Clippings from the salon floor, #6

America First in Venice? Venice Biennial director Rob Storr, quoted in Time’s Talking Bout the Biennale Q&A (via MAN): “America has been, in terms of markets, exhibitions and publications, the 300-pound gorilla. It’s not in the place where it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s but it still weighs in very heavily. So if you are an American you’re seen as part of that sizeable American art world.” Later on Storr says “[the biennial] has about 96 artists. A larger number of Americans than I would have expected going into it — about 22.” That gorilla’s looking strong, huh?

More Storr… From the same article cited above: “Biennales are a crash course in contemporary art, a place where the general public at a relatively low cost can come and find out what’s going on in the world. In my mind the real audience for the Biennale are students and travelers who have sufficient income to make a trip to Italy and who don’t have access to much contemporary art at home… But attendance has sloped off over the last decade or so. I’m not sure why.” Um, maybe because the “real audience” is surrounded by newConArt museums and art fairs in the convenience of their own homelands?

Magical museum thinking: Bloomberg’s Martin Gayford musing on how the job posting for Charles Saumarez Smith’s replacement as director of London’s National Gallery should read: “Wanted: Capable administrator and art world diplomat, able to conjure tens of millions of pounds out of thin air, time and time again.” Equally well-put: “Now, the masterpieces outside museums are as rare as snow leopards or Yangzi dolphins.”

A director ´s dreams, a visitor ´s nightmare: From Eric Gibson’s Opinion Journal piece on overcrowded museums (via AJ): “Art museums are now mainstream, the leisure destination of choice for a large segment of the population… [At the British Museum] the Rosetta Stone was so mobbed that the only way to “see” it was to hold your camera aloft and hope that there would be a decent photograph to look at when you got home… The viewing conditions are now so difficult that, in the midst of a crowded museum, you find yourself wondering why the director and curators went to all the trouble to acquire such fine objects and persuade you to come look at them if they’ve made it impossible to really see anything.”

Explosive Language “Nazi Looted Art” author Gunnar Schnabel cited by Bloomberg, re Germany ´s unresolved WWII restitution cases (via AJ): “It’s like hiding a nuclear bomb under the bedcovers. There are so many cases that need to be cleared up, thousands of them in Germany alone.”

Indian bazar: More signs of India’s art market growing pains, from the Times of India article Taxmen raid 25 art galleries in Delhi, Mumbai: “A large part of the deals were found to have been made in cash, sources said… The Income-Tax department believes that the galleries were resorting to large-scale under-invoicing, reporting lower value than what they earned through sale of art work, and did not show a large number of works in their inventories raising apprehensions that many transactions were not being reported to the taxmen.”

Gallery Geekery A while back, we mulled the need for a Google maps/gallery guide mashup. This week, Gallery Hopper wrote: “The new “My Maps” feature of Google Maps allows you to create your own customized maps and I’ve given it a little spin using the April gallery picks I posted earlier this week. Now you’ll have a handy map to follow while running around the city looking at this months great photography.”

Reverse Engineering From the Telegraph’s Art sales: Technology fuels boom in print: “‘The computer is the new sketchbook,’ says Alan Cristea, who has led the market in British print publishing since the 1970s, when he began working with artists such as Richard Hamilton. ‘Artists like Hamilton and Julian Opie are now starting with the printed image and making paintings from prints.'”

Sgarbi the Destroyer I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I stumbled across this video of Italian reactionary culturati Vittorio Sgarbi’s MacBook-throwing television tantrum.

Clippings from the salon floor, #5

The Venison’s still sizzling! The New York Sun piece Auction Houses Vs. Dealers (via ArtsJournal) quotes Christies president Marc Porter, re Haunch of Venison Gallery becoming the house’s private-treaty-sales division: “To presume that the golden day of the 60s and that gallery system is what’s appropriate in a global art world may be a great disservice to artists and to collectors. What we’re doing is ensuring that the art business evolves, so that the people who use the business are best served.” Author Kate Taylor also notes, “For now, Haunch of Venison is forbidden to bid at Christie’s auctions.” Can someone please define “for now” as it’s used in that sentence?

BanksyBananas.jpg Next time, auction off the substation… After London Transport agency workers painted over a Banksy mural – estimated to be worth more than $500,000 – on the side of an electricity substation, a Reuters report cited an agency spokesman explaining: “We recognise that there are those who view Banksy’s work as legitimate art, but sadly our graffiti removal teams are staffed by professional cleaners not professional art critics.” But, wait, now the Independent says the workers deny whitewashing it.

Documenta is an art fair?!? From the lead paragraph of the much-hyped Portfolio magazine‘s obligatory China ConArt story The Ka-Ching Dynasty: “This June, at the Documenta 12 art fair in the picturesque hill town of Kassel, Germany, the gallery-going set might notice an unusually homogeneous group mingling among them: 1,001 Chinese people all dressed alike. But the fair hasn’t mandated a uniform; the mysterious visitors will be part of a living, breathing, schmoozing installation by the artist Ai Weiwei. Ai is one of several Chinese contemporary artists exhibiting at the influential fair, including painters whose works have been flying off the auction block for well into the six figures.” So much for CondeNast’s legendary fact-checking…

Annals of Art-Market Anarchy: Artnet magazine’s Chinese Artists at Crossroads re the Wild Westness of China’s ConArt scene: “Many galleries report that maverick artists often balk on contractual agreements. In some scenarios, artists have actually walked out of their own opening, art works under their arms, to later redistribute the paintings at other galleries around the city.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #5”

Sharjah Biennial: Less Oil More Courage

Dan Perjovschi, 2007With the announcement of Abu Dhabi’s multi-billion-dollar cultural tourism plans and last month’s DIFC Gulf Art Fair in Dubai hogging the limelight, it was easy to overlook neighboring Sharjah’s more modest cultural efforts, with the Sharjah Biennial (its eighth installment opened last week) as the centrepiece. In contrast to DIFC governor Dr Omar Bin Sulaiman’s frank admission (at the Dubai fair’s opening) of having no knowledge of art, Sharjah’s Biennial is headed by Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi, daughter of Sharjah’s ruler, who holds degrees in fine art and curating from London’s Slade School and the Royal College of Art. While the day-to-day artistic direction was in the hands of Jack Persekian, the peripatetic Palestinian curator, the Sheikha herself reportedly chose the theme of the Biennial “Still Life: Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change”. A BIG, and on the face of it, highly controversial theme to tackle in the United Arab Emirates, where a reported 30 percent of the construction world’s cranes currently reside.

Driving around Sharjah, the text (Less Oil More Courage) – from Rikrit Tiravanija’s small painted contribution to the biennial – screams at you from numerous roadside signs. The tiny painting itself has been hung on the wall facing you as you enter the Sharjah Art Museum, above a formal portrait of the Sheikh. The incongruity of this stark message serving as the biennial’s main publicity poster perhaps best embodies Sharjah’s own cultural positioning in the UAE’s nascent but fast-emerging art world. As Abu Dhabi uses economic-impact assessments drawn up by management consultants to plan a cultural island as tourist destination, and Dubai extends its ambition of being a clearinghouse to the artworld, Sharjah is attempting to create an infrastructure for artistic production and exchange. The reported biennial budget of $3 million enabled over 50 projects to be specially commissioned.

In this role of regional champion, Sharjah is an interesting example to examine the evolutionary path of the biennial phenomenon. Venice is perhaps the exemplar of the biennial as prize distribution/artworld validation, a fine-arts version of the Oscars, with a similar impact on box office. At the other end of the spectrum lies the ‘biennial as art infrastructure’. Sharjah, to my mind, is part of this group. (Others would include Continue reading “Sharjah Biennial: Less Oil More Courage”

Elton John vs. La bienniale: che cazzata…

eltonjohn-venice_1.jpgThe artworld has a love/hate relationship with celebrities. On the one hand, we’re all part of modern media culture, which ceaselessly rams them down our throats. So I find that even professional art theoreticians often have distressingly detailed knowledge about people such as Anna Nicole Smith or Pete Doherty . On the other hand, it’s disconcerting when so much of the writing about, say, Art Basel Miami Beach or the Frieze Art Fair has to do with celebrities like Kate, Gwyneth, Kanye, Paris, Jay-Z and Beyonce. Because it shows in such stark contrast how totally irrelevant artists are to the mainstream media. Ultimately, it’s not that big a deal, because London and Miami are very big places. If you want to avoid the celebrity hype. just walk away in any direction.

Venice, however, is a small place – less a town than a very large village. And it’s a logistical nightmare to navigate. So it felt like a stomach punch when I read this morning’s news alert from the Art Newspaper, Elton John concerts in Venice raise concern about possible damage to St Mark’s Square, which revealed:

The concerts are part of Sir Elton’s Red Piano tour and will coincide with the opening of the Venice Biennale. Although the City of Venice has not yet granted official permission for the concerts to take place, tickets for the events are already for sale online… Venetians still recoil from the memory of a 1989 concert by Pink Floyd which involved the group playing on a floating stage just off St Mark’s Square. Access to the square was unrestricted and some 200,000 people congregated to watch the British rock band, many camping out for days in advance. The size of the crowd overwhelmed city authorities and the lack of public toilets contributed to a mess which took the army three days to clear up.”

The article goes on to say that the Elton John concert will probably not have quite the same disastrous effects as the Pink Floyd concert. But 10,000 Elton John fans descending on the city will surely cause chaos during the critical last few days of preparations for the Venice Biennial, which – this is being Italy – tend to be when most everything actually gets done. (Obligatory disclosure: I’m staying in a hotel Continue reading “Elton John vs. La bienniale: che cazzata…”

Finally, Documenta announces… VIP cars?!?

Documenta director Roger Buergel has been an enigmatic figure since being chosen two years ago. His relatively meager track record as a curator of major exhibitions gives the artworld little basis for guessing what he’ll deliver. And four months from the opening, the only selections offically announced are Barcelona chef Ferran Adrià and Polish artist Artur Zmijewsk. (Get it? He’s going from A to Z.) I’ve heard rumors of artists being asked to do pieces whose final inclusion is not totally certain. There is, in short, an information vacuum surrounding the whole event.

SaabKassel.jpgAll of which made it even weirder when official sponsor Saab released news that the Documenta team had accepted delivery on its five VIP cars. In a classic bit of inscrutable curatorspeak Buergel was quoted in the press release saying: “Real coolness comes from within: on the outside, my car shows the formal elegance and effortlessness of a white cloud.”

Between this quote (implying that coolness cannot be contained in a car) and the fact that he turned away from the camera in the official photo, I’m hoping Buergel realizes this is all looking sort Continue reading “Finally, Documenta announces… VIP cars?!?”

C’mon, people, we need just ONE more biennial…

I’ve often said “another biennial seems to open every week.” I thought of it as hyperbole. Not any more. Because as e-Flux revealed today, in announcing the Lyon Biennale for 2007: “There are now 103 biennials around the world, mapping news that is growing exponentially, apparently renewable at will, and interchangeable.”

Damn. If only we had a 104th biennial, so that there would be exactly one biennial for every week in the two years the term “bienniale” implies.

Oddly, the announcement continues with some very strange math, informing us: “Flux is prevailing over singularity. One hundred and three biennials, 103 lists of artists, 103 titles… a biennial opens roughly every three days, and they cover one another.” Um, no, a biennial every three days would be 243 biennials. Thank God that’s wrong.