Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Obituary of Willoughby Sharp in the New York Times, December 31, 2008

I have been watching the pages of the New York Times for an obituary of Willoughby Sharp. Joseph Nechvatal emailed me from Paris this morning with news of its publication.

The piece, by Margalit Fox, is found on page B16 of the New York print edition of December 31, 2008. It appeared online a day earlier, accompanied by a 1967 picture of Willoughby with long hair, dark glasses and wearing a white turtleneck/tunic ensemble.

I also referenced the piece on the Sharpville site.

Willoughby Sharp, 72, Versatile Avant-Gardist, Is Dead
Published: December 30, 2008

Even by conceptual-art standards, Willoughby Sharp’s work stood out. There was his gestational spin in a clothes dryer. There was the curious affair of the talcum powder, the teddy bear and the tab of LSD. And there was the Oklahoma Gun Incident, which members of the art world still discuss, with a mixture of horror and awe, more than 30 years later.

Mr. Sharp, the Ivy League-educated scion of one of New York’s most socially prominent families, who in the 1960s and afterward was on the cutting edge of the American avant-garde as a performer, producer, writer, publisher, curator, video artist and much else, died on Dec. 17 in Manhattan. He was 72 and lived in Brooklyn.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Pamela Seymour Smith Sharp, said.

A central figure in conceptual and performance art back when those forms were new and daring, Mr. Sharp was concerned with making art that was as much for the mind as it was for the eye. Along with artists like Chris Burden and Nam June Paik, Mr. Sharp helped expand the very idea of what constituted a work of art.

Mr. Sharp was also known as the publisher of Avalanche, a widely respected, handsomely produced art magazine he founded with the writer and filmmaker Liza Béar. Published for just 13 issues between 1970 and 1976, Avalanche featured in-depth interviews with many rising contemporary artists of the day, among them Mr. Burden, William Wegman and Joseph Beuys, the charismatic German artist of whom Mr. Sharp was an early champion.

As a curator, Mr. Sharp attracted international attention with “Earth Art,” a 1969 exhibition at Cornell University. Groundbreaking in every sense of the term, the exhibition featured site-specific installations — by Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, Hans Haacke and others — that were hewn, molded or otherwise created from the land itself. Mr. Sharp also ran the Willoughby Sharp Gallery, on Spring Street in SoHo, from 1988 to 2004.

Mr. Sharp’s film and video works are in the collections of major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1976 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale.

Willoughby Sharp was born in Manhattan on Jan. 23, 1936. His family appeared often in the society pages; as the announcement of Mr. Sharp’s first marriage in The New York Times pointed out in 1960, he was “a nephew of the dowager Lady Eliott of London and Redheugh, Scotland, widow of Sir Gilbert Eliott, tenth baronet of the Clan of Eliott.” Mr. Sharp’s mother, a former Ziegfeld Girl whose marriage to his father had caused a family scandal of no small dimension, was by all accounts a refreshing counterweight.

Mr. Sharp earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Brown University in 1957, followed by graduate work at the University of Paris, the University of Lausanne and Columbia University, where he was a student of the noted art historian Meyer Schapiro. He later taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, the University of Rhode Island and elsewhere.

Mr. Sharp’s first marriage, to Renata Hengeler, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Shavon Martin. Besides his wife, Pamela, Mr. Sharp is survived by a daughter from his first marriage, Saskia Sharp of Düsseldorf, Germany, and two grandchildren.

Much of Mr. Sharp’s art was rooted in autobiography. In “Saskia,” first performed in 1974, he mourned losing touch with his daughter, whom he was unable to see after his first marriage ended.

As the magazine Art in America recounted the work this year, Mr. Sharp “videotaped himself in front of a live audience as he attempted to recapture Saskia by re-enacting her birth — albeit with a difference. After shaving and covering his body in powder and perfume and dropping LSD, he crawled into a crib wearing only a diaper and, after much angst-ridden convulsing, ‘gave birth’ to the teddy bear he had stuffed between his legs.”

Another work, “Stay!,” Mr. Sharp’s account of a turbulent love affair, had its premiere in 1974 at the University of Oklahoma. As a camera rolled, he and a female student volunteer disported themselves passionately on a bed. Their every word and deed was transmitted by video to the audience, locked in the campus gym nearby.

Then, without warning, Mr. Sharp slapped his partner across the face. They struggled, and from beneath the mattress he pulled a pistol. At the precise moment the video feed went dead, he fired a single shot.

This did not play in Norman, Okla. The audience rushed the doors and poured from the gym. They found the young woman in an adjoining room, bewildered but unhurt.

And then there was the clothes dryer. In “Full Womb,” a 1975 work, Mr. Sharp climbed into an industrial dryer with a baby bottle, shut the door and tumbled while imagining his parents making love.

The 15-minute performance seemed to recapitulate his own gestation, only faster, warmer and with more static cling.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Alanna Heiss Officially Retiring from P.S. 1

From via the New York Press comes word that the retirement of Alanna Heiss as director of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, rumored for months if not years, has finally been made official. A press release was issued today by the Museum of Modern Art, the behemoth that absorbed P.S. 1 almost a decade ago.

Heiss founded The Institute for Art and Urban Resources in 1971, with the mission of turning underutilized buildings in New York City into artist studios and exhibition spaces. In 1976 she established P.S. 1 (Project Space One) in a huge, abandoned schoolhouse in Long Island City, Queens. It was a time of experimentation, conceptualism, post-minimalism, installation, video and performance art, of scrappy alternative art spaces with modest economies and big dreams, a commercial hiatus after the glut of Pop had run its course but before the burgeoning Neo Expressionist movement added social cachet and market share to the scene. The art gods of the moment included Lawrence Weiner, Richard Nonas, Keith Sonnier, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta Clark, Vito Acconci, Joseph Kossuth, James Turrell, Richard Tuttle and Bruce Nauman.

For over thirty years, Heiss has been P.S. 1's only director and its very visible figurehead. An idiosyncratic visionary who often runs the space like a personal fiefdom, she is given to an uncompromising, by-the-seat-of-her-pants management style. This allows for bursts of curatorial and organizational brilliance, for early discoveries of emerging artists, collaborations with young curators and critics, and for challenging the paradigms of exhibition. Heiss has a mercurial temperament, an impulsive energy marked by sudden enthusiasms and antipathies. She has been described as "feisty" and "brassy". This can bring dramatic successes but also public failures, the built-in flip side of a highly experimental posture.

Much of the P.S. 1 staff is quite young, just a year or two out of school and dipping their toes into arts administration for the first time. There is a high percentage of turnover in personnel, particularly on the lower echelons, the idea of growing up in public being part and parcel of the nonprofit art world. Meetings can be informal, all night think tanks fueled by alcohol and a bohemian esprit de corps.

Fund raising was never given top priority, which often left P.S. 1 in the situation of biting off more than its bank balance could chew. Exhibitions might be undertaken without finishing funds in place. Financial brinkmanship became standard operating procedure. For example, a construction project in 1997, a gut renovation that greatly expanded the facility, adding a large elevator, sculpture garden, redesigned galleries and a reorientation of the entrance, was a brilliant tactical initiative. It allowed for more ambitious programming, including the Warm Up series of summer dance parties that featured world class DJs amid cutting edge outdoor architectural installations. But it was also a strategic blunder, depleting the Center's finances and making a bail out from MoMA or some other more established institution necessary.

When Heiss and Glenn Lowry of MoMA signed their letter of intent to merge the two institutions in 1999, everyone knew that changes would most likely follow. The question was how soon this would result in the hiring and firing of personnel. The degree to which it was actually a marriage of convenience between a cash poor but adventurous ingenue and a well heeled but stodgy Daddy Warbucks has been actively debated over the years. The synergistic advantages were fronted in the initial press release:
P.S.1 will gain access to MoMA's art collection, while MoMA's contemporary initiatives will be expanded and enhanced through engagement with P.S.1's innovative programming. While the two institutions' audiences overlap to some extent, there are also distinct elements that will broaden both audiences. Additionally, MoMA will work with P.S.1 to generate revenues to support P.S.1's programs, providing long-term financial stability.
Much was also made, in the early days of the merger, of the geographical proximity between MoMA and P.S. 1 - just two stops apart on the E/V subway line - and of the fact that MoMA needed to move temporarily to a nearby Queens location from 2002 to 2004 while their Taniguchi expansion was being built in midtown Manhattan.

But while the synergies were apparent, both geographical and institutional, a New York Magazine article on Heiss in May 2008 wondered whether she would soon be on the way out.
The deal with MoMA, which is often criticized as overly cautious about showing cutting-edge work, promised P.S. 1 financial stability, managerial guidance, loans of art, and exposure to a larger audience — while giving the Modern some much-needed contemporary cred...
The deal called for an initial seven-year phase in which MoMA would have limited influence on P.S. 1. In June of last year, when that period expired, the Modern assumed command of the center’s financial management and gained the right to appoint its board members. A former MoMA finance official was installed as P.S. 1’s first chief administrative officer. Heiss was effectively demoted to running the curatorial department, which some staffers took as a signal that P.S. 1 would inevitably be MoMA-fied...
Then, in a September article about Kathy Halbreich’s appointment at MoMA [she was formerly director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis], the New York Times reported that Heiss was slated for retirement. It was the first public word she’d be leaving.
And now it's a done deal. A search committee will be convened in early 2009 to seek a replacement for Heiss. According to the MoMA press release, she will go on to launch Art International Radio (AIR), "an organization ... devoted to artistic, musical, performance, and experimental programs" that carries on from her earlier initiative, Art Radio.

What will be the future of P.S. 1 after Heiss? She has not been shy in calling herself "a genius administrator", while also stating that no one else could have really run the place. A moot point, as no one else has yet had the opportunity to try. It has always been a project, a building, a social and aesthetic initiative fashioned very specifically in her own image. But Heiss has many adherents in the arts community and beyond, certainly among the hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of artists who have been able to enjoy the creative liberties and spirit of unfettered experimentation that characterized P.S. 1 during its heyday. No less a personage than the granddaddy of L.A. media appropriation, John Baldessari, has said: "She is P.S. 1, and P.S. 1 is her. It doesn’t seem like she could be replaced."

On August 14, 2002, Alanna Heiss was on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS. The second half of the hour is devoted to party photographer Patrick McMullan.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Paul McCarthy as Santa

If you see this man crawling down your chimney tonight brandishing a butt plug, do not call the authorities. It just means you are enjoying a postmodern Christmas. As Sigmund Freud might have said: "Sometimes a chocolate Santa with butt plug is just a chocolate Santa with butt plug".

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sharpville, a website in memory of Willoughby Sharp

Willoughby Sharp passed away early in the morning on Wednesday, December 17, 2008, at St. Rose's Home in New York's Lower East Side, after a long battle with throat cancer. He is the co-founder, with writer/filmmaker Liza Bear, of Avalanche magazine (1970-1976), and is an internationally known artist, independent curator, gallerist, teacher, author, and telecom activist. Other numerous accomplishments can be found in his Wikipedia biography. He is survived by his longtime partner Pamela Seymour Smith and by our fond collective memories.

Sharpville is a website started earlier this year as "a meeting place for friends and lovers of Willoughby Sharp". It is open to participation by all: to view or add photos and videos, to participate in the discussion forum or chat room, to share tall tales and innumerable stories, to announce events. The photo above (from 1985) and the video below (from the 2007 retrospective exhibition at Mitchell Algus Gallery) are both taken from the site.

WILLOUGHBY SHARP -- 1936 - 2008 -- R.I.P.

My own comment on the Sharpville forum:

At this sad moment, my heartfelt condolences go out to Pamela. We all valued Willoughby's wit, his anarchic, iconoclastic energy, his unforgettable presence, his unique contributions to art publishing, curating, teaching, and art activism in general. He was one of a kind. But it was Pamela who devoted herself to him, fully and selflessly, particularly during the last difficult years. There are not many who are capable of being so generous in their attention and concern. I applaud her. I am in awe of her commitment.

I am also very happy that this site exists. As an ongoing project - open ended, democratic, idiosyncratic and quite personal - it is a fitting testimony to the aesthetics and the priorities that Willoughby always advanced. I'm sure he is looking down in approval, even though he would undoubtedly want to tinker with it a bit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The "Christmas Office Party" Show in the LES: Counting Down to 2009

Canada, Museum 52, New York Magazine, pinning the tail on the zeitgeist

One thing about the Vulture (Devouring Culture) section of the online edition of New York Magazine. When they write about art, it comes with a trendy hook, a fierce desire to stay just one step behind the young and creative. They generally hope to pin the tail on the zeitgeist.

This was again in evidence in their coverage of the recent opening of Without Walls, a group sculpture show at Museum 52, a gallery on Rivington Street, in which work by over 50 younger sculptors was exhibited, with the proviso "that the walls would not be used, and that the sculpture should be within the approximate dimensions of two foot high, one foot wide and one foot deep."

This led to a lot of small objects densely installed on the floor. And apparently it was a VERY crowded opening, with some of the work in seeming danger of being trampled by the celebratory hordes. So the New York Magazine piece naturally advanced a wild, Christmas party hook: "Artwork Goes Miraculously Un-Stepped-On at Perilous Group Show".

This "Smells Like Teen Spirit" approach seemed worthy of comment or expansion, as follows:

That night there was another fabulous group show in the Lower East Side, at Canada, a bastion of the hip-oisie on lower Chrystie Street in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. It was entitled Sowing Circle, a show of Lily Ludlow's film work [see stills composite above] and paintings that she executed together with a lot of collaborators and kindred spirits. I paste in a bit of the gallery press release.
CANADA is proud to present: Sowing Circle a multi channel film by Allen Cordell and Lily Ludlow.

Opening Reception: Friday December 12, 6-9pm

For their fourth collaborative film project Lily Ludlow and Allen Cordell present Sowing Circle. The installation consists of three large projections surrounding a table set with the remnants of a gathering. The viewer is both voyeur and participant at an impromptu meeting of nine women. One at a time they whisper to each other something vital; a secret we can't hear. The camera lingers as each is caught in a daydream- a slight pause from the moment happening, an elicitation of a memory. These visions are creases into the other sides of their lives which, while seeming mundane (the sweeping of leaves, the chopping of onion), are also potentially sublime.

Rita Ackermann
Lizzie Bougatsos
Laurie Isabella
Eunice Kim
Chloe Sevigny
Agathe Snow
Sadie Laska
Marcella Mullins
Anke Weyer

Also on exhibit is Ms. Ludlow's new series of erotic paintings.
"Tastefully disheveled people clutching beers" also circulated through the two rooms of exhibition. And there was an improvised feast of bread, cheese, fruit, nuts, candies and other finger foods arranged on a large table, to mirror the table in the central video.

Issues of camaraderie, community, sensuality, the feminine mystique, the power to be found in calmness and modesty, the meditative, transformative aspects of the quotidien: all were on display. But to my knowledge, no artwork was stepped on, kicked around, toppled over or otherwise physically challenged.

P.S. Considering the relative geographical proximity of Canada and Museum 52, it would have been no problem to attend both openings. Perhaps the LES is the brave new artworld's nabe of choice for the Christmas office party.

I congratulate Daniel McDonald on his timely and satiric Uncle Sam with disco ball on New Year's Eve sculpture. Will have to go see it. It's been a tough year for the USA. A lot of people are counting down to the advent of 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), circa 2008

Three coincident events have caused me to re-examine Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), a thirty-one minute black-and-white film by Fischli & Weiss, which follows an unmanned chain reaction of low tech events orchestrated in their Zurich studio in 1987. In its broad object humor, material pathos, fanciful appetite for destruction and commitment to an inexorable linearity of cause-and-effect, it is often compared to the "machines" of the cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

First Event. A video of the piece, owned by MoMA in New York, is installed as an introduction to the new Artist's Choice exhibition at MoMA by artist Vik Muniz, entitled Rebus. It is projected in a third floor hallway, just outside the main galleries, as a prefatory comment or demonstration of Muniz's organizing thesis, suggesting the associated "chain" of sculptures, design objects, photographs, drawings, editions, installations and paintings, drawn from MoMA's collection, which he has selected and arranged within.

While the aesthetic cause-and-effect implied by Muniz is neither as linear nor as determined as in The Way Things Go, he does create many instructive continuities and discontinuities, formal similarities and purposeful confusions between "high art" and design objects. These playful double and triple takes, engendered in the audience, inform the entire exhibition and also echo strategies of the meta- which have been the subject of Muniz's own work for years. Interestingly, another F&W piece, Things from the Room in the Back, a room-sized installation from 1999, is also featured in its own separate space.

Second Event. News via that The Way Things Go "was sold last week for $860,000 at an auction held at the Zurich branch of Christie’s. While the film has been widely copied and distributed, the unnamed collector purchased the original reel along with a series of relics from the film set." The film had been on long term loan from the collection of Alfred Richterich to Kunsthaus Zürich, which was frankly surprised by the auction.

Third Event. Blogger extraordinaire Greg Allen recently posted on the sale of the film and on several points regarding its means of production. The pertinent questions include: How can one "own" a film that is readily available as a DVD, on sale for $15, and free online on YouTube? How did Richterich (heir to the Ricola cough drop fortune), who "pursued his family's tradition of collecting art and supporting various creative endeavors", come to possess an "original" print? Is it because he helped F&W fund the film, on which he is listed as co-producer? Did he receive a negative, a master print, and/or the two vitrines of ephemera (that are part of the recent Christie's Zurich sale) as compensation for his participation?

Moreover, the film itself, which has generally received critical praise as a tour de force of unedited, continuous action and uninterrupted forward motion, is anything but. According to Mr. Allen's analysis, there are 23 edits, plus re-used and re-staged props, including a particularly photogenic air mattress.

More tellingly, much of the action seems staged along the same strip of studio floor, rather than proceeding through the giant, continuous expanse of a factory. The mise-en-scene was set up, shot and dismantled, then the space was re-used for a new set up, shoot and dismantling, until the film was complete.

"The edits are clear, even obvious in places, and yet casual observers and critics alike appear to miss or ignore them, preferring the enjoyable spectacle of a 30-minute, non-stop trick ... A cynic could have a lot of fun with the idea that people choosing to believe something entertaining but self-evidently false is, in fact, The Way Things Go." Which is just one of the many puns on the title that Mr. Allen indulges in his fascinating dissection. He also cites a 2003 Honda Accord commercial by Portland, Oregon firm Weiden + Kennedy, based on the F&W film (a copyright infringement suit was threatened), which employed a full advertising budget and 606 takes to produce two minutes of unedited action (in fact there is still one well camouflaged edit) - this as an indication of how unlikely it would be for F&W to successfully stage 30 minutes of a continuous phenomenological miracle.

Here then, straight from YouTube for your viewing pleasure, is The Way Things Go, in three parts:

via Christian Rattemeyer: Susan Inglett's current show
Christian Rattemeyer, curator of drawings at MoMA, indicates he "saw the video at its initial screening at Documenta 8, in 1987 in Kassel, and ... always thought of it as an edited work, never as a continuous chain reaction, but so much fun regardless".

He contributes another appropriate reference: Susan Inglett's current show, entitled "The Way Things Go", is inspired by the film. It includes work by Luca Buvoli, Buckminster Fuller, Fischli & Weiss, Rube Goldberg, Tim Hawkinson, Beom Kim, Mika Rottenberg, Greg Smith, and Phoebe Washburn.

From the press release:
Each of the works in this show exhibits its own quixotic functionality. Each is a mechanism, list, assembly line or other practically impractical structure where production is fraught but earnest; mechanisms work strangely or not at all; parts unravel the very structures that they create. In the works’ well-worn, handmade imitation of mass production or practical functionality, there is pointed critique. The care with which the parts are crafted and elucidated, and the casual precision with which they interact indicate a grudging acknowledgment of our culture’s functional structures which sometimes enable and often oppress. As solutions to problems, their process mimics that by which so many of our accepted institutions are founded, success through failure re-engineered.
I haven't seen the show yet, and so am unaware whether it includes a presentation of the film itself. It does, a DVD projection in a back room, strangely accompanied by the muted voice of a Buckminster Fuller audio piece. The show is up through December 20.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Julian Schnabel is not Fidel Castro

CBS News featured a 12 minute segment on 60 Minutes last night (Sunday, December 7, 2008) dedicated to Julian Schnabel. The segment was generally respectful, fair minded and generous - some might even say fawning - examining the artist's childhood, career, painting and film making. The central interview, conducted by Morley Safer, took place in Palazzo Chupi, the great pink elephant that Signore Julian has erected on the banks of the Hudson River in the West Village.

The palazzo has engendered some controversy lately, but there was no critique of it offered in this segment, no mention of the several community groups aghast at its ostentation, color, and invasive presence, no discussion of the several unsold units in the building, which Schnabel has developed with his own money and in his own image, a veritable labor of love. This subject is carefully skirted, as any recent mention has caused Schnabel to become confrontational and visibly agitated. But then Safer "dares" to cite critic Robert Hughes, who famously baited Schnabel during the 1980s, calling him untalented, bombastic and supremely egotistical. This proves too much for Schnabel, who lashes out at the grandfatherly Safer and does not forgive him for the remainder of the interview.

You can access the contretemps above at 8:00 through 9:30, with a transcript below from CBC News:
"Speaking of critics, your old nemesis Robert Hughes once said that you are to painting what Stallone is to acting," Safer remarks.

"Is this really what you want to do?" Schnabel asks. "I mean Robert Hughes is, he’s sort of like a guy, a bully in a bar that’s sitting around waiting for somebody to trip on a banana peel."

Robert Hughes is the highly respected, sometimes venomous, art critic formerly at Time Magazine, who took great delight in dismissing Schnabel as a schlockmeister.

"I mean, he’s a bum," Schnabel says.

But he says he doesn't have a real "thing" about him. "I just don’t like him. So if you wanna talk about him, you can talk about him all you like."

"We're trying to cover all aspects of…," Safer remarks.

"Hey, do whatever you want. I mean, you know, I expect you to be exactly the way you wanna be, but I will be the way that I'm gonna be. And I don't feel like conforming to talk about this guy that had, you know, he really was basically a very negative person," Schnabel said.

Safer tried to shift gears, and talk instead about Schnabel’s transition from painting to moviemaking.

"Was that something that had always been at the back of your mind, even as a painter?" Safer asks.

"I’m still pissed off about talking about Robert Hughes. I’m sorry, I just think that it’s lazy. I think it’s very lazy," Schnabel replies.

Schnabel is well known for his bullishness, his bristly, cantankerous demeanor, his steadfast loyalties and sudden antipathies. He is decidedly an old school guy, a paterfamilias, generous to friends and family, expansive when he does not feel slighted or threatened, but quick to take offense at the slightest whiff of disrespect or the questioning of his artistic destiny and the seriousness of his aesthetic prerogatives.

Before Night Falls, his second directorial effort, was based on the life of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban writer imprisoned by the Castro regime for his homosexuality, but who managed to escape and spend his life in exile in Miami and New York, finally dying of AIDS. It is a tragic but compelling and poetic story, and I can see why it captivated Schnabel. I recall a feature article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, part of the pre-release publicity, in which Schnabel indicates he was once ten feet away from Fidel Castro at a film festival reception but refused to shake the dictator's hand. Jack Nicholson and Gérard Depardieu have, but not Schnabel. His reason: there was "too much blood" there.

The point is well taken, and I know many people, both Cuban and not, who might applaud it. But I wonder if his reluctance was also a case of repulsion between similar characters, of his not being willing to acknowledge the other alpha male, the other 800 pound gorilla in the room. Considering Julian and Fidel side by side, there is not just the physiognomic resemblance of beard, jowls, squinty eyes and broad, stubborn forehead, but also a common imperiousness and arrogance, a moral certainty that brooks no contradiction, an easily offended pride and a brutal ego. Separated at birth?

Addendum: Morley Safer comments on the interview. (Since Blogspot is not allowing me to embed the 60 Minutes video, please view it on my other site.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Way to Go Go (The Tao of the Pink Slip)

The following text is attributed Larry Gagosian. He reportedly emailed it to his entire staff back in November: after the auctions, before Art Basel Miami.
If you would like to continue working for Gagosian I suggest you start to sell some art. Everything is going to be evaluated in this new climate based on performances. I basically put in eighteen hours a day, which any number of people could verify. If you are not willing to make that kind of commitment please let me know. The general economy and also the art economy is clearly headed for some choppy waters; I want to make sure that we are the best swimmers on the block. The luxury of carrying under-performing employees is now a thing of the past.
First comment: And I thought only bloggers put in long hours.

Second comment: Undoubtedly heads will roll, and soon, and not just a few. It has been conservatively estimated that about 40 percent of the art galleries in New York folded during the last serious market correction in the early 1990s. Whatever the numbers this time, a serious pruning at Gagosian alone, considering his many spaces and employees, is equivalent to seven or eight smaller galleries folding.

With the downsizing of large, multinational art establishments, the closing of museums, the drying up of private and corporate sources of art funding, it's starting to get very cold out there.

Remember the pink bunny who used to picket Gagosian's 24th Street space? After all these years, I think he's proven his determination and work ethic. If he's willing to put in an 18 hour day, perhaps he should leave his resume at the front desk.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Miami From Afar: the Artnet and Artforum Roundups

Saturday morning, December 6, 2008. Were I in Miami now for Art Basel week, I would be enjoying the annual brunch at the Sagamore Hotel hosted by Cricket and Marty Taplin. I would be eating a crepe or two, sipping a mimosa, lounging poolside, greeting friends, perhaps getting a foot massage. I would go to the beach to view Olaf Breuning's oversize sand sculpture of a bikini babe with a Paul Klee face. I would certainly attend the book signing, in the lobby, of a new 350 page volume on the collection of Marty Margulies. I would bask outdoors in 75 degree sunshine, not look out my window at a semi-overcast 34 Fahrenheit.

But I am not in Miami. Not this year. I am in NYC and getting all my news second hand, through the internet. Still, I already managed to post on ABMB topics five times this week. Apparently, when not encumbered with actually having to attend the event, when sitting in front of my computer nursing a torn tendon in my ankle, when sorting through the coverage of others, I can write much more. Ironic? You can reference the results below on this site.

This will be my sixth (and hopefully last) text, and it will again respond or add to articles on other sites. Because yesterday evening, both Artnet and posted their first major pieces on ABMB by their respective editors, Walter Robinson and David Velasco (who has risen to the helm now that Brian Sholis has left for more esoteric pursuits). Two very different gentlemen. One gay, one not. One young, one not so young. One thin, one not so thin. One goes to parties and takes pictures of (seemingly hundreds of) people. The other confines himself to the Convention Center (at least in this piece) and typically snaps the artwork. One does basic "just the facts, ma'am" reportage, the other flirts with fabulosity. Yet they are remarkably consistent on one point: that things have not changed (worsened) all that much this year. The titles say it all: "Fair Enough" and "Crisis, What Crisis?"

Age before beauty, so let's start with Artnet. The general thesis:
For an enterprise that specializes in the avant-garde, the art world has been shockingly slow to suffer the effects of the economic crisis ... Throughout the sprawling fair, dealers speak of lowered expectations with resignation but without panic. They note moderate sales.

Dealers given sound bites: Kevin Bruk, Raphael Jablonka, Sarah Gavlak, Chiara Repetto.

Other dealers mentioned, sans quotes: Aurel Scheibler, David Nolan, Franco Noero, Deitch, Xavier Huffkens, the Breeder, Miguel Abreu, Casas Reigner.

Artists spotted in the aisles: Thomas Houseago, Kerry James Marshall, Shirin Neshat, James Rosenquist, Will Ryman, Mark di Suvero, Phillip Taaffe, Terry Winters.

Work noted by: Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Daniel Hesidence, Philip Taaffe, Jose Alvarez, Malcolm McLaren, Bridget Riley, Pae White, Marcel Duchamp, Sophie Matisse, Mike Bidlo, Richard Pettibone, Rob Pruitt, Tom Burr, Neil Campbell, Francesco Vezzoli, Yan Pei-Ming, Thomas Houseago, Kurt Kauper, Vanessa Beecroft.

Very heavy work: two Michael Heizer boulder sculptures at Peter Freeman, weighing it at five and six tons, inset in steel boxes fit into the wall.

Robinson's seemingly favorite installation: the Aaron Young gold plated cyclone fence that blocks off Bortolami's Art Nova booth, forcing collectors to squeeze in through the gaps.

There will undoubtedly be at least one more Miami posting on Artnet, concerning the satellite fairs and the collections, the galleries and museums, either by Robinson or Ben Davis (if they flew him down).

And so, on to The thesis:

Recession Miami Basel looks a lot like boom-time Miami Basel ... an annual ritual of rigorous sublimation and denial, where the cultural spheres of art, fashion, film, and design collide in moments both vulgar and brilliant ... the three-block stretch between the twenty-four-hour Walgreens and the Shore Club constitutes a veritable social obstacle course.
Reportage from: the NADA fair gala, the openings of MOCA North Miami and the Perrotin Gallery, the Convention Center, a Deitch party at the Raleigh Hotel.

On seeing a "blissed out" Takashi Murakami at Perrotin decked out in "a massive plush ball of a suit and dancing wildly in the gallery’s foyer", a friend of the editor exclaims: “He’s finally living his ultimate dream—he’s become a giant cartoon character.”

Later at The Station, a group show ("scrappy but effusive") curated by Shamim Momim and artist Nate Lowman, a "sharp dealer" noted: “This is Shamim unbridled—no board, no acquisitions committee. It’s better than the biennial.”

Others quoted: Agnes Gund, Marianne Boesky, Sarah Douglas ("sarcastically noted that there was no caviar at this year’s UBS dinner" - a pundit's sure sign of economic collapse?), dealers Nicholas Frank, Rodrigo Mallea Lira and Rob Hult, artist Martha Friedman, Kathy Grayson, Brent Sikkema, Faye Dunaway (wanted to know about a Warhol Jackie).

Pictured: just about everyone. Let's drop a couple of first names: Naomi, Faye, Shamim, Nate, Larry, Yvonne, Jeanne, Jeffrey, Emmanuel, Takashi, Annette and Marc (current directors), Sam (former director) and Thea, Michael and Brent, Javier and AA, Eva, Max, Stefania and Cay Sophie, Ruth and Roger, Marc-Olivier etc.

At the ABMB VIP opening at the Convention Center, a mediation on the art world pecking order:
At the fair, it all comes down to place ... not so much about diminishing its participants outright as it is about putting them in their place. It may not be the right place, it certainly might not be the place one wants, but everyone—collectors, dealers, artists, press—has a position, and those that find order comforting might take comfort in that. There are benefits to seeing the fair as an object lesson in recondite administration, in the art world’s strange and fluid grammars of categorization.
The sign off: "But no matter how much fun you’re having, there’s always that nagging feeling that somewhere, out there in the palmy, breezy night, someone is having more fun." The example given: at Deitch's kiddie party, the headline entertainer wants to know if someone can get her into the Grace Jones party.

Which prepares us for the post that will inevitably follow: Linda Yablonsky's modulated purr of AAA entitlement from beneath the Cartier dome, or from one or another seated dinner or exclusive reception. If you fly her down, she will spell your name correctly, followed by an appropriately dulcet aperçu.

P.S.: Wrong again!

Ms. Yablonsky was not the follow up on Artforum. She had already posted on the brand new Interview blog, and was kind enough to send me the link.

It was Kyle Bentley reporting from the Grace Jones gig service elevator of the Delano, the Visionaire party and Jerry Saltz's "This Is the End" panel at the Convention Center.

News Flash: expect to see the art work of Marilyn Manson (yes, you read it right) at your local PS 1 sometime soon. According to Bentley, Alanna "Heiss called Marilyn’s paintings the best work in Miami, and apparently spent the night before driving around in Manson’s limo" swilling absinthe. I do enjoy such sober assessments of art.

Friday, December 05, 2008


The invitation to the opening of The Station in Miami on December 2 was billed as a special performance by Terence Koh. But the elusive artist, who once called himself "Asian Punk Boy", arrived quite late and then just walked around the space, talking with friends. When questioned, he indicated that this very act of doing nothing was his performance.

Which kind of left Station curator Shamim Momim holding the bag. But she did not become curator of the 2008 and 2004 Whitney Biennials (she included Koh in the latter) for her lack of resilience in the face of adversity. Commenting on the No Koh Show, she indicated: "Terence's art is about nothing. His performance is that he is not playing music."

Then again, this is the man who, after a previous trip to ABMB, declared that "MIAMI SUCKS LIKE A COCK IN AN ASS THAT HAS BEEN TURNED INSIDE OUT."

A text from his one person show at Kunsthalle Zurich (August 2006):
Terence Koh generates aspects of seduction and irritation – a kind of dark Romanticism hovers over all his works. His “contaminations" of cultural practice are achieved using the principle of purity underlying modern aesthetics: either completely in white, black or gold with a superficial artistic surface vocabulary that derives from Minimalism and classic abstraction – but it is in the details that observers experience the contradictory aspects of his creations.

Contradictory indeed. Considering his "installation" in the lobby of the Whitney Museum in February 2007, an intensely bright light that burned through our retinas, the insouciant Mr. Koh seems to have mastered the twin talents of minimalism and confrontation, of doing less but having us talk about it more. Perhaps his real talent is public relations.

On the other hand, if "doing nothing" is his new schtick, might it have been more appropriately accomplished at another venue during Art Basel week: the NADA art fair?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ai WeiWei in Miami

I remain in New York, so the following post on Ai WeiWei's presence in Miami is derived from hearsay and images received on the web. But it seems this controversial and formidably conceptual artist has executed a potent double play.

At the Art Nova booth of Galerie Urs Meile at ABMB, he is represented by Light Cube, 2008, in his own words "a large cube made of chandeliers. It took 170,000 amber-colored beads to put it together. It looks like a minimal cube and brings to mind the work of Donald Judd or Dan Flavin".

The picture below, taken on site by Miami blogger Alesh Houdek, shows the artist being interviewed in front of his work.

And here is a computer rendering:

Ai also has an installation of public art on Watson Island, in the vicinity of the Port of Miami. Again in his own words,

Bubble, 2008, comprises one hundred high-quality blue ceramic porcelain bubbles spread over an area of nearly 2,000 feet. These are each about nineteen inches tall and measure nearly twenty-seven inches each on diagonal. They are installed nine feet apart from each another. The work is outdoors on Watson Island as part of the Island Gardens development near the shore; it reflects the weather and the waterfront.

A studio view of the work in progress:

In the short article on from which these quotes are taken, Ai discusses the two year production process of getting the glazing right. He also discusses its iconic, cultural significance, indicating that

porcelain in China is the highest art form and it belongs to the imperial court. In fact, it’s almost synonymous with Chinese culture. My work has always focused on how to bring older craftsmanship into a contemporary context and how to create or to use a new language. At the same time, I try to reinterpret artifacts from Chinese traditions and manipulate items from the country’s everyday modern culture.

There is a Duchampian playfulness and subversive creativity in Ai's work, in that he uses objects from Chinese culture as "readymade" insertions into Western art practice and reference, seeming to relish both the cliches and the incongruities of juxtaposing two cultures that are often posed in theoretical opposition.

Ai says he is happy to be exhibiting work far from the professional art world, outdoors and in the public realm, where it can be enjoyed by families and children. Interacting with the urban environment seems to suit his underlying social concerns as an artist.
But the work is being shown in the larger context of an art fair, and each of the hundred blue bubbles is reportedly for sale at $30,000.

The artist concludes his
"500 Words" entry with a dig on the regime in Beijing, with whom he had an infamous falling out during the Summer Olympics.

Bubble might provoke a dialog about glamour and wealth in today’s society and about what is happening in China. The Olympics...was the saddest thing that has happened in contemporary Chinese history. It was a huge performance by a propaganda machine and it had nothing to do with China or democracy.

Less Money, More Civility?

In my earlier post on "Art Basel Miami Beach and the New Economy", I predicted one result of an economic downturn would be to increase horizontality at the expense of verticality, cooperation in place of ego tripping, and to effect a "new modesty of scale and purpose", a "major realignment of the zeitgeist, a 'kinder, gentler' art world."

Seems I'm not the only one to think so. In his recent ABMB coverage on, Judd Tully notes this spirit, recognizing "a new friendly approach from dealers who, in the art market’s boom days, became used to tough bouts of one-upmanship". One gallerist rather transparently reveals that now he cannot be as rude to clients.

Even more expressive of the new zeitgeist is Richard Polsky in his latest installment on Artnet. It's worth a full read. He discusses the sudden civility of puffed-up art martinets brought back to a common humanity by the last art crash of the early 1990s. I excerpt some choice morsels below:

During the market’s fallow years, a funny thing happened -- everyone became more collegial. Dealers who wouldn’t give you the time of day (let alone let you use their bathroom) suddenly greeted you like an old friend when you walked into their space. Some even humbled themselves by doing the ultimate penance -- they looked at artists’ slides!

Trying times produced a spirit of community and cooperation. And that’s precisely what’s starting to happen now. I can already sense a return to civility...As is true of every turn of the boom-and-bust cycle, the talk is once again about returning to basics.

Polsky goes on to predict particular corrections in several recently overextended market segments - the emerging artist receiving a show just out of school, and the spate of Chinese realist painters - and heralds both thinner art magazines with fewer ads and more galleries dealing with consigned work rather than outright purchases.

He also cites a growing tendency for galleries to send their announcements via email rather than snail mail, thereby saving on postage and printing. I have myself received a fair number of recent requests from galleries, informing me of their conversion to all internet notification and asking for my cooperation, which is always cheerfully given. Interestingly, these galleries invariably cite an environmentally friendly reason for the conversion. They want to go "more green". No one has yet admitted that the true impetus might be because they have "less green".

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Miami from Afar: Buena Vista 2008

The Buena Vista rail yards used to occupy a huge swath of 56 acres, bounded by 36th and 29th Streets north and south, and by N Miami Avenue and NE Second Avenue west and east, smack in the middle of a decaying area of light manufacturing, garage industry and broken down bungalows just a bit north of downtown Miami, a neighborhood that is now called Wynwood.

The yards were a fenced-in, weed choked eyesore, not a "buena vista" at all, although certain urban archaeologists undoubtedly found it charming. And the land was available, an unused graveyard for rusting rolling stock. But since most real estate development in Miami was done in typical subdivision method, reclaiming swampland to the west and south for new tracts of homes and shopping centers, and since the inner city ghetto of Overtown abutted Wynwood, the area was left stagnant for decades. It was considered unredeemable, too funky by far.

But the healing power of art (as a battering ram for real estate speculation) started to work its magic in Wynwood about a decade ago, as galleries opened up, then private museums (Rubell, Margulies), followed by speculators buying property (both warehouses and parcels of land) all through the neighborhood. Eventually even the train yards were seen as a potential source of development, and in one fell swoop the area was rethought as "Midtown Miami". It would feature big chain stores like Target, Circuit City, Linens 'N Things, Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls, West Elm and Loehmann's, as well as high rise condos and garden apartments. A little oasis of mixed use where rusting metal, garter snakes and (who knows?) the decapitated bodies of mob hits once held sway. Also included would be lots of parking space.

Much of this has been built, but the recent economic freeze halted certain development. Some ground has not yet been broken, while the construction of various buildings is stalled, half finished, awaiting new finance. What to do with these fallow properties as they yearn for completion? Again, it's art to the rescue, especially during a high profile week like Art Basel. Plenty of empty lots for a number of satellite fairs to literally set up their tents: Art Miami, Scope, Art Asia, Photo Miami, Bridge, Red Dot. Plus photo dealer Daniel Azoulay with a series of installations in unused storefronts.

Here's a promotional video showing the environs and some of the tents going up (start viewing at around 2:00):

And another which shows the locations (no need to view beyond 0:52):

One enlightened developer of a retail/residential complex was convinced to bring in some downtown, "cutting edge" energy to his unfinished building. The Station is a project that reeks with hipster cachet, perhaps even transcendence. It certainly provides a cross section of Lower East Side artists from New York with temporary escape from their studios. Although I am not planning to be in Miami to view it, allow me to throw the press release at you. Note how the "vestiges of construction" are now an aesthetic asset, "lending the event a sense of flux".

Wednesday, December 3rd through Sunday, December 7th, 2008
Private Opening, Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008
Midblock East, 3250 NE 1st Avenue/Midtown Boulevard at 32nd St, Miami FL 33137

New York, October 2008 - The Station is pleased to announce an exciting exhibition in a recently constructed building in Midtown Miami to open on December 2nd, 2008. The Station will boast an exciting array of artworks, housed within an incredible and unique architectural environment, the interior of which is still completely raw and unbuilt, with the vestiges of construction lending the event a sense of flux.

The exhibition is co-curated by Shamim M. Momin (Co-Curator of the 2004 and 2008 Whitney Biennials) and New York-based artist and curator Nate Lowman. In a pioneering showcase of museum-quality art in a non-profit exhibition, The Station's artworks will include commissioned, site-specific installations, new works, and borrowed works, set within the massive 12,000 square foot space.

Spread out over three separate levels, the exhibition opens in a soaring ground-floor retail space. It flows to a second floor office space, and then to a duplex residential apartment. The selection of works, while not thematic, will be in dialogue with the transitional sensibility of the space, variously investigating architecture and urban landscape, intersections between public and private, notions of design as constructed lifestyle, and, above all, the sense of “in-betweeness” so fleetingly embodied by the exhibition spaces they will occupy. The Station will be open during the day, as well as at night, giving viewers the chance to see works in shifting contexts. Presenting their works in a non-commercial, transitional environment during Art Basel Miami Beach, the installation will retain a sense of immediacy and authenticity.

Among the 40+ artists participating in the exhibition will be Rita Ackermann, Diana Al-Hadid, Lisa Anne Auerbach, Lutz Bacher, Justin Beal, Dike Blair, Lizzi Bougatsos, Joe Bradley, Olaf Breuning, Tom Burr, Jedediah Caesar, Peter Coffin, Devon Costello, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Matias Faldbakken, Rob Fischer, Sylvie Fleury, Jonah Freeman, Martha Friedman, Katie Grinnan, Eli Hansen, Jay Heikes, Terence Koh, Lansing-Dreiden, Paul Lee, Hanna Liden, Justin Lowe, Irene Mamiye, Adam McEwen, Ryan McGinley, Bjarne Melgaard, New Humans, Yoshua Okon, Michele O'Marah, Martin Oppel, Rob Pruitt, Ry Rocklen, Torbjørn Rødland, Amanda Ross-Ho, Daniela Rossell, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Tom Scicluna, Gary Simmons, Haim Steinbach, Oscar Tuazon, Cosima von Bonin, and Jennifer West, among others.