And on the subject of integration, why, in one of the most ethnically diverse cities, does the art world continue to be a bastion of whiteness? Why are African-American curators and administrators, and especially directors, all but absent from our big museums? Why are there still so few black — and Latino, and Asian-American — critics and editors?
And the answer, in part, lies here:
Political art brings me back to where I started, with artists, and one final, baffled complaint, this one about art schools, which seem, in their present form, designed to accommodate the general art economy and its competitive, caste-system values. Programs are increasingly specialized, jamming students into ever narrower and flakier disciplinary tracks. Tuitions are prodigious, leaving artists indentured to creditors for years.
The art world loves to skewer institutions supposedly at the top of the art world ecosystem, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, for putting on shows bereft of diversity, but we can look elsewhere, too. Cotter devotes much of his article to the art market and New York City’s cost of living - he says each has their effect on the art created here, but we can look further down the food chain. We can’t ignore (although we often do) the privilege that enables an individual to have the choice to become an art student in an economically inequitable society like our own. Cotter’s use of the term “caste-system” is apt.
“For Bill Clinton, breakfast is almost always an almond-milk smoothie, blended with fresh berries, nondairy protein powder and a chunk of ice. Lunch is usually some combo of green salad and beans. He snacks on nuts — “those are good fats” — or hummus with raw vegetables, while dinner often includes quinoa, the Incan super-grain, or sometimes a veggie burger.”—So sad.
What’s the cost per calorie in Bill Clinton’s diet? What’s the average cost per calorie in the average diet of a person with poverty-level income? What percentage of their income is spent on food? Howabout Clinton?
"[B]efore the roving eyes move on" is a summation of any viewer’s experience, but it’s the writer’s candor about abstract painting’s viewer-dependent achievements that’s refreshing. Abstract paintings can be profound, vacuous, or somewhere in between, and most are soon forgotten.
Internet Archive will be accepting 52 people for week long tumblr residencies. We are looking for creators, hackers, educators, curators, tumblr kids and anyone else looking to play with some code and content. Applications are due June 1st.
Here’s how it works: You create a custom tumblr theme…
Do you write? Do you photograph? Have you been thinking of contributing to Our Daily Red blog but are unsure how to take the next step? Are you curious about what we look for in a writer? Don’t worry about having a ton of publications under your belt and lots of experience. Here’s a list of…
I want to share a piece of advice with you to start 2013: consider auditing all the apps you have authorized on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t want to cause unnecessary alarm, but it’s just something worth considering, and it takes two seconds. A little background:
When I met artist Tomashi Jackson, she was washing a floor-to-ceiling window at the New School in downtown New York City and attired in a dress-like uniform that a woman on the cleaning staff of a hotel or office building might wear every day. Though tall and dressed all in white, no one seemed to notice her during our 30-minuted conversation except for another woman wearing a similar uniform who passed by on the sidewalk outside. She smiled at Jackson and the artist waved back at her. They had never met before, but Jackson casually noted that the other woman was just “looking at me working.” They were two people who shared – if only for a moment – a similar occupation, and a similar invisibility.
Jackson was performing the work “High Tide (Red Handed)” for the annual Art in Odd Places festival [ongoing through Oct. 15] along 14th Street in Manhattan. When she was a student in the surrounding neighborhood at Cooper Union, she went to public parks and noticed female domestic workers gathering in daily cycles like tides. While invisible to most, Jackson noticed the women, in part, because she has Belizean ancestry and shares a semblance with the women. Those same women appear in her work, which begins with a clean window onto which Jackson uses hand-staining red oil stick to draw a domestic worker caring for a small child. It ends with her removing the entire finished drawing. The window is her canvas, and it’s apt that once the work is complete, the window remains transparent, veritably unnoticeable.
Dressing like janitorial staff sets the stage for her performance. While she draws, people watch, but the uniform allows her to disappear while she cleans. That transition occurs at the moment Jackson trades the oil stick for the cleaner, and she crosses seamlessly over a class division.
Jackson, who recently completed a Masters in MIT’s Program in Art, Culture, and Technology, cites as inspiration Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who called herself a “maintenance artist.” In her work, Ukeles performed much of the labor to which women are relegated in society and, not unlike Jackson, conducted performances in which she cleaned the interior of art galleries. One of her well-known works is a garbage truck coated with mirrors that she titled “The Social Mirror.” Viewers see themselves in this work, yet the garbage truck itself also becomes invisible because it is shielded by the viewers’ own reflection.
Domestic workers also disappear, but their invisibility is part of the purview of their role in the home and in public, Jackson said. The artist described their job to me as she worked to wipe away her deep-red oil stick drawing with a few applications of rubbing alcohol and window cleaner. She has stood-in for a nanny and experienced the job of a domestic worker first hand. “To see what it’s like to appear and disappear. To be present and simultaneously invisible… in the act of labor,” she said.
If private equity plays a scavenger role in the ecology of capitalism, what role does venture capital play?
Though I worked as a business journalist for a year and another few at a venture-backed software startup, I’m not an expert on the matters of financial capital at any stage of a company’s life cycle. I am, however, a nerd, and when I heard economist James K. Galbraith describe private equity as serving the role of a scavenger in an interview on Radio Open Source, I wondered whether there was such an apt metaphor from natural ecology for venture capital.
Around the 13:40 mark, host Christopher Lydon asks the question (which happens to be about inequality) that sets up Galbraith’s description:
It is not as though private equity is in the business of designing iPhones. Steve Jobs was not a private equity guy. Private equity guys are in the business of restructuring corporations and taking as much for themselves as they can get. It’s a scavengers’ role, not a creators role.
Last week, On the Media, explored the confusion between the two models of finance, but we weren’t lucky enough to be furnished with such an analogy for VCs. In the life cycle of companies in our capitalist ecosystem, PE firms become involved with a company when it’s sick or dying, while VC firms make an early investment and stick around, often sitting on corporate boards, waiting for some sort of “exit” or equity event. So what’s a process or organism from the natural world that could analogously describe what VCs do in the ecology of business?
In a way, VCs are almost like an invasive species. By backing a disruptive company – a company that won’t thrive or survive without their investment – they are disturbing the ecology of the current market. Invasive species make headlines by out-competing native species, but some species are actually helped by foreign invaders. Honeybees and earthworms are invasive species in North America and have dramatically changed its ecosystems, having long-term benefits to many native species (and detriments to others). The organisms that are helped are the entrepreneur and their new ideas that become innovations, creating a new ecology for the market.
We could take the analogy a step further with the example of a mature tree. The all-important “exit,” which might not come until 5 or even 30 years after initial pollination (or “seed” funding), has some similarities with the production of a mature tree. The “exit” might also be a fledgling chick leaving from a nest inside an invasive tree if we wanted to make this analogy a little cuter.
Another property of invasive species is that most of them can’t thrive or survive in their new environments – they may invade, but aren’t lucky enough to start reproducing. Most VC firms fail as well. Few grow to be mature companies that will ever play a role in their business ecosystems, and the companies in which they invest face similar hurdles. Some are swallowed hole by sharks, torn to shreds by wolves, while others get sick or die untimely deaths and are subsequently devoured by scavengers.
It’s not a perfect analogy. In many ways VCs are simply vectors for invasive species. They could also be thought of as parasites that live and die with the companies in which they invest (or infest), but parasites typically weaken their host, and VCs wouldn’t survive unless their hosts grew bigger and stronger. If anyone can think of a parasite that strengthens its host, or two organisms with a symbiotic relationship that’s analogous to a VC firm and the companies it invests in, let me know.
Jonah Lehrer’s mistakes are rooted in journalism’s DNA.
By now, you’ve heard all about the downfall of Jonah Lehrer, the now ex-golden boy of science writing. He plagiarized himself and fabricated quotes for a book and has been the subject of withering scorn and disapproval since the news broke. Some critics have dulled their condemnations by suggesting that because the New Yorker, Wired, and WNYC Radiolab contributor, and best-selling author wasn’t a trained journalist, he didn’t know any better. Whether that argument has a hint of validity doesn’t matter, because there are still major correlations between the most salient criticisms of Lehrer and the formulas used to regularly generate content for newspapers by card-carrying journalists.
“A trite and facile narrative nirvana.” TED, which has been the subject of an increasing number of attacks over the past few months, is a marketplace of sorts in which research data is repackaged into uplifting stories that are told by the scientists who conducted the research. In TED lectures or books, scientists take on the role of science journalists, a move which makes their work more accessible but not without a significant disadvantage to its substance. However, those “scientists don’t consider what they do at TED to be science,” writes Reuters blogger Felix Salmon in a post titled “Jonah Lehrer, TED, and the narrative dark arts.” The scientists “who make it onto the TED Talks site are the ones most willing to let TED’s curators guide them to a trite and facile narrative nirvana.”
“[T]he way that Lehrer remixed facts in service of narrative is very TED,” Salmon writes, but I would argue that it’s also part of the nature of journalism and how the profession is taught in journalism schools. Moreover, Lehrer’s skills as a writer are highly sought after by editors and publishers at news-oriented publications around the world. TED’s stars, like Lehrer (who hasn’t participated in TED, but still produces written works and lectures of the same order as TED material), “are going to continue to percolate into the world of journalism,” says Salmon. He goes on:
And when they get there, they’ll be deeply versed in the dark arts of manipulating facts in order to create something perfectly self-contained and compelling. Does any editor out there want to take it upon herself to try to unteach such arts, when bringing on a hot new star? I didn’t think so.
Columbia professor and early Lehrer mentor Richard Axel sensed Lehrer’s “frustration with the demands of the scientific method,” according to StarTribune contributor Bonnie Blodgett. In a column titled “A writer’s downfall: Blame our culture of conquest” she wrote that Axel encouraged Lehrer to “break out of the bondage of small incremental steps that might add up to something in a millennium or so, and parlay his personal charisma and creativity into a career as a salesman for science” (emphasis mine). She is careful not to call Lehrer a journalist and points out that he was never trained as one.
I was, and Lehrer’s malfeasance bears the same genetic code of a journalistic craft that took shape nearly 200 years ago. In the early-to-mid 19th century the emergence of advertising-supported newspapers forced the craft of journalism to evolve into a fodder around which to sell ad space. News is, and always has been, a business. An entertaining and efficient prose was born that didn’t let its reader know it was being efficient.
In a past life, I wrote about business and technology. While I was in training for the job, an editor told me that a reporter needs to “trick” readers into reading stories about quarterly corporate earnings. Headlines – and this goes for all news – trick you into reading “ledes,” ledes trick you into reading news. They are sales pitches that hook a reader into reading about boring figures or convoluted acts of government regulation.
Earnings stories in particular follow a simple recipe. Take any given quarterly or annual earnings report from a public company, stick the company’s revenues and profits into a simple formula comparing year-over-year changes (which is standard for business journalism), then come up with a narrative that connects those points of data. Salt the story with a quote or two from an analyst from a well-known firm that generates expensive reports and spice up with another line (if time allows) from the prepared remarks in the company’s letter to its investors, which is included in most earnings reports.
Publish. Repeat. Do that as many times as possible during your shift. Few business-focused publications can afford much more.
The problem with many earnings stories is that they only supply you with a limited number of data points, and many of the people writing them are paid by quantity, not quality. This is not always the case, but even for companies like Apple Inc. (AAPL) or General Electric Co. (GE) – companies editors will give their reporters plenty of time to actually report on – I’d recommend reading two or three earnings stories to get a fuller picture. This isn’t because you should seek out positive or negative spins on the same set of data, it’s because the narratives that newspaper reporters weave between the figures at hand often don’t (or can’t) reflect a complete story. They’re seeking the “facile narrative nirvana” that their craft enables them to create.
The “narrative dark arts” exist in other types of reporting as well. “Feature” stories – newspaper stories that aren’t not about breaking news, but a topic of human interest – are no exception. While I was in journalism school in 2008 under the tutelage of Pulitzer-prize winners and finalists, I was assigned to read an article in the Boston Globe about how animal shelters were running out of space during the foreclosure crisis because of its merits as a feature. I don’t have data to test the story’s correlation between foreclosures and animals in shelters as it wasn’t presented in empirical form in the article, but if you consider the mouse-clicking perfect storm of cute, homeless Chihuahuas named Patches (pictured in the article) and the foreclosure crisis that dominated headlines daily in 2008, it’s easy to doubt that the reporter actually discovered overcrowding at an animal shelter. This is a story that could have easily been engineered out of two extremely click-worthy topics, and the reporter and her editors could have conjured it up in an editorial meeting. A few calls could then be made to shelters seeking quotes to sew together the narrative and the piece, “Owners lose home, and pets suffer, too,” would write itself. Lehrer, we learned last week, made up a quote he needed to service his story.
Whether the suffering pets story was created in this manner or not, this process happens every week at newspapers around the world. The “facile narrative nirvana” precedes the research. Narratives are manufactured before the reporting begins. What we lose are facts and nuance for the sake of entertainment. The best publicists, mind you, know how to exploit this formula, especially in a world where mouse-clicks often equal compensation.
Besides making reporters more efficient creators of news product, the skills for this kind of narrative entrepreneurialism can be put in service of society. Investigative journalists don’t always find stories by simply leaving no stone unturned, nor do they always rely on tips; they are trained to know where to look. There are, however, also flaws in the algorithms that reporters use to drum up stories. Why did it take so long for the Trayvon Martin case to become newsworthy? Because stereotypes of the individuals involved in the case (Martin and George Zimmerman) prevented reporters from seeing a narrative that they could make into a headline. It wasn’t until several black reporters and bloggers shook the story lose from those stereotypes that it began to gain traction.
Trend stories, not unlike the “feature,” are another time-honored tool for commercial journalism. A reporter finds three or more reportable instances of the same phenomenon, and, if lucky, comes up with a catchy phrase to describe it. Debunking New York Times trend stories is something of a pastime for in-the-know hipsters or individuals willing to put slightly more rigorous research into proving whether a trend pointed out by a Times reporter is actual credible. An article on an ostensible trend of overweight hipsters in New York City with the cloying headline “It’s Hip to Be Round” that appeared in August 2009 is a notorious example. Um, maybe t-shirts are getting tighter, or, people are becoming more obese. There’s actually scientific data (!) that shows that people are getting fatter, but it wouldn’t fit into a nice patly constructed trend story, now would it?
Did the reporter “rejigger reality to make things a little punchier, or a little neater, or a little easier?” as The Panic Virus author Seth Mnookin charges Lehrer did in an August 2010 Wired blog post about the psychology of conspiracy theories? (HT to Salmon for the link) In a sector of newspaper journalism, such as trend-seeking, which barely creeps past the first few steps of the scientific method, it’s hard to say otherwise.
In the same graduate-level class where I read about gentle, woolly-coated victims (the Globe’s words, not mine), I was instructed to read Gene Weingarten’s April 2007 “Pearls Before Breakfast” and promised it would later earn a Pulitzer Prize (much to my chagrin, it did). Weingarten placed a world-class violinist in a metro station in Washington D.C. and wrote about what happened. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am obligated to tell you that I found Weingarten’s piece classist.) Idiot America author Charles Pierce commented on Gangrey.com that he hated that story “with the hate of a thousand white-hot suns,” and told Washingtonian contributor Tom Bartlett that the article “didn’t say anything about anything” in a December profile of Weingarten. The piece was staged. It may have been intended as entertainment, but was an act of narrative contrivance in the family of so-called “stunt journalism.” This is what reporters do when they have neither an idea for a feature nor actual evidence from which to produce an article.
I want to be clear – this is not what Lehrer did, but it exists in the same journalistic spectrum as Lehrer’s transgressions. This isn’t plagiarism or the fabrication of quotes, but it is the fabrication of an event that sold a lot of newspapers and raked in plenty of page views.
I was once told (chided, actually) by an editor that “there’s no such thing as a slow news day, kick it ‘till it moves!” This is great advice for a young journalist, but doesn’t address the standards of public service that the journalistic profession is supposed to uphold. This ethos gives way to bogus trend stories, stunt journalism, or worse. In the age of “journalism” that competes for clicks, there’s also tendency for young reporters who are under immense amount of pressure – not unlike Lehrer – to juice up inconsequential, non-newsworthy information that yields slideshows, top-ten lists, or – in the extreme – material like Buzzfeed’s “Olympic Booty Appreciation” or Gawker’s traffic-whoring “I Can’t Stop Staring at Cyber Woman With Corn” – all entertainment.
In the past few months, we’ve seen the fall of Lehrer, This American Life contributor Mike Daisey, and controversy over Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” video. Lehrer was an entertainer - “a salesman for science.” Like Lehrer, Daisey and Invisible Children popularized the relatively unknown to a large audience. Lehrer and Daisey made things up to reinforce their narratives while “Kony 2012” distilled a complex and multi-sided political and ethnic conflict down to a narrative of good versus evil. Journalism and science seek truth. They are professions built around the mission of knowledge building. When journalists mix science with narrative or entertainment with facts – or when scientists mix entertainment with research – they obscure truth.
Conclusions from @CreativeTimeNYC curator @NatoThompson’s discussion w/@NAA_NYC’s Beka Economopoulos & Jason Jones
Note: Except where identified, the views expressed here are not those of the panelists, but the conclusions I drew from the information and opinions presented in the panelists’ discussion.
On June 19, the last day of Spring 2012, Creative Time chief curator Nato Thompson lead a discussion with Not An Alternative’s Beka Economopoulos and Jason Jones about the effects of the Occupy movement and its strategies on current political activism. Held at Eyebeam as part of their Urban Research Group conversation series, the event was designed to focus “on the emerging confluences of art and activism as they relate to contemporary conditions of urban space.”
The takeaway: Spectacle and location are intertwined. Political theatre needs a stage. Occupy Wall Street became impossible to ignore and within a few months of the initial Wall Street occupation, “occupy” and “the 99%” became household words. The movement changed the conversation about political power by making the public realize and think about how wealth and power are connected.
Occupy’s current state, relative to its heyday, dominated a third of the panel’s time by my estimate. I think the movement lost steam because it broke into groups, also known as “working groups.” The formation of those working groups lead to the greater movement’s ethos dissolving. The working groups are still in operation, but they are essentially comprised of activists who’d be conducting the same work they’re doing now whether or not Occupy Wall Street ever took place. They’re just rebranded under the Occupy movement. Smaller groups also create less spectacle and so can’t achieve Occupy’s desired level of political theatre, and by the time working groups began forming, “Occupy” became a brand signifying political progressivism that could be attached to just about any concept. The social capital of “Occupy” was thereby co-opted by liberal movements everywhere.
The hipster’s role in Occupy’s current state of repose:
1. Hipsters, individuals who adopt a lifestyle based on certain principles, made up much of the movement’s informal membership. Nato Thompson presented a clear definition of a hipster in a March 2012 lecture on his book Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Age of Cultural Production at the Hammer Museum in LA: “The hipster is all of us terrified of being anything, but simultaneously having political effects in space.“ “Space and culture are radically intertwined,” he said. Think “Occupy” or “gentrification.”
2. The attention that Hipsters are willing to give anything has a short half-life, and it’s getting shorter. It is the nature of being hip.
3. Artists (who are not necessarily hipsters, but a sub-culture and socio-economic group with similar attributes and motivations) made up a large portion of the greater occupy movement. The Occupy Museums movement, deemed by some a “splinter group” comprised of artists, took resources away from the greater movement’s core. Let’s face it, artists play a large role in progressive activism, and Occupy Museums was a cohesive and effective movement. The greater movement could have used their potency for protest. (Update, 21 June:Thompson commented that he loves the work that Occupy Museums are doing. Fwiw, me too.)
4. There is a disconnect between the hipster individual seeking an alternative lifestyle and the Occupy movement’s ability to augment the dominant paradigm. This disconnect is summed up for me by a T-shirt designed by Not an Alternative (available for $10+s/h):
"Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens." There are individuals willing to change their lifestyle to adopt a new identity (E.g. eco-minded urban farmer with chickens) - and their drive for individuality manifested as an ethos that has a definitive confluence with the occupy movement - but eventually that individuality lead to the formation of numerous working groups in order to address the interests of their respective group members.
Now, I thought the Occupy movement was successful because it combined the abstract and the practical:
The abstract: People are disappointed and angry that the system’s not working, our government is broken, etc. Occupy offered a counterweight to Tea-party movement, which actually has numerous basic similarities to the Occupy movement (see Lawrence Lessig: A Letter to the #Occup(iers)). The Tea Party movement was not discussed at Eyebeam’s event. Occupy’s initially resistance to make any specific demands or ally with any institutions enabled the movement to leverage the more abstract notions behind the general discontentment about class and plutocracy and focus on visibility (i.e. spectacle, political theater). In the words of Thompson’s description of the hipster, “To be something is to be vulnerable to your own co-optation.” The aforementioned resistance to being anything specific helped prolong Occupy’s half-life.
The practical: The United States is experiencing historical disparities in wealth, income, and tax burdens, and these things affect 99% (or more) of the population.
What’s next? Can and will the spirit of Occupy, or anyone that self-identifies as part of the movement, get people to vote this November? If one thinks the system is broken, they may vote for a third party candidate or avoid the voting booth altogether rather than attempt to support the incremental progressive changes that not having Mitt Romney in office gives all of us the chance to make.
It's telling that we're getting journalism about the differences between biennial curation and art fairs.
As if we need to be reminded that they’e not the same.
A recent Art Newspaperarticle (“Curators turn East but Art Basel looks to the US: Documenta, Manifesta, La Triennale and the Kiev Biennale strike a different tone to the art market”) compares and contrasts art fairs with international exhibitions. The piece offers up a lot of refreshing stats and quotes for those of us that are concerned about institutional coziness with the buying and selling of art, but a publication for art insiders, such as The Art Newspaper, shouldn’t need to show us reporting on how fairs and biennials are “different animals.”
The article still does provide interesting analysis on the disparities in what’s being shown at Art Basel and the big international exhibitions. If you’re a “white American male artist under the age of 45,” its author writes, “[t]he odds of getting into an international survey of contemporary art in Europe right now are stacked against you.”
Is this about scholarship’s aversion to the mainstream? This is likely, but Documenta, Manifesta, La Triennale, and the Kiev Biennale “present a vision of the world that focuses on countries at the centre of recent political upheavals or on the fringes of Western awareness,” the author writes. (The art market rarely deals in works made in reaction to current events.) Curators of serial international exhibitions have a duty to show us what’s going on in the world, and a lot of art is being made in response to the Arab Spring and other global political phenomenons. Leave the scholarship and curation on what’s popular the art market to the Whitney Biennial.
Will we ever know how much we've missed by largely ignoring everything created outside New York City after World War II?
Perhaps not without a time machine, but “L.A. Raw: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945–1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art traces the development of art imbued with the politics that so many taste-makers seemed adverse to in the decades after World War II. Like many exhibitions organized under the auspices of the Pacific Standard Time festival, the show offers another slice of American history that mainstream art history scholarship often ignores.
"The exhibition’s significant contributions," wrote Greg Cook in the May/June issue of Art New England, “are to tease out links between [painter Rico] Lebrun and the present, as well as to illuminate another regional perspective in the often-untold history of the past century of American art outside of New York.”
As usual, Cook doesn’t pull any punches regarding the modern art myopia of the New York money machine, but this quote he includes from a 1959 Time Magazine article is a gem: “While abstract expressionism rules the cash register in Manhattan’s prospering art galleries, young artists across the land are turning back to images—but with a difference.”
Art and activism in the heyday of Greenberg-ian modernism. Who knew?
Pictured: Rico Lebrun, Untitled (Three figures), 1960, ink wash on paper. 18 x 18½”. Private collection.
Young Curators, New Ideas IV, the 2012 edition of Mr. and Mrs. Amani Olu’s serial exhibition, was crowd sourced.
The show follows a wiki method (think Wikinomics) in that it’s built on the efforts of 12 young “curators” who are promised space in a 7,000-square-foot Chelsea gallery in return for selecting artists to exhibit. With the space comes the benefit of a large amount of exposure that their curatorial aspirations wouldn’t typically be able to garner. The organizers, who selected curators’ proposals submitted through an open call, and the gallery, which simply houses the show, get an exhibition that’s more enterprising and diverse than your typical gallery’s summer program. With minimal effort, the gallery has a show built on the specific knowledge of a relatively large group of individuals.
Does it work? Sure, and if you’ve ever gotten lost down a path of Wikipedia hyperlinks, you’ll know what I mean. There are highs and lows, some paintings you might forget before you leave, and some usual suspects from the Brooklyn-based-rising-star category, but this may be the “summer group show” that sets the standard for summer group shows this summer.
Jeffrey Vallance, Juliet’s Balcony, Verona, 2006. Image courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Amani Olu.
This work is part of curator Stephanie Roach’s section of the show, titled “Losing My Religion.” In addition to five pieces by Vallance, Roach also brought in four works by the much younger Jeni Spota, a painter who also incorporates shrine-esque vignettes and iconography into her work. It’s one of the exhibition’s highlights.
Out of this Body, Lana Z Caplan's installation in Fountain Studios' project space, feels like a cacophonous mess of point-of-view video, but only if you don't give the work the time it deserves. The installation, titled When you cut into the present, the future leaks out (2012), seems like a real-time representation of a mind’s eye in r.e.m. sleep and shows off Caplan’s knack for spell-casting in the language of cinema.
Two wall-sized projections at 90 degrees from each other show handheld video camera footage shot by the artist. Both show content pulled from the same source material (cocktail parties, interviews, lectures, street scenes, all through different seasons), but one screen shows footage seemingly edited for timing rhythm while the other, triggered by a light sensor, frenetically flips through 200 different clips. Hanging from the ceiling are two domed speakers, each one trained directly at the floor and tightly focusing the sound of one of the projections. Their shape focuses the sound they emit and allows viewers to step in and out of each video’s diegetic sound.
The POV footage (you only hear Caplan’s voice, and rarely, and you don’t see her) shows you just what the filmmaker sees and hears, and the spontaneously fractured footage with its disconnected sound in the darkened gallery create a disorienting effect that’s best described like being in a dream. A set of speakers (Untitled, 2012; 2 subwoofers, amplifier, CD player with audio track, infinite) installed in a wall nearby provide the space with low, drowning rumble that helps lull you into the trance-like state in which one best enjoys the work.
The only detraction from the exhibition is a slide projector nestled closely to a wall (Unwrapped, 2012). A small sign, or friendly gallerist, invites visitors to click through Caplan’s photographs (digital transferred to slide film), which fit with the show’s theme with their beauty and contemplative nature, but the projector adds as much to the experience of the show as it takes away.
If you can manage an hour outside of Bushwick this weekend, head down to Prospect Heights/Crown Heights for the last weekend of Caplan’s show. Email Fountain (fountainstudios(at)gmail(dot)com) to plan a visit or just show up at the artist’s talk and closing reception on Saturday, 2 June at 7pm.
Taylor Davis, @DodgeGallery, thanks for the sculpture master class.
So many sculptors fail to recognize the potential for their work to give us a new way to experience space. Taylor Davis isn’t one of them.
Every time I experience (not just look, but experience) new works by the artist, I can’t not think about how their length, width, and height affect my perception, and her latest works at Dodge Gallery were no exception.
Tbox 1, 2012 birch plywood and oil paint, 14 x 16.5 x 16.5 inches
By definition, these works could be formalism. We can enjoy them for their formal qualities; they’re made of playfully placed, fastidiously milled planks of wood, but Davis doesn’t stop there. She stencils text, paints arrows according to the grain, and drops subtle hints about her works’ construction. Her latest box-like works are an evolution from earlier works, which, because of their slick craftsmanship, looked like wooden replicas of abstract CAD drawings.
Five fingers and a thumb, 2012, milled white pine, 43 x 43 x 43 inches
Davis augered each one of these planks, essentially adding more sides to each piece, and from their ends their shape looks like a Modern painting. Ellsworth Kelly, perhaps?
Five fingers and a thumb, detail. Photo by author.
Davis added a fourth dimension to four of her her works at Dodge Gallery by wrapping sentences or phrases around cylindrical works that forcing the viewer to circle each sculpture four or five times to take in the entire work.
Installation view, 2012.
“This is not a walk and chew gum moment,” Davis wrote in a statement for the show, “it’s a proposal that understanding a thing in its entirety is a difficult, if not impossible, endeavor.”
Poet Anselm Berrigan wrote a four-part poem titled “Because reading is a physical act” that describes Davis’ work. He begins with his experience of the cylinders:
As a person who reads when walking / I get what the cylinders are getting at
making bodies move in circles to see / them. You can’t be stationary and read
the full sentence, but that brief regi- / stration of a part of a thing in motion
Former Bain Capital managing director Edward Conard reminds me of Joseph Stalin
Edward Conard, Former Bain Capital managing director, Mitt Romney partner, and newly published author, has an economic philosophy similar to that of Joseph Stalin’s.
Conard’s widelyreported - andderided - attitude towards anyone with the capacity “to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism [of the economy] but who chose[s] instead a less competitive life,” whom Conard scorns as “art-history majors,” should be troubling for anyone mindful of the supposed moral underpinnings of authoritarian political philosophies.
In a May 14 2012 interview to discuss his new book about economics and innovation with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, Conard was given a chance to clarify statements he made about “art-history majors,” which appeared in a New York Times Magazine article by Adam Davidson.
“The book has a moral component to it,” he told Lehrer. “It says that talented people have an obligation to get the training that’s required to produce innovation and that they need to take the risks that are necessary to produce it.”
I’m sure we’ve all been annoyed during our humanities classes by hairsplitting cultural criticism esoterica that only seems to serve to re-categorize the previous generations’ isms, but to write off any academic pursuit that seeks to better understand society, past or present, is tantamount to book-burning.
I’m not a political historian, but statements like Conard’s make me shudder. The idea that U.S. citizens have a “moral obligation” to pursue educations, careers, etc. that only support the growth of the economy harkens back to authoritarian philosophies like fascism and Stalinism.
In 1945, Russian-born British philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin visited Russia as an official of the British Foreign Office and penned a nearly 10,000-word memorandum titled “A Note on Literature and the Arts in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in the Closing Months of 1945.”
“The main engagement of the early and middle 1920s was fought between the free and somewhat anarchist literary experimenters and the Bolshevik zealots…” he wrote.
“There followed, during the period of “pacification” and stabilization organized by Stalin and his practical-minded collaborators, a new orthodoxy, directed principally against the emergence of any ideas likely to disturb and so divert attention from the economic tasks ahead.”
This is an example of what Conard’s philosophy could be as manifested in governance: “Stalin and his practical-minded collaborators” have a severe aversion to “any ideas likely to disturb and so divert attention from the economic tasks ahead.”
In a 1946 discussion with creative leaders in the Soviet Union that covered topics such as the ideological dangers of art and literature, Stalin scoffs at anything short of socialist realism that doesn’t support his cause. His tone is remarkably similar to that of Conard’s:
“Today under the guise of innovation formalism is being induced in Soviet music and abstraction in painting. Once in a while a question can be heard ‘is it necessary for such great people as Bolsheviks and Leninists to be engaged in such petty things and spend time criticizing abstract painting and formalism. Let the psychiatrists deal with it.”
“There is no art for art’s sake. There are no, and cannot be, ‘free’ artists, writers, poets, dramatists, directors, and journalists, standing above the society. Nobody needs them. Such people don’t and can’t exist.”
Similarities between Conard and Stalin also exist in the narrow focus of their opinions about intellectual pursuits in the creative realm. Essentially, the moral component of their argument is the same: If it serves no economically measurable purpose, it has no use for our country.
In his interview with Lehrer, Conard goes on to say that he sees a “surplus” (notice his use of economic terminology) of smart people in the United States that aren’t getting the training needed to create innovation. “We don’t get to be art history majors for the sake of our own satisfaction,” he said, demeaning the choices of those whom Stalin might call the “creative intelligentsia,” who are - in the autocratic leader’s words - “completely dependent on the monetary support of the financial magnates in their creative endeavors.”
This makes me wonder what Conard’s hierarchy of college majors is according to their value towards innovation, or if he’s aware, for instance, that the late innovation of social media (he mentioned Facebook in his interview with Lehrer) is humming on the energy and creativity of the individuals educated through the humanities or other useless college majors. I also wonder what he thinks about Art History majors that study the art market or Economics majors that study history. I wonder if he’s ever read Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto.
There are familiar political battles over arts education in public schools, but the fight typically involves the effects of the arts versus science and math in the intellectual and cognitive development in children. At this point, arts education advocates, who can make strong moral arguments for their cause, don’t typically need to defend the arts in public schools based on their long-term impact on the economy. However, if Conard’s philosophy begins to pervade the halls of our local and national governments, arts advocates will be facing much more politically potent weapons, especially in Tea Party-dominated legislatures.
Image of Conard via his website. Image of Stalin via the web.