USA: Today, Tomorrow, Every Day

USA_OD.jpgIs it just me or have others noticed the ubiquity of American exhibitions in West London over the past year? Whether it’s NY Fashion at the V&A, yet another exhibition of an American artist at the Serpentine — old (Ellsworth Kelly) or new (Paul Chan) — or group shows put together to show visiting Americans some American art at Frieze fair time (the Royal Academy / Saatchi’s USA Today or the Serpentine’s Uncertain States of America), it looks like London’s expensive postcodes just can’t get enough of a good thing.

The combination of American corporate largesse, political will (the US Embassy funded Karen Kilimnik’s recent show at the Serpentine) and rich friends (cocktails with the Blairs for American Friends of the Tate) is convincing enough as it is. Combine this with a dearth of curators that can look beyond – or are interested in anything other than – the Euro-American nexus, and we see a pattern emerging. One in which much of London’s public art world (at least in those parts of town where corporate hospitality is at a premium) seems at risk of being ‘captured’ by one country. So while the world rhapsodises about ‘new’ art coming out of Asia, London gets to see very little of it, whereas Tate Liverpool is showing contemporary Chinese art and Newcastle’s Baltic had a recent Subodh Gupta show.

One wonders how long this will continue? As the 2012 London Olympics-related cuts to arts funding start biting, the allure of American patronage will only grow stronger. Perhaps, as the current show of British photography at Tate Britain suggests, American Friends will act with ‘enlightened self-interest’ and start supporting non-American shows, lest the natives get restless.

Or perhaps London is set to be the battleground for a cultural version of the new Great Game — one where America is the dominant power; the Russians have an outpost in the Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House, which can be leveraged by Russian oligarchs (once they grow tired of running football clubs or funding revolutions); and the Chinese have the Red Mansion Foundation ‘co-producing’ exhibitions. The only ones yet to show their hands are India’s billionaires and its ranks of art-market entrepreneurs. Surely it is only a matter of time — I’d give it a few months.

Gallery Weekend Berlin: An art-fair antidote?

Fernsehturm, Berlin I never need much of an excuse to go to Berlin. I love the city’s density of galleries and artists, but also the fact that living costs and renting space still remains so cheap that people take all sorts of risks without lining up the full financing beforehand. Three years old now, the Gallery Weekend Berlin event seemed like a classic example of the city’s cultural experimentation, and I’d several times heard it described as an antidote to art fairs. My curiosity was piqued. So last Friday I flew into Tegel, eager to see if GWB truly presents a new model for galleries to work within the rapidly evolving artworld.

The basics of the GWB are simple: 29 galleries held openings Friday night and agreed to stay open (exceptionally) on Sunday and Monday. A pocket-size program was printed up with a gallery map. (Here’s a full list of all of the GWB shows; Franz Ackermann‘s show at neugerriemschneider was the crowd favorite, Dash Snow at CFA’s the most hotly debated.) The dealers held their own private dinners after the Friday openings. Then on Saturday night there was a gala event (well, “gala” by Berlin’s low-key standards), held in the newly opened and quite swank Grill Royal, to which the 29 galleries could invite six guests each.

From an artistic standpoint, the GWB made a strong case as a cultural event. The standard proved uniformly high and the weekend served well its purpose as a reminder that gallery spaces create an utterly different context around artworks than exhibition halls. In addition, even when you’re sprinting through three dozen galleries over the course of a few days, it’s totally different than seeing 250 booths (or even far, far more) in the same time period.

Of course, the attractions of fairs are more than just the art (whether for buying and seeing). They’re also the artworld crossroads, where everyone bumps together. From this standpoint, the GWB felt more like a minor biennial than like a fair. For one thing, there was a much smaller crowd of out-of-town visitors than at a fair, maximum 1,000 people (and only a few hundred foreigners, I’m guessing). That said, those who came tended to be people who have a daily relationship with art, be it as art critics, institutional curators or hard-core collectors (i.e. the Rubell clan, Rosa de la Cruz, Ingvild Goetz). And GWB certainly had its artworld social moments: Eva and Adele surfacing randomly; Christian Jankowski rallying the troops for a late-night expedition to Rio Bar; Dash Snow and Jonathan Meese jumping around the Volksbühne dancefloor, their long hair and wild eyes going in all directions simultaneously; Artnet’s cocktail party at the Münzsalon private club, closing the weekend with verve despite all the compounded hangovers in the room. Continue reading “Gallery Weekend Berlin: An art-fair antidote?”

Critics, Understood at Last

In more proof that Europe is way out ahead of America, now comes news that the E.U. has passed a law to keep reviews from being misquoted by cultural promoters.

As the London Independent and The New York Times have reported, the new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive bars advertisers from taking critics’ words out of context or otherwise manipulating reviews in such a way that “deceives or is likely to deceive the consumer.” Violators will be prosecuted by the ominous sounding Office of Fair Trading.

For those of us in the visual art world, this news raises some disquieting questions. First, how would promoters shrink sentences that run, on industry average, four to seven lines of text, into their meager advertisement space? Second, how would these unscrupulous arts advertisers manipulate the meaning of critical utterances, when those utterances themselves are so often nonsensical and, as surveys have documented, devoid of clear judgments?

Third, and perhaps most alarming, will visual arts presenters, having run out of ideas, ever decide to use snippets of criticism to promote their artists and exhibitions? In the theater, where critics still count, this is standard practice. Alas, few in the art world seem to feel that criticism is important enough to bother with quoting or misquoting critics in their advertisements.

What’s next for Europe? Legislation mandating criticism that consumers can understand?

Ségolène Royal channels Barbara Kruger?

My Parisian friend CSH emailed me this: “Ségolène Royal’s “official” campaign posters, released at the beginning of this week, which are plastered on all the official posting sites next to the bureaux de votes, are complete Barbara Kruger ripoffs: Grainy black-and-white photos of “Ségo” with artsy cropping (blocking part of her much-admired forehead, for instance) sandwiched between red bars, with white block lettering on it. So ten years ago in terms of aesthetics; as for her program….” I have to agree with CSH (well, re the art; I still need to study the platforms before I vote next weekend).

Depending on how you read this, it’s either 1) a clear case of plagiarism; 2) a sign of how pervasive the Barbara Kruger aesthetic has become; or 3) a coded signifier to the ConArt crowd and feminists, reminding them that had they better rally to the cause and elect France’s first madame la presidente, even if she’s been drifting centrist to boost her electability. Sort of like when George W. Bush uses innocuous-sounding but Evangelical-derived codephrases like “wonder-working power” as semaphores of his support toward the Christian Right.


Clippings collected from the salon floor

A random assortment of the recently amusing….

From The AI Interview: Damien Hirst“: “If you ask people on the street in England who is a famous artist, I think they’d say: Rolf Harris, Prince Charles, David Hockney and Damien Hirst, in that order.Is Hirst being modest or merely accurate? (FYI:

From ARTINFO’s “Artworks Missing from Philadelphia Schools“: “Eighty-five artworks valued at $838,000 are missing from Philadelphia’s public schools, according to a preliminary audit conducted by the city controller’s office, the Philadelphia Daily News reports… Another 220 artworks, estimated to be worth as much as $30 million, are being held in storage.” Hmm: $30M/220=$136K. Either that’s a typo or the Philly public schools are hiding some serious masterpieces.

Understatement of the week, from the Guardian’s “Emin’s bed stays made, but Beijing finally embraces modern British art“: “‘The whole Chinese scene is on a bit of a roll,’ said Richard Riley, head of the visual arts section of the British Council.”

Understatement of the week, 2nd place, from the Globe and Mail’s “Thieves run off with $2-million gold bar at Japanese museum“: “The Ohashi Collection Kan museum in Takayama, central Japan, had kept the 220-pound gold bullion unguarded by sensors or even a case because it wanted visitors to be able to touch it, according to local police officer Shinji Kurake…[who said] ‘We were very shocked… but of course this was a big block of gold, and there was no security. I suppose they could have been a little more careful.‘”

A Bit of White, Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art, BrusselsThe E-Flux announcement for the Brussels show A BIT O’ WHITE had me doing doubletakes. Drug reference show title + total whiteness + hyperspeed text (“we do not see anything – it’s white, all white. And yet it opens our eyes, tickles our senses, let’s us be – we see so much. WHITE, which hints at a whole range of possibilities without expressing them, yet puts us on the alert. WHITE, which triggers our emotions, our fears, yet is so familiar to us. WHITE we fear – WHITE we embrace.”) = Terence Koh? I emailed Koh, and he responded: “o me god how did you know its me.” Caveat lector: Koh lies, often and unapologetically.

Revolution is Not…

Revolution Is Not A Movie

Noticed: title creep. On two sides of the Atlantic, similar words are being applied to visual extravaganzas tied to the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

Revolution Is Not A Garden PartyA billboard in New York’s Times Square last fall declared, “Our Revolution Was Not a Movie” (it was put up by the Hungarian Cultural Center to commemorate the uprising’s 50th anniversary). And this April, the Norwich Gallery will open an exhibition titled “Revolution is not a Garden Party.” Gee, really?

And for a little bit of inside baseball, which didn’t make it into the press release: one of the Hungarian artists in the show, Péter Rákosi, is a namesake of the dictator whose regime the uprising intended to topple.

CondeNast (Art) Portfolio

Got the flyer pimping the new Conde Nast business mag Portfolio in my much-delayed mail coming from the States. Since no one I can find by Googling has blogged on this yet, three interesting things.

1. Looks like they’re planning major artmarket coverage.

2. The Art + Auction layout style adopted by Modern Painters after LTB Publishing bought the latter mag has apparently gone viral. i.e. huge headline, lots of white space – maybe even the fonts, but I’m not a font geek.

3. Despite all her best efforts, and those of her dealer Zach Feuer, to downplay it – for excellent reasons related to not wanting her to become the next David Salle – Dana Schutz seems to remain the mainstream media’s Default Artmarket Darling(TM). Behold: