Two years after the first iteration of his epic USSA 2012 project opened at threewalls in 2011 in the form of the hyper-conceptual “orphanage project” (after a controversial Bad at Sports podcast about an orphanage the artist had allegedly proposed on the South SideÂ drew confused ire), Zachary Cahill brings the third and final installment of his world to the Smart Museum. USSA has grown up and outward over the years, its hallmark institutions morphing from orphanage to gift shop (the People’s Palace Gift Shop at the Cultural Center last summer) and now a riff on a mountain sanatorium. Each iteration has also gotten even more ephemeral, diffuse, and challenging: the Smart Museum show, entitledÂ USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart, consists of a banner declaring “A Sea of Wellness,” a number of watercolor paintings scattered in offices around the museum, and both analog and digitalÂ postcards from the Wellness Center. (There’s also some heart-wrenching confessional poetry and estranging emoji, among other digital objects, on the show’s website.) For Smart Curator Sarah Mendelsohn, the challenging evasiveness of the show, and Cahill’s world, is part of the pleasure: “The difficulty of locating the USSA is part of what makes the conversation around this work so enjoyable,” she reasons.
This kind of logic is certainly in line with Cahill’s larger themes. USSA 2012 has taken on vast aesthetic, political, and increasingly personal topics for the artist over the years, and this latest iteration is no exception, with references to different kinds of modernisms within the history of painting, Thomas Mann, and the relationship between wellness and art, within his ever-present wide-ranging institutional and cultural critiques. I spoke with Cahill over email after the show’s soft opening last week. (nb all strikethrough text is intentional)
Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart banner
MW: Can you write an introduction to an imaginary travel guide for USSA? The culture, the people, the flags,Â the scenery depicted in the postcards, the social institutions, the art, the vibe… Is it an Olympic village? Cosmopolitan (as I imagine sanatoriums to be, as the art world is?)
ZC: ok here goes:
Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad
2013 – The Year of the Museum
USSA 2012:Wellness Center
The fourth year of the
Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad USSA 2012:Wellness Center is devoted to museums. As always, the organizers of the first Winter Games in the history of Russia USSA will present the public with hundreds of the best cultural events. They include dozens of exhibitions, shows, competitions, festivals, and special exhibitions, as well as forums, workshops and educational programs that will be held throughout the country.
Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad Wellness Center is a unique project by the organizers of the USSA 2012, offering theÂ best cultural events in the country. In 2014, visitors to the Olympic host city will not only be able to evaluate the sporting competitions, but also Russia’s the USSAâ€™s cultural diversity at dozens of performance venues located in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana. Therefore, since 2010, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, along with dozens of regions throughout the country, has been carefully selecting the best of Russian USSA culture. Between 2010 and 2014, thousands of diverse cultural events have and will be taking place throughout the entire country. Each year, the Cultural Olympiad is dedicated to a different art form: 2010 was the Year of the Cinema, 2011 the Year of the Theater The Orphanage Project, 2012 the Year of Music The Peopleâ€™s Palaceâ€™s Gift Shop, and 2013 is the Year of the Museum/WellnessÂ Center 2014.
The national scale of the project will make it possible to involveÂ every resident of the country in this grand celebration of musicÂ wellness, maintaining and increasing the cultural riches ofÂ our country. All of the events of the Cultural Olympiad can beÂ followed on
Thatâ€™s kind of what I imagine it would sound like, but maybe written in the style of Thomas Mann (who is something ofÂ a spiritual grandfather to the wellness center-his book The Magic Mountain is especially important)…The artist Susan Hiller I think once said about her projectÂ From the Freud Museum…something like, â€œI think we all live inside the Freud Museum, metaphorically.â€..not meaning (obviously) that we live inside her installation but i think something along the lines that today we all are are living in and through the influence of Sigmund Freud and the life of the unconscious…possibly the Wellness Center is a bit like that…itâ€™s not something I made exactly…itâ€™s just something we all are living in…wellness as a perfume-y like presence that canâ€™t be nailed down to any one specific location…
Wellness Center watercolor 13
MW: What do you think of USSA as a kind of “worlding”? What is its ontological status?
ZC: I am sure that is probably right but I feel like maybe theÂ USSA isnâ€™t so much a form of â€œworldingâ€ but rather marks the condition of being world-ed…moving in and by forces that areÂ in many respects beyond our control…maybe the difference is negligible … I guess Iâ€™d say for me that the project…the totality of the USSA 2012 is really ontologically unstable and thatâ€™s kind of the point…itâ€™s not that I am looking to create fiction….or create an alternate universe or what have you… it flickers…my understanding is that these alternate universes are what we all create and inhabit everyday…we canâ€™t stop doing it…even theÂ most so-called unimaginative person is a hardcore world-builder and imagineer…they maybe even the best at it… seeing as itâ€™s their boring hum-drum world that we (for lack of a more credible option) seem to buy into and slog through most often….I guess everyone is worlding…so many worlds colliding…
MW: The project has reached the end of its lifespan–Â the orphanage story, childhood to adulthood, and now (after) the end. It’s also getting arguably more conceptually challenging as well as seemingly more personal. Is it getting more permeable with the real world for you? Where do you leave the world?
ZC: I always hoped that the USSA 2012 project would have something like a life span that could be mapped onto the different iterations…youth (the orphanage project)…middle age (the gift shop) and old age (wellness center)…and maybe..who knows …an afterlife?
Yes, it is getting more overtly personal in a sense… and these different life phases are meant to reflect a kind of growth through time…
MW: Re: getting personal: is the painting genre as personal a genre for you here as the confessional poetry? What kinds of approaches do you take to both?
ZC: I think so…in each instance [painting and writing] forÂ the Wellness Center Project I try to be as honest and forthcoming as I can…Still, the confessional poetry piece is difficult for me to talk about…I wrote it…Itâ€™s out in the world and thatâ€™s about all I can manage to comment on at this times….
Some of the paintings work this way too…but I suppose different modes of working are put to use for different parts of the project…so for example, with some paintings I try to imagine what the wellness center patients would make…what kind of paintings they would do as guests at an early 20th century European sanatorium…Of course, the imaginary is pretty close to the real in these efforts…I think the choice
of color gets at the personal for me…especially the use of fluorescent…I think if Munch were alive today…heâ€™d probably use a lot of fluorescent paint…is that a way of answering the question?
MW: You have talked about the difference between internal and external experience, which also comes up in the curatorial writing for the show. Those experiences seem to map onto the painterly influences here: the small human figure in an overpowering landscape (Friedrich), the hugeness of subjectivity and interiority in expressionism. I guess this isn’t really a question. Here’s my question: is this hunch right? How is it more complicated than I suggested?
ZC: The blurring of the internal mind scape and the outside world is definitely an interest…In fact, I am teaching a class on the subject next year [Cahill is aÂ Lecturer & Open Practice Committee CoordinatorÂ in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago]. I have been pretty influenced of late by a book a friend of mine recommended, Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition, by the art historian Robert Rosenblum, where he describes the psychic economy of painters like Van Gogh, Munch, and many others while tracing a Romantic lineage back to Caspar David Friedrich…It is a fantastic book of art history!…Illuminating sections abound. For instance,I had always wondered what is the opposite of the notorious commonplace â€œart for art sakeâ€…Rosenblum points out that Van Gogh was interested in art for lifeâ€™s sake…I never heard it formulated so simply and that is something that interests me…
For the banner at the Smart Museum I was thinking about CDF…it is â€œafter himâ€ as they say, or some sort of perversion of his Monk by the Sea painting… which has always held a special place in my artistic heart because it so vividly merges an inscape with the landscape…I am sure youâ€™ve experienced that feeling when…itâ€™s raining and somehow it just suits your mood perfectly and some kind of equilibrium is reached between your mood and your surroundings…that was what one of things I was going for in that painting…and how the psychic landscape might attach itself to the â€œreal worldâ€ of human activity too.
MW: Past iterations of the USSA seemed more explicitly political than this one. How cynical or sincere are you politically in this show? Aesthetically?
ZC: Well I am sincere but I am not sure that matters much…my sense it is of little consequence to viewers whether I am sincere or not…they donâ€™t need me to be…that said the politics are there… in other projects of mine the political element has been pretty foregrounded and some might say strident…like nails on a chalk board (or so I hoped)… but this project for me has to do with psychology… a turning inward and trying to a concoct propaganda of the self…like what if your unconscious started to make banners and agitate… a revolution of the psyche…could that be political?
MW: What’s with the flowers you’ve been posting on Facebook?
ZC: Slow to the party…I recently began to grasp the significance of flowers after talking about them with a couple of friends…and I started taking photos and looking closelyÂ at them over the summer around my neighborhood andÂ discovered…shocker…flowers are amazing…they do all sorts of crazy things to light to get the colors they do…natural fluorescence…
I started thinking about bees and pollination…and how people use flowers in front of their homes, at weddings, funerals, …rituals…and I concluded that flowers must perform some apotropaic function….like a teddy bear or church gargoyle… they are meant to keep the bad vibes away…
and then I starting thinking of flowers in relation to propagation and propaganda..etymologically tied…and realized flowers are supremely political…so with all the NSA data collection going on I thought…well, if they want to know something about me…let them know that I love flowers..so the flowers on Facebook were a kind of protest but also a kind of advent calendar before the project at the Smart Museum opened.
Flowers for Bad at Sports
MW: Art and mourning: these are the two huge driving themes for the show. What is art mourning? You’ve talked regarding previous USSA projects about economic depression, the way we’reÂ all “waiting for recovery,” and healing from the trauma of the Bush era. Can art help us mourn? What is mourning?
ZC: I suppose I can only answer for myself here…But speaking in generalities (knowing I am going to say this all wrong and embarrass myself) …I think art is a very fundamental human thing… By that I mean art is a lot like one of the  senses…itâ€™s a way of apprehending the world around us…now Art clearly gets caught up in all other types of associations like the art market and folks tend to get hung up on that stuff but I think art is just something we do asÂ people…market or not…
Therefore, I guess Iâ€™d say art can be an outlet forÂ mourning …or that grief can pour out into your art …just
like it can pour out into any other aspect of your life…art might be a healthy outlet and also a way of sharing the experience…commiserating…when you suffer a major loss in your life you look for ways to cope …perhaps if you’reÂ an athlete your pour that energy into competition, or ifÂ you’re a writer you write, but sometimes the grief can beÂ so overwhelming that none of the things that once made you strong and â€œtogetherâ€ can fend off the sorrow…so ifÂ art fails itâ€™s a bit like having another part of your body cave in…but hopefully you find the resources to just hang in there…friends and family are important here and…well… so is therapy.
In terms of a larger geo-political situation that you mention…I do think art can have a similar function, it can help society recover, but it can no more make the worldÂ a better place than breathing…or sleeping… basic things humans do…true, when put to good practice things like breathing and sleeping and even art can make an enormous impact on the state of the body politic…thatâ€™s encouraging and why I am big fan of political art and art that may or may not realize its political efficacy.
MW: People are going to be really confused about this show. At least I still find it ineffable and often difficult to parse symbolically, like a warren of rabbit holes. At lunch the other day you talked about an artist (I forget his name) who loved Apollinaire because his criticism was always wrong. You’re interested in misinterpretation. Are you interested in critics getting this show wrong? Is this why so much of thisÂ project is oblique: to allow room for misinterpretation? What do you think about calling this show anÂ inhibition instead of an exhibition?
ZC: The quote, if i remember right, was from Georges Braque, whose work I adore…and itâ€™s not so much that I am interested in people getting my work wrong or baffling the critics…itâ€™s just in some sense people will always get it right …even if I have no idea what they get out of it … my take on the project is simply one view among others…which is to say I am a tad mistrustful of artistâ€™s intentions (not that i unreservedly accept other interpretations)…Itâ€™s just I think we often tell ourselves what the work is about for a whole host of reasons but there is (I think) always this weird secret cause behind the work…maybe itâ€™s not always secret exactly, but maybe some artists (myself included) have to look past that secret thing in order to create the work…itâ€™s a blind-spot that helps animate the work…this is a good thing…do people instinctually connect with that blind- spot…my guess is that they do…they donâ€™t know how or why they feel that blind-spot but when it gets to them if stuff is working right…maybeÂ the rabbit hole analogy is a good one…I guess my work is made for the diggers…people who like to get down into things….and I hope that I create enough spaces for them to tunnel into….because I have that interest….I like being onto something too…
I mean I very much like the direct experience of being in front of an art work, but I enjoy being haunted by art works too…a visceral quality that occurs with the work of some of my favorite artists…they infect me and I canâ€™t stop thinking about it…Ideally, Iâ€™d like my work to do both: give off an affecting sensation for the viewer and to haunt them afterÂ they walk away from it… my work wants to have its cake and eat to….
To your last question…I am very much interested in what I think of as in-hibition, as a kind of balance to the idea of exhibition…perhaps stemming from a sense that we share a fatigue of living in public constantly…and wanting to create work for specific people that might not get seen by the â€œviewerâ€…this is why I made works to be displayed in the offices at the Smart…they are on view but just for the people that work there, not the generally audience…itâ€™s for the people that live and work at that institution everyday…or: the material posted to the Smart Museumâ€™s website, the post cards in the gift shop, the Smart phone performances… in each case I am looking for another type of connection to the viewer that play off one another….
So while i do think the traditional the exhibition setting of the gallery is great and the most efficient format for artâ€” having potential to form something like a commons…which is how IÂ hope the banner functions….I am interested in other ways people might encounter the wellness center too …live with it and in some sense make it their own…Â in-hibition and exhibition…perhaps itâ€™s a type of swinging door
Various exhibition and performance elements of the “USSA 2012: Wellness Center: Idyllicâ€”affair of the heart” Â show will take place between now and August of 2014 at the Smart Museum of Art. More information is available on the museum’s website.Â
August 30, 2013 · Print This Article
Stephanie CristelloÂ published an interview with Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie onÂ The SeenÂ recently to talk about Bad at Sports’ plans for EXPO, including the upcoming print publication Dana Bassett is spearheading and the various interviews we will be conducting on site at the fair.Â
BAD AT SPORTS // INTERVIEW
Duncan MacKenzieÂ andÂ Richard HollandÂ ofÂ Bad at SportsÂ are two of the best in town to talk with about art. Known for their witty commentary and contemporary art talk platform Bad at Sports, they are most admired for their weekly podcasts and blog. The three of us sat down to discuss their involvement with EXPO/2013 â€“ the recent venture of a newspaper that will be distributed throughout the fair spearheaded byÂ Whatâ€™s the T?Â columnistÂ Dana BassettÂ entitledÂ The EXPO Register, and the live interviews they will be fielding from their booth next to the /Dialogues stage. The lineup for this yearâ€™s panel is impressive, titled â€œOne-on-One,â€ just one of many sports puns, MacKenzie and Holland will be in conversation with gallerists, directors, and curators, such as Solveig Ã˜vstebÃ¸ of the Renaissance Society, Elysia Borowy-Reeder of the MOCAD Detroit, and Director Charlie James, as well as artists William Powhida, JosÃ© Lerma, and Sanford Biggers. While the details of these interviews are kept secret (you will just have to see them in person to find out), our conversation breaches the extent of Bad at Sports coverage at the fair, their plans for the paper, and MacKenzie and Hollandâ€™s bucket list â€“ like an interview about interviews, or something along those lines.
Stephanie Cristello:Â Letâ€™s start off by talking about some of the things youâ€™re doing for the fair. Youâ€™re working with Dana Bassett to publish a newspaper reporting live?
Duncan MacKenzie:Â Yes, the newspaper is going to be called The EXPO Register and reflects our collective style â€“ slightly goofy, a touch irreverent, yet fairly straight ahead. The great thing about working with Dana is that she has the same wry sense of humor as us, which will definitely be a part of it, but it will also be a sincere tool for the fair goers.
Richard Holland:Â At Bad at Sports we are slightly irreverent, but not extensively. We are respectful of our guests â€“ we will make fun of them now and again, but at our core, we are the fan club newsletter. This newspaper will be a different side of that effort.
SC:Â So you will be reporting on trends, how much gossip is there going to be?
DM:Â 98% trash! No â€“ there will be a chunk of it thatâ€™s gossip, but itâ€™s light.
RH:Â Weâ€™re just trying not to get sued, thatâ€™s why we donâ€™t have comments on our site anymore. After the fourth time we got threatened with a lawsuitâ€¦
Work by Vincent Troia.
Roman Susan is located at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.
Work by Lise Baggesen and Kirsten Leenaars.
The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception Saturday, 6-10pm.
Work by Channel TWo (CH2), Jeff Kolar, Jon Satrom, Rob Ray, Patrick Lichty, Sarah Weis, Christopher Smith, Jake Myers, Amelia Winger-Bearskin, and Emilie Gervais.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S. Morgan St. Reception Friday, 6-10pm.
Work by Danielle Chenette.
The Peanut Gallery is located at 1000 N. California Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Baltimore-born, and now, New York City-based, artist Chris Stain has been making use of the built environment as his canvas since the 1980s. His work stems from the simple printmaking method of hand-cut stencils, reflecting inner-city and working class themes, and relating closely to his own upbringing in Baltimore. Stainâ€™s characteristic large-scale murals evolved out of his practice as a graffiti writer, and stand today as a kind of contemporary nod to WPA-era portraiture, featuring the faces and plights of everyday people in all of their affecting, confrontational realism.
Image courtesy Chris Stain
When did you start writing graffiti?Â
I started writing when I was eleven, right after I saw the movie Beat Street and picked up a copy of Subway Art. My first tag was SAVAGE. But it was long and I couldnâ€™t get it to flow in the Baltimore handstyle standard that was set by Billy ZEK TST/GS, so one year later I started writing STAIN.
Your work comes together through a characteristic stenciling and projection process. Itâ€™s very precise work. When youâ€™re planning a mural, how much do you plan ahead?
I like to check out the neighborhood first and see what type of demographic is present. To me itâ€™s important to take into account who lives there and how they might feel about the mural. Of course you canâ€™t please everyone. Based on that information I come up with images that seem to fit. I start out with one or more central figures, then I add elements of urban landscape to tie it together. I have a variety of transparencies that I can experiment with until I get the feel I am looking for.
Because youâ€™re using a projector to throw your images onto the site of your work, I assume this means that you can really only work at night. Was this a process you decided on because you prefer to work under the cover of night?
Working with the projector is just quicker for me. I can get an outline up in no time and come back the next day to add color. The older I get the harder it is to stay up all night painting then get up early the next day to fulfill my obligations. The other option is to cut huge stencils out of paper, cardboard, or plastic and paint the mural that way. Its very time consuming for me to work like that and I donâ€™t have the freedom that working free hand allows.
You very clearly favor storytelling in your work, often spotlighting culturally disadvantaged, underrepresented individuals and urban landscapes. What is the narrative yarn youâ€™re spinning?
In some ways itâ€™s biographical, somewhat nostalgic, and in others I feel like the childrenâ€™s book author Ezra Jack Keats just telling stories about inner city kids and common folk.
Image courtesy Chris Stain
How do you think about the relationship between image and text?
Together they give the observer more of a complete picture. Coming from a graffiti background I have always had a relationship with letters. In fact I first began to notice letters while spending time with my grandfather as a child. He carved his name, â€œ George Kelso,â€ into all of his tools in script and painted everything red. My mother use to say â€œIf you stand still long enough, Poppie will paint you red.â€
Many of your murals include portraits. How do you select specific individuals as subjects?
I look for emotions in the personâ€™s face that I can relate to. One of my favorites is the boy on the bike. He is just staring out into the distance, sitting on his bike. From the image I get a sense of being on your own looking around for the next adventure; the kind of experiences you have at that age.
Image courtesy Chris Stain
Are all of your projects done with permission?
Yes. But even with permission and a signed and dated permit in NYC, you will be harassed. At one wall in Brooklyn I actually had the owner with me and the police wouldnâ€™t let up.Â I was interrupted six times by different officers in one night while working legally. After they saw the permit they prodded me for information just wanting to see if I knew any of the graffiti writers they were looking for.
Thereâ€™s a particular kind of learning that happens through the passing down of knowledge in graffiti crews. You hang around, observe, practice, socialize. Itâ€™s all part of the process. Itâ€™s kind of like an urban folk art.
Yes. But that also happens with other art groups right? I am thinking of the Dadaists in particular.
Do you consider yourself self-taught?
As a graffiti artist, yes. I saw it and wanted to learn so I just practiced and practiced. I Hunted down publications, album covers, recorded music videos with the slightest hint of writing, like the Rolling Stones video â€œWaiting on a Friendâ€ where for a brief second there is a Futura 2000 tag in-between some wheatpasted Stones advertisement. It sounds crazy but it was the creative spark that I was so attracted to that came by way of graffiti for me.Â I actually havenâ€™t painted any lettering in quite some time. I miss it but there is a certain energy to it that I havenâ€™t been able to fully embrace in the past few years and that has held me back.Â I learned stenciling as a part of the screen printing process back in high school in â€˜86 or â€˜87. Somewhere around 1998 I recalled that process when I was trying to work more figuratively. At that time I was very inspired by the work of Kathe Kollwitz and wanted to draw like her but I couldnâ€™t and didnâ€™t have the time to make the effort. Stenciling allowed me to work quickly and accurately while capturing the emotion of the photograph.
And, now youâ€™re an art teacher. How do you approach teaching?
I just try to share what I have learned and experienced. Graffiti, despite its negative connotations, was and still is my gateway to a broader world of self-expression and creativity. So in the classroom I first talk about my experience and how that ties into the various avenues of art. If it wasnâ€™t for graffiti the majority of the artwork I now appreciate would not make as much sense because I now understand the importance of having enough passion to dedicate so much time, what to speak of your personal freedom, to making art.
This is the second year in a row that youâ€™ve been to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center through a partnership with the Wooster Collective for The Sheboygan Project. That means the city of Sheboygan now boasts two Chris Stain murals. What was the experience like?
The good folks at the Wooster Collective and The Kohler Arts Center have been very supportive and I have to say thank you again to everyone involved.Â The arts center is a gold mine for vernacular art. This year I was given a special tour into their collections. Itâ€™s one thing to see the work in a book but to see it in person, it radiates the artists mood and emotion much more. So I was blown away by the experience. The work housed in their collection by the likes of Emory Blagden and Eugene Von Bruchenhein, reveal creativity in a very pure form in my opinion. As far as my work there, last year I taught a stencil class and painted a mural. This year some of the people I met prior returned to help out on a large 40 x 20 foot mural on an underpass. Itâ€™s nice to be able to share work and the process but even better when people take something away from it to the point that they begin the practice themselves.
Photo byÂ Caroline Voagen
How have you seen graffiti change since you started in the 80â€™s? Do you differentiate graffiti from what is now being called â€œstreet art?â€
In one sense itâ€™s all art but there are different energies to what is known as â€œgraffiti,â€ mostly lettering based primarily using aerosol paint, and â€œstreet artâ€ which runs the gamut of various mediums. As for the letter-based movement, it has changed quite a bit since the 80â€™s. Technically, its reached levels unimagined back then through the help of all the newer spray paints on the market with lower pressure and cap options. The introduction of the internet helped styles develop more rapidly as it was easier to access photos from all over the world, get new ideas, and spark creativity.
Can you talk a bit about the translation of graffiti and street murals into the gallery and museum context. As artists who typically use the street as their canvas move their work indoors, it seems to me that there is a very different kind of relationship to and experience of the work â€“ for both the artist and the audience.
Again it comes down to the energy that goes into it. You can compare it to running. If you go running one morning in the park as your daily exercise itâ€™s one type of experience of running. On the other hand if you are being chased and you have to run from danger itâ€™s another type of experience of running, with different emotions and intensity. Both involve a need to accomplish the task but the energy and emotion that go into each are slightly different and produce different results.
August 27, 2013 · Print This Article
Guest Post by James Pepper Kelly
Imagine that a writer named Judith H. Dobrzynski boards a plane. Sheâ€™s ambivalent about her recent op-ed for the New York Times, â€œHigh Culture Goes Hands-On,â€ in which she mourned the loss of a classic, passive museum experience. The response was decent (63 comments and a spot on the “most-emailed” list), and the negative response didnâ€™t go much beyond baseless ad hominems (â€œcrank,” â€œelitist”). But real-world impact? Judy sighs. She tries not to think about institutions these days, their obsequious rush to digitize, crowdsource, and create a â€œfun experienceâ€ for all. Instead, she thinks about real change: about her upcoming fellowship at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, and how sheÂ helped influence the country’s new Holocaust restitution laws. Judy sinks back into her business class seat (being a Fellow has perks!), orders a tomato juice and relaxes, thinking of all the reading sheâ€™ll be able to catch up on in the air.
Imagine that a writer named James Durston is excited. Heâ€™s boarding the brand new Boeing 797 Dreamliner and is going to be live tweeting the experience from business class (dimming windows PLUS free booze!). Heâ€™s got way too much editing to do, but right now heâ€™s feeling good about his latest op-ed for CNN Travel, â€œWhy I hate museums.â€ Sure, only 400 comments (something like 10 times that many for the â€œfat taxâ€ piece) but he did score official responses from theÂ Art Institute of Chicago and the American Alliance of Museums. He makes a mental note to re-stir the pot with a follow-up in early December. James tosses his bag in the overhead and sits down, mentally composing a tweet about the woman beside him and WHY anyone drinks tomato juice on planes?? Still, he did use SeatID–they must have something in common. Heâ€™ll save the introduction for later when he runs out of content for his posts.
Imagine thatÂ now, today,Â both look back and still wonder what happened. They remember the startâ€”the EyjafjallajokullÂ volcano waking up, their flight being grounded in Greenland, the nervous stewardesses plying them with drinks, and more, and more. The introductions, the argument, and then the gradual, dizzy belief that their two opinions needed to be reconciled. Had to be, in fact. What if this was the end of world? Reconciliation–for humanity, for the future. So they set about writing the op-ed of op-eds, tapping out the characters on Jamesâ€™s phone. Finally an op-ed truly for everyone. The Dobrzynski/Durston piece appeared on a brand new WordPress site, shocking the likes of Robert Connolly, Dana Allen-Griel, Dennis Kois, Ed Rodley, and all the other voices of studied moderation stuck further back in economy, sipping orange juice, thoughtfully biding their time. As Judith and James know, sometimes the world needs action. We should thank them for reminding us of that. Below is the full transcript of the Dobrzynski-Durston article.
The Greatest Proposal for hi-fiving high culture
The current institutional climate is unsustainable. And no fun. Most museums are in grave financial straits, mostly because there are better things to spend money on. Itâ€™s time for institutions to become the friendly, self-supporting, no-gift-shop entities they always should have been. The following is a list of proposals we urgently urge to be effected.
1. Weâ€™ve heard about museums, especially smaller, local ones, creating wonderful exhibitions on tight budgets. Maybe so. Those people sitting back in economy can really chew your ear off with examples. We both enjoy periodic visits to the provinces, and writing about them too, Â but letâ€™s be honestâ€”it needs to start in New York or Hong Kong. Trickle-down culture is real.
2. Institutions claim to generate 7 public dollars for every $1 invested. (Right. Whereâ€™d they get those numbers?) The people of Detroit did vote to raise their own taxes to support the DIAâ€”itâ€™s called millage, Jamesâ€”but thatâ€™s an exceptional case. Ann Arbor residents were forward-thinking enough to reject a new art tax. Bleeding heart art lovers need to be realistic: public funding = not the answer. Private funding = yes.
3. Museums do need to sell off workâ€”thatâ€™s called deaccessioning (thanks, Judy). Some call up the auction houses and rush the work out the door on a stretcher. Others are models of ethical responsibility–the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example, lists all the work being sold on its site along with reasons for each sale. Thatâ€™s good, but not good enough. They should show their reasons, not just tell us about them. Imagine if the DIA did something like: [pic of Diego Rivera mural] = [pic of 25 million open lunchboxes with PB&J, apple, milk]. #Prioritize.
4. Old vases are boring (especially ones from Iran, imo). They should be sold to established patrons of the arts and other old rich people. Who else cares about/truly appreciates them anyway? Same goes for anything Â more than 30 years old or that doesnâ€™t inspire transcendence. If in doubt, just tweet us a pic.
5.Â In the spirit of compromise, museums should divide their days between different audiences. On Wednesdays through Saturdays they should distribute free popcorn and edamame, fill the gallery with animals from a local petting zoo, and encourage full interactionâ€”touching, smelling, lickingâ€”with the entire collection. On Sundays through Tuesdays, the cicerones will make sure that no more than four people are in any one room at the same time, monitor how fast individuals walk, andÂ confiscate any and all electronic devices. Individuals will be required to spend set minimum amounts of time contemplating each piece. If any individual fails to adhere to these measures, they will be required to write an essay explaining why.
6. Eliminate gift shops and cafes. They’re so bourgeois.
7.Â To generate revenue, offer paid chances to feed the animals and the option to limit the gallery to even less than the standard four people (on respective days, of course). Employ local actors who will alternate between impersonating art world authorities, historical figures, and general celebrities.
8. Reenact the creation and history of items throughout the week. It will be a little like Danteâ€™s Inferno, each actor trapped in a different area, telling his story over and over again (Judy’s description, my idea). For example, one of the actors can be Leonardo da Vinci: put the Mona Lisa on an easel in front of him and have him paint and tell the sad story of Lisa over and over to the general audience. Add drama when appropriate, regardless of accuracy. Reach out to Hollywood and book publishers, offering to add their narratives to the â€œofficialâ€ institutional version in exchange for sponsorship.
Â 9.Â Fully integrate work on display with life by created rentable, themed rooms, e.g. The Birth Room, The Death Room, etc. True art lovers will be able to pass with their eyes locked on an original Georgia Oâ€™Keeffe, or to bring a new being into the world under Van Goghâ€™s sunflowers, or to make love under the Venus de Milo. Anyone attending that day will be able to watch. Both sides will payâ€”
Phoneâ€™s about to die, got to post now. Whatever happens, this is the truth. Follow me online!
Imagine that that this is how the op-ed ends. The volcano went back to sleep and the sky over the Atlantic cleared. Fifteen hours later the Boeing landed at Heathrow, the passengers half drunk and half hung-over, but otherwise unscathed.Â There, Judith H. Dobrzynski and James DurstonÂ seem to have parted ways, never to collaborate again. Judy went back to lucid commentary on the art world, James to commissioning and writing popular travel articles.
If the phone had been fully charged, how would the Dobrzynski-Durston op-ed have proceeded? Â What unfortunate circumstance mightÂ the expert commentatorsÂ have leant themselves to next?Â Â Whether “real people” canÂ or can’t actually afford to collect art? Would we be more prepared to addressÂ how an elderly Romanian woman destroyed several masterpieces in an effort to protect her son?Â How much change to give beggars outside famous institutions? The alleged difficulty Chicago’s south siders have hadÂ in visiting Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Projects, even as the art star is lauded for the project’s success at Art Basel?
What further op-ed wisdom could we have learned from? We can only imagine.
James Pepper Kelly likes words, images, and the plants in his apartment. He writes for ArtSlant and Bad at Sports, and he serves as Managing Director of Filter Photo. He is currently studying to be a pataphysicist. For a little while, back in the early â€˜00s, he was really good at Ms. Pac-man.