Lindsay Pollock Named Editor in Chief of Art in America

January 5, 2011 · Print This Article

Lindsay Pollock

I don’t usually follow the ins and outs of who is in and out at the art magazines, but the news that Bloomberg and The Art Newspaper reporter Lindsay Pollock had been named Art in America’s new Editor in Chief did catch my eye–admittedly, only via this post by András Szántó in Artworld Salon yesterday. I thought Szántó’s directives about where AiA should strive to fit within the art mag landscape were particularly interesting, and worth sharing:

“So what now with Art in America? It clearly needs an energy boost. Its detached, ivory-tower approach, where long reviews dutifully appear long after exhibitions have closed, seems like a quaint anachronism. The magazine has a reputation for pulling its punches. Its cautious academism is out of synch with a culture where opinions are supersized. What new leadership can bring to the magazine above all, I think, is a fruitful demolition of the walls that divide scholarly and aesthetic writing, on the one hand, and thoughtful journalistic appraisals of the “dark side” of art as an institutional and – gasp – commercial system.

No one’s better suited to open up those fertile pathways than Lindsay, who sees the life of art as an all-encompassing totality that spans from the artist studio to the scholarly study to the champagne and canapé-besotted halls of Art Basel.”

So far, from what I can tell AiA’s announcement has been greeted with a giant snore, but I guess it does provide an opportunity for some of us to opine on the relative importance of the (printed) art mag at this particular historical moment. I continue to be surprised at the reverence that people feel for print publications (even, on occasion, myself). Beyond that, I don’t have an opinion – but if you do, go on over to Artworld Salon and tell ‘em what you think.

UPDATE: Charlie Finch weighs in on Pollock’s appointment over at Artnet. Some funny lines delivered by Finch here, but WTF is “andropause” supposed to mean?

Caroline Picard is art:21′s newest guest blogger!

January 4, 2011 · Print This Article

Just dropping in to draw your attention to the fact that Caroline Picard is art:21 blog’s newest guest blogger. Caroline starts out with a bang with her interview of photographer Melanie Schiff. A brief excerpt follows; please hop on over to art:21 and check the full post out!

Melanie Schiff, "Self-Portrait After John's Party," 2008, Digital C print.

While always being aware of her work, Melanie Schiff snapped into focus shortly after I first heard about Ox-bow, the School of the Art Insitute’s residency program in Saugatuck, Michigan. Friends came back from a summer there looking a little wild. Melanie’s work–color-rich photographs of youths blending into trees, whiskey bottles glinting like a candle in a bath of morning sun–offers a portrait, not just of Ox-bow, but of a feral, post-adolescent youth. It would be inaccurate to distill her prolific energy into one characterization; her work is lush, well-composed and ever-sensitive to silky light. Those aesthetic concerns transcend specific subjects. In addition to empty skate-park landscapes and attic rooms, she has made self-portraits with bong hits, another with raspberry-nipples, another involves spewing water in the sun (always reminds me of Tony Tasset), or the one above, where she reclines in a sea of empty bottles glinting like a deteriorated Jeff Wall interior: these gestures position her-self-as-artist, approximately tied to a flanking landscape of, often exclusive, culture. Whether holding the Neil Young album before her head, or photographing a motel room once occupied by Kurt Cobain, her presence adds an idiosyncratic awareness to these cultural referents. In an effort to explore that affect, I asked her a series of questions, primarily about the camera and its gaze. This is one interview in a series of many that explores the self on either side of the camera, while thinking through the respective position of the artist. (Read more).

12 x 12 x 100: An assessment of the MCA’s emerging artist series

January 3, 2011 · Print This Article

Jessica Labatte: The Brightness, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Golden Gallery, Inc.

Jessica Labatte’s just-closed exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art marked the 100th artist featured in the MCA’s long-running “12 x 12″ series, which focuses exclusively on emerging Chicago artists. The series, which was launched in the Fall of 2001, has been going strong for almost a decade now (for more on the history of the 12 x 12 series, see here) . Even a cursory glance at the MCA’s 12 x 12 archive makes it clear that it has showcased some of the best young artistic talents currently working in Chicago (some of the best, but certainly not all of them). Indeed, at times it almost seems like a 12 x 12 show is an inevitability for any Chicago artist who hangs around long enough, though I know that there are plenty of artists still waiting patiently for their 1/12th slice of the MCA pie. After all, who doesn’t want a Museum exhibition on their resume?

And that’s the problem that I have with the 12 x 12 series as a whole. It’s too much about giving every artist their turn, and not nearly enough about ambition, innovation, and critical expansion of an artist’s practice (and an audience’s understanding of it). I’ll be even more blunt: 12 x 12 shows rarely feel special. The work by artists that is exhibited in this smallish gallery off the MCA’s main entryway is no better, and more often than not it’s significantly less good, than the work that that same artist has shown at a local gallery. Take Labatte’s exhibition. I’m a fan of Labatte’s work, and have written positively about it elsewhere. But her MCA show was a bit of a letdown. The exhibition consisted of two large-scale photographs, one of which was exhibited in her recent gallery show at Golden and another large-scale work that to my knowledge hasn’t been exhibited before. Mostly, however, the show was comprised of a large series of smaller-scale photographs that were, in essence, variations on a single idea. Significantly, selections from this same body of work were displayed concurrently at GOLDEN’s solo booth at NADA Miami Beach.

I saw Labatte’s MCA show last weekend, and since then I’ve been trying to parse through why I was so underwhelmed by it – and why I’m not all that surprised at the fact that I was. I don’t think the disappointing aspects of Labatte’s show are due as much to the work itself (which was fine, if not, in my opinion, some of her best). Instead, I think Labatte’s show exemplifies a growing failure on the MCA’s part to think big when it comes to showcasing local artists.

The 12 x 12 series has grown programmatically automated in spirit. It’s as if the MCA believes they need to do little else than place their institutional stamp of approval on the groundwork that Chicago’s gallerists and indie cultural producers have already laid. I have no idea what kind of budget each 12 x 12 project receives but I’ll bet it’s pretty small. This is fitting and often necessary for a Museum project series – up to a point. But in my opinion a museum show by a local artist whose work — let’s be honest — is already well-known to the local art community should be a step beyond the normal gallery fare. A Museum show–even a smaller-scale project-type show–should strive to be ambitious in some way, a knock-your-socks off occasion for the artist to create something that would not otherwise be possible without the museum’s support. I think an important correlary to this last idea is that a 12 x 12 artist should be given the institutional freedom to make a project that is not necessarily the kind of thing that their dealer would want to show (i.e., not easily sellable to collectors).

Jessica Labatte. Surface Effects #2 2010 14 x 17" Archival inkjet print. Golden Gallery, Chicago.

A brochure prepared for every 12 x 12 exhibition would be another step in the right direction. Take the beautifully produced 3-fold brochures for the Hammer Museum’s Project series as an example. The Hammer’s brochures are produced cheaply. They contain full-color illustrations of the artist’s work and, most importantly, each one includes an engaging critical essay written by a museum curator, another artist, or a well-known writer or cultural figure. So not only do Hammer Projects artists get a show, with a curatorial mandate to “think big,” but they get something that lives on afterwards – an essay written about their work that helps expand critical awareness of their practice.  I think the MCA should be doing this too. What if the MCA were to invite emerging, local-area writers and curators to occasionally pen brochure essays for its 12 x 12 artists? Not only would the artist receive lengthy critical assessment of their work, our local writers (many of whom also fall into the “emerging” category) would receive the obvious benefits (and honorarium) of having their work published by a museum. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

If budget is an issue, I think the MCA should cut down on the number of 12 x 12s it does each year (12 is already far too many, in my opinion). Why not do 6 x 6 and up the budget for each show? That way, each exhibition can be more ambitious in scope, include an accompanying brochure/essay, and have more of a lasting impact on the artist and the museum’s audience.

I’m not sure if I would have written these comments at all if an MCA staffperson hadn’t called me at home one evening several weeks ago, shortly before Labatte’s exhibition opened. The staff person asked me if I would be interested in writing about Labatte’s show and/or the fact that it also marked the 100th artist in the 12 x 12 series. So, you know, here you have it, here’s what I think. The MCA staff person was extremely nice and I always welcome such calls, but I couldn’t help thinking that, to a certain extent, the Museum was asking me and other local arts writers to do their interpretive work for them. Those little wall labels provided for each show, which are invariably written in bland museum-ese and which seem to boil every artist’s concerns down to the same three or four issues, are not sufficient. In many ways they do a disservice to artists who have worked so hard to “earn” their MCA slot and are justifiably thrilled at the opportunity to exhibit in one of the country’s top contemporary art institutions.

The MCA needs to do more to make this opportunity count. 100 shows and almost 10 years is long enough to prove the Institution’s commitment to emerging local artists. Now, I think it’s time for the MCA to expand that commitment into something more lasting and meaningful by taking a long look at how they allocate their resources and at what they, and more importantly what their artists, truly want and need from a 12 x 12 exhibition.

Centerfield on art:21 Blog | Top Ten Chicago Events in 2010

December 31, 2010 · Print This Article

Meg Onli and I posted our list of Top Ten Chicago Events over at art:21 blog. Although I myself am already a bit weary of all the Top Ten lists hitting my RSS feed – doesn’t it seem like there were way more than usual this year?? – do check out what Meg and I thought were some of the most memorable events of the past year…if you’ve got room for more, that is. 

What It Is Puts Out a Whole Lotta Catalogues!

December 31, 2010 · Print This Article

Just wanted to let you all know that the Oak Park, IL domestic art space What It Is has made catalogs from several shows from its 2009 and 2010 years of programming available for purchase on their website. I don’t know how long these publications have actually been available, but the info just hit my RSS feed today and since they all look so nice, I thought I’d pass this along as an FYI. Publications on Jonathan Franklin, Sabina Ott + Michelle Wassen, Irene Pérez, Michelle Welzen, Collazo Anderson & Bernard Williams, Andrew Rigsby, and the group shows Permission to Work and Physicality, Perspective and the Consciousness of Relating are all available via the website. Each catalog even has this neat little preview slide show thingee so you can page through and take a look at the book in advance, before buying. Way to go guys!

Here’s what I want to know: if What It Is, a shoestring-budget domestic art space, can publish small catalogs in conjunction with many of its exhibitions — why the heck can’t the MCA do the same for its 12 x 12 series??

Michelle Welzen Collazo Anderson & Bernard Williams; exhibition December 2009