Sunday, April 23, 2006

Preserving America's Cultural Heritage

No this isn't some right wing call for defending the legacy of Christopher Columbus! This is a new draft Bill being proposed for Congress and is the brainchild of artist Jeffrey Vallance of the California College of the Arts. For the full details go to the homepage for the project.

The idea is to support all working artists living in the United States! Having watched the NEA and the NEH be regularly gutted over the last years and seeing how a small percentage of artists get to have a piece of the big economic pie shared by dealers, collectors and auction houses (and just a tiny fraction at that)- I'm more than happy to see this ambitious proposal. The idea presented is that the arts are a civil responsibility and that artists deserve to benefit from an effective infrastructure that recognizes visual artists based on a commitment to their career not based on their content. They've done their homework. This isn't some 'feel good about creativity' bullshit. The econometrics are there, the research is there and the case for historic need are there. This is a worthwhile effort so I encourage everyone to learn about this and try to support it in some way.

As cited on LeisureArts last week, there needs to be a broad goal of growing economic access for artists like this draft bill addresses. LeisureArts proposed a degree that focuses on how to actually create capital streams for investment in art. I think this is smart, because artists are at the bottom. There are only a few servicable systems to support artists globally that will be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing world economy-
[ex. Artist Pension Trust, H.R.1120, CA Civil Code 986, The Art and Collectibles Capital Gains Tax Treatment Parity Act, EU subsidies] but many of these are in their infancy and unproven.We will be forever in some kind of serfdom without new models for survival.

I was just having this discussion with an artist on a train to Hudson, NY yesterday. We were mentioning how the subjects of the Art Market, economic viability, the role of dealers and the MFA mess were all hot topics - continuously on line for some time now. That people feel frustrated for the most part in reconciling career and art - and in every way that can be interpreted. We took all the pejorative jabs we could muster at all of our real and imagined villains, from the Wall Street nouvea riche to curatorial studies, but the sad truth kept coming back to us that artists do come in last -across the board: musicians, dancers, writers,etc.
All the 'stuff' is mostly built on our backs and yet the artist rarely gets to benefit beyond the 1 sale with a 50% cut (or worse, pennies for a word).

Yo, there's no royalty check coming from Christie's!

What a great value for everyone else. What other industry gets a 'product' which they put no R&D into, provide no manufactuing costs (I know there are exceptions here, but few) and yet get half of the consignments sales! And then have 25 artists on there roster so no one gets a show, save for every 2 years! We talked about the need for artists to start reclaiming some things for themselves - take a little back from the dealer and the curator - start finding Direct routes to the market, direct routes to each other. Its an interesting proposition to undertake I think. How does the artist go direct? Can you circumnavigate the gallery infrastructure? is it wise to do so? Are Web sales the answer? Should you hire your own PR? Can you create alliances/economic blocks with other artists and incorporate curatorial participants and non-practioners? These are real questions to consider.

As an aside, my friend brought up an interesting point that curating in the past was done by art historians which is no longer the standard. That is a big shift in itself. Its not to say that an art historian is any good at curating, many are lousy, and inferior to less academic curators, but it does say that the intent of curating has changed a great deal. I still argue that there is vital need for the curator as well as the art critic within this mutant of an equation,
but one does wonder how these shifts are affecting the pecking order and therefore the economic life line of the artist. (More on curating perhaps later)

Artists have to reassert themselves at the center of the equation more than they have in the recent past. They have to create economic independence so that ART can continue being relevant. Make the Public!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Radiation Gone Wild

Remember Chernobyl? Well 20 years after the disaster some interesting things are stirring in the fields of radiation. The BBC reports that "the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power station is teeming with life. As humans were evacuated from the area 20 years ago, animals moved in. Existing populations multiplied and species not seen for decades, such as the lynx and eagle owl, began to return. There are even tantalising footprints of a bear, an animal that has not trodden this part of Ukraine for centuries." Dr. Moreau anyone?

Its an interesting new context for the place when juxtaposed with the work by Robert Polidori shot just a few years back. These are moving images of decay and ruin - the nuclear project turned nightmare, the atomic equivalent of Pompei.

So this exclusion zone as termed by the BBC also draws a startling parallel with Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker. A true masterpiece from 1979. In my view it may be the greatest acheivement by the director - at least as good as Andre Rublev.
(Mirror is great too) If you haven't seen Stalker, here's the brief:

In a future Russia, there is an acident (nuclear or extraterrestrial) and the result is a massive area outlawed and guarded by the government called the Zone. Its a mystical and mythical location that citizens try to reach for enlightenment or healing. Stalkers are a group of outlaws with mental gifts courtesy of their exposure to the Zone. They act as guides or 'coyotes' if you will, guiding people illegally into the Zone and eventually into the Room. Its a beautifully moving and humanist film as you follow a writer and a scientist on their journey into the exiled Zone.

Funny how nature has found its way without human interference, despite the spoilage. It raises some big questions on the nature of survival and what happens to the places after we discard them.

Joel Adas - Seeing with Fresh Eyes

Read this essay by artist Joel Adas at Artists Unite. I've known Joel for some time
and its wonderful to read someone talking so frankly about the painting experience
and how critical
seeing is to the creative process but also to the intellectual and
emotive integrity of making. We should never loose sight of empathy.

Lois Dodd
Red Poppies and House, 2004

Monday, April 17, 2006

Art for Market Sake

this a riff off of an excellent ongoing post at
Artblog Comments regarding the form and function of art and all the collateral damage that goes with that. I recently read a statement by writer and artist David Robbins (Thanks Frieze) that the current function of Art is to succeed in the ART MARKET. The modernist project to explore functionlessness has resulted in this great irony. Art's primary role seems to be only a conduit for venture capital - a portfolio diversification that allows the buyer/investor the illusion of importance and influence, in some cases this is obviously a reality but not every collector is a Rubell.

This market observation makes sense - beyond a modest Marxist critique - that we seem to be getting more and more drawn into the financial prism of the now, international art market. This surely is a natural side affect of globalization but
WHY has this happened? What has ushered in Art for Market Sake?

In addition to globalization and new financial outposts (too big to cover here) , one answer is probably the MFA machine and the corresponding youth quest. We are churning out 'masters' to the tune of 10,000 a year in the US alone. With so many artists - for those that can find a way to sustain a studio practice - there needs to be an expansive retail mechanism. Its simple, supply requires demand. So demand is created through the cultivation of new dealers and by natural extension, new collectors and in some cases the reverse. The lines are easily blurred - not many working class galleries popping up! This cultivation between dealer and collector is key, because let's face it, artists will always be lined up at every gallery begging for a show - even if that gallerist is a money laundering sociopath! Cultivating demand with collectors is what fuels the market - where all this money is coming from, I can't begin to guess. I suppose somebody's shares in Bechtel are paying off.

On the surface, at a basic commerce level, this sounds good for a lot of artists and good for the gallery biz. More artists can make a living, more galleries can make a living - we should all be happy. If you're not then you obviously aren't good enough to compete and your whole world view is shriveled by resentment. How dare you complain! Perhaps, but is the current wealth of the art market good for ART? Who decides? artists, critics, collectors, gallerists? Are they even connected to one another beyond the art transaction? Are they?

For me, in thinking about Demand, we have to ask about Value. If your spending big bucks don't you want the
Best, aren't you being offered the best by art experts? Possibly not and by the look of things in Chelsea - certainly not.

So what is valued? Many important things are still valued obviously - but it also seems that increasingly, value in and of itself is not - I know that we can't use such judgemental words
but we must try. There has to be some logical grounds for the word and its application, otherwise we're just mired in some psuedo faith of subjective inclusivity. Value has to be part of the equation beyond financial value - but again what is valued? Is it nameable?

As mentioned here, its as if Art isn't so much a part of the general critique. The personality [read brand] behind the art is what is important. Exhibit A: Matthew Barney - no greater brand than that - big budget, big star and big ears. The brand is a strange synthesis of the artist and the gallery, as well as the very outlets used to position the brand in the first place. We don't talk about art in NYC , we talk names and locations and prices, its a foreign language of association. Its as if a Mark Lombardi drawing has begun to breath and crawl through Chelsea like some depraved monster.

It is the career project that is primary - are you 'cool', and young and connected? Have you been spotted on ArtNet or in Paper magazine recently? Do you run with the fashionistas and taste makers? (by the way, how many times can As Four be pictured in Paper magazine?) Are the
right collectors on your CV? Are you a hot young investment? Can I be popular and affect 'downtown' by buying your work? There seem to be a lot of Joneses out there!

The hip brand factor fueled by the student flavor of most gallery programming has us drowning in an Urban Outfitters aesthetic - an adolescent fantasy freakout of recycled suburban hedonism and self worship -a reflexive narcicissm of gadgets, glitter, goo and gonads. Please, no more cartoon birds, deers, and wolves surrounded by odd assortments of wood grain! The art career project becomes a tragi-comedy paralleling the movie and music industry (and at worst indie fashion lines) There is art for sure within that coupling of music and film but it is secondary to the spin and product nature of those industries. I'm sorry but the artworld version of this can't help but feel stilted and provencial in comparison, art isn't that hip after all! Art School Confidential anyone?

If personality or cool is valued above art historical context, if career and art market success has primacy over content and form - for artists, gallerists, and collectors alike, then how do we measure oursleves in relationship to the larger continuum of Art? And what of the responsibilty of being an artist during a time of global crises?

What are we making this for?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Poor Man's Airforce

As we see the daily dosage of violence in Iraq - or rather don't see - its worth noting that the bulk of the sectarian fighting is being executed with car bombs. For an excellent and saddening history on the use of the car bomb for political ends, read Mike Davis' two part piece on Tom Dispatch.

As a side note, there are over 44 million entries for 'car bomb' on google.

Having read the piece by Mike Davis I'm reminded of the amazing work done by the Atlas Group. Its a project developed by artist Walid Raad and is focused on documenting the contemporary history of Lebanon. They did a haunting and exhaustive study on the use of the carbomb during Lebanon's civil war. This is real political art and contemporary history. Not to be missed - two years later the work still creeps into my mind on a regular basis.

Luckily for the party set, the other google results look something like this:

Food Chain

Dan Perjovschi

This is an incredible 'cave drawing' that really does just say about everything you need to know about contemporary life!

For more on the artist check out this month's Frieze.

Edit Wars: wikipedians and vandals

So I ran into this great article on over the weekend discussing the trials and tribulations of Wikipedia. For those living under a pile of Encyclopedia Britanica, Wikipedia is an online resource designed to mimic the traditional use of encyclopedias but with the uber democratic high road of equal access for all to create, inform, and shape the content- warts and all. Its the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit and for those following such innovations, it may actually be the future of information in general. This is a world where content is created by the user of the content - not by a third party media 'mediator'. This is a very big idea and it is already showing political fallout within the battlegrounds of the edit button.

In just a 5 year run Wikipedia has published thousands of articles/entries which have been authored and shaped by thousands more. Increasingly, as paralleled by right/left wing bloggers in the war of opinion and 'real' facts - Wikipedia is begining to be a real live theater for hate mongers, pranksters, academics, and those dutiful political staffers whitwashing for their congressional bosses or mudslinging for the same. Of course Congress is the most egregious abuser!

Ultimately this is not only a battle of political wills but gets at the essence of a liberal democracy and the knowledge it values. Can we have an open discussion about everything and be willing to deal with the 'vandals' in the process - can we live with a living document? Or should we go the route of something partially open but ultimately left to review by a select group of editers with more traditional expertise and access to the more codified historical resources? (see elected judges vs. life-time appointments debate)

Should the informed have to battle with the ignroant about a matter of substance? Is there a choice?

read the article!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Emerging? or just left for dead

So there's been some awesome posts recently on the issue of what 'emerging' artist means and the artist's relationship to this explosion of art collecting - rather the artist and the market. For the emerging question, Edward Winkleman has the best post and a bazillion savy takes and observations on his thread. Its is a must read because not only do people get into their confusion and greivances over this industry term but the whole viral family is touched on - emerging artist, emerging curator, emerging market. Basically no one talking about art and what kind of art you make but rather are you 'emerging' (most desireable) or mid-career (huh?)- who collects your work?

So many artists I know who have been knocking around for a few years (5-10) constantly bemoan their anxiety of being passed over by curators and gallerists. People are excited to meet them until they hear their age - or worse that they still don't have that hot Chelsea gallery or museum show under their belt by 32 - what failures! This dismissal largely coming from people with minimal or no art education, mostly on the job training because they happened into Chelsea upon their arrival to NY a couple of years back and love fashion so why not curate!! Let's open a gallery and sell t-shirts too! This is glib but you know the 'type'

Ivan Karp always said that there is no state exam to be a 'gallerist' - or a curator? ( sorry curatorial studies )

The bottom line seems to be that at the ripe old age of 31 you're either IN or cut off from the fountain of youth and those that slavishly drink from it - galleries, curators,collectors. Its land speculation ultimatley - gold in them there hills! What else could it be beyond specualtion and packaging all through the MTV filtered youth fetish gripping American minds - and loins. The young frankenstein genius myth with alll 7 heads.

What on earth can a 24 year old MFA grad have to really say about anything? 3-6 years of art training (especially in what passes for education in this country) just isn't much time to process art history and cultural critique let alone get a solid handle on materials and personal vision.

I'm assuming there is art history training here - one has to wonder these days (exhibit A: SCOPE) I know there are young 'geniuses' but that is a rarity. Most artists need time and really only figure it out between 30 and 40. Francis Bacon, Agnes Martin, ..Matisse - all late bloomers!

It really does mirror the craze where people funneled millions into to small 'promising' companies with out doing any research on the viability of that company - we now know the result of that! In the end it hurts young artists because they gain a distorted sense of importance and I fear are forced into a box way too early to ever escape should they want a direction change while making thirty-sometings suicidal in the process. The impact on art history - what I believe should be a counter balance to commercial culture - can't be good.

The joke may be on the inexperienced collector too as the majority of artworks purchased will never bring more than $5000 - $20,000 on the secondary market. If prices are inflated, and I believe they are, their investment will be on the low end of that scale. Of course if they are buying works that they truly love then none of this matters - but let's face facts, a sizeable portion of acquired art is viewed only as product. What I would like to see added to this art market discussion is an honest analysis of how the art market is paralleling the real estate market. Is there a natural, inherent relationship? Here's a great comprehensive read on the market that's been making the rounds the last couple of weeks from the New Yorker.

This is a must read for anyone taking art seriously - whether as a practioner, collector or general fanatic. We live at an interesting impasse and many opportunities are now coming to light for artists to take more control of their futures so these issues are important to get a handle on. Its not just self expression after all!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

a beginning

I'll start with the name sake: High Low and in Between. This is a Townes Van Zandt reference (music fans no need to point this out!) and a place to explore with some friends something interior - something splayed. Its an art blog of sorts and hopefully a forum to play culture with all the voices in our heads and on our computer screens. There is currently a great growing wealth of thought amongst many of the writers on line - I've linked to many that I hope to emulate and parallel. So here's hoping this space will be some sort of affable portal into the personal and shared experiences art affords us. (but let's not cry about it)


I come from a long line
high and low and in between
same as you
hills of golden
hails of poison
time's thrown me through
and I believe I've come to learn
that turnin' round
is to become confusion
and the gold's no good for spending
and the poison's hungry waiting..........