The educational worm turns

glenn-beck-cryingAs someone who as taken an interest in what I have called the art world’s ‘pedagogical impulse’ and what others have dubbed its ‘educational turn’, I was of course tickled to read that yesterday marked the first day of classes at Glenn Beck University.  As the news outlets have reported, Beck U teaches courses such as ‘Hope’, ‘Faith’, and ‘Charity’, rewrites, apparently, of standard disciplinary topics, such as History, Religion and Economics, though inflected with Beck Inc.’s brand of newspeak and ‘taught’ by some questionable characters (only one of Beck U’s instructors is an ‘academic’ in the conventional sense).  And this for only $74.95/year.

That’s a comparative bargain, unless of course you consider iTunes U, which offers an immense array of course lectures taught by academics (some award winning) from institutions (‘esteemed’ ones we would say) with brand names such as Oxford, UC Berkley and Yale, and all for the low download price of $0.00.

Of course, Beck U’s point is that it is exactly such institutions of Higher Ed which are mired in what it would call bias and what most everyone else calls reality.  (Best that one take American History from the likes of David Barton, whose campaign against the First Amendment of the Constitution is grounded upon the persistent falsification and misattribution of historical quotation, rather than from, say, the Gilder Lehrman Institute).

Now, one cannot but view Beck U as a cynical foray into the education business (and probably something very much akin to Thomas Kinkade‘s successful foray into the art business), because a business it is, but I also cannot help thinking that part of what prepared the ground for Beck’s easy entry into this likely very lucrative landscape, aside from the obvious platform of the internet, has to do with a greater crisis of authority, institutional and otherwise, that shapes so much of what we hear and see today, both at large and in the art world itself. Continue reading “The educational worm turns”

Elusive silver linings

2577618297_a9eca1d130From struggling academics, to struggling artists. The New York Times started a blog titled Attention Artists!, on the recession’s impact on artists. So far, responses have been surprisingly sanguine, ranging from “I am completely adapted to being satisfied from my work and my work alone,” to “I think that the recession is making people understand the intrinsic and real value of art.” Some artists wax lethargic about their financial woes. But a more characteristic comment would be this: “The sick economy, combined with the collapse and confusion of the corporate music business, has actually been good for those of us who have existed on the fringes for years.”

Artists may be blessed with strong survival skills, especially in the putting-a-brave-face-on-misery department. Or is this a form of “false consciousness” (to dust off another half-forgotten thinker who is suddenly back in vogue)? How realistic is this new silver-lining discourse?

The idea that art-market busts are good because artists can “take over the factory, make the art industry their own” and “daydream and concentrate” was given an airing in February by Holland Cotter in New York Times in a manifesto-esque article,“The Boom is Over. Long Live Art.” Lots of people who make their living in the art world took note, and some felt the critic may have missed the point. At this stage in history, must art’s credibility depend on proof of human suffering and absence of commercial success? “Certainly, the excesses of the art world were alienating,” observed Alexandra Peers, an ArtworldSalon friend, in a riposte to Cotter in New York magazine. “But there’s Schadenfreude in the argument that bad times are good for the naughty, naughty art world.”

So which is it: An outbreak of gooey-eyed Romanticism? Or a sober reckoning with tough but healthy new realities?

Art workers in the scarcity economy


Eva Diaz writes:

I’ve been getting many emails recently about the Parsons Fine Arts part-timers layoffs situation, and indeed about the New School students’ takeover of the campus last Thursday.  (Full disclosure: I began teaching Art History at Parsons/The New School part-time this semester, and though my students are mostly drawn from the affected Fine Arts MFA program, I am technically in a different department and haven’t been privy to any departmental or administrative conversations.  For more information, see the NY Times  and Artnet  articles from April 3; check out the NY Times  from April 11 for information about police brutality at protests calling for the resignation of New School president Bob Kerrey.)

I, like many people, view the layoffs as a confusing situation.  In many ways the rhetorical positions put forward by both the union and the Kerrey administration are unsatisfactory.  How can curricular excellence and much-needed improvements be instituted while defending some of our most vulnerable art workers: adjunct teachers?

It is important to point out the larger issues of the proletarianization of the academy, the utter lack of job security in a scarcity economy, and the repeal of the notion of tenure in the humanities (and its near impossibility in an art school).   But let’s look at the money situation, always the administrations’ justification for why no-benefits, part-time work has become so pervasive.  Tuition has become outlandishly expensive, but where is the money going?  Here’s some basic back-of-the-napkin math: Continue reading “Art workers in the scarcity economy”

Art about boom is a bust

Elmgreen and Dragset, Prada Marfa, 2005$72.8 million for a Rothko? $71.7 million for a Warhol? More than $870 million spent on contemporary art in a single week? What does it all mean?

I headed for answers to the conveniently timed “The Price of Everything” exhibition, just across from the Empire State Building at CUNY’s art gallery on Fifth Avenue. The subtitle of the show, on view through June 24 and organized by the Whitney Independent Study Program, is “Perspectives on the Art Market.” The exhibition promises to illuminate the logic of the commercial art world by “evaluating and examining the different economic structures that comprise today’s expanded art market.” The selected artists “invite a skeptical awareness of market mechanisms” and “an active engagement with possible alternatives.”

I was hungry for enlightenment. These days, aren’t we all trying to figure out how a piece of canvas with half a gallon of paint can metamorphose into an asset comparable in value to the lifetime earnings of two-dozen tenured art historians?

Here’s what I found. In a dimly lit, shrine-like room, covered in red fabric, works by four famous artists that had been donated by the Whitney Museum to corporations in recognition of their support of the arts. On a ledge circling the gallery below the ceiling, a visually arresting piece by Fia Backstrom consisting of pages from Artforum magazine (according to the catalog, the work “considers the economic basis of Artforum by drawing attention to its large volume of full-page advertisements.”) To the side, photos of the artist Marianne Heier documenting her donation of a check to a struggling alternative art gallery. (“The hidden economic infrastructure of the commercial art gallery is often rejected by many artist-run spaces.”) Continue reading “Art about boom is a bust”

The Ivory Tower erodes, evermore…

artchicago_logo.gifAs a former Chicagoan, I was delighted to read Ed Winkleman’s very optimistic note about the rebirth of Art Chicago. I think the strategy – folding the fair into a larger civic cultural festival called “Artropolis” – makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how much overlap there is between the crowds for several contemporary-art events, for the almost equally large antiques show that will run concurrently in the Merchandise Mart (the largest commercial building in North America), and for the symposium on “hegemony and resistance in the global cultural economy.” Compared to last year’s fiasco, when the once-mighty fair (before the Armory, before ABMB) was barely saved in extremis from not opening, this is an excellent development.

However, one innovation strikes me as likely to draw criticism: The NEW INSIGHT section, described as “an amazing display of the future emerging talent in the art world… comprised of artwork from 24 graduate students at 12 of the country’s most influential Master of Fine Arts programs,” including CalArts, Yale, RISD and the Art Institute of Chicago. Especially given the fact that these students were selected by renowned Renaissance Society director Susanne Ghez, I’m predicting a stampede by neophiliac collectors to buy their work. Unless some draconian mechanism has been put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen – an idea which might be considered advisable in some quarters, but would almost certainly be a) an infringement of some Constitutional right and b) totally ineffective in the face of aggressive collectors.

Offhand, I cannot recall ever seeing a section of exclusively graduate-student work displayed as part of an art fair. (Although one certainly comes across the occasional artwork by a graduate student who’s already joined the roster of a participating gallery.) In this sense, New Insight marks the latest stage in the crumbling of the wall between art schools and the art market, the earlier stages having been 1) the prowling of art-school studios by dealers and collectors, 2) the growing professionalization of degree shows, and 3) the “School Days” show at Jack Tilton last spring. Honestly, this is a topic on which I feel divided. Part of me sides with the logic that led Columbia arts dean Bruce Ferguson to close the studios of first-year grad students to collectors. Then again, I think, maybe it’s totally reactionary to think that we can sequester students from the art market, or even that doing so would be a good idea. Thoughts?

Boats on the Bund

boatlogo.gifDown in Shanghai for a few days to visit people and galleries (and the 12th China International Boat Show…). A first chance also this year to sit outside at the really quite good Shanghai MOCA 3rd floor terrace cafe, wishing I had brought sunglasses. Samuel Kung (Chairman) and Katrina Chang (Chief Representative) kindly stopped by to say hello. Katrina was busy preparing for the arrival of the contemporary portion of the 300 Years of American Art exhibition on its way down from Beijing. I still think it is sad that local problems mean they have split the show across two venues. “Bureacratic issues” was the phrase used, but that can cover a multitude of sins from disagreements between overseeing ministries down to inefficiencies within the institutions themselves. But she seemed pleased to have the contemporary works they were getting.

The lunch, however, was the highlight of an otherwise dull day of gallery visits around both the centre of town and out at 50 Moganshan Road, Shanghai’s mini-798 (798 being the trendy gallery cafe area in North East Beijing). Silly bright pink- -and-green landscapes, with the occasional image of Mao or Stalin in the clouds, asking US$25,000 to US$70,000, from someone barely known, were among the worst of the day. The two university display spaces at 50MR might be interesting to watch, though there was a preponderance of traditional monochromatic brush paintings this week. (Perhaps a year-end compulsory-technique show?) Overall there was little to inspire, or amuse, at any of the galleries I visited. Shanghai just doesn’t have the volume or depth of Beijing. Though I did see some nice catalogues, Marc. %-).

We are at an interesting stage for contemporary galleries in China. Because of the high prices for Zhang XiaoGang and others at auction, prices have risen across the board for any contemporary artist at galleries all over China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou) no matter how little track record they have. For many galleries it is clearly a case of shifting canvas while the China fever lasts. For buyers I have no idea what is in their minds when they pay high prices for what is clearly derivative or vacuous painting. Perhaps they are just playing the pyramid game (last buyer is the loser) that we last saw in dotcom stocks in ’99?

Fortunately even China fever has its limits. It was good to see how many works missed their high estimates at the recent (March 21) New York Sothebys Contemporary Art Asia sale, and that a significant number were unsold.

Postcard from L.A.

Tim Hawkinson, Uberorgan, Getty MuseumThe inferiority complex thing isn’t working anymore. For as long as anyone can remember, the Los Angeles art world had cultivated a second-city mentality. It was a story of surviving against all odds. Of imagination flourishing in the desert (or on the beach). Of artists scraping by in the absence of institutional support. Local artists even made a virtue out of their hardships. “When New Yorkers tell me what’s wrong with L.A.,” said Robert Irwin to Lawrence Weschler, “everything they say is wrong – no tradition, no history, no sense of a city, no system of support, no core, no sense of urgency – they’re absolutely right, and that’s why I like it.”

Well, that was then. During a whirlwind tour of galleries, collections, and museums, I still heard plenty of griping, especially about the lack of a committed local collector base and the difficulty of fund-raising from the Hollywood crowd. But such chatter aside, it’s impossible to miss the flowering of contemporary art that’s going on here. And in contrast to New York, the people behind this burst of energy are deliberately boosting the local talent.

The museums are having a day in the sun. Ann Philbin is soaring high at the Hammer and Michael Govan is revving his jets at LACMA. Over at MOCA, the giant feminist art show, WACK!, is an impressive display of curatorial muscle flexing, while Andrea Zittel’s mid-career retrospective is the very embodiment of L.A. art’s indefatigable “I can survive” spirit. Meanwhile, the Getty, singed by fallout from its forays Continue reading “Postcard from L.A.”

Art meets fashion, Round MDCCXVIII

jcrew2.jpgBubble alert! I was reminded that we must have passed some kind of cultural milepost when I opened my mail the other night, only to find that the current issue of the J. Crew clothing catalog prominently features on its front cover two young “artists” – or are they art school students? – lounging in their studio. The “art,” arranged in an elegantly orchestrated clutter behind the two fresh-faced models, looks vaguely 1930s and reassuringly familiar.

If memory serves, when Jean Michel Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, in 1985, at least he had some paint splatters on his suit. Not so for these J. Crew artists. Unsullied by evidence of contact with artists’ materials, they are the appropriate icons for these confidently professional, post-bohemian times.

The Artworld’s brain drain

The Baerfaxt writes that, according to a study by Thomas & Associates, 77 percent of professionals who work in international museums, galleries, auction houses, foundations, and performing arts centers said they were planning on staying in their current position for five years or less “due to lack of career advancement and other opportunities.” I guess this includes much of the art world. It shows that, contrary to all recent exhortations about the professionalization of the arts, we still have a long way to go.

I know, just by listening to anecdotal chatter, that many young artists coming out of art schools do not count on pursuing art as a career for too long. They count on doing the art thing for a while, then getting a real job. They are well aware that youth is the prime commodity in the global art world, and that the logistics of party-going and biennale-hopping Continue reading “The Artworld’s brain drain”

Statisticians to the barricades

For further reading and comment (has anyone read this book?)

Excerpted from Today’s NYTIMES:

“The Art of Pricing Great Art” By DAVID LEONHARDT

The mysterious part of the current [art-market] mania lies in figuring out what exactly makes a piece of art worth $30 million instead of, say, $1 million. Not even people who make their living selling art claim to have much of a definition of great art. In fact, they’re proud not to have one. “That’s where the market becomes magical,” Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s chief auctioneer, told me.For the last five years, though, a man named David W. Galenson, an art lover, modest collector and tenured professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has been trying to change this. He has developed something approaching a unified theory of art, which hasn’t won him many fans in the art world but does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world’s great paintings. Even if you know nothing about art, Mr. Galenson can help you understand why Andy Warhol’s 1962 “Orange Marilyn” is expected to sell for more than his 1972 “Mao” at Christie’s postwar auction tonight.
Continue reading “Statisticians to the barricades”

Prepare to be amazed…

Klimt_Christies.jpgWhen we went to see the Klimts, I had my students write down on a piece of paper how much they estimate the other four would go for in this sale.

I did this exercise in order to test the hypothesis in Jim Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom Of Crowds, in which it is claimed that the average guesses of a group will always be more precise than the best guest of any expert in the room.

The four Klimts (including Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912) sold for $192.2 million. That number includes auction house commissions, so the actual total price was $169.1 million.

That number falls exactly at the midpoint of the average figure that my students guessed ($168 million) and the median figure they guessed ($170 million).


The neuroeconomics of Art collecting

brain_1.gifDid you read the New Yorker piece last week on neuroeconomics i.e. the integration of neural-processes science into the study of economic decision making by individuals? I couldn’t help but think of the artworld when I read this section:

“When people make investments, they weigh the possible outcomes of their decisions and select a portfolio of stocks and bonds that offers the highest possible return at an acceptable level of risk. That is what mainstream economics says, anyway. In fact, people often have only a vague idea of the risks they face. … In one study, Camerer and several colleagues performed brain scans on a group of volunteers while they placed bets on whether the next card drawn from a deck would be red or black. In an initial set of trials, the players were told how many red cards and black cards were in the deck, so that they could calculate the probability of the next cards being a certain color. Then a second set of trials was held, in which the participants were told only the total number of cards in the deck.

The first scenario corresponds to the theoretical ideal: investors facing a set of known risks. The second setup was more like the real world: the players knew something about what might happen, but not very much. As the researchers expected, the players brains reacted to the two scenarios differently. With less information to go on, the players exhibited Continue reading “The neuroeconomics of Art collecting”

In loco parentis (emphasis on loco)

Further examples of the academy and the market jumping in bed together. Which aspect of this is strangest:
A) The fact that this Goldsmith’s MFA 2007 Survey opens a full two semesters before the school’s degree show?
B) The fact that the MFA 2007 Survey is taking place in Chelsea, Manhattan, not Chelsea, London?

Apparently, Goldsmith’s does not share Columbia’s concerns about exposing young students to the marketplace.

Subject: AUG 30 Invite/Goldmiths Exhibit at White Box
What: Goldsmiths: MFA 2007 Survey
When: Date of Exhibition: August 28th – September 16th 2006
Where: White Box, 525 West 23rd Street
Who: Curated by Jennifer Thatcher
The exhibition will be a survey of the Goldsmiths College MFA class of 2007.

The show is being curated by Jennifer Thatcher, a London-based independent curator and critic, and will include works by 14 artists from the first year class working in painting, sculpture, photography, installation, and video. Goldsmiths has one of the most competitive Visual Arts programs in the world; numerous past graduates have won the illustrious Turner Prize

The Artists of Tomorrow unveiled Today!

How weird is it for Damien Hirst, the most commercially successful artist on earth, to be judging teenage artists for a show held at an auction-house?

This makes Jack Tilton’s “School Days” show last spring look really responsible toward the educational process. I guess since galleries and arts schools are leery of auction houses, the only solution is to build up a relationship before the kids even go to art school….

Full Christies PR Release follows:

Exhibition of Britain’s Rising Arts Talent to be staged by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and Christie’s this September
National Art Competition and Exhibition
4 – 15 September 2006 All Welcome — Admission Free
Christie’s 8 King Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6QT

An exciting new national art exhibition will be staged in September at Christie’s auction house at King Street in London. The exhibition will be an unprecedented celebration of Britain’s up and coming artistic talent and will unveil a selection of the best artwork generated in Specialist Arts Schools and Academies across the country. Spanning the spectrum of two and three-dimensional visual arts, the exhibition at Christie’s will showcase the wealth of talent, the high calibre of work and the enthusiasm of students and staff working in Specialist Schools and Academies.

Over 80 works of art will be selected for the exhibition with two individual artworks chosen as the leading examples of the year’s submissions. The winning artworks will be in two age group categories: 14 – 16 and 16 – 19 year olds. They will be selected by a panel of leading figures in the art world as well as Christie’s experts. The judging panel for 2006 will be chaired by Damien Hirst.. The winners will be announced on 1 September 2006 at Christie’s. Continue reading “The Artists of Tomorrow unveiled Today!”