Eli Broad raises the stakes in Los Angeles

los_angeles-3I’m in Los Angeles, where the chatter is about Eli Broad’s decision to build a museum for his art collection downtown, in a 120,000-square foot complex designed by Diller and Scofidio. The choice puts to rest some questions about the fate of Mr. Broad’s collection. It also leaves a larger question open: Is adding another museum to LA a good idea?

The answer is complex, and responses vary depending on the professional and institutional loyalties of the folks doing the talking. In my view it boils down to this. Adding another art institution to LA’s “cultural corridor” is probably good urban policy and it may not be the best cultural policy. In the long term, however, what really counts is not whether Mr. Broad builds his own museum, but whether he can get other Los Angeles philanthropists to follow in his lead as an art patron.

Downtown LA has come a long way since MoCA opened across the street from the planned Broad museum. Diller and Scofidio, coming off recent triumphs in New York, will no doubt deliver an edgy-yet-contextual neighbor to Frank Gehry’s iconic Disney Hall and Rafael Moneo’s sublime Cathedral, just around the corner. But the area still lacks critical mass. For Los Angeles, a city trapped in a state of permanent becoming, filling another empty lot downtown will be another step toward creating a lively cosmopolitan district with enough density and foot traffic for someone to want to hang around. It may even be a kind of tipping point.

But sound urban policy is not always great cultural policy (as much as arts advocates would like to believe). Continue reading “Eli Broad raises the stakes in Los Angeles”

What’s so wrong with Deitch at MoCA?

Jeffrey Deitch UPDATE: It’s official. Deitch is the new director of MoCA.
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The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), which barely survived closing last year, is rumored to be close to announcing that they will appoint New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch as their new director. (Other hats still in the ring at this final stage of the selection process include Lisa Phillips of the New Museum in New York and Lars Nittve of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.) Word that Mr. Deitch was in the running for the position leaked out late last week, and that initiated a flood of opinions about the appropriateness of hiring a xiao cheng commercial art dealer as the director of a museum. Here’s but a small sample:

Jerry Saltz, New York magazine:

It looks like the sacrosanct wall between museums, galleries, and private collectors in the art world is about to come down. In what is a game-changer and a hail-Mary pass that will likely be fretted about by many, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art appears ready to name New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch its new director, according to multiple art world sources. […] American museums usually pick directors from the curatorial or academic ranks; none have ever been run by a former gallery owner. Scolds will imagine immoral scenarios of a wolf in the fold and tut-tut over the possibility of an uncouth, craven commercial dealer trading museum treasures for market-share, making back room deals, and violating ethics.

Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times reporting:

Jeff Poe of the L.A. gallery Blum & Poe [said] “My immediate response was that there’s no way, it doesn’t make any sense” that a leading dealer like Deitch would give up his business to lead a nonprofit museum, Poe said. “But the more I think about it, it would be really interesting. He would be able to deal with the politics involved in a job like that. I’d welcome him with open arms.” Continue reading “What’s so wrong with Deitch at MoCA?”

Considering “Tino Sehgal”

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Editorial Note: This post marks the initiation of a new AWS series entitled “Considerations.” With some regularity, we will turn our readers and commenters’ attention towards a particular artist, work or enterprise that the AWS editors believe merits a sustained critical discussion. The idea, of course, is not to have the last word on the subject, but rather to see what people are thinking about certain contemporary artistic practices and the issues, or problems, that they raise.

For the past year, the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in  SF has served as a platform for the presentation of works by Tino Sehgal, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. By now most of us are familiar with Seghal’s offerings: performance pieces which lay the barest of frames around sometimes quotidian and sometimes quirky human behavior. For those in New York wishing to see an example of the latter, The New Museum’s show, After Nature, includes Sehgal’s Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things (2000), which is constituted by a young woman writhing in slow motion on the museum’s third floor.

What distinguishes Sehgal’s work from the legacy of happenings and post-Cagian performance, of course, is the artist’s refusal to allow reproductions or documentation of any sort accompany or supplement his work. Not only does this make the works’ commercial existence somewhat tricky, given that such transactions have a habit of being fairly document intensive (and note that Sehgal has never voiced any kind of anti-commercial sentiment), it also points up the problem of where and how the work actually exists.

More recently, this liminal status has begun to elicit more metaphorical readings of Sehgal’s pieces. Echoing Seghal’s inclusion in After Nature, Marisa Olson (writing at Rhizome.org) observes that this “lack of physicality is at least partly a response to the earth’s dwindling resources.” Nevertheless, Olsen does go on to note that Sehgal’s “primary medium is…conversation–whether it’s an initial one in the gallery or the oral narrative that perpetuates and historicizes his practice outside of the gallery.”

But can “conversation” justly be said to be Sehgal’s medium? In a talk given as part of “Not for Sale: Writing on Performance and New Media” at Performa 05, Bennett Simpson (curator at Boston’s ICA) argued that the medium most central to Sehgal’s activities was the artist’s persona itself, insofar as it is the biographical subject “Sehgal” that gives these works their consistency. After all, with no “fixed, tangible medium,” nothing that Sehgal does can necessarily be said to “belong” to him, or, for that matter, to any of the institutions or collectors that “acquire” one of “his” works. And yet, it hardly seems like Sehgal’s motivations are communitarian in nature, even if they do emphasize the social.

So how do we consider “Tino Sehgal”? Are his works “conversation pieces”? Are they meditations on a dwindling environment? Is he the apotheosis of the artistic “persona” (and its institutional supports)? Or is it something else entirely?

Clippings from the salon floor, #10

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.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #10”

Media Matters

Poor Los Angeles. You can’t help feeling sad for this city, which has been trying so hard to prove that it’s a first-rate visual art metropolis. The Pulitzer Prize committee doesn’t think so. This week’s announcement of the Pulitzer in criticism, which went to Jonathan Gold, a restaurant reviewer for LA Weekly, follows on the heels of the last criticism Pulitzer to go to LA, in 2004. That was for a car writer.

I’m not here to debunk writing about food, cars, and other popular pursuits. But in their eagerness to make a point, the Pulitzer people have ignored, yet again, the current energy of art and architecture in LA. Good criticism is part of that picture. Without it, the renaissance can prove fleeting.

What irks me is why LA must be the place to unfurl the flag of critical populism. It’s such a shopworn cliché. At a time when catastrophic management is shredding one of the great papers in the nation, it would be nice to see an affirmation that LA and its beleaguered hometown daily can play in the cultural big leagues.

portfoliocover.jpgMeanwhile, back on the East Coast, cause for optimism. The much-anticipated business glossy Portfolio is here, and it’s chockablock with arts writing. Business Intelligence (the magazine’s tagline) has been deemed to encompass awareness about cultural industries. The cover is a spectacular homage, by Scott Peterman, to Berenice Abbot’s classic aerial shot of Manhattan. The skyscrapers in the picture look like so many glowing gold ingots. A special section, Culture Inc., is devoted to arts and philanthropy. The assignments are somewhat predictable at this point, with the obligatory briefing on the Chinese art boom, etc. But there is real promise here.

A word of caution. Robust art coverage in business magazines is a canary in a mineshaft. During the last boom, by the time Fortune and Forbes got around to it, the market bust was already around the corner.

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.”