Rant of the Week: Roberta Smith Has the Post-Minimal Blahs

February 15, 2010 · Print This Article

Roberta Smith of the New York Times is way too classy and refined to actually rant. Yet despite the even-handedness of her tone, her argument here is impassioned. It also happens to be one that I agree with. Note the part where she reports that the MCA has yet to find a New York venue for its in-the-works Jim Nutt retrospective. A brief excerpt below, then go read the full, lengthy piece from last Sunday’s paper here.

“To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there is a whole lot of art making going on right now. All different kinds. But you’d hardly know it from the contemporary art that New York’s major museums have been serving up lately, and particularly this season.

The current exhibition of Gabriel Orozco at the Museum of Modern Art along with the recent ones of Roni Horn at the Whitney Museum and of Urs Fischer at the New Museum have generated a lot of comment pro and con. So has the Tino Sehgal performance exhibition now on view in an otherwise emptied-out Guggenheim rotunda. But regardless of what you think about these artists individually, their shows share a visual austerity and coolness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note. After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and Conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand.”

Jim Nutt, Plumb, 2004. Private collection. Photo courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York

The Domestic Art Space: Tales from Two Cities

December 21, 2009 · Print This Article

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times ran a lengthy article profiling what writer Penelope Green described as “a new wave of gallerists who for a grab-bag of reasons-economic, philosophical and purely pragmatic-are turning their homes into art galleries” in New York City. Titled “Is it Art or Their Shoes?” the piece’s headline image featured Sarah Gavlak, one of the curators of such spaces, wearing a bright red mini-dress whilst sitting primly on her cream-colored bedspread, framed on either side by the artworks displayed on her bedroom walls.

New York Times

Green goes on to note that Gavlak’s home is “stunningly spare”:

Ms. Gavlak’s personal effects are in one of two walk-in closets; artwork is in the other. Like a good saloniste, she eats breakfast on a tray in bed and then slides it underneath the dust ruffle. Her kitchen is as clean and uncluttered as that of a model apartment in a new condominium. (Home gallerists as a whole are not given to the display of random tchotchkes; further, they know how to hide their hair brushes and the Verizon bill).

This description made me laugh. Although no two apartment galleries are alike (therein lies the true beauty of the form), if you visit a domestic art space in Chicago you’re apt to see freely trafficking pets (and kids), overstuffed bookshelves, and cozy kitchens where something yummy-smelling always seems to be bubbling on the stove. Whereas Gavlak has transformed her entire home into an exactingly considered art installation (a tactic that I admittedly find compelling) many (though certainly not all) of the domestic art spaces I’ve visited in Chicago favor an alternative tactic: one that embraces the unabashedly lived-in. Read more

Memo to the NYT: Enough with all the ‘Joy of Poverty’ Stories

June 10, 2009 · Print This Article

Fuck You

Fuck You

Hey New York Times, I still love ya, but please, just shut up with all those pseudo-uplifting “joy of poverty” stories that you’ve been shoving down our throats lately. Here’s a small sampling of what I’m talking about:

2/12/09: The Boom is Over: Long Live the Art!. This is the one where Holland Cotter told artists,

“…it’s Day Job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them – van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor – and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.”

That bit has already been roundly ridiculed on various arts blogs, so I won’t flog it any further. More recently, however, the Times published another of its attempts at an emotional pick-me-up, Tight Times Loosen Artists’ Creativity (5/19/09), in which an artist named Liz Fallon from Portland, Me. is cited as an example of how artists are learning to exult in their new-found freedoms, now that they’ve stopped selling work and can support themselves with crappy part-time tele-marketing jobs:

“As for myself, freed from the constraints of creating for a specific buyer,” Ms. Fallon wrote [in an email], “I’ve experienced my own surge in creativity and have been producing a great deal more than I used to. While it would be nice to still be getting paid for my work, the need to be more resourceful is having a beneficial effect on the arts community around me.”

In a follow-up interview Ms. Fallon said she supports herself working as a customer-service representative for a direct-marketing firm, and that the lack of commissions has enabled her to pursue new projects, like illustrations of classic children’s literature.

“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want,” she said.

Can’t offer a better retort than that already given by Susie Bright, who responded thusly during a related Facebook exchange (reproduced on the blog New Curator):


And again, on 6/9/09: Special Report: Contemporary Art: Getting Creative in a Downturn. Even the French are “getting creative” and (I love this) “rediscovering” drawing BECAUSE IT’S SO CHEAP.

“….In France, the slump has been marked by a return to traditional drawing, exhibited in a profusion of small-scale shows, often curated by art students….. Serghei Litvin Manoliu…said, “The golden boy approach to art is over.” His show, the 21st Century International Drawing Fair, was a crisis-friendly, minimalist affair, offered unframed works for around $300, displayed on tables in a bare, loft-like space in the hip Marais district of Paris.

Unlike art produced mainly as a commodity for financial speculation, Mr. Manoliu said, “drawing requires excellent skills.”

“The art world had lost every criterion of quality,” he said. “I believe this crisis is a fabulous opportunity for the arts.”

And then there are all the slide shows and video portraits of mostly fresh-faced, mostly recent art grads smiling brightly in the face of their own economic peril (unsurprisingly, all of the artists profiled are white).
The latest, and thus far most obnoxious example of what I’m talking about: The Joy of Less, from travel writer Pico Iyer, writing as part of the Times’ new “Happy Days” blog (billed “the pursuit of what matters in troubled times”). This one takes the cake. Iyer begins his article with a little epigraph that features the uplifting words of a Dutch woman interned in a concentration camp (she was murdered at Auschwitz two months later). Oh yes he does! Then he goes on to describe his own impoverished–but still joyful!–circumstances, now that he lives in a two-room flat in “nowhere Japan,” (nowhere fashionable, we presume).
I have time to read the new John le Carre, while nibbling at sweet tangerines in the sun. When a Sigur Ros album comes out, it fills my days and nights, resplendent. And then it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn’t pursued.
The Sigur Ros reference is the best part. It’s important to be chic, even (especially!) in the midst of “troubled times.”
But seriously, of course I feel bad for Iyer, who lost his home in a fire several years ago, and much of his savings more recently, along with so many others. And I’m certainly not against the whole ‘live simply and prosper’ ethos. I just don’t want it delivered by the New York Times, purveyor of obscene “Special Design Issues” that tell me I “must have” $525 folding chairs and bare light bulbs that cost $99 bucks apiece.
Not everyone is merely a tourist in the land of lost opportunities. The Times has always been oblivious to material conditions outside of its own select, imaginary readership. And, (as Cotter would say), that’s O.K. I expect that from The Times – it’s why I and so many other people love it. I don’t mind if they pimp me chairs that no way in hell I could afford. Just don’t try to sell me on the idea that I should be happy about that.

Wednesday Clips

May 20, 2009 · Print This Article

Shannon Keller, Knitter. Keller's work is on view at Show Cave in L.A. (via World's Best Ever).A few stories, blog posts, and interesting discussions in Chicago and beyond that are on my mind this week.

**Image credit: Shannon Keller, Knitter. Keller’s work is currently on view at Show Cave in L.A. (via The World’s Best Ever).

*CAA Study finds over-reliance on part-time faculty in American higher education.

*New York Times looks at how artists are adjusting to economic hardship.

*Edward Winkleman asks his readers why the view that art is ‘unmasculine’ still persists?

*Chicago artist and illustrator Lauren Nassef’s “A Drawing a Day” still going strong.

*Joanne Mattera bites back after receiving a cease and desist letter warning her not to write about vanity galleries (a.k.a. ‘pay to show’ schemes).

*The architecture of ‘evil lairs’ at BLDGBLOG (via C-Monster). Makes me long for the days I still had time to play videogames.

*Chicagoist’s report on the Society for News Design’s conference and discussions about what’s happening in the Chicago journalism scene. Very interesting write-up here, including follow-up comments.

*”The practice of art gets the criticism it deserves”–Great piece on how the internet is changing critics and art criticism by John Haber.

*Another good read on the above topic: “Arts Writing and ‘The New Thing'” at Peripheral Vision. (Meg has also twittered numerous of-the-moment links on the topic of arts journalism this past week, make sure to check those out too).

That’s all for now. I’m off to see Several Silences at The Renaissance Society.