Saturday, December 26, 2009

William Powhida in A Tale of Three Covers

William Powhida, How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality, cover art, Brooklyn Rail, November 2009
(For a larger, more legible image, click here.)


The Brooklyn Rail, founded in 1998, is a scrappy, independent cultural/political broadsheet that covers issues in Brooklyn's waterfront neighborhoods (Williamsburg, Greenpoint, DUMBO, Red Hook) from a politically progressive vantage point. It publishes poetry and fiction and reviews local developments in music, film, dance, theater and books. Most significantly, it provides passionate, detailed, idiosyncratic coverage of the NY arts scene in each and every issue, with a full roster of exhibition reviews, feature articles and long, in-depth "conversations" with artists. Under publisher Phong Bui, it has developed an essential and original voice, and is part of my regular reading list. [Full disclosure: James Kalm, who maintains an ongoing video blog at my site, has also contributed regularly to the Rail.]

Viewable online, distributed for free at certain bookstores and alt.culture locations, and also available by subscription, the Rail has a relatively small circulation (around 7,500). Even so, it regularly engages in adventurous promotional efforts normally the province of larger publications; for example, the printing of multiple covers for certain issues to better showcase the artists and contents within.

A case in point: the three different covers of the November 2009 issue. The one I have at home features an image from a Carroll Dunham painting. I understand there was also a Helmut Federle cover. (Both artists had solo shows in NY that month and are interviewed in the November Rail.) However, it is the third cover choice I wish to address here, a b/w drawing by artist, activist, satirist and draftsman William Powhida, executed in full caricature/agitprop mode (and pictured above), in which he addresses cronyism at the New Museum in gleeful, graphic, subversive detail.

Powhida's usual subject is the interrelationship of power and personality in the art world, and his position within that complex, morphing grid. His weapons are an enviable facility to combine recognizable portraiture and text - seemingly gleaned from years holed up reading and emulating comic books - and a tendency to manufacture fictions that deviate ever so slightly from the world we live in, yet manage to parallel, illuminate and parody this world. He has been described as a "gadfly" and a "vigilante", and his work typically holds up a caustic, knowing mirror to the politics of price, privilege and reputation that so often regulates success and failure in our very inbred community.

"The New York Enemy/Ally Project", Powhida's February 2008 installation at Schroeder Romero Gallery in Chelsea - part of their "Caucus" group show - tabulated anonymous voting both for and against various entities (from Jeffrey Deitch to the L Train) that were submitted to a website established for the project and also to a ballot box located in the gallery. This conceptual, electoral parody was co-exhibited with a "killer's row" of framed drawings, arranged along axes of the "Equivocal" and the "Absolute", depicting the most frequently cited luminaries accompanied by representative texts taken right from the ballots.

Powhida's large (40 by 60 inch) "Relational Wall" watercolor, at Schroeder Romero in April 2009 and part of his one man show there, presented a loose checkerboard of portraits culled from Artforum's "Scene and Herd" and other social blogs, with accompanying captions both real and imagined. Augmented by hundreds of drawn portraits of the demimonde lifted from the navel gazing art sites, it overwhelms us with an unruly sprawl of "raw material" that gently mocks the seriousness of overarching theories like Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, as well as our insatiable magpie eye for celebrity culture, our debased appetite for rumor, gossip and innuendo, and our addiction to the trashy social networking paradigms found in sites like Facebook.

Other projects/pranks by Powhida include the parody of an Art Newspaper issue that truculently proclaims: "MARKET CRASH. Collectors abandon Miami", illustrated with a photo of a yawningly empty art fair aisle. This was accomplished just prior to the 2008 Art Basel Miami Beach and turned out to be strangely prescient. Then, in collaboration with Jade Townsend, he envisaged Miami 2009 as an extensive Great Depression squatter camp set up in the Convention Center parking lot, complete with art dealer prostitutes and a soup kitchen line for indigent art populations, while the A-list continued to party within the building. The "recovery" has apparently not permeated all economic strata. It is a savage depiction rendered from an overhead, panopticon perspective that yields nothing in its mordant social critique to Daumier and Hogarth, let alone to Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian formulations.

As Martin Wong was to tenement bricks and Loisaida gated storefronts, capturing their very texture, volume and palpability on canvas, so Powhida is the draftsman laureate of the torn notebook page, frequently depicting them in all their scuffed, scrunched up, disheveled and dogeared glory, sloppily taped to a wall, inscribed with scrawled lists and casual sketches, imagined even down to their horizontal ruled lines, funky, perforated holes and the half shadows they cast against the wall.

This is an uncanny ability, allowing Powhida to function like a street smart devotee of fashionable pessimism, an exceedingly dry fabulist. He creates a vaguely exaggerated, alternate universe that closely approximates the one we experience every day, tweaking it just enough to dislocate our complacency and, like William Burroughs in Naked Lunch, reveal "a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork".

On the November Rail cover he is engaged in direct advocacy and activism, not the random, casual fantasy or humorous self promotion of earlier outings. The enormity of the New Museum's transgression does not elicit an alternate narrative, just a clear presentation of facts, of the interlocking tentacles that reveal this insidious art world mafia. Like others who were aghast at the announcement of plans to mount an exhibition in March 2010 drawn solely from the collection of Dakis Joannou and curated by acolyte/artist/court jester Jeff Koons, Powhida seems offended by the unrepentant "insiderness" of it all, the stench of clubhouse politics, the obvious conflicts of interest. It drove him to compose this graphic scrawl of protest.

Something seems awry when four of Gavin Brown's artists have been given shows at the New Museum over the last two years. When associate curator Massimiliano Gioni is not just a New Museum employee but has also worked directly for Joannou, and is responsible for the current Urs Fischer show (an artist represented by Brown and heavily collected by Joannou). When Joannou's prospective curator, Koons, also has 40 works in the collection. When Joannou is a trustee of the museum, helping to raise funds, even if not contributing directly to the actual expense of exhibiting his collection. When Joannou entertains them all in his private museum on Hydra, where they get to cheer themselves silly while gorging on a dead shark. It all reeks of gratuitous elitism and feels tastelessly incestuous.

Many voices were raised in howls of execration over the New Museum's decision, including Tyler Green in Modern Art Notes and James Wagner, but also in the NY Times and other sources outside the blogosphere. However, the great advantage Powhida has over all these wordsmiths is his ability to create pointedly powerful graphics, a potent caricature of corruption. He not only names names but also visually implicates the rascals in all their shameless, self absorbed duplicity, and depicts them as they are made to walk the perp walk before our bitter, mocking gaze. It is the propensity of graphic representation, in the great tradition of political caricature, to present an actual, tangible image for our ridicule.

Hence Koons is drawn as Howdy Doody, complete with freckles and cowlick, an amenable dummy for Joannou's controlling ventriloquist. Brown is shown sneering: "The New Museum does look a little bit like my bitch". Fischer brattily suggests: "Let's put a hole in it." Even the marriage of New Museum curator Laura Hoptman to Brown artist Verne Dawson is fronted, for our conjecture and suspicion, as an inside deal. Pompous fop Richard Flood is depicted gushing like a fuddy duddy and offering wine. "Business as Usual" Lisa Phillips is shown defending the sellout while Marcia Tucker, the visionary founder of the New Museum, who wanted her institution to "seek out the best work at its source, rather than only after it has achieved commercial exposure", is shown watching balefully from the sidelines, and is imagined rolling in her grave.

All in all, it's a startlingly trenchant and memorable critique, and probably one that could only be effectively delivered via caricature. If the New Museum has committed suicide with banality, Powhida wants us to consider it the banality of evil. He speaks truth to power with an effectiveness that rivals Thomas Nast's attacks on Tammany Hall in the 1870s/80s, suggesting interesting parallels between the iconic corruption of a figure like Boss Tweed and that of jargon spouting "mercenary director" Lisa Phillips. For such courageous clairvoyance I can only applaud Powhida, and offer him a heartfelt "Bravo!".

Monday, December 14, 2009

Artists Announced for 2010 Whitney Biennial

The press release from the Whitney Museum arrived three days ago, on Friday morning December 11, 2009, so this information is already a bit old hat. But for those just returning from distant lands, the list for the next Biennial comprises 55 artists, making it one of the smallest in recent memory. By comparison, there were 100 participants in 2006 and 81 in 2008, although that last effort annexed the additional vast space of the Park Avenue Armory.

The pundits have rushed in to label this the Recessional Biennial, but any conscious need to downsize is possibly also based on the Whitney husbanding its resources for the projected expansion to their new downtown branch near the southern terminus of The High Line, with construction scheduled to begin next year. A less sprawling, more pristine and manicured show is just about guaranteed, which seems to reflect the general curatorial preferences of Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari, with each participating artist being allowed just one piece. Less work, fewer mini-retrospectives, greater consideration given to each inclusion, simpler logistics: all givens. And a cursory examination of the list promises more painting than in 2008. Then again, it could hardly have been less.

To showcase the Whitney as a fun place which still honors the spatial genius of Marcel Breuer, they released a video of the two curators declaiming the 2010 list from various museum floors, galleries, atria and elevators, framed in one shots, two shots, shot/countershots, swish pans, and seemingly every other showy, self conscious cinematic device that could be added without interrupting the determined flow of their dual deadpan delivery.

In the two days since this list went public, many in the art world decided to stand up and be counted. Numerous galleries sent out emails announcing the selection of their artists. And since the 2010 list is the first with a slim female majority, 52/48% in their favor (as opposed to the last Biennial, which had 40% women, and previous outings with much less female participation), gender politics has once again taken the spotlight. A well known NY based critic, whose continuing crusade for sexual parity in museum shows, gallery rosters, and art collections has been tireless verging on tiresome, wasted no time in going online to announce this watershed historical moment.

Not to rain on his parade, but an art collective recently discussed on these pages, the pesky Bruce High Quality Foundation, was probably deemed a single male entity for statistical purposes. But should each of the Bruces be listed separately, the ratio would fatefully tip right back to the patriarchy.

Ratios ultimately tell us little. In the art world its every (wo)man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, February is closer than you think. Here's the full text of the press release:


NEW YORK, December 11, 2009–The Whitney Museum of American Art today announced the list of artists participating in the upcoming Whitney Biennial, 2010, which takes over the Museum from February 25 through May 30, 2010. This is the 75th in the ongoing series of Biennials and Annuals presented by the Whitney since 1932, two years after the Museum was founded.

The fifty-five artists were selected by curator Francesco Bonami and associate curator Gary Carrion-Murayari. (A video by Pierce Jackson features the curators, seen in various locations throughout the Museum, reading out the names of the artists. Please visit to view the video.)

Curators Bonami and Carrion-Murayari noted, “The Whitney Biennial continues to reflect the way in which art is shaped by the particular historical moment in which it was created. The artists selected for this year’s exhibition reflect diverse responses to the anxiety and optimism of the past two years. 2010 does not privilege any one medium or aesthetic style, but rather assembles a wide range of individual gestures, personal histories, and improvised encounters that speak to a sense of openness and community.”

The Biennial is the Whitney’s panoramic signature survey of the latest in American art. It includes a blend of well established artists together with a predominance of emerging artists from all over the country. Their works range from film and video to photography, painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, performance, and architecture. Performances and events will take place at the Museum throughout the course of the show. This year the events and performances are concentrated on Friday evenings in both the Lobby Gallery and Lower Gallery. A 2010 Biennial artist, Martin Kersels, is creating a sculptural installation in the Lobby Gallery that also functions as a stage for curatorial programs involving artists, writers, musicians, choreographers, and DJs.
The Artists of the Whitney Biennial, 2010

David Adamo
Born 1979 in Rochester, New York;
lives in Berlin, Germany

Richard Aldrich
Born 1975 in Hampton, Virginia;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

Michael Asher
Born 1943 in Los Angeles, California;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Tauba Auerbach
Born 1981 in San Francisco, California;
lives in New York, New York

Nina Berman
Born 1960 in New York, New York;
lives in New York, New York

Huma Bhabha
Born 1962 in Karachi, Pakistan;
lives in Poughkeepsie, New York

Josh Brand
Born 1980 in Elkhorn, Wisconsin;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

The Bruce High Quality Foundation
Founded 2001 in Brooklyn, New York

James Casebere
Born 1953 in East Lansing, Michigan;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallagher
Born 1963 in Eindovern, The Netherlands/
Born 1965 in Providence, Rhode Island

Dawn Clements
Born 1958 in Woburn, Massachusetts;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

George Condo
Born 1957 in Concord, New Hampshire;
lives in New York, New York

Sarah Crowner
Born 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

Verne Dawson
Born 1961 in Meridianville, Alabama;
lives in Saluda, North Carolina, and
New York, New York

Julia Fish
Born 1950 in Toledo, Oregon;
lives in Chicago, Illinois

Roland Flexner
Born 1944 in Nice, France;
lives in New York, New York

Suzan Frecon
Born 1941 in Mexico, Pennsylvania;
lives in New York, New York

Maureen Gallace
Born 1960 in Stamford, Connecticut;
lives in New York, New York

Theaster Gates
Born 1973 in Chicago, Illinois; lives in
Chicago, Illinois

Kate Gilmore
Born 1975 in Washington, DC;
lives in New York, New York

Hannah Greely
Born 1979 in Los Angeles, California;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Jesse Aron Green
Born 1979 in Boston, Massachusetts;
lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and
Los Angeles, California

Robert Grosvenor
Born 1937 in New York, New York;
lives in Long Island, New York

Sharon Hayes
Born 1970 in Baltimore, Maryland;
lives in New York, New York

Thomas Houseago
Born 1972, Leeds, England;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Alex Hubbard
Born 1975 in Toledo, Oregon;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

Jessica Jackson Hutchins
Born 1971 in Chicago, Illinois;
lives in Portland, Oregon

Jeffrey Inaba
Born 1962 in Los Angeles, California;
lives in New York, New York

Martin Kersels
Born 1960 in Sierra Madre, California;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Jim Lutes
Born 1955 in Fort Lewis, Washington;
lives in Chicago, Illinois

Babette Mangolte
Born 1941 in Montmorot (Jura), France;
lives in New York, New York

Curtis Mann
Born 1979 in Dayton, Ohio;
lives in Chicago, Illinois

Ari Marcopoulos
Born 1957 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
lives in Sonoma, California

Daniel McDonald
Born 1971 in Los Angeles, California;
lives in New York, New York

Josephine Meckseper
Born 1964 in Lilienthal, Germany;
lives in New York, New York

Rashaad Newsome
Born 1979 in New Orleans, Louisiana;
lives in New York, New York

Kelly Nipper
Born 1971 in Edina, Minnesota;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Lorraine O’Grady
Born 1934 in Boston, Massachusetts;
lives in New York, New York

R.H. Quaytman
Born 1961 in Boston, Massachusetts;
lives in New York, New York

Charles Ray
Born 1953 in Chicago, Illinois;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Emily Roysdon
Born 1977 in Easton, Maryland;
lives in New York, New York, and
Stockholm, Sweden

Aki Sasamoto
Born 1980 in Yokohama, Japan;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

Aurel Schmidt
Born 1982 in Kamloops, British Columbia;
lives in New York, New York

Scott Short
Born 1964 in Marion, Ohio;
lives in Chicago, Illinois

Stephanie Sinclair
Born 1973 in Miami, Florida;
lives in Brooklyn, New York

Ania Soliman
Born 1970 in Warsaw, Poland;
lives in Basel, Switzerland, and
New York, New York

Storm Tharp
Born 1970 in Ontario, Oregon;
lives in Portland, Oregon

Tam Tran
Born 1986 in Hue, Vietnam;
lives in Memphis, Tennessee

Kerry Tribe
Born 1973 in Boston, Massachusetts;
lives in Los Angeles, California, and Berlin,

Piotr Uklanski
Born 1968 in Warsaw, Poland;
lives in New York, New York,
and Warsaw, Poland

Lesley Vance
Born 1977 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Marianne Vitale
Born 1973 in New York, New York;
lives in New York, New York

Erika Vogt
Born 1973 in East Newark, New Jersey;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Pae White
Born 1963 in Pasadena, California;
lives in Los Angeles, California

Robert Williams
Born 1943 in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
lives in Chatsworth, California

Eleven of the artists have shown in past Whitney Biennials: James Casebere and George Condo in the 1980s, Suzan Frecon in 2000, Hannah Greely in 2006, Robert Grosvenor in the 1960s and 70s, Martin Kersels in 1997, Jim Lutes in 1987, Ari Marcopoulos in 2002, Josephine Meckseper in 2006, Charles Ray several times in the 1980s and 90s; Ray, who also had a solo retrospective at the Whitney in 1998, makes a departure from his previous work with his installation in 2010. Ellen Gallagher had a Whitney solo show, DeLuxe, a series of works on paper, in 2005, and was in the 1995 Biennial; this time she is partnering with the Dutch artist Edgar Cleijne on a film installation that includes sculptural construction and silk-screened panels. Michael Asher, well known as a West Coast pioneer of conceptual art, was in the Whitney’s seminal Anti-Illusion show in 1969.

Piotr Uklanski had a solo show at the Whitney, in 2007, presenting his first film, Summer Love (a booze and blood-soaked revisionist Western); Uklanski’s work in 2010 is a theatrical installation involving textiles. Kerry Tribe, a graduate of the Whitney’s Independent Study Program in 1998, was featured in the Whitney’s group exhibition Down by Law (2006); her Biennial work is a film installation using historic and invented storylines dealing with memory and brain function. Verne Dawson, represented in the Biennial with a large-scale figurative painting, was also shown at the Whitney in Down by Law. Babette Mangolte, well known as a filmmaker and as the cinematographer on a number of key films by Yvonne Rainer and Chantal Akerman (including Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles), was included in the Whitney exhibition The American Century; her Biennial contribution is a mixed media installation involving photography and a video that recreates an earlier installation from 1978.

Nina Berman is a photojournalist and author of the book Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq (Trolley, 2004), a collection of portraits and interviews with twenty veterans of the Iraq War; a member of the photo collective NOOR, based in Amsterdam, Berman’s works in the Biennial are photographs depicting the life of a returning veteran. Sarah Crowner, a painter who works with the legacy of hard-edged geometric abstraction from the 1950s and 60s, employs both original and appropriated compositions as patterns and templates to construct her paintings. Roland Flexner’s contribution to 2010 is thirty small-scale Sumi ink drawings.

Maureen Gallace creates compositions depicting the vernacular architecture and landscape of rural New England, reminiscent of images of small-town America by Edward Hopper and Fairfield Porter; her work was the subject of Focus: Maureen Gallace at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2006. Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s work in the Biennial is in the form of sculpture, including ceramics, found furniture, collage, and newspaper. Jeffery Inaba, director of C-Lab, an architecture, policy, and communications think tank at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, is creating an architectural intervention for the Biennial.

Rashaad Newsome, an artist from New Orleans, makes videos involving dancers and dealing with African-American cultural markers. Lorraine O’Grady is an artist and critic whose installations, performances, and texts address issues of diaspora, hybridity, and female subjectivity; her Biennial work is an installation of photographs and photo-collage that deals with issues of appropriation and cultural identity. R.H. Quaytman’s contribution to the Biennial is a multiple-painting installation dealing with architecture and the history of the Whitney itself.

Aki Sasamoto, a young Japanese-born artist who lives in Brooklyn, is creating an installation that will include large and small sculptures, sound, and a series of performances that will take place throughout the run of the Biennial. Tam Tran, a Vietnam-born artist who lives and works in Memphis, is showing photographs dealing with ideas of childhood and self-discovery. Pae White, who works in sculpture and installation, often using cardboard cut-outs, delicate wire constructions, suspended mobiles, or evocative wall paintings, had a solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, in 2004; her work in the Biennial is a large “smoke” tapestry.


18 painters selected for 2010 Whitney Biennial

Seems everyone is busy parsing the Biennial. In her Two Coats of Paint blog, Sharon Butler cites 18 painters on the list. This represents 32.7% of the 55 selected artists, just shy of one third of the exhibition: a quantum leap over painting's poor representation in 2008.

Here are the eighteen painters (with links):

1. Robert Williams:
2. Lesley Vance:
3. Storm Tharp:
4. Ania Soliman:
5. Scott Short:
6. Aurel Schmidt:
7. R.H. Quaytman
8. Jim Lutes:
9. Maureen Gallace:
10. Suzan Frecon:
11. Roland Flexner:
12. Julia Fish:
13. Verne Dawson:
14. Sarah Crowner:
15. Dawn Clements:
16. George Condo:
17. Tauba Auerbach:
18. Richard Aldrich:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

ABMB 2009: First Takes

Artworld Salon, a site to which I have not actively contributed for a year, just posted an open thread on "What to expect when you’re expecting to go to Miami?", and suggested readers send their thoughts.

The following comments will not appear on AWS, but since I have already been down for four days and want to say something about my second home, here are some first takes from Art Basel Miami.

I will not try to make any market predictions regarding who might sell out their booths, or how many satellite fairs will be vindicated in their tents, warehouses and hotel ballrooms. The hundred ring circus will certainly continue. Sixty galleries might have decided to sit it out, but have been handily replaced by ABMB management from the many hopefuls on the waiting list, a testament to the eternal optimism of the human spirit and the unvanquished entrepreneurial appetite of art dealers the world over.

There will still be a glut of events, a rueful wariness that anything you decide to attend necessitates missing five or ten other equally worthy possibilities, and the sort of attention deficit disorder that such a breathless schedule entails. It is part and parcel of the engineering of a prestige market effort like Art Basel: the dialectic of excess/scarcity, leading to uncertainty, heightened nervousness, displacement activities such as trophy hunting, conspicuous display and other ingrained tribal rituals and customs.

I've been in Florida since Saturday, and would rather choose to comment on two initiatives that seem significant to the development of the Miami art world, well after Art Basel week is over.

Elisa Turner (center)

1. Elisa Turner, a Miami based critic and wonderful writer, has started a blog that deals with local issues from an activist position, combining sardonic feminism with the clear eyed advocacy of a community organizer. In just a few postings over the last half year, has dealt compellingly with (the unfortunate lack of excellent) public art in Miami, the city as a locus for pan-Caribbean-ism, cleaning up the streets of Wynwood, and the spirit of "grand scale and ... equally grand bets" that characterizes Miami dreaming, a spectacular tradition that she feels extends to the art world.

De La Cruz Collection, facade

2. A prime example of this go-for-broke exceptionalism is the brand new Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection at 23 NE 41st Street in the Design District, which opens to the Art Basel public on Thursday, and which I was happy to preview a few hours ago, together with the NY dealers and artists busily engaged in completing the installation.

The new building is constructed on a grand scale, able to accommodate large installations and sculptures, multiple pieces by artists like Paulina Olowska, Cosima von Bonin, Jonathan Meese, Tom Burr, Manfred Pernice, Guyton/Walker, Seth Price, Rachel Harrison, Guillermo Kuitca, Christian Holstad and Suzanne Winterling, that are given stunning space to be properly exhibited on three floors, beyond the de la Cruz collection displayed at their Key Biscayne house. It is a gift to the people of Miami, a public space to view world class art year round, culminating in what can only be termed a third floor shrine to Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Jim Hodges (installed by Hodges) and an exceptional inner sanctum for Ana Mendieta.

Art Basel has barely started, but if I see anything that gives me greater pleasure over the next six days, I will be doubly blessed.

De La Cruz Collection, gallery and courtyard