Friday, June 29, 2007

Beauty, Brocades, Truth & TinFoil: Rudolf Stingel @ the Whitney

(Disclosure statement: I haven't yet seen the show, but I am an admirer of his past works, and I'm looking forward to it. This post is more general thoughts about the review the artist's work in general.)

In looking at the A/V tour provided by Roberta Smith at the NY Times online, I'm struck again by the artist's intentional workings on idea of ornament, environment & surface adornment, notably in view of contemporary wallpaper and carpet designers who are positioning these craftworks more firmly in the nether region between art, design and architecture. Or should I say, between good taste and bad taste, high art and tacky luxury, process and product. Ms. Smith writes:
"Opulence is countered by austerity, spectacle is undercut by banality. All processes are as transparent and simple as possible...The show swings between painting as portable object and as immersive environment."

Stingel's past work, such as the huge floral carpet for the Walker Art Center, or his particle-board sacristy to Paula Cooper (excellently reviewed here by Jerry Saltz), places him in the recent tradition of artists who work in a decadent, allover consumptive decorative way (AVAF, Jorge Pardo, Jim Iserman, Barry McGee, Tsang Kin-Wah, et al), who manage to somehow insert a pleasure principle into a political and immersive (but human scale) practice.How can you not love this installation titled 'Home Depot' for the MMK Frankfurt, in which the wallpaper housed the same pattern of the 'artwork':

Stingel's use of 'cheap' materials such as styrofoam, mirrors, shag carpet and the DIY aspect of the silver mylar graffito piece tweaks my stingy reluctance towards 'participatory' art and the lazy notion of 'everything the artist does is art', but as Ms. Smith puts it in her review of the current show:

These paintings set a brooding, romantic, even phlegmatic tone at odds with his usual brisk no-nonsense attitude, but they emphasize several important points: The artist is always at the center of the art, no matter how impersonal it may sometimes appear; art takes a lot of thought and deliberation, no matter how simple it may seem; and indolence has its rewards.The implication is that artists in particular should do as little as possible. The sign of a successful artwork is its ability to derive the greatest effect from the least means.

Another lesson to be extracted from this elegant show is the oxymoronic nature of the notion of “empty beauty” that has been bruited about extensively in the last decade. This show suggests that if art is empty, it is not beautiful and vice versa. If something is beautiful in any sustained way, it contains, at the least, an idea about beauty and usually much more.

It's got to be said his self-portrait paintings are pretty amazing...which is a laconic compliment-with-a-sneer about photo-realism, right? And even the 'do-nothing' works have an air of shabby sophistication that is genuinely inviting and funny, through the simple inversion of putting floor-works on the wall (carpet, footprints) and vice versa. The aspect of his work which involve self-referential art world gags or the navel-gazing 'demystification' of the art-making process can seem kind of precious, leaving the question open: is this an appropriation of spectacle or is it a container of unapologetic, pleasurable spectacle as an end to itself? Whatever. I love it.

See the full review & voiceover tour by Ms. Smith right here.

Risky Business: What They Don't Teach You In Art School Part I

I recommend this writing which is found on the always entertaining and frank artblog run by gallerist Ed Winkleman. This post reveals the mysteries of the artist/dealer 50/50 sales split and tries to answer the question, What Is It That Galleries Do Anyway?, which is just a super question to ask when you consider that a gallery really is a business and not a public service or retail space and that most dealers really aren't interested in the non-buying, off-the-street hoodlum hoi polloi (such as myself) that drifts in and out of their $25,000/month tony exhibition halls, pestering the young staff with so-called in-depth questions (my 'interest' is a shallow cover for often unsuccessful flirting BTW). These annoyances surely account for the fact that galleries are only open 5 days a week (not including Sunday) typically with the awkward, non-working-class friendly hours of 10-6 pm and are closed for holiday for upwards of a month...

Anyway, here are some snippets:

Many folks outside the gallery system will look at that split and be amazed, I'm sure. The artist is the creative genius, the artist spent years in art school, the artist is the one putting it all on the line for the public to take pot shots at their vision. In other professions, like acting, managers only get 15% and agents only get 10%. Why on earth does the gallery take 50% of the money? The short answer is because it costs that much to promote the artist's work. The longer answer is, well...

All in all, I feel the artists who get it the best are also the artists who take the time to understand the business realities of the relationship. Many artists will complain about the split wholly unaware that at the point they're doing so, the gallery has spent more money promoting the artist than they've taken in through sales. In other words, the gallery has yet to recoup its investment.


I took a small survey of young(ish) galleries with bare bone staffs and predominantly emerging artists in their stable in New York. They reported that it costs between $6,000 to $12,000 per exhibition for the overhead/rent alone (these are all galleries with relatively modest spaces). This is before the gallerist takes a salary, let alone sees any profit for the business. That means, that with the 50/50 split, those galleries must sell between $12,000 and $24,000 of artwork per exhibition before they even break even. Before they can pay themselves anything. Before they can expand the business and reinvest in more resources to promote their artists. For many (if not most) emerging artists out there, I suspect, that means the gallery took a loss on your first exhibition. Sometimes a hefty one.

Furthermore: happens all the time that after 5 years, after an investment of $50,000 or more, an artist will leave a gallery, or stop making art, or a whole range of things that make that investment disappear. It's risk like this that, to my mind, justifies the 50/50 split. At least initially.

We artistical-types are flakey that way.

But, I'm not really being snarky here, you should absolutely go to the blog and read the full writing as well as the insightful discussions on the comment board. Go!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Williamsburg Street Art Interventions

Here's some Brooklyn art with no depictions of owls--can you feature that!!

I guess one doesn't grow in Brooklyn after all:

(Unless it's a high-rise condo, that is.)

i-Dicted, Ha ha

This waggish iPod ad parody was spotted on a construction wall on Bedford Ave, apparently it was a one-day installation only, too bad.

And speaking of street interventions, I am flipping out over the increasing volume of burned-out old bicycles that are lashed in huge rusted piles up and down my neighborhood. Why do these exist? Is it some bizarre sculptural project? Are they shabby street altars to the gods of the W'burg hippy bike-nazi cults?

Collecting Software Art: the Swapable Gallery

This is a repost from Rhizome: a neat little interview with Steven Sacks (founder of NY-based New Media gallery Bitforms and, conducted by Domenico Quaranta. Here's an excerpt:

DQ. About experiencing the work, you talk about a dedicated machine, "a
software art station". It seems to me weird and provocative at the same
time. At the beginning, Net Art and Software Art tried to introduce new,
democratic ways to experience art: but, entering the art market, they
usually lost this visionary approach, looking for more traditional,
“materialized” interfaces (prints, videos, sculptures and so on).
softwareARTspace seems to look for a viable way to re-propose that
visionary approach. Do you think that we are now ready for totally new
ways to experience art?

SS. There are some very simple reasons why we are all ready for a
change. Access and price. It is now very easy to access computers and
screens and the prices have dropped dramatically. The thought of having
2-3 screens devoted to software or video art is not unreasonable and in
fact will broaden and diversify most people's collection. Also, for some
works of art it is ok to rotate between pieces on one screen which also
offers collectors a nice option for easily and quickly changing their

DQ. What I buy when I buy one of your multiples? Is it like buying video
art? Or more likely buying a software or a game? Why do you make
editions of 5000 instead of 50? Is it still art, when it costs 125 $?

SS. It is not video. It is code - Software Art. The work is on a CD and
must be viewed on a computer with a decent graphics card.
This is not about “collecting” and value. It's about experiencing a
sample of work from important software artists. When these artists
produce more “fine artworks” they will have the attention of a wider
audience who may be interested in smaller editions or unique objects.

This is pretty much right-on and an idea I have been playing around with myself, in devising ways to put my own work out into the world in a non-gallery context. When it comes to 'New Media Art' and 'Net Art', I don't really get all the hand-wringing that usually accompanies discussions about the preciousness of quote-fine art objects-unquote and why this method of object creation needs to necessarily be dismantled. Does it matter if this object is encountered in an art gallery as opposed to, say, a design gallery such as Moss or Moroso? Does it matter if the methods of distribution of a video or software piece are more similar to that of a design-commodity, when you in fact have many artists working today who straddle that precipitous line between design and art already?

The interesting thing about 'Software Art' (or art that is otherwise generative or digitally interactive in nature) is that it is a (sometimes disharmonious) marriage of Visual and Conceptual practices. That is to say, there is a visual, collectible artifact which is a result of an idea manifested in the labor of code and the hand of the artist who either established the parameters or guided the results. Unlike much Conceptual work, which is tied to a performance, unique act, or free-floating meme, this work is potentially mass-producible, archival, and non-degradable---pending viruses and crashes, of course.

Filmmakers, photographers, printmakers, sculptors, and every other creative who works with editions, multiples, and reproductions--by the very nature of that practice--don't have to defend the uniqueness of their work or its value. However, it would be very cool if some of these Factory-style artists, who just churn work out, could take a cue from the design world they emulate and offer some cross-affordable editioned artwork as well. I don't feel this undermines the (quite necessary IMO) role of the collector to own unique slices of the artist's overall vision. The question from the interview "Is it still art if it's only $125" is quite (excuse the pun) priceless in this regard. Is the value of the idea diminished if it's distributed across a greater spectrum of audience?

While I'm on the subject, what's the big deal about making democratic art anyway? Is there some kind of crisis in people's ability to enjoy and view art? The art world is an economy of uniques, really. I don't believe this country is suffering from a lack of more things, more pleasure, more consumption opportunities. There is more creative stuff being made available right now than, like, ever before. I think many folks are throwing around the word 'democratic', thinking they are using it to mean 'participatory' (another over-used term the art world needs to get a grip on), when really they mean 'freedom to consume.' Or something like that.