interesting proposition: What if biennales were to follow in the footsteps of a system, say, an art fair or a theatre festival, where an artistic director would actually retain the post indefinitely, have more time to do research on the context and develop the exhibition for a few terms?

Filed Under: Asia, Biennials, General

Documenta12: Terence Koh is not an artist?!?

Tuesday June 5, 2007 | 15:47 by Marc Spiegler in Transit to Venice | permalink

Koh.jpgI had dinner last night with Terence Koh, arguably one of the hottest artists in the world right now, and he told me about a rather unexpected email he had just received.

With his kind permission, I reprint it below.

From: documenta 12 <professionalpreview@documenta.de>
Date: May 30, 2007 7:50:05 PM GMT+02:00
To: tiffany@peresprojects.com
Subject: documenta 12
Reply-To:
documenta 12 <preview@documenta.de>
_______________________________________

Dear Terence Koh,

Thank you for your application for accreditation. Unfortunately we have to inform you that we are not able to communicate a positive answer for the professional preview.

The team of documenta 12 is nevertheless happy to welcome you in Kassel during the entire duration of the exhibition from June 16th to September 23rd 2007.

Please go to our website www.documenta12.de for information on admission prices and the supporting program.

Please note: This message has been automatically generated. Please do not reply. This e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that does not accept incoming mail.

Apparently, having solo shows at the Kunsthalle Zurich and Whitney Museum in the last year does not qualify you as a professional artist in the eyes of Documenta 12’s accreditation mavens.

Or maybe they consider him TOO professional?

Filed Under: ArtStars, Biennials, General

Clippings from the salon floor, #11

Sunday June 3, 2007 | 22:21 by Marc Spiegler | permalink

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007Hirstian Math 1 From Linda Sandler of Bloomberg’s $100 Million Diamond Skull Is ‘Almost’ Sold: “The skull represents about a fifth of the value of Hirst’s show at Jay Jopling’s White Cube galleries, according to the artist’s business manager, Frank Dunphy…. The life-sized platinum skull, studded with 8,601 stones weighing 1,106.18 carats, cost Hirst $20 million to make — about the same amount as Jopling spent to build his new White Cube Mason’s Yard gallery.”

Hirstian Math 2 From the BBC.com’s Hirst unveils  £50m diamond skull: “The 18th Century skull is entirely covered in 8,601 jewels, while new teeth were made for the artwork at a cost of  £14m .”

Hirstian Math 3 From the Reuters skull story: “Hirst, who financed the skull himself, said he couldn’t remember whether it had cost 10 or 15 million pounds.”

Hirstian logic Richard Dorment, dependably crystalline in his prose writes: “If anyone but Hirst had made this curious object, we would be struck by its vulgarity. It looks like the kind of thing Asprey or Harrods might sell to credulous visitors from the oil states with unlimited amounts of money to spend, little taste, and no knowledge of art. I can imagine it gracing the drawing room of some African dictator or Colombian drug baron.” Read More »

Thoughts to digest, while packing for Venice

Thursday May 31, 2007 | 14:50 by Marc Spiegler in Zurich | permalink

While cleaning my desk and preparing for the coming artworld marathon, I came across the book “Curating Subjects,” edited by Paul O’Neill and given to me by Ann Demeester, director of Amsterdam’s De Appel Foundation, which offers Europe’s premier curatorial training program. The book is a treasure trove of thoughts on curating and I recommend it highly for those to whom the topic is dear. (Buy it at Amazon, or better yet directly from the publisher).

This particular week, by far the most topical article from “Curating Subjects” is Bob Nickas’ biennials-related contribution, a Q&A based upon questions from Christoph Cherix. At Nickas’ request I’ve posted the full text below rather than blog-style excerpts. Many thanks to Nickas and O’Neill for their cooperation.

Thoughts?

__________________________________________________________

To Be Read (Once Every Two Years)

By Bob Nickas

Do Biennials still make sense?

If you are a city that hosts one of them, the mayor of that city, its travel and tourism director, the owner of a hotel, a sauna, or a sex shop, the answer is yes. Biennials make a lot of sense. Dollars and cents. The population of Kassel, Germany is largest every ten years. In between the massive Documenta exhibitions, is anyone making a special trip to Kassel for the many no-star restaurants? For a pizza almost as bad as the ones you find in Venice?

In their defense, the average visitor to these big art shows is not an art specialist. Just look at the numbers. There can’t be that many critics, curators, collectors, artists, and dealers in the world. Many visitors to biennials are simply people interested in art. We forget about them, don’t we? You often see families, although the children look like they would rather be almost anywhere else. (A child, like much of the art produced today, is another portable object in a world filled to the brim.) Let’s not forget that these big shows have a function for people interested in art who may not otherwise have the opportunity to see as much as you or I over the course of two years. Or even one. Maybe biennials are a way for art lovers to catch up with the so-called art world. We are not so much a world as we are many small satellites in orbit around one another. And, as biennials often serve to remind us, there are many shooting stars.

So, as a critic and curator, how do you answer the question: “Do biennials still make sense?”

The answer would have to be no. Any critic or curator who thinks differently is a traitor to the cause. Biennials are about business and politics first. Art will always come in a close second or even third. And why should it be otherwise? The entire world is organized along lines of commerce and power. Art institutions and their wardens (to use Robert Smithson’s term), not to mention quote/unquote independents, are not immune to a perverse fascination with the game and how it is played. Are they merely drunk with power? Order another Mimosa at Harry’s Bar and try not to fall in the canal. You can always save your doubts for another day … So why don’t biennials make sense anymore? Because art is not in charge. Read More »

Filed Under: Biennials, General

Clippings from the salon floor, #10

Monday May 28, 2007 | 23:14 by Marc Spiegler in Zurich | permalink

diamond skull Bling and nothingness? Damien Hirst, quoted re his  £50 million diamond-encrusted skull in the Financial Times article What else can you spend your money on?: “The idea is very blingy but it turns out to be something much more. The way it looks is amazing. You almost believe that it is a victory over death.”

Immortality for a mere  £50 million? Hirst again, in the same article, re the art market’s allure to his peers among the superwealthy: “If you want to own things, art is a pretty good bet. Buy art, build a museum, put your name on it, let people in for free. That’s as close as you can get to immortality.”

“See it Venice, buy it in Basel Venice” From The Art Newspaper’s Venice Biennale proposes becoming a selling show again: “The Venice Biennale used to sell art openly—from 1942 to 1968. The Italian dealer Ettore Gian Ferrari had the official job of placing works for any willing artist, earning 15 percent for the Biennale and 2 percent for himself. ….When the president of the Biennale, Davide Croff, realised that Cornice [Fair] had the support of all the public authorities…and of a number of prominent art world figures… he considered whether the Biennale should start selling again from 2009.”

Signor Croff, non c’e piu bisogno di vendere l’arte, metti all’asta le camere d’albergo! From ARTINFO.com’s Phillips de Pury auction report: “Before the auction began, Simon de Pury announced that one member of the Guggenheim Foundation’s International Directors Council would not be able to make it to Venice and had asked that he take bids on her room at the Hotel Cipriani, with proceeds from the unofficial sale going to the museum. A flurry of bids brought the accommodations up to $45,000.” Read More »

Adrià’s documenta art: Cooking at El Bulli?!?

Tuesday May 22, 2007 | 20:53 by Marc Spiegler in Zurich | permalink

FerranAdria.jpgLast week, the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones went a smidgen ballistic about the notion that Spanish chef Ferran Adrià - founder of Barcelona’s El Bulli and frequently ranked as the globe’s top chef - was being put forward among Documenta’s artists. In his delightfully apoplectic post Food can be artistic - but it can never be art, Jones wrote:

They are not true artists because even the most modern food cannot disgust people beyond a certain point, or El Bulli would have no customers…. In reality, even a genius among chefs is obliged to please the customer (and cook to order), which means no chef can claim the freedom of mind that artists won in the Renaissance. Caravaggio could paint fruit that looked good enough to eat but he also painted tortures to turn your stomach; that’s art. Until people go to a restaurant to think about death, cooking won’t be art.

Well, Mr. Jones will be delighted to hear that Adrià has apparently bailed on Documenta. [UPDATE: Documenta's debating this. See Comment #3 below] According to the issue of Berlin-based Monopol that landed in subscriber mailboxes today, Adrià is staying put in Barcelona during Documenta. Here’s a rough translation of the Monopol item: Read More »

Clippings from the salon floor, #9

Sunday May 20, 2007 | 17:37 by Marc Spiegler in Zurich | permalink

Buying a Rothko Rockefeller Marc Glimcher of PaceWildenstein, which represents Mark Rothko’s estate, cited in Bloomberg’s report on the mindblowing new Rothko auction record, $72.8M at Sotheby’s: “While it’s a spectacular painting, it’s clear the allure of having David Rockefeller’s painting in your house is going way beyond what you might otherwise consider reasonable.”

Auctionmania at a glance Still trying to parse last week’s PostWarCon results? Check out the handy totals boards from chelseaartgalleries.com. Especially worth ruminating for art-market junkies is the data-crunching site’s “biggest surprises” category, which notes artist whose pieces showed steep and sudden jumps against their estimates. In some cases, such as the late Steven Parrino, it reflects the recent involvement of a heavy hitter (Gagosian) in the artist’s market. Likewise, Yayoi Kusama’s US representation is in flux, but clearly her market’s already spiking.

Ed Ruscha, Dare#2, 2001 Art market=New Economy? From CultureGrrl, to whom California collector Tom Dare explained selling two Ed Ruscha pieces he had commissioned to spell his own name: “The crazy market combined with all-time high Dow indices caused me to rethink the personal nature of the commissioned pieces and do the smart thing—take money off a hot table and pay the mortgage off. I work in the dot.com business and remember the pain from the bursting bubble in 2000 and the untold dollars I left on the table as a recently IPO’d employer fell back to earth.” This time, Dare made a killing, doubling the estimate on works that he had bought before the market for Ruscha rocketed.

Collector pathology From the Judith Pascoe’s New York Times editorial Collect-Me-Nots: “The pathos of Napoleon’s penis — bandied about over the decades, barely recognizable as a human body part — conjures up the seamier side of the collecting impulse. If, as Freud suggested, the collector is a sexually maladjusted misanthrope, then the emperor’s phallus is a collector’s object nonpareil, the epitome of male potency and dominance.”

Saltz stiletto strikes again From the Jerry Saltz review of Andreas Gursky’s new show, in New York magazine: “Gursky’s new pictures are filled with visual amphetamine, but now they’re laced with psychic chloroform.”

Banksy unmasked? We’re too busy (gearing up for the European art marathon) to bother being hassled by Banksy’s lawyers - the excellently named firm Finers Stephens Innocent - but apparently Radar magazine’s not. Check out its post Making Banksy, with the image of a man purported to be the anonymous artist, before FSI makes it MIA. Read More »

Clippings from the salon floor, #7

Sunday May 6, 2007 | 17:30 by Marc Spiegler | permalink

Dorment Disses Dept of State In an aside from his Tate Liverpool review, The Telegraph’s ruthlessly rigorous Richard Dorment dismisses the US State Department’s Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions:Emin_Flag.JPG “For the first time ever, an artist who has been dead for more than a decade - Felix Gonzalez-Torres - will represent the United States, presumably because he was the best the commissioners could come up with. If that isn’t a failure of nerve, what is?”

Searle’s no scoundrel In the Guardian’s “Tracey Emin will be representing herself - not Britain,” critic Adrian Searle dismisses artworld patriotism: “Personally I care neither more nor less about the British Pavilion than I do about any other. Tracey Emin should be seen, first and last, as an artist amongst artists, and thought about in those terms. The rest is bullshit.”

Documenta Detective Work Full points to Berlin’s Ludwig Seyfarth, who used old-fashioned reporting - “talking to dealers at the Art Cologne art fair, examining the artists profiled in the recently published Documenta 12 magazine, and scanning news reports and gallery announcements” - to compile his bootleg Documenta artists list for Artnet.de (the official list will only be released June 13). Better-known names include Ai Wei Wei, Johanna Billing, Cosima von Bonin, Emily Jacir, Louise Lawler, Zoe Leonard, Gerhard Richter, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, Nedko Solakov, Imogen Stidworthy, and Artur Zmijewski.

Blood money Painter Zhang Xiaogang, quoted in the China Post’s “Art star shrugs at world interest,” re his booming auction market: “Those are paintings that I sold a long time ago. What happens in the market is none of my business… If I was just in it for the money, I would paint “Bloodlines” everyday.“”

Avid for dollars? Brown nose now! The same China Post article quotes Huang Liaoyuan, “a Beijing art critic and gallery owner” (Hello? That’s a fairly cowboy combo), re his countrymen’s current mercantile tactics: “Some Chinese artists are just selling artwork portraying the miserable lives of Chinese people because they feel that’s what foreign buyers want. They are just kissing the ass of Westerners.”

The Gay Straightshooter From the Artkrush Q&A with LA/Berlin dealer Javier Peres: “I am interested in many different things in the world, and artists who share those interests and address them in their work in original and thought-provoking ways intrigue me. If they’re hot — or simply sluts — then that’s even better.” Read More »

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