October 16, 2013 · Print This Article
The Art Market is inflating out of control, making all but the wealthiest few cry foul. Like it or not, this is affecting the way contemporary art is viewed and thought about. Meanwhile, Jeff Koons continues to be the perfect Poster Boy for the inflation, and it just so happens he has work depicting the nothingness inside the bubble. Simultaneously, Banksy goes for a stroll in New York’s neighborhoods proposing a different model. Is this the beginning of the end of the glutonous market? Or is this merely a long beginning?
Donâ€™t make the mistake of trying to analyze the Jeff Koons album cover work for Lady Gaga as if it were art. Think of it instead as a publicity stunt to drum up hype for his upcoming retrospective at the Whitney this summer. On the day the album cover was released, mtv.com ran a story with the headline: â€œLady Gaga is Jeff Koonsâ€™ Biggest Fan…But Who is He?â€ This collage of leftover studio remnants and a Botticelli print gets him access to a generation of people who are not likely looking at a lot of contemporary art, beefing up his celebrity status which he craves, at the same time adding to ticket sales. This, and the animosity from art enthusiasts will help make his retrospective THE BEST EVER!! Just a couple weeks before the Lady Garbage cover, T magazine – the glossy pulp supplement in the NY Times – had a stereotypically vapid conversation with the artist about his recent commission from Dom Perignon to made a limited edition DNA – shaped champagne bottle. Low end and high end commodity containers from olâ€™ Koonie Balloonie. Not too different from anything he has done in the past, but the labeling becomes ever more irksome. Consider his output for the last decade, where most of his work is sold before its finished, and may only show at auction instead of a gallery or museum. Not that this is such a terrible thing. What has basically become a high end boutique practice is frustrating mostly because it is helping fuel the glut of the art market, and then regurgitated into the art world as important to the production and dissemination of art, to negative affect. As long as we wallow in the crystal palaces of Koons, Hirst and Murakami, weâ€™ll think that art is as uninspired as Gormley, Marden and Â Whiteread.
Koons is in this rare position of being accessible to everyone but only collectable to a small handful of the richest in the world. As Carl Swanson recently stated in Vulture: â€œKoons can be the art worldâ€™s great populist artisan, even as he operates as its most exclusive salesman.â€ Â Everything about the work is right there, so thereâ€™s nothing to get. It is perfection and simplicity, the kind of thing that mocks you for looking too hard at it. Since critics are trained to look hard at things, they tend to hate Koons. And its boring to write about art just by describing what it looks like, so people tend to write about his career, his collectors, his record breaking prices at the market, his studio and the process of making his work. This only helps to build a persona around the artist, giving him the superstar flair that these major collectors are after. (And with this weekâ€™s art fair, Londonâ€™s Frieze officially bigger and more bloated than ever, superstars have never been more in vogue.)
Both interesting and frustrating is how Jeff Koonsâ€™ rise to the art commodity machine that he is may have helped shape the way the art market is an increasingly insiders game of fewer and fewer players more knowledgable about trading commodities than how to tell good work from bad. And with the auction prices soaring, the big named galleries just keep getting bigger in a kind of go-for-broke mentality* (not breaking them, just the artists they rep, in less of a financial type of broke and more of an artistic quality and integrity type.)
[*for a throughly depressing take on this, see Jerry Saltzâ€™s article on Vulture this week.]
At the same time all the grumbling about Koons’ latest fart hit the web, Banksy has been doing a residency in NYC, creating work in the city in his typical fashion – covert and unannounced – the opposite of how youâ€™re supposed to make art. While seemingly on the other side of the art world, there are a lot of similarities between the two artists. Maybe Banksy isnâ€™t able to sell his graffiti work for 33 mil, but he is still operating inside the art market, selling regularly and at high prices. Lately, his work is often either garishly covered by a piece of plexiglass bolted to the wall he painted it on or is removed and sold, either way being seenÂ by an enterprising public as separate from graffiti art and rebornÂ as high art/commodity. His work is no stranger toÂ auctions, museum and gallery shows, while being loved by mainstream society. His imagery is understood at first look, you donâ€™t need to read into it, and if you are, then you probably donâ€™t get it. Also like Koons, art critics hate writing about Banksy, saying there isnâ€™t enough to write about, because it is too surface and he isnâ€™t playing the game. But this game is being co opted by the wealthiest of collectors who have realized there is a market that wonâ€™t burst and canâ€™t crash, so theyâ€™ve taken advantage of it. Buying a Koons gets you a ticket into Â a very exclusive club. Buying the Banksy at auction though, means that you probably donâ€™t get it, because his work is to be freely viewed and is mocking the very lopsided system of capitalism that allowed you to buy it at auction in the first place. Getting it, though, is no longer important. Its having it.
As his position in the art world becomes more clear, Banksy’s art frequently criticizes the market, and the latest example of this was a street sale of many of his iconic works on white canvases for $60 on the sidewalks of NYC. The work and the saleÂ later appeared on his website, which is his way of providing provenance. These single color spray painted politically charged images lost all meaning shoved within the borders of these small store bought canvases, sold on the street among vendors hocking watercolors and prints of impressionist styled paintings. Subverted now to talk about the politics of class, taste and accessibility in a market that is more often hurting artists and keeping way too many people out of collecting art. It stifles artistic creativity to the point where every idea is either a recombination of greatest hits by the artist or an experiment to see how much money can prop up a bad idea. Artists start to flounder when they should be thriving. Shows are created for the specific tastes of the market and of a few clientele. Everything becomes dross and it feels like you are wading through a lake of effervescent puke whenever you go to a big exhibition, and anymore, theyâ€™re all big. ‘Cause if not, they may as well not happen at all. More and more, it sucks harder and harder to be a practicing artist in this climate. Unless, of course, youâ€™re Jeff Koons.
As I mentioned yesterday, there is a great performance festival taking place called IN>TIME. Organized by artist Mark Jeffrey,Â IN>TIME features both international and local artists exhibiting in 14 diverse venues across the city between the months of January and March. Bad at Sports will be posting a mini-series of interviews and essays about this festival, including an upcoming interview with Mark Jeffrey himself. This particular post is dedicated to two concurrent exhibits atÂ threewallsÂ that are also part of Jeffrey’s festival. On January 11th,Â Mary Patten’s performance/sound/video installation,Â PanelÂ opened in the main space.Â Mathew Jinks’ began screening his new 73 minute, single-channel HD video,Â The Unreliable Narrator,Â in the project space. While these artists are distinct from one another, exhibiting independent projects, I was interested in facilitating a conversation between them, particularly as both negotiate film, performance, history and collaboration. These exhibits will be on view until February 23rd, with an artist talk from Jinks on January 31st at 7pm,Â as well asÂ a performance,Â SCHIZO CULTURE: A Collaborative Reading, and publication release of the catalogue associated with PANEL.Â On February 9th, there will be another performance,Â SCHIZO PANEL,Â at 7 PM.
Caroline Picard:Â You both call on speculative fiction in your respective projects. What does it mean for each of you to employ the fantastic?Â
Mathew Jinks: The idea of alternate histories is very resonant for me, not necessarily in the reconstruction of various alternative spaces, but aiding in imagining that sense of an â€˜otherâ€™ space that can be inhabited by a narrative. Fictive narratives do not interest me. They seem too comfortable as a source of abstract inventionÂ in some way,Â which I see as an escape from reality and a dead end street; a more complex and evocative device for me is to sow seeds of doubt, to introduce situations and characters with a set of dynamics which have been loaded from the start and see how they play out. The origination in my practice was at the point of departure from personal histories and the evolution of expansive political histories.
Mary Patten:Â Mathewâ€™s articulation ofÂ alternate histories,Â his desire toÂ â€œsow seeds of doubt,â€ the leaking or trespassing of â€œpersonalâ€ histories into the territory of â€œthe politicalâ€ are all-compelling to meâ€¦ and describe sensibilities or impulses that have shaped my own work for many years. Itâ€™s very difficult, maybe even pointless, to draw an easy divide between â€œfactâ€ and â€œfiction,â€ despite persistent claims of â€œobjective journalismâ€ or â€œscientific truth.â€ This is well-trodden territory: what â€œweâ€ (in the most capacious sense) collectively and cumulatively â€œknowâ€ is subject to constant revision and reconstruction. We understand that â€œfacticityâ€ doesnâ€™tÂ equal truth, and that what passes as fiction is not a series of falsehoods. One of the oldest cultural practices, the oral tradition â€” often taking the form of what we call fables or myths â€” has been a crucial element in constructing â€œhistory.â€ And yet â€œtelling storiesâ€ is still a euphemism for telling lies.
â€œSpeculativeâ€ introduces the possibility of wonder, a wandering imagination, the work of invention to heal or bridge inescapable gaps in any historical record. It is a kind of affective, archaeological process to make empirically un-provable connections between obscure, unknown or little-known histories. â€œSpeculativeâ€ need not connote the fantastical, however â€” at least not in the â€œspectacularâ€ sense. These words are funnyâ€¦ so interconnected, but full of paradoxes.
In the case ofÂ Panel,Â I was drawn to an obscure transcript, photocopied many-times over, given to me by the only participant still living, my friend Judith Clark,Â herself a survivor of a barely-remembered radical history, serving a 75-to-life sentence in Bedford Hills prison in New York State. (Judyâ€™s story deserves its own independent telling; I would ask readers to please check out judithclark.org.)
Judyâ€™s memory of the â€œpanel on prisons and asylumsâ€ at Schizo Culture is that the three men â€“ Foucault, Harp, and Laing â€“ did most of the talking. Thatâ€™s contradicted by the transcript, which is itself very odd, characterized by breaks and ellipses. We know from SylvÃ¨re Lotringerâ€™s accounts that the entire Schizo Culture conference was rife with outbursts and interruptions, including this panel discussion, although thatâ€™s not evident in the transcription.
In attempting to re-stage a little-known but somewhat exotic event, I wanted to resist any impulse to reconstruct or â€œnarrativizeâ€ the episode in any kind of â€œrealisticâ€ way. I didnâ€™t want a performance designed to dissolve the distance between the â€œoriginalâ€ event and its contents, both very marked by that moment of the mid 1970s, and yet eerily (and depressingly) prescient of our current traumas of the â€œsocieties of controlâ€: diagnosis, punishment, imprisonment, and torture. I didnâ€™t want to blend or unify these four amazing characters and social actors, two of whom (Foucault and Laing) possess an iconicity shimmering with all kinds of aura, with the people reading and inhabiting their words now. I am compelled byÂ bothÂ the â€œconnectsâ€ and â€œdisconnects.â€
CP: You share an interest in collaboration, but also work independently.Â How do you negotiate the role of an author who is also dedicated to fostering relationships in your work?Â
MJ: I have always felt uncomfortable in a lonely practice, with the idea of the studio Artist who appears after years of hermetic work with a portfolio under the arm. I began working for other artists in Chicago because I had always been a part of a DIY scene which to me was about skill sharing and enabling others to achieve their goals whilst you achieved yours, doing this I witnessed the evolution of a work through multiple creative minds first hand and this stayed with me. I introduce performers and artists into my works to have them re-interpret my ideas, for them to take the work in directions unknown to myself or to the work. It is quite stressful in many ways to work with others, although I am not precious about my projects I do have creative demands and I like to try to keep the overall affect of the work under my thumb. In return I try hard to become a tool for them to use, whether I am recording sound as I did for Maryâ€™s Piece, working as a Cameraman for Kirsten Leenars, or doing sound for Melika Bass. I simply try to gel with the process at hand.
The most important elements of my practice that I feel need to be under my control I will do myself, The Unreliable Narrator was shot, edited and mixed by myself, with voiceover recordings, studio shoots, post image production all done in my studio. I decided to use a colorist to step up my game a little and he really did a great job, I wanted some animation work for the chapter titles and again I used a great animator Han Han Li â€” the big key for this work was to employ a Producer, Parveer Singh Sohal. Without Parveerâ€™s connections in India the work would not exist, so that was an integral decision. I needed access. But Parveer is not a Producer, he is a Graphic Designer and so there were many discussions about what I needed and what he was bringing to the project.
MP: Mathewâ€™s discomfort with the notion of a lonely, hermetic studio practice and artistic identity is of course very much in sync with my own ideas, feelings, and historyâ€¦ although not without risks â€”Â losing oneself in the collective, for example. A good friend who shares a similar collaborative history once commented that itâ€™s possible that no one will know or remember that her labor and creativity helped form some of these projects, since individual authorship is so often dissolvedâ€¦ Iâ€™m obviously not talking here about the art worldâ€™s current embrace of â€œrelational practicesâ€ and the career building that goes along with that. But as Iâ€™ve said elsewhere, I continue to be drawn to collaborative ways of working, such as the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project, because itâ€™s urgently needed, and impossible to realize by a single or even a handful of authors. Most importantly, collaborations embody the kind of collective labor and passion necessary to any project thatâ€™s trying to makeÂ change.
As you, Caroline, and Mathew make very clear, the project of film and videomaking, like so many art forms, isÂ necessarilyÂ collaborativeâ€¦ Chris Marker makes this point beautifully during the ending credits of â€œGrin without a catâ€ which he dedicates to the anonymous and unnamed artists and technicians without whose clips, shots, sequences, and documents that epic film would have never been realized, seen, or distributed. To that point, I would like to acknowledge the thoughtful labor, participation, and support of performers Darrell Moore, Mikal Shapiro, Matthias Regan, andÂ Mark Jeffery; Directors of Photography Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke; Mathew for such great sound engineering; Alex Brown for assisting with camera; Ilan Gutin for helping with the large prints; and the lovely, hardworking, and brilliant Joey Carr who has worked as producer, compositor, and hardware/software engineer.
CP: You call on various histories, whether philosophical or psychological traditions, fortune telling traditions, Â â€” is it possible to collaborate with disciplines? Or do you think about the way you engage those traditions differently?
MJ: This is a wonderful question; tradition by nature is a stubborn legacy and confronting it head on is an antagonistic strategy. If you lay the threads down together: personal history and its discipline of remembrance, familial oral history, musical traditions as in Jazz, Cheiromancy, Homeopathy, Metallurgy, then these lines will touch and intersect like magnets picking up each other. It is a naÃ¯ve want to reshape these lines to any sort of permanence. I think of Francis Alys work,Â The Collector â€”Â with the magnet on wheels that he pulls behind him collecting metal from the street as he goes â€” the street will fill up once again with shards and paperclips. Francis creates a moment of being present, and itâ€™s this re-presenting and laying down with traditions in new almost aleatoric ways.
MP: I consider myself a visitor, a curious student, an interloper or trespasser in many disciplines, an auto-didact, or rather someone who has learned from many teachers and texts, â€œnegativeâ€ as well as exemplaryâ€¦
CP:Â How do you all think of beginnings and endings? Are those narrative touchstones useful to you?Â
MJ:Â No, I instinctively move away from creating narrative structure, arcs and so forth. I find the idea of conclusion quite arrogant in non-fiction. The episodic device is interesting because it introduces the idea of the â€˜false startâ€™, or the hidden track at the end of an album, or the prologue as in Bergman’s Persona, or â€˜rewindâ€™ in Jamaican dance hall, the stutter. This is why gallery installations are so useful: people enter and leave as they wish; this is a very considered position for my work, the ideal position.
MP:Â There are no real beginnings. Weâ€™re always starting in the middle, picking up someone elseâ€™s traces and tracksâ€¦ For me, in the realm of ideas, relationships, as well as many projects over the years, there are so many interruptions and breaksâ€¦ things are â€œleft for nowâ€ and unfinished or deferred. I find it much more habitual to abandon something, rather than â€œendâ€ it. Like Mathew, I am drawn to the episodic, to â€œfalse startsâ€ and â€œstuttersâ€â€¦ but when Mathew talks about resisting narrative arcs, I think he is perhaps referring to â€œmainstreamâ€ or what we used to call â€œHollywood narrative cinemaâ€â€¦ for me, there are so many wonderful, rich and complicated examples of â€œnarrative fictionâ€ that escape these constraints â€“ the films of Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman, for example, but also so many more â€“ in cinema and literature, in expanded forms of the essay, in experimental non-fiction and media formsâ€¦
CP:Â How do you conceive of utopia? Is such a thing possible? Is it a condition of being? Or a place?Â
MJ:Â More than a construct, a Modernist ideal, pathological, LSD induced? I never conceive of utopia. Utopia and dystopia to me are devices, but they are not very interesting devices. They suggest spaces of utter happiness or utter sadness and isnâ€™t that a psychological state? Bi-Polar? There is no tension in these extreme spaces and it is too easy to create heroics from such static dynamics. This is exactly what popular culture thrives on. The fine-line-in-betweens, and the slippage that occurs within those minimal gradations is what art production responds to. The Â entertainment industry responds to thoseÂ other extremes. Even in a spiritual sense â€” in Buddhism, for instance, elements are in a balance, whereas in cults, the utopian ideals are offset by the leader sexually prowling its herd for ultimate control. Conceiving of utopia maybe undermines an art making practice? Desire is a more interesting space to work from for me. It has the same goal as utopia â€” the perfect space â€” but it is much more psychologically complex. Desire is fixated on process, and the moment. There is presence in desire without conclusion.
MP:Â Unlike Mathew, I donâ€™t think that utopian impulses can be reduced to mere devices, or that they areÂ necessarilyÂ tied to dangerous heroic narrativesâ€¦ maybe this is just a difference of language, because I find that his conception of desire as a transformative force is very akin to what I would call utopian longings.
Until fairly recently, itâ€™s been fashionable to dismiss â€œutopiaâ€ because of its attachment to so many terrible and failed agendas that promised brave new worlds and then delivered totalitarianisms. We know now that we should dislike and mistrust master narratives, totalities of certainty, and teleological schemes. However, I am drawn to utopian impulses not just because I was formed through my engagement with them â€“ to the point of political lunacy, perhaps â€“ but also perversely because they have been a despised or at best suspect category for so long.
Contemporary social movements and revolts against globalized capital, the fleeting â€œoccupys,â€ the movements of the squares, the queer utopias of so many interesting artists today, all embody what people call â€œprefigurative politicsâ€: â€œBeÂ the change you want to make.â€ The emphasis is on the here and now,Â againstÂ telos, embracing not only possibility, but doubt. Recognizing that we, and all matter, is/are in a constant state of becoming, that small and invisible shifts and changes are always (potentially) occurring, whether or not they are seen or recognizedâ€¦ this is what intrigues and provokes me. Brian Massumi is an extremely useful thinker and writer here.
Paradoxically, thereâ€™s a lot of interest in reclaiming utopian thinking now because of how hopeless and scary the world has become, how reduced and flattened to information, to bits and bytes everything seemsâ€¦ and all the ways that capitalism forecloses the imagination and desire, except as an instrument of and for the commodity, no pleasure outside of consumptionâ€¦ or the deadliness of an actuarial life, with its endless assessment debits and creditsâ€¦
CP:Â What does it mean to come from somewhere? What role does memory play in that reality?
MJ:Â The transition is interesting, to come from somewhere to go to somewhere else, and the translation from one meaning to another. There is a great deal of nostalgia and longing for previous inhabited spaces, especially if you have been formed by them in some way; that complicates memory. A new space can act as a lens from which to view the previous space and this is truly a unique position. You no longer belong to that place but the memories are attached to you, somehow the filtration from one’s current position gives a sober screen. I think it is essential but painful, and again that tension of knowing you need separation while at the same time being in touch with a sense of longing is the drive for this â€˜otherâ€™ space to be imagined in my work.
MP:Â Again, we return to the problem of originsâ€¦Years ago, I made a piece provoked by Courbetâ€™s â€œThe Origin of the World.â€ I was very influenced by Linda Nochlinâ€™s pivotal essay on that infamous painting, and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of locating an originary point â€” whether in relationship to that picture, which existed in several versions, disappeared, and re-surfaced over a long stretch of timeâ€¦ as well as the funny ridiculousness of imagining the universal vulva-cunt as the origin of us all, the Great Motherâ€¦ how much better to use the term â€œbeaverâ€? or just ordinary womenâ€™s names: a succession of beaversâ€¦
A more recent project was instigated by theÂ notes, translated from Arabic into English, allegedly written by Mohammed Atta in preparation for the hijackings and attacks of September 11, 2001.Â When I read these, all sorts of problems immediately presented themselves. Was this an actual document? Were the notes, in fact, â€œfoundâ€? or were they a fiction, invented to â€œproveâ€ a rationale as incomprehensible as the acts that followed? Was this a reliable translation?
The idea that translation is often slippery and inexact, and sometimes impossible, is widely acknowledged. Yet we like to pretend that complete transparency is within our reach, that vast differences of culture, language, and history can be breached, if only the right tools, technologies, and â€œmindsetsâ€ are available. And translation, like everything else, has undergone a renewed politicization in this ever-encapsulated world.
In a lot of my work, I explore spaces and distances between a â€œhereâ€ and a â€œthere,â€ a presumed â€œcenterâ€ and its â€œperiphery,â€ to work off the grid to the point of falling off a map completely. I work with images drawn from public, although possibly ephemeral archives â€“ things like newspapers, outtakes, margins of the marginsÂ â€“ to fictionalize them, at the same time as undermining the authority of â€œauthenticâ€ or alleged autobiography. Like Mathew, Iâ€™m preoccupied with the instability of memory,Â very enamored of the idea, the necessity of the unreliable narratorâ€¦ or the mute, opaque, or invisible one.