Thursday of this week will mark an important moment in the history of digital art. Although the long and fruitful history of this medium will hardly be brought to a close, an important chapter in its narrative is about to unfold through the first ever digital art auction hosted by Phillips. The auction, entitled Paddles On!, is of particular significance because it is not only the first auction for Phillips, but also the first primary market auction to occur at any major international auction house to only feature digital art works.
When I had first heard the news that Phillips was teaming up with Tumblr to host an auction a couple of months ago, I was a bit skeptical. After hearing that Lindsay Howard (co-director of 319 Scholes and former Eyebeam Fellow) was coming on board to advise and curate the works for this sale, some of my reservations started to dissipate. But I didn’t fully come around to appreciating this auction until I got a sneak peak of the exhibition and had a chance to sit down the three organizers of this project: Ms. Howard, Megan Newcome (Phillips Director of Digital Strategy), and Annie Werner (Arts Evangelist at Tumblr).
Addie Wagenknecht, Asymmetric Love Number 2, 2013
During my visit last Friday, I got a chance to see the final moments of installation, and was also given a guided tour of the broad yet considerate exhibition of the works on sale. The diversity of the work was not only presented in a near flawless manner, but it also showcased the breadth of pieces that all can directly and loosely be identified as digital art. I found myself “checking boxes” as Ms. Howard led me around the exhibition, noting familiar faces like Rafaël Rozendaal, Kate Steciw, and Alexandra Gorczynski. But as my tour continued, I was confounded when my curatorial and critical presumptions quickly dissolved upon noticing that the collection of makers presented in this auction was not pandering to a specific audience or community. Of course I wasn’t expecting anything less of the organizers, but there was a part of me ready to criticize the exhibition for neglecting to include digital artists that otherwise wouldn’t associate with one another. Instead, I found this group of artists to appropriately reflect the many facets of digital art – an assortment that all too often is presented in separate digital fiefdoms. Later, Ms. Howard commented that her intentions with this auction were to bring in as many voices within this sphere as possible:
When I’m curating in general – not just in this particular auction – I’m looking [at] who the nodes are in the network that are actually creating fresh work or creating fresh ideas. So I looked for artist for this auction who were nodes and are representative of larger movements in the field.
To that effect the artists represented do constitute many different subsections within the digital art moniker – interactive sculpture, generative code-based works, netart, webcam performance, experimental video, etc. But what surprised me the most was the way in which these different “nodes” seamlessly come together in the space. This is not to say that the artworks appear “samey” by any measure, but instead it is to comment on how these works share a common thread of turning contemporary technological experience into a refined aesthetic statement.
Perhaps part of this comes from the fact that I haven’t seen many of the artists in this auction shown in spaces equal to the Phillips standard – often I’ve only experienced this work either on my personal computer or in artist run galleries operating on a shoestring budget. In a strange way, the pristine presentation of these works alone makes them appear worthy of sale. It was at once startling and refreshing to see work that I had admired for so long presented in the same way as a work for sale by an old master.
Molly Soda, Inbox Full, 2013
This being said, my admiration for the participants in this exhibition made me reflect on the content of these works in a way that I would otherwise take for granted in other contexts. I subsequently contended with the organizers that the look of these works shouldn’t be their only selling point, and I pressed them to talk to me more about why this collection of artists seemed fitting for this auction. Ms. Werner responded by talking about how Molly Soda was a particularly fitting example to rebuke my inquiry:
While Molly [Soda] is obviously very important to tumblr – I think she’s one of the first tumblr famous it girls – I think that she as an artist didn’t really come into [her own] until someone was like “you’re an artist.” But I think for a longest time she was really a user that really informed the way that our platform grew and developed. [The auction] kind of elevates that entire culture that I think others felt was a little small or diluted. People didn’t take it seriously but it’s so huge and so vibrant. Molly’s piece really gives a voice to this generation.
Although this specific work – a reading of letters and comments posted to her blog in a marathon 8 hour recorded performance – is indicative of a very contemporary conversation occurring through social media, the question kept arising regarding why this moment in particular seemed ripe for having an auction for this kind of work. Part of my initial skepticism came from observing the many previous attempts to sell digital art either going awry or else backfiring. In the past, the idea of taking online media and putting it into private collection has seemed rather antithetical to the ethos of the very platform that made their work possible (or else made the distribution of their work that much more accessible). But more recently, the thought of selling digital art has become more popular as the market seems better equipped to present these artists to collectors. I asked the organizers to talk about why this moment seemed most fitting, to which Ms. Newcome responded:
When I had first started talking to Lindsay, she asked me what was the Phillips angle in the auction world, and it is what is now? This is what Phillips sells, and I think that was inspiring for Lindsay. Once that was established that that’s where we wanted to go – the vibe of the whole event – that became a point of no return… For this particular auction, Phillips couldn’t have done this without Tumblr and Lindsay, and Lindsay couldn’t have done this without us, and so on. We three together was what was so essential, and without one component… this auction would not be a reality.
All coincidence of overlapping interests and timing aside, what Paddles On! presents to audiences – both familiar and new – is that artwork made and distributed through digital networks must now become more vocalized and represented within a contemporary art market. Many recent signposts have been pointing to this moment – the heated conversation around Rhizome’s booth at the Armory in 2011, the outrage of artists and academics railing against Claire Bishop’s misinformed “Digital Divide” essay in Artforum, the development of the Art Micro Patronage project by The Present Group, the selling of digital art by AFC at NADA this past year, just to name a few. But now it is happening, and already over half of the works have been bid on through Paddle8 – a sign in and of itself that now seems to be the time.
Nicolas Sassoon, Waterfall 6, 2013
But then what? Let’s say a majority of the work sells at or above its reserve, what does this signal for both contemporary art and digital artists hoping to bring their work to a larger audience? My initial doubts and concerns for this auction is that it might shape a future aesthetic, or else inadvertently dictate a kind of digital art that is only interested in going to market. I realize that this concern cannot be reserved just for this medium, and instead should be a broader reflection on the ways in which market politics and finance can and will always influence the strategies of emerging artists. However the artists in this exhibition were specifically selected not only because of their contribution to the field, but also due in part to understanding their longevity within an ongoing conversation of art making beyond digital media. Again, my fears are further appeased by Ms. Newcome in reference to a studio visit she recently had with contributing artist Mark Tribe:
We don’t call digital cameras, digital cameras anymore; we don’t call digital watches, digital watches anymore. One day, we won’t call digital art, digital art anymore…
Although I initially felt that this auction might seem somewhat opportune, the three organizers of this exhibition suggested that the more important consideration must come from how this auction will – at its heart – help bring digital art to an audience wanting to participate in a conversation that for too long has stood at the periphery. The resounding “finally!” that has come from many artists, curators, gallerists, and academic is a testament to Paddles On! working towards an overall positive goal. Although I hesitate to defend the auction based upon my own knee-jerk reaction against commercialization of work made online, I do laud the participants and organizers for putting their absolute best foot forward. It is a rare instance that many people get to witness a community come into its own, and I felt that when I walked through the exhibition of the 20 lots for sale on Friday that I was indeed witnessing an important moment for all those involved in this endeavor.
To that end, I feel as though Ms. Howard put it best when articulating her excitement for this event to unfold:
Even if no piece has sold, or if we got no bids… having all these people rally up support, educating collectors, having the conversation, bringing in more people into the loop, makes this all a success.
In this spirit I wish all the artists the best of luck on Thursday when the live auction kicks off at 8pm at Phillips’ gallery on Park Avenue. I hope that the success of the event – as Ms. Howard eloquently suggests – will mark a new beginning for an ongoing relationship between the digital art community and the contemporary art market.
An opening like no other took place on the last day of July at the freshly minted $250 million dollar Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont. Featuring 11 artists curated by miami based Primary Projects, the Fashion Outlet and newly formed collective, The Arts Initiative, did it up luxury outlet mall style at the preview of the various murals and installations throughout the mall. With work by Jen Stark, Jim Drain, Cody Hudson, Daniel Arsham and Bhakti Baxter, the art contained within might make this the edgiest mall ever.
Sam Vinz, Claire Warner and Aron Gent under the Friend’s With You inflatables installation at the Chicago Fashion Outlet.
A collision of Chicago’s and Miami’s most noteworthy in the arts, attendees danced the night away under the deft entertainment of DJ Sinatra and many many top shelf bars.
Friend’s With You’s Sam Borkson and fellow artist, Jim Drain, lovingly embrace at the reception.
Curious what was in the gift bag? A hat from Roxy, an iPhone 5 case from Coach (too bad I’m still only on that 4), a “The Arts Initiative” water bottle, a leather cuff from Ports, a security neck pouch from Samsonite, a “Fashion Outlets” pen and even a scarf from The Limited. Totally killer.
Drain’s completed mural.
Definitely recommend (even sans the gift bag).
Reading is Fundamental
Wait, I thought it was 2013!? If you like your iPhone and the internet, you would probably enjoy this sweet little read from the Summer 2013 issues of Artforum, 2011: Michael Sanchez on Art and Transmission. This recommendation comes from a bar, but is better than that makes it seem.
Trends Totally Trending: Not often is a gossip column the subject of gossip, but What’s the T? was recently featured in Art Info’s “In the Air: Art News and Gossip” spot for EXPO CHICAGO’s partners and special exhibitions. That’s right! WTT? is going IRL. We hope you’re as excited for The Expo Register as we are. Stay tuned y’all.
Total badass gets her due: Who knew that Ileana Sonnabend was so completely rad? She asked for a Matisse instead of a wedding ring. I mean, really. Thankfully, this piece by Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal sheds light on the major gallerist and collectors fascinating past. Sonnabend fans will be pleased to know that the MoMA just released plans for “Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New,” an exhibition which will feature some of Sonnabend’s most noteable discoveries and longtime friends.
Time to Slip at Gallery 400
Get back to the future at film screening
We heard a rumomr that the upcoming TIMESLIP film screening is not to be missed. Featuring 11 films by 10 makers, the screening is curated by Jesse Malmed and includes work by Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, J.J. Murphy and Hollis Frampton.
From the horses mouth: This is going to be great. Time travel in the expanded field. Time-based media in the multiverse. Dream baby, trypp central, 2 Live Crew (seri), ducks, Adam and Eve, Judy Garland, hella headies, the first computer film, time tunnels, and on. And, like your mind, this is FREE. Surprises guaranteed.
A Miami Techno Transplant’s take on the Demdike Stare Concert last Saturday
I’m here reporting from the Empty Bottle, celebrating my Chicago life’s one week anniversary the way I prefer to spend all mildly festive occasions, by melting my brain with whiskey and dark techno. Tonight I’m all excited because I get to see one of my favorite bands live for the first time: DEMDIKE STARE. The duo is well known for merging occult, black magic vibes with droning electronics and sparse, off kilter beats. Demdike Stare have evolved their sound throughout the years from super dark horror movie vibes to dark worldly ragas and, finally, their latest releases reflect maturation of all these sounds with a bit of straight forward dark techno tastefully sprinkled in.
Needless to say, I’m fucking pumped.
I arrive at the venue “Miami time” which turns out to be just when shit starts everywhere. My circadian rhythm must be super on point today and I show up just as the first act, Stave, is going on. The set is some heavy industrial tech vibes. I am feeling it. A cigarette. Duane Pitre is up next delivering on some soothing melodious drone incorporating guitar loops and electronics. Lots of people are talking and not really listening but the vibe is right and everyone’s sonic palette is cleansed.
I’m in the ally evening out my buzz and the walls start to pulse. Demdike-fucking-Stare. I run inside. They spend the beginning of the set evolving drones, feeling out the crowd, reacting. What does the spirit of the crowd say? Probably something like, “TECHNO!” The bass kicks into 4/4 and as the crescendo of the track “Dysology” hits everyone knows its getting serious. The visuals that accompany their live set become more frantic. The main themes of the video include babes and esoteric rituals, everyone approves. Just as my mind is about to transform into pure jelly, the set ends abruptly, like all good things in life. And everyone goes home to dream about robots and witches. The End.
The view inside of Praire Production.
Medium Cool and Partly Cloudy.
Despite cloudy weather, New Art Fair Shines.
Shame on you if you didn’t make it out to Sunday’s Medium Cool Art Book Fair, we know you heard about it. Rising like a pheonix, the fair was organized by Ria Roberts and brought out the most delicious coffee-table eye-candy ever seen in the West Loop.
These button’s were seriously trending.
Limited edition poster by Carson Fisk-Vittori
Fashionistas, Chelsea Clup and Ben Foch modeling the necklaces by Vincent Uribe and Noël Morical they picked up at LVL3′s booth.
Medium Cool Continued.
Trendsetter, Hamza Walker, models sunglasses (obviously) by Josh Reames from the LVL3 booth.
Issue Press‘s booth featuring a “Book Box” vending machine, manned by George Wietor.
Sofia Leiby‘s SCRAP HEAP booth featured scraps and ephemera from Chicago artists’ studios.
Header image features a detail of work by Justin Schmitz on display at Medium Cool.
Top ten lists are a staple around this time of year. What they lack in shades of grey they make up for with enthusiasm. I could read them all day. My favorite top tens come from trusted sources, so when I cracked this month’s Artforum I went straight to Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh’s list of his 2011 top ten moments in music. Mothersbaugh avoids listing albums only. On his list, he includes a weird message on an answering machine cassette found in a Palm Springs thrift store as well as a cover band he saw play in a Tijuana restaurant. What really surprised me was his number five: the self-released album Bone Up from the Orlando-based electronic duo Yip-Yip. As Mothersbaugh says, “I’m a million years old, and I’ve heard a lot of music, but I’m always happy to be pleasantly surprised. Yip-Yip did that for me.”
Yip-Yip had already been performing live for a year when I moved to Orlando from my hometown in 2003. In the absence of a local artist-run gallery circuit like Chicago’s, live music filled the city’s niche for experimental culture. Playing in mutant black-and-white costumes behind pyramids of synthesizers, Yip-Yip was the closest thing to contemporary art I laid my eyes on in Orlando. They introduced me to the possibility that experimentation derived from the character of and in constant conversation with a specific place might breed something fantastic.
Yip-Yip, Live in Orlando, September 2011.
As media decentralizes, kingmakers like Artforum are no longer primary fountains of validation. That the magazine’s globalized gaze had turned to a commited local group like Yip-Yip was not what surprised and impressed me about Mothersbaugh’s top ten. Here’s what really knocked my socks off: Yip-Yip are always have been massive Devo fans. In a place like Central Florida, without widespread institutional support for things like experimental music, a pop group like Devo might be the only model to work from. Seeing one of Yip-Yip’s idols list them among his favorite things about music this year renews my faith in the stalwarts of local culture. Like Mothersbaugh, I’m pleasantly surprised.
This months edition of Artforum’s 500 words comes from performance artist Kalup Linzy. The write up is totally worth checking out. I just spent the past hour or so watching Linzy’s videos on Youtube, really entertaining.
“I SHOT TWO MUSIC VIDEOS FOR PROENZA SCHOULER, basically responding to the clothes, and we’re doing a photo shoot. This is my first time working with high fashion. I’ve been researching photographs and looking at models; it’s all pretty edgy, so I don’t think the relationship between my work and Proenza Schouler is as distant as I originally thought. I’ve seen some pretty wild, risqué stuff in fashion photography. Now the question is: How can my work flow and meld into that?
I wasn’t planning to shoot as many videos as I shot for my first album, SweetBerry Sonnet. I was more interested in developing a live performance, but when Proenza Schouler came to me and asked me if I wanted to collaborate, the idea for the videos just came to me.”
Someone alerted me to this photo they saw of me in the gossip column of ArtForum (better known as “Scene and Herd”) and I thought I would use it to illustrate the magic of cropping:
There I am standing in front of that photograph at the opening of Walead Beshty’s show at Wallspace just on the other side of that wall that cuts into the left of the picture…
Psych, actually I’m standing behind that other more important looking guy (happens to be the Director of White Columns) at the edge of the photograph.
I found this mildly entertaining in the context of conceptual photography, a popular brand in which Beshty always has one foot. This show where I happened to be “scene” follows two veins of Beshty’s work, although I imagine they are meant to be taken together as a record of the process. The first is the prominently featured abstract photograms. These large sheets of color photo paper are somehow folded or rolled in the exposure process. This is only gleaned from looking at them, so I’m not sure what the process is actually, but it seems sufficient to take away that these colors and shapes are not chosen but rather arbitrarily arrived at through a photographic process. In the other works — black and white portraits of the people, places, and machines that have helped Besthy along the way to producing his work — he likewise lets his process do all the decision making. Notice here the photogram that actually hangs off of the center wall.
This placement was arrived at again by some system of finding the center of walls… I don’t think the point is actually to understand the system in place, but rather to see that there is a system, and recognize it as arbitrarily imposed… After all I think that is the underlying critique even found in this rhyming press release:
Whatever Marxist schadenfreude might be gleaned from black-and-white
Effectively reclaims the found object as a multivalent political site
Of the show’s relaxed attitude toward lines of demarcation
which, sexy as it sounded, felt like little more than rhetorical lubrication
Among the most special is Walead Beshty’s photo-slide meditation
Here flashy surface need not come at the cost of art historical, conceptual, and
After my brush with the art world paparazzi I’ve decided to lay low, but I will be venturing out tonight to see two openings that look promising. First, “It’s You. Not me” at Andrew Kreps in Chelsea. Second, and honestly more exciting, is the first solo show in four years for the painter Richard Phillips at Gagosian uptown. I’ll leave you with some enticing words from Phillips himself and follow up later with my conclusions on the show:
“At its core, this show is the conflict between capitalism, fascism, and communism. It looks into the nature of representation, propaganda, and misinformation, and how they redirect the ideologies of institutions.”