December 31, 2004
A Happy New Year to all.
The folks at Crooked Timber also offer a way to help while buying all that stuff you were planning on buying anyways. Donating commissions from their Amazon Associates accounts (with promised matching funds of up to 200 euros courtesy of one generous reader): John Holbo, Henry Farrell, Chris Bertram and Maria Farrell.
For what it's worth, and following suit, I'll donate whatever nickles and dimes fall into my own Associates account through quarter one of the new year (these worthy boxed sets and the book links to your left should get you started), though I can't boast matching funds or ready-made lists of big ticket items, and I couldn't tell you off hand what kind of percentage purchases will garner. Buying through the Crooked Timberites will undoubtedly offer more bang for your retail buck.
For those in a reading mood, NEWSgrist distills a wealth of tsunami blog coverage here.
December 27, 2004
When it comes to clubs that would have me as a member, my opinion is roughly in line with Groucho's...
All self-deprecating modesty aside, with this whole Art in America thing, I appear in some pretty good company. Rubinstein's list, however, is far from complete. At least one omission is downright criminal. Still, I find the fact that one can't fit an inclusive list of quality art blogs into a magazine sidebar to be undoubtedly a postitive thing.
(And they continue to proliferate wildly. Here's one I found via my site stats this morning that appears to have been started just yesterday. I already like what the author has to say about Lichtenstein, Richter, painting and cynicism.)
So for those of you landing here through Art in America (and anyone else, really), I've come to direct you elsewhere. Though the links list to your right is fairy extensive (though far from exhaustive), it is a bit unwieldy and, as such, is earmarked for a bit of renovation some time after the holidays.
Here, in easier to digest form, is a list of 10 blogs that should have or could have been on Art in America's list. No claims to inclusivity—just a partial and incomplete rundown of some current and perennial faves who didn't make the cut (read: bloggers, don't get pissed if I overlook you)...
Martin Bromirski's Anaba
Franklin Einspruch's Artblog
Cinque Hicks' Bare and Bitter Sleep
Sarah Hromack's Forward Retreat
Cynthia King's Fresh Paint
Miguel Sánchez' Modern Kicks
Mark Cunningham's Rarified Air
Sally McKay's Sally McKay
Carolyn Zick's Studio Notebook
Chris Hand's Zeke's Gallery
Go read now.
Finally, a note about the books lists (to your left) as plugged by Rubinstein... I have to once again cop to the fiction of the gimmick: there are currently no books on my real-life nightstand or bedroom floor. They all remain boxed up from a recent move. These lists, too, are ripe for a revamp in the New Year, maybe taking into account some new holiday arrivals.
December 24, 2004
As I had already transcribed about half of the listing myself, I figured I'd go ahead and finish the job. Why? Because I love you.
So, for the sake of everyone's reading, hyperlinking and Google-ranking pleasure...
Art in the Blogosphere
It's no secret that the number and influence of on-line Web logs, or blogs, have grown dramatically over the last couple of years. Although the contemporary art scene has yet to produce a blog as consequential as ronsilliman.blogspot.com has been for the poetry world or dailykos.com in politics, there are now quite a few interesting art-related blogs. Here is a list, briefly annotated, of some that I've found to be worth regular visits.
So far John Perreault's artopia is the only instance of a blog created by an established art critic (I'm not counting New York critic David Cohen's great artcritical.com, which is really more of an on-line magazine). In contrast to many other art blogs, which are patched together out of links to other sites and brief comments or rants by their authors, Perreault's blog is devoted almost exclusively to fully developed exhibition reviews. Hosted by the on-line arts digest artsjournal.com.
Written by Washington, D.C. critic Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes (MAN) blends coverage of breaking news stories, such as the resignation of the Getty's director, with venting on assorted topics from museum missteps to a Vogue article on Elizabeth Peyton. Since Green became a critic for Bloomberg News, his contributions to his own blog seem to have diminished in scope. Also hosted by artsjournal.com.
Created by the Philadelphia artist team of Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, this site offers capsule reviews of gallery and museum exhibitions in the Philadelphia area, as well as coverage of lectures and openings. It's updated daily, with plenty of photos and contributions from others besides Fallon and Rosof. This blog is unabashedly local-written by Philadelphia artists for Philadelphia artists—yet thanks to Fallon and Rosof's clear writing, unfussy graphics and assumption of the inherent strength of the Philadelphia art scene, it should be of interest to outsiders as well.
Run by Caryn Coleman, co-owner of a gallery called sixspace, this site offers brief reviews of gallery and museum shows in the Los Angeles area, sometimes by guest bloggers, with a few bits of news and commentary thrown in. Coleman also chronicles her art jaunts to New York and Miami.
Dan Hopewell's enthusiastic, informed, intelligent commentary on the art scene in his hometown of Chicago and elsewhere. Iconoduel offers considerably more intellectual content than most art blogs. Helpfully, Hopewell tells you what books he's reading, divided into the categories of "on the nightstand" and "piled on the floor."
The site of New York painter Tom Moody, who shares with viewers images of his own paintings, his studio process, his visual passions and assorted enthusiasms. He also devotes a lot of space to the work of other artists who share his interest in the intersection of abstraction and digital art. Mesmerizing digital animations and occassional comments, always opinionated and thoughtful, on exhibitions and art-world developments.
Commentary on the New York gallery scene by art lover Todd Gibson. Covers everything from auction previews to discussions of the right way to pronounce Romare Bearden's first name. When MOMA reopened, he had a nice post about 10 New Yorkers he knows who probably won't be able to afford the museum's new $20 admission.
This site bills itself as "a black art magazine focusing on articles that present new visions of art throughout the black diaspora." Electric Skin mainly offers links to articles on other sites about exhibitions of black artists around the country and the world. Also posts content such as a conversation between Chris Ofili and DJ Spooky and a three-part report on an art conference in Nigeria.
New York gallery going with lots of photos, not very much text. Like many bloggers, Wagner loves his digital camera and his site is full of colorful street photographs. Also devotes a fair amount of space to politics and protests.
"Politics of art and culture in the digital age" is how painter Joy Garnett summarizes the focus of her web site Newsgrist. Most of the content comes via other sites, but this is a useful clearinghouse for a wide range of events and articles.
A studio journal from abstract painter Dennis Hollingsworth, with striking photos of works in progress and tangential images of everything from Queen Elizabeth II posing with a platoon of kilt-wearing soldiers to a construction project in Barcelona, pictures of other artists' work and Hollingsworth's dogs.
A profusely illustrated on-line diary by New York art student and budding graphic designer Keren Richter. The diary is mostly devoted to Richter's musical likes and and [sic] career moves, but the site is worth a visit for her stylish, Aubrey Beardsley-meets-Karen Kilimnick drawings.
December 23, 2004
Sure, Brian Sholis can't get no respect in the weblogs these days. That's not what I'm concerned with at the present, however.
What commands my attention here, and I won't tarry but a moment, is his recent highlighting of the current Kai Althoff survey (ongoing at the MCA), Kai Kein Respekt (Kai No Respect), amongst his Top 16 of 2004.
I got a bit cranky recently when a Chicago blogger (also named Brian, for what it's worth, and also with the initials "BS"—hmmm, too easy) declared the exhibit to be, like, the greatest thing ever. Now I see Sholis calling it "One of the top five solo exhibitions I have seen since I began to look closely at art." Granted, he doesn't detail exactly how long this has been.
With an empathic, folksy faux naïveté, Althoff successfully yet somewhat ambiguously identifies with and inhabits an eclectic range of invented and real characters... he divulges an ego-deflating sensitivity to disparate human experience that verges on the beatific... Althoff is a prism through which the white noise of everyday life is transformed into a dazzling rainbow.
In other words, it's all clutter and noise with very little thought or focus (gotta deflate that ego). What's that I was saying about "the partial and the insufficient"?
Now I don't wish to begrudge a man his tastes, but I'll ask again: am I missing something?
December 21, 2004
Apparently it's that time of year. So, with nothing much by way of a strict order...
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 95
Agnes Martin, 92
Leon Golub, 82
Ed Paschke, 65
Marlon Brando, 80
Ray Charles, 73
Johnny Ramone, 55
Rodney Dangerfield, 82
Russ Meyer, 82
Honorable Mentions: Spalding Gray, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Jack Paar, Tony Randall, Captain Kangaroo, Jacques Derrida, Rick James
*Update 12/23 (via MAN):
Anne Truitt, 83
Enough already. Really.
Rembrandt's Journey at the Art Institute
Byzantium: Faith and Power at the Met
Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, Millennium Park
Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain, Millennium Park
August Sander at the Met
Lee Bontecou at the MCA
Strange Days at the MCA
Sharaku actor prints at the Art Institute
Devotion and Splendor: Medieval Art at the Art Institute
Henry Darger at Carl Hammer
December 18, 2004
Missing the point in the Summer of 4 Ft. 2
Marge: So, did you call any of your friends?
Lisa: Friends? [scoffs] These are my only friends. [holds up copy of Tome: A Novel By Gore Vidal] Grownup nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he's kissed more boys than I ever will.
Marge: Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.
December 17, 2004
To my own dismay, my ability to dork around up in this piece has been rendered fairly minimal lately, due mostly to a need to poach internets access where and when I can. DSL at home goes live on Tuesday, so we'll see what kind of dorking the holidays will hold in store (no promises).
If you haven't yet, try and sort through the recent clash of comment cultures over at Artblog (a tiny bit of which spilled over into the comments on my previous dork): 114 progressively ornery comments for your browsing delectation (beware the shit talk).
I would... describe greatness as a massive agreement of subjective responses from people with self-critical tastes. The fact that I see the painting as great is important, because I have self-critical taste, and I become part of that massive agreement and reinforce it. (I am not, not, not saying that you don't have self-critical taste if you disagree with me. If you have self-critical taste and disagree with me, you undermine whatever consensus I help to form.)
I gave a class in art appreciation an assignment this semester. It was to compare the best of King Tut's thrones to Rodney McMilliam's chair. McMilliam's chair can be seen at http://www.artcritical.com/blurbs/JSMcMilliam.htm
I thought I would get back something about the irony that a somewhat funtionally oriented throne comes off as staggeringly beautiful for its own sake and an "art for art's sake" chair is such a flop as to be a waste of time to make it part of an assignment.
Instead most wrote they did not care for McMilliam's work at all until they were required to think about it as part of my instructions for writing an interpretation. The more they thought, the more they found they could write about it and therefore the better it seemed, until most of them concluded it was just as good as King Tut's throne. A couple went so far as to say McMilliam's chair was better than Tut's throne.
I also found that the strength of Tut's throne limited their interpretations considerably, even those who preferred McMiliiam. Most focused on its presence, its feeling of power, importance, splendor, formality, and how each detail helped create these impressions. There was amazing agreement. McMilliam's chair, on the other hand, spawned a zillion different ideas, ranging from the plight of the impoverished to the meaning of comfort for one's bottom.
Borrowing from Aristotle, I speculate that the objective FACT that the chair was next to nothing as art left it in a state of great potential to be anything else. According to Aristotle, the more a thing is realized, the less it can be something other than what it is, and vice versa. (Plain talk for the enlightened.) Tut's throne is in a magnificent state of realization and thus limits reasonable interpretation to what in fact it actually is. McMilliam's chair, existing on the edge of nothingness, stirs a far greater range of speculation because it lacks much of substance that would naturally limit the discussion. The students were all amazed that a piece of junk was so "thought provoking".
I left a big question of elitism open and nobody jumped on me for it: I would instead describe greatness as a massive agreement of subjective responses from people with self-critical tastes. Well, what about all those people who don't have self-critical tastes? They don't matter. They matter to each other and the market and much else, but they don't matter to the progress or continuation of great art. And people with sort of self-critical tastes? They matter more. So, yes, some tastes are more valuable than others. Now, who decides who has good taste? No one and everyone. How do you decide who is a good person? You have to get the facts right and decide for yourself. How do you know you're a good person? That's between you and your conscience. It's a similar problem.
But within that, self-critcial taste seems to be open to everyone, regardless of age or makeup. So it may not be all that elitist in the end.
Bottom line - I'll give the time of day to anything, but no idea is sacred, and many of them need a-killin'. I agree that the art world is in trouble, but much of that trouble was self-inficted through a bunch of failed priorities. I feel that I do my part to make it better if I make a call about something to the best of my ability and state it, even if that means turning some sacred cows into cat food.
It is possible to appreciate the beauty of something in at least two different ways; on involves "thinking" about it and understanding why you believe it is beautiful, the second is a kind of wordless state of wonder and awe. You refer to the latter as a state of absence of thought. Of course, whatever is going on while you look at the Matisse is going on in your brain; therefore it is thought. BUT it is word-less thought. I would say you meditated on the Matisse. I'd bet that at some point you stopped doing that and actually thought about it with words just a little bit. But even before that happened, your brain was doing all kinds of work, analyzing the relationship between the brushstrokes and what you, personally, know about the reality of mirrors, flowers, Cartesian space, and all kinds of other stuff (not the least of which, come to think of it, is brush strokes). You know this stuff so well that the brain does it sub-consciously, but nonetheless it is thought, and it is essential to your pleasure.
So you went into a wordless, Zen-like appreciation of the painting. That's pretty great, but don't give the painting all the credit - it was as a result of the painting being a near-perfect example of what you hold as sublime. I had the same experience at Basel while looking at a Wolfgang Tillmans photograph of a pink rag in water. It's powerful stuff.
Personally, I just do not believe that that is the only way to judge great art. I stand by my original statement; that art is great in proportion to its ability to evoke an idea/feeling.
Idea/feeling is a pretty vague bundle, so let me try to explain it. There may be a continuum of brain activity, from the Zen-like wonder which you describe, to a deep feeling of a specific emotion (i.e. sadness), to a feeling of sudden profound realization . . . ending up at a complicated, tangled, intellectual reasoning of some sort. I think great art can hit on any combination of these notes.
Iím not concerned with a strictly accurate reading of the 3rd Critique here. The movement from the initial explication of the judgment of taste to its placement in an ideally universal conversation, thatís whatís important. I see the Matisse painting and Iím struck dumb in wonder by its beauty; someone else disagrees, and we begin to talk, each trying to see and inhabit the point of view of the other. From out of our inchoate experiences, a conversation begins. Together that initial experience and our communication of it in a, well, community of others make up our engagement with beauty.
An interview about the photography market with Judith Keller, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Amanda Doenitz resulted from a conference attended at the Getty in March 2004 and, published in the December 2004 issue of art on paper.
Doenitz:It seems to me there is an overbearing emphasis on investing in art. But a discussion of connoisseurship barely exists. Is connoisseurship less important?Keller: Its importance has been reduced within the art market, but I don't hold the market entirely responsible for this. When a collector is looking at work, the people who are presenting that work should be connoisseurs themselves, and should be able to speak to the merits of the work. But an entire generation hasn't gotten this instruction at the university level. The teaching of connoisseurship has been enormously reduced in the academic world, where theory rules. It's simply not about the object anymore.
I heard many complaints about the work shown at the art fairs but, I saw lots of good work. Maybe I just didn't want to waste time looking at it and, thinking about it. If there was so much bad work out there, there are definitely a great number of people willing to stake financial risks on it. Maybe they don't think it's a risk. How does it matter that theory is now the trump card?
What I would like to do is propose a challenge to Brown. I would like to make the argument that for art history at Brown to survive as a discipline it must rely on the native tools of its discipline, which traditionally has been rooted in connoisseurship and the unique categorization of great works of art. Related to this, I would like to propose that art historians at Brown rely on only source material contemporary to their subjects. Only then may we understand artists on their terms rather than on our terms. If Brown made a pledge to pursue art history along these lines, and rejected sociological art history as is now practiced, the department would become the most progressive school for art historians in the country.
Connoisseurship as a fundamental I can understand in the sense that without the training in seeing that allows one to make distinctions one probably won't be much good at any other art historical task. To draw the line there seems unduly narrow, though, as if one believed that possibilities for art history stopped dead at Beazley or Berenson. Though I salute the achievements of the former, his work stands as a reminder of the damage done to historical understanding by fostering a cult of the artist. As for source material, contemporary material is peachy - few are the historians who would do without it. Far more complain that they don't have enough of it. But aside from the point that understanding artists "on their terms" is far from the only legitimate question for art history, it seems odd to argue for ignoring either the preceding record that might illuminate a new development or the ways in which it has been received by later generations.
My suggestion for Brown came out of a wish--first--to circumvent the art-critical theory of the past few decades that has come out of the field of linguistics. Imposing its methods from outside the discipline of art history, linguistics has done nothing but stand in the way of the "beginning of the investigation" of art, as Kicks writes, and indeed has thwarted old-fashioned connoisseurship at every turn. Linguistics has even robbed art history of its own native language. Words like "connoisseurship," "genius," "masterpiece," and so forth can't even be spoken in the art history classroom anymore. Second, yes, my suggestion is reductive. But my hope is that such a restriction might serve as a very minor corrective to the massive oppositional forces of today's art history, which is everywhere.
As I alluded to below, the involvement of linguistics in art history is not a recent perversion but part of the displicine's earliest history in its debt to philology, just for starters. To this extent James is complaining that the linguistic models he approves of have been replaced by those that he does not. Obviously this topic requires more elaboration than I can provide here, but that will have to stand for now.
Which is not to say that art history lacks disciplinary distinctions between itself and linguistics, however much influence the latter has had. But words such as "masterpiece" and "genius" aren't much use in the classroom not simply due to nefarious new theories but because they are worn out and don't say much. "Masterpiece" has become so devalued as to have about the same impact as callling a work "wicked awesome"; and "genius" as a descriptive term obscures exactly what one wants to investigate.
...those trying to argue for a revival of out-of-favor methods need to recognize that these are hors de combat not merely for reasons of fashion or politics. And, one hopes, not attempt revival but a truly creative evolution, examples of which already exist.
December 15, 2004
Franklin Einspruch and J.T. Kirkland are engaged in what may turn out to be a bit of a back and forth at their respective blogs on issues of meaning and thought in looking at art [Update: Round 2—Einspruch, Kirkland]. Knowing the rather healthy comment cultures both blogs sustain, this could get interesting. It could even turn into that whole vaunted blog dialogue thing, hampered only by the possiblity that they may well be discussing totally different things.
Well, allow me to throw another detour into the mix, one down the path of the fetishism of the fragment, where the theorists rail against the horrible tyranny and violence of our nostalgia for wholeness. It's a discourse in whose wake we all wade, in which all priority is given to the partial and the insufficient. (After all "nothing entices more than a fragment.")
Please bear with me (and check the time stamp) if this all sounds retarded...
The heart of the blog discussion is a Matisse painting Franklin spotted at an art fair you just might've heard about recently. It stopped Franklin dead in his tracks. I personally find even the jpeg he's posted of the work to be simply arresting. Moreover, it feels complete in itself, as if all one could care to know about the image is to be found within it. It holds me and approaches me as a world of meaning unto itself.
Franklin gives a definition of art here as boiled down to a charmingly simplistic reduction: "great art doesn't cause thinking, it stops thinking." More directly appropriate for my point, though, is the bit of definition offered later by stalwart Artblog.net commenter oldpro: "'Art' that provokes consideration of things outside itself is illustration. Art that is art, art that deserves the name, is self-contained."
Someone arguing along structuralist/poststructuralist/contextualist lines will protest that any such assertion of or desire for self-sufficiency is mistaken. Anything one can give consideration to is defined and delimited by that which is outside of it. Or, alternately, there is no "outside" to speak of whatsoever—il n'y a pas de hors-text and all that. Either way, context matters.
And I think it must be admitted that they have a point. Every signification exists in a system or web of meanings. Anything seen can only be seen as such within and through a history of seeing. In a more pictoral vein, every figure is defined as a figure by its supporting ground. I'm fully willing to admit that every image exists as a mere fragment (the question of giving priority to the fragmentary then seemingly rendered moot), contingent as it is on context.
None of this, however, can take away from the fact that it nonetheless appears to us as complete and self-contained, that it is experienced as such. And when we deal with art we deal primarily, and quite literally, with superficial appearances or our experiences of them. That the unity we perceive may be illusory doesn't matter so much as the illusion itself does. While the Marxists among us might declare it an insidious lie that clouds our vision, the stuff of bourgeois ideology, I call this a goddamned miracle. (And wouldn't arguing against an appearance for the sake of the truth of the reality behind it seem to smack of a bit of essentialism, my dearest pomo strawman?)
All of my books remain boxed up at home (yeah, the nightstand/floor book lists to your left are little more than lies), so I'm forced to plunder from my own masthead for a quote. Here's Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from (I believe) "Eye and Mind" (to be found in its entirety in The Primacy of Perception and excerpted in Art in Theory 1900-2000):
The painter's world is a visible world, nothing but visible: a world almost demented because it is complete when it is yet only partial.
To be fair, this would be more proper as a riposte to those iconoclasts who would hold the vulgarity of painting's merely visible form against its presumptions of truth (though I think that's a closely related topic), as he further insists that, second commandment fetishists be damned, painting "gives visible existence to what profane vision believes to be invisible." And certainly Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, attesting always to the visible's depedence on an invisible substrate, very much fed or anticipated later arguments against unity or self-sufficiency. Still, this sentiment is very much to the point: an image shows itself to be more than capable of exceeding the narrow constraints imposed on it by the cunning artifice of logic.
Against the wishes of many, then, the work of art congeals into a marvelous unity that seems to carry with it, within it, every meaning it can bring to bear—if it partakes of context, it does so only insofar as it collapses context into itself. It stands before us, accomplishing the impossible and collapsing past and future and far-flung forms and meanings into a very present singularity.
Perhaps we can find some middle ground in another reduction: can we think about art as something akin to thought itself, distilled and given flesh, and prepared to unfold before us?
(I should hasten to add that we also mustn't forget the simple, dumb silence engendered by that mystery which seemingly exceeds thought—but that would be getting into notions of the Sublime, including, I suppose, Lyotard's vision of the fragment.)
December 9, 2004
I find moving to be an incredibly depressing affair.
A professed advocate of the power of material culture, sorting through and packing up my life nonetheless leaves me wondering if maybe Michael Landy had the right idea after all, minus all that rigorous cataloging.
Mostly it's all a bit of a reminder (as if I needed it) that memory, like probably most things that matter, is a double-edged sword.
December 8, 2004
This Friday, it's the big move.
So it's pretty much sayonara till then, as posting from work during this, our high season, probably ain't so kosher. I'll return to the fold thereafter, although an immediate internets connection remains, at the moment, in doubt.
With apologies to Mark, the galleries will have to wait. So will a number of exhibitions I've neglected to see, including Chicago Architecture: Ten Visions and Anri Sala at the Art Institute (through April 3 and Jan 30, respectively), Camera/Action: Performance and Photography at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (closes Dec 23) and A Perfect Union ... More or Less at the Renaissance Society (down Dec 19).
December 6, 2004
I've been spending far more time than is probably healthy following newspaper arts coverage lately. Reasons for this will become apparent at a later date. For the time being, a backlog of stories in the world of Chicago art and culture...Kings of the mountain at the Circle Campus
Paschke's death leaves Richard Hunt, his contemporary, as the dean of Chicago artists in terms of age and status. But the city is not without its contingent of rising stars who seem poised to fill at least part of the vacuum created by Paschke's passing. A dozen calls to local art-scene observers yield a short list of four names, most of them men in their 40s, who are well on their way toward building national and international reputations as well as solid records as teachers, mentors and advocates of the arts in the city.
They are Kerry James Marshall and Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, both winners of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Dan Peterman, a conceptual artist who recently joined them on the UIC faculty and had a solo show, "Plastic Economies," this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Dawoud Bey, a photographer who teaches at Columbia College and has had significant shows at institutions such as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
On November 26, the Trib reported on a possible settlement in the latest iteration of attorney Scott Hodes' lawsuit against the program. The first go 'round began some 5 years ago:
Chicago artists have long called the program unnecessarily—even illegally—secretive about the way it sets prices for commissions, and how it chooses artists.
A corporate attorney who represents artists, often on a pro bono basis, Hodes long has complained in letters to city officials and newspaper editors about the way the program was managed. In 1999, he filed a lawsuit to end its secret deliberations and ensure fair play for the estimated 17,000 applicants registered to be considered for the program's dozen-or-so annual commissions.
In 2001, Hodes, in effect, won: Officials pledged to honor state open meetings and public records laws if he would drop his suit, and so he did.
A new era of transparency? That would run too much against Chicago's cronyist grain. The latest suit was prompted in part by the process (ahem, lack thereof) that put Public Art dollars into three commissions for Gallery 37 that same year.
These three commissions were anything but routine, because the building at 66 E. Randolph is of special interest to two of Chicago's most powerful and beloved women—First Lady Daley and Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg.
A series of intricate, interlocking relationships put Daley and Weisberg on both sides—donor and recipient—of the Public Art funds that flow through 66 E. Randolph.
In 1992, Maggie Daley established The Arts Matter, a private charity to raise money for the Gallery 37 teen artists' wages. Arts Matter receives money from private donors, but it also gets funds from Chicago's general city budget, channeled through Weisberg's Department of Cultural Affairs.
Daley chairs both the Arts Matter charity and the city-run Gallery 37 Committee. As commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Weisberg controls the funding for the Gallery 37 program she and Daley co-founded.
City records don't show that either woman played a direct role in the 66 E. Randolph commissions, and neither would comment for this article.
With the comparatively hefty $159,600 purse, the normally modest city program saw 66 E. Randolph as a chance to swing for the fences and go after "artists we could not have been able to get before," one city memo says. Gallery 37's then-director, Michelle Boone, drew up a list of eight nationally noted artists—including painters Ed Paschke and Kerry James Marshall, quiltmaker Faith Ringgold and photographer Michelle Keim—intending to award $50,000 each to three of them. Five of the eight artists originally considered were Chicago-based.
But, for reasons that remain unclear, there was a change of plan. Rather than go for artists with national reputations, city officials instead turned to others with ties to the Gallery 37 program. The available records don't show what discussion, if any, led to those choices.
Christopher Furman is known for interactive, kinetic sculptures installed in Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital and Purdue University in Indiana. Furman said he got a call from the Public Art Program asking him to produce a work for 66 E. Randolph, for which he was eventually paid $42,600. "I was flattered—at the same time I was kind of surprised," he said.
Furman had not submitted slides of his work to the Public Art Program registry to be considered for a commission, but he had been a Gallery 37 teacher, and had helped assemble artwork for then-director Michael Lash, an artist himself.
Called before a program advisory panel headed by Lash, Furman was prepared to present several proposals. "It didn't seem like much of a competition. It was like, `we're going to use you,'" he said.
Carpenter/cabinet-maker Jeffrey Goldstein had slides in the Public Arts registry. But he had taken a 15-year sabbatical from gallery submissions and showings, so his application contained slides of paintings that had not been exhibited. He bolstered those with photos of a sailboat he had constructed.
The lead artist creating "Dance Frieze" was Phil Schuster, who has taught at Gallery 37. According to a February 2001 memo, city officials initially intended to list him as a member of the seven-person Project Advisory Panel that would select artists for 66 E. Randolph.
Of course, it's well known that critics of the city's favoritism are really only out for one thing: to embarass Little Dick Daley. Reforms are mere window dressing for all the haters.
City officials call Hodes' charges of impropriety in those commissions "preposterous." But they acknowledge that, over the years, his litigation has prompted broad, tangible reforms. The program now keeps detailed minutes, submits annual financial reports and posts advance notice of meetings to the public.
"The city has ceased the practice of quote-unquote secret balloting, so that issue is moot," city attorney Andrew Worseck told the judge in an August court hearing.
But as Hodes kept winning, city officials privately expressed exasperation that he wouldn't stop suing, and said he seemed out to embarrass the mayor or wrangle a seat on the program's 17-member Public Art Committee.
So it is with some ruffled feathers that the two sides reach the brink of settlement.
Hodes and program director Greg Knight have agreed to meet on Monday to discuss resolving the litigation. City officials won't comment on the talks, but Hodes and a city official who spoke off-the-record said the key outstanding issue was creating a way for the city to publicize upcoming projects and invite proposals from artists.
Hodes, for his part, is optimistic:
"What they did was wrong," Hodes said. But in the wake of his lawsuit, he adds, "I tend to think they won't try it again."
Ha. I'd say forget it, Scott. It's Chitown.
Charged with developing a couple of new three-year funding initiatives in the arts, new Chicago Community Trust senior arts program officer Kassie Davis polled local arts organizations about their needs. 250 groups were asked to participate in the online survey. 131 responded. Charles Storch reported the results a week ago in the Trib.
But the survey results did hold some surprises for her, including that grants for more artistic works or artists were a relative low priority.
"The needs seem to be on the organizational side rather than on the artistic side," she said.
Another surprise was the age of some organizations. Respondents were divided into four groups, based on their budgets: very small, up to $250,000; small, $250,000-$999,999; midsize, $1 million to $4,999,999; and large, $5 million or more.
The results showed that 27 percent of the very small groups had been scraping by for 11 to 20 years and 21 percent for longer than 20 years. Were these Peter Pans that wouldn't grow up?
"A lot of organizations do grow over time," Davis said. "But there is something holding these back, or they have chosen not to grow."
She noted that the smallest groups might be able to afford only one or two salaried staff members, relying largely on volunteers. She said if more research suggests lack of paid staff is a big barrier to growth, then support for more salaried positions might prove a worthy initiative.
Something that struck me as noteworthy:
Question: What artistic or cultural disipline best describes the primary work of your organization?
Arts education: 20
Dance company: 17
Museum/botanic garden/zoo: 15
Community arts/music schools: 8
Arts service: 6
Media arts: 4
Visual arts: 3
No response: 5
Of course, many notable visual arts orgs are probably subsumed under "Museum/botanic garden/zoo" (take your pick).
As long as we're discussing Lois Weisberg and arts funding, perhaps you've heard about the Department of Cultural Affairs' latest creative fundraising scheme: The Great Chicago Fire Sale, a suite of eBay auctions featuring "one-of-a-kind items, services and experiences that are unique to Chicago" and benefiting Gallery 37, the Art Grants Program and the Chicago Cultural Center.
The first auctions opened last Thursday and most will remain up through the 9th, when a second set of goods will go up on the block. So far, a dinner for 10 with Bill Kurtis (plus a life documentary of the winner, done up A&E-style) leads the pack price-wise at $6,100 (with 20 bids). The marquee item, a vintage 1960s Playboy Bunny costume donated by Hef & Co, has yet to garner a single bid (opening bid: $6,000). Likewise a dinner for 6 with the Zhou Brothers (opening bid: $2,000).
In an auction that involved daylong drama and suspense, Chicago's Field Museum sold a collection of 19th Century Western art for $17.4million Thursday to an anonymous bidder and pledged to use the money to expand its holdings of contemporary anthropological artifacts.
In what may possibly be a bit of good news, the Field's Jonathan Haas suggests that the lone, anonymous buyer may have been another institution. Then again, maybe not:
Former trustee Edward Hirschland, who said he resigned in protest of the sale, was not necessarily enthused at news that the paintings were sold in a single lot. "They could have been bought by a broker who intends to sell them individually," he said.
CHICAGOóYou might add a fourth "C," for "complete," to the name of Chicago Contemporary & Classic—the forthcoming international art fair (May 6–9) at Chicago's Navy Pier. For the first time, the newly renamed show expands past its modern and contemporary roots to include decorative arts, furniture and antiques. "Galleries told us they are not as interested in a straightforward contemporary art fair; they are looking for something more radical," says director Ilana Vardy.
December 1, 2004
Though Crooked Timber's blogroll has long had him marked as possibly "moribund," via new-to-me Forward Retreat I see that Timothy Quigley has emerged from whatever academic burrow he's been hiding out in over at the New School just long enough to weigh in on MoMA's new admissions fee—and on Thanksgiving of all days.
I've been told that if he sees his shadow, we should expect another 3 months of dead silence from his corner of the art/culture blog world. But maybe if we're very, very quiet, with some luck Prof. Quigley will stick around long enough to give us all the swift, learned kicks in the pants we need. Here's a start, contra Robert Rosenblum and audience 'disenfranchisement':
Rosenblum may not be a card-carrying socialist, but as a knee-jerk Marxist with an aversion to joining groups, I'm about as close as you can get to being one. In spite of my commitment to the redistribution of resources so that everyone's basic needs are met, I'm not opposed to MoMA's admission policy.
Actually, my reasons for not objecting to the admissions policy go well beyond the ticket price. Here comes the politically incorrect side of my argument. If the $20 admission fee results in only modest attendance, that's fine with me. I've argued repeatedly (and much to the surprise of my colleagues) against what I take to be an uncritical and simplistic application of "democracy" with respect to art. The jingoism of public broadcasting and fund raisers who claim "the arts are for everyone" misses an important (and unpopular) point.
A real encounter and meaningful engagement with art is not a trivial matter. It takes preparation, care, thoughtfulness, and experience. To get anything out of it, you have to "take it seriously", and that takes time and space.
So I claim the arts are for everyone willing to invest what it takes to have their everyday assumptions and expectations challenged and changed. Those who are simply looking for a comfortable and carefree way to spend an afternoon are better off spending their time and money at the mall.
"Elitist!," they'll cry.
*Update, noted for balance: Quigley colleague Joe, who is spinning some of quality stuff of his own in the Asymptote comments, offers this Yeats anecdote in his response to Tim:
There's an anecdote about Yeats, who never stopped caring about the poor of his Ireland. The story, blurred somewhat in my memory (I'm sure someone out in Blogland knows the actual facts), runs thus: Yeats heard that there was to be built a municipal building, a building whose funds had been reallocated from their original intention---a public library, a FREE public library. The politicians moaned that it was too expensive to have a free library, and besides, they sniveled (cribbing unknowingly from Eliot), the poor of Ireland don't want books; they want beer not Shakespeare. When Yeats caught wind of this, he made a public appeal of legendary proportion, pitching what I believe to be the first FEILD OF DREAMS argument in literary history, proclaiming that the folks of Ireland will never know Shakespeare if you don't allow them to FIND Shakespeare. He exhorted them to, for the sake of Ireland, forget the money, build the library, open it to the public . . . and they will come.