Monday, April 30, 2012

Last April Links

by Robert Boyd

art garage
Art at 3210 Elmridge, Houston, TX

Who is this artist? Swamplot noticed this house for sale on HAR, where the garage had been turned into a nice studio. I love it when these realtor photos show art on the walls--it's fun to form opinions about the artistic tastes of the sellers. But in this case, these minimal geometric abstractions were presumably painted by the seller. So looking at them, Houston readers, so you have any idea who the artist might be? [HAR, "A Garage-Free Garden and Gallery Complex Near the Astrodome," Swamplot, April 30, 2012]

art gararge
The art garage at 3210 Elmridge

The best review I've read all month. A review of Avengers Versus X-Men: Versus [sic], which is apparently a comic book that has no story whatsoever--just fight scenes between Iron Man and Magneto and the Thing and the Submariner, four Marvel superheroes/supervillains. It was reviewed by a guy named Tucker Stone. Here's my favorite part:
Neither of the fights are poorly drawn. However, nor are they drawn in such a way that’ll make you jump out of your seat and screech CONFOUND IT, THIS BE THE KING’S OWN ENTERTAINMENT while spitting on that picture of Jack Kirby that everybody spits on whenever they read an Avengers comic, because fuck that dead guy and his shifty family, they keep trying to steal the pajama gang movies from the big company that makes all the best presents, and they’re gonna lose anyway, because justice is for douchebags and so is trying. ["Sometimes You Just Kick Back And Watch ‘Em Drown" by Tucker Stone, The Comics Journal, April 27, 2012]

Anish Kapoor, Leviathan, 2011, P.V.C and forced air, 33.6×99.89×72.23 meters

Why is art so damn big these days? Jillian Steinhauer wrote a nice piece on the trend to super-sized art for Hyperallergic. 
The problem with art as entertainment is that it privileges the “Wow” factor over everything else. Standing inside many an Olafur Eliasson installation, you’re delighted, you’re impressed, you take a picture of yourself looking yellow. But you don’t think about it all too much. Of course there’s a chance you might, when you go home, but the art itself doesn’t encourage thinking. Rather, it privileges emotional response — particularly the feeling of being impressed and awed — over understanding; in other words, passive consumption versus active.
She equates these super-large pieces with entertainment, which makes sense. But they could also be associated with Kant's idea of the mathematical sublime--another type of sensation that shuts down thinking. ["The Problem With Big Art," Jillian Steinhauer, Hyperallergic, April 30, 2012]

The Revenge of the Real
Pacolli, The Revenge of the Real, 2012

This art made me laugh uncomfortably. It's by an artist named Pacolli and is currently on view at Fecal Face Gallery [sic] in San Francisco. Here's a detail:

The Revenge of the Real
Pacolli, The Revenge of the Real detail, 2012


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shifting Units in New York City

by Robert Boyd

Frieze Art Fair
Frieze Art Fair New York will be held in this snake-shaped temporary building on Randall Island

This quote in the Financial Times about the Frieze art fair in New York next weekend made me laugh.
“There is just too much being offered in a short period,” [art adviser Lisa] Schiff says. “The calendar is jam-packed: there are the auctions, then Frieze New York, then Hong Kong, then Art Basel, then the London sales. I know the collector base for art is growing, that the market is bullish, but there must be a limit to how much inventory can be absorbed in two months.” ["Breath of fresh air – or ill wind?" by Georgina Adam, The Financial Times, April 28, 2012]
Because you know what art that hasn't been sold is? Inventory. Merchandise. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you silly artists with your "talent" and "expression," your "truth" and "beauty," your powerless "institutional critique" and "dematerialisation"! It's all about shifting units, making pape.

And by a bizarre coincidence, I will be there to watch this spectacle of the society of the spectacle in person. I have long planned to visit NYC for a few days in early May--a little birthday present for myself. See some friends. Visit some museums. Stroll on the High Line Park. So I called up a friend to say I would be in town, and he asked, "Oh, are you coming up for Frieze?" Huh. I had no idea.

So yes, of course I'm going. And I'll report it here.


UH MFA Thesis Exhibition part 1: Comic Con!

by Robert Boyd

Nighthawks at the Last Supper
Nighthawks at the Last Supper--a comic convention inside an art exhibit

The 2012 UH MFA thesis show included, as always, a variety of artists working in a variety of media. One perennial problem with this is that some kinds of art are not particularly conducive to being exhibited in a gallery. Because of the Blaffer Gallery's renovations, the thesis show this year is at Diverse Works, which I think is a smaller space, which made the exhibition challenges even greater.

Ted Closson
Ted Closson manning his table

But new MFA Ted Closson threw a huge wrench in the works by deciding to hold an alternative comics convention on opening night within the space of the MFA Thesis exhibit. He called it Nighthawks at the Last Supper and invited a variety of cartoonist/self-publishers from Houston and other Texas locations to set up tables and hawk their wares. Closson himself is a cartoonist of high ambition. He's working on a graphic novel called The Lorica. His MFA was in service of his comics work, which is a little bizarre given that UH doesn't have a program for this.

The Lorica
Tedd Closson, The Lorica issue 2 cover, self-published comic

Since his work consists of comics pages that are, after all, meant to be read, how does he display them in a gallery? This is especially true given that his works are composed at least partially electronically, and the finished pages exist as computer files. Over the years, comics artists have developed a variety of display strategies to deal with this issue. But Closson ignored all that and decided to create a performance instead.

Nighthawks at the Last Supper
Another view of Nighthawks at the Last Supper

Specifically, he created a relational performance. I know all you au courant art lovers know that relational art is the most modern iteration of performance. But for comics fans who might have wandered over, let me explain. Relational art is performance that has nothing to do with shamanic practices, with shock, with endurance, or with theater. Relational aesthetics, according to the coiner of the term Nicolas Bourriard, is "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space." Perhaps the most prominent artist working in this mode is Rirkrit Tiravanija, and his best-known works have involved cooking meals in galleries where anyone could come in and help themselves. (I happen to like this kind of performance a lot, which is why I included Jorge Galvan's El Dinersito in Pan y Circos last year.)

Closson's table
Deon Robinson's table

You can see where I'm going here. In the world of comics, the comics convention is historically the most important way for comics creators, dealers, and readers to interact socially. It's so important that it has evolved into several types of conventions, ranging from big corporate commercial conventions like San Diego Comic-Con to a variety of small-scale festivals aimed at small presses and self-publishers, like MOCCA Fest, which is going on this weekend in New York. Closson has created his own self-publisher comics festival within the context of the gallery. And within this space, gallery goers had the opportunity to act like comics fans--perusing the tables, chatting with the artists, buying comics, etc. It was an audacious use of Diverse Works. My feeling was that it was a success for both the comics artists who came and set up tables and for the gallery visitors.

Nighthawks at the Last Supper
More of the crowd at Nighthawks at the Last Supper, including Bill Davenport in pink and white

Now I could probably write about the collapsing of high and low art, or the fraught relationship between comics art and contemporary fine art. But these issues, while interesting, seem pretty secondary to the relational performance here. Except for the location, the performance was more-or-less identical to a "real" comics convention. When you eat Tiravanija's curry or Jorge Galvan's tacos, you are not "performing" in the sense of acting--you are eating actual yummy food. Likewise, when you peruse and buy comics at Nighthawks at the Last Supper, an actual interaction is taking place.

So how did I participate in this performance? I bought comics, natch. Here's what I got.

Houston Zinefest 2012 Compilation
Various artists, Houston Zinefest 2012 Compilation

Screw Comics
Jarrod Perez, Screw Comics number 2, 2010, comic book

Jarrod Perez
Jarrod Perez, center

Psycho-Plasmics Causes Cancer
Gabriel Deiter, Pscho-Plasmics Causes Cancer, comic book

Pissy Pants
Brendan Kiefer, Pissy Pants, comic book

Pebbly Tar
Noël Kalmus, Pebbly Tar, comic book

Noel Kalmus
Brendan Kiefer and Noël Kalmus

I haven't read any of these yet. I will shortly and maybe I'll report back with some reviews. But it gladdens my heart to know all these folks are in Houston or at least nearby. There was great energy at Nighthawks at the Last Supper. As a piece of relational performance, I give it high marks. His professors should give Ted Closson an "A."


Yasuaki Onishi's Inverted Sublimity

by Robert Boyd

Reverse of Volume RG
Yasuaki Onishi, Reverse of Volume RG, 2012, plastic sheeting and black hot glue

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure. Without all doubt, the torments which we may be made to suffer are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than any pleasures which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible body, could enjoy. Nay, I am in great doubt whether any man could be found, who would earn a life of the most perfect satisfaction at the price of ending it in the torments, which justice inflicted in a few hours on the late unfortunate regicide in France. But as pain is stronger in its operation than pleasure, so death is in general a much more affecting idea than pain; because there are very few pains, however exquisite, which are not preferred to death: nay, what generally makes pain itself, if I may say so, more painful, is, that it is considered as an emissary of this king of terrors. When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful,as we every day experience. [Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1757]

Thus, too, delight in the sublime in nature is only negative (whereas that in the beautiful is positive): that is to say, it is a feeling of imagination by its own act depriving itself of its freedom by receiving a final determination in accordance with a law other than that of its empirical employment. In this way it gains an extension and a might greater than that which it sacrifices. But the ground of this is concealed from it, and in its place it feels the sacrifice or deprivation, as well as its cause, to which it is subjected. The astonishment amounting almost to terror, the awe and thrill of devout feeling, that takes hold of one when gazing upon the prospect of mountains ascending to heaven, deep ravines and torrents raging there, deep shadowed solitudes that invite to brooding melancholy, and the like-all this, when we are assured of our own safety, is not actual fear.

This makes it evident that true sublimity must be sought only in the mind of the judging subject, and not in the object of nature that occasions this attitude by the estimate formed of it. Who would apply the term “sublime” even to shapeless mountain masses towering one above the other in wild disorder, with their pyramids of ice, or to the dark tempestuous ocean, or such like things? But in the contemplation of them, without any regard to their form, the mind abandons itself to the imagination and to a reason placed, though quite apart from any definite end, in conjunction therewith, and merely broadening its view, and it feels itself elevated in its own estimate of itself on finding all the might of imagination still unequal to its ideas. [Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, 1790]

When we think of the sublime, we think of the landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich--solitary figures dwarfed by immense mountains, oceans, icebergs, etc. Current artists who tread this ground are James Turrell (who is constantly installing sublime-appreciation devices called Skyspaces wherever someone will pay him to do so) and Olafur Eliasson.

Should I add Yasuaki Onishi to that list? I mean, look at that snowy valley between those mountains! The awe-inspiring immensity! The soul-crushing depth! The craggy terror! It sure looks pretty sublime to me.

Oh, wait.

That's upside down. Sorry. This is what it really looks like.

Reverse of Volume RG
Yasuaki Onishi, Reverse of Volume RG, 2012, plastic sheeting and black hot glue

This is the view from the inside. From what I understand, Onishi stacked up a bunch of boxes in the Rice Gallery. Then he draped those boxes with wrinkled plastic sheeting. Then he attached the sheeting to the ceiling with strings (I can't tell if the strings are made of dripped hot glue or if he just used strings to guide the hot glue drips--or something else altogether). Then he removed the boxes--leaving this negative space that looks strikingly like rugged, snowy mountains. The plastic looks like snow and the black hot glue looks like exposed rock.

Reverse of Volume RG
 Yasuaki Onishi, Reverse of Volume RG, 2012, plastic sheeting and black hot glue

This is a view of Reverse of Volume RG from the outside, where you can see the strings. This is what you see before you walk into the Rice Gallery. So in a sense, before you experience the landscape, you see the method by which it was made. And for some, that might break the magic spell.

But once you are under the sheet, with the omnipresent glow of the floor-hugging lights, it's a pretty impressive sight. It surrounds you with this strange upside-down mountain-scape. On one hand, Onishi is undermining the sense of the sublime--by showing the backdrop, the view behind the facade, the trickery. He undermines the idea of the sublime by using cheap, disposable materials like plastic sheeting and hot glue.

But then he creates this all-surrounding environment that is quite powerful. I hardly think that for most people it will inspire "terror," but I bet there are quite a few exclamations of "Oh, wow!" Onishi, in the end, flips back and forth between an attempt at creating a sublime experience and an undermining of that experience. In this way, his art seems a bit more humane and grounded than Turrell's.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Richard Stout's History of Art in Houston

by Robert Boyd

For the past few weeks, I've had the privilege of working on a video featuring artist Richard Stout talking about the history of Houston's art scene in the 1950s and '60s. The YouTube videos below are the fruit of that work. This talk by Stout is an expansion of a short lecture he gave at the CASETA convention a few years ago. CASETA is the Center for the Advancement of Early Texas Art, which they define as "art produced by artists who were born in and/or lived and worked in Texas through 40 years prior to the present date." Stout had 30 minutes to talk about 60 artists and decided later to expand the talk.

In addition to discussing specific artists, Stout talks about the founding, growth and evolution of key Houston institutions like the Contemporary Art Association/Contemporary Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the art departments at Rice, the University of Houston, St. Thomas, and TSU as well as the gradual proliferation of galleries during those two decades. Underlying all of this is the growth of Houston itself. In 1950, Houston had a population of 596 thousand. By 1960, that was 938 thousand, and by 1970 it was 1.2 million. Given this, it is hardly surprising that the number of artists increased and that the institutions grew and expanded their scope.

But enough of that. Watch the videos. Stout was a witness to much of this and is an erudite, scholarly man. I found this history--almost all of which was unknown to me--utterly fascinating, and I hope you will as well.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7


Tchotchkes, Knickknacks and Scale Models at Devin Borden

by Robert Boyd

You don't see a lot of sculpture in galleries. Work tend to be "wall art"--paintings, photos, drawings, collages, reliefs, etc. The reason is obvious--sculpture is hard to own and display. For a collector, sculpture displaces furniture. It renders some amount of floor space unusable. It's just not as convenient to collect as wall art. So that means sculpture is not something you see very often in art galleries. And that's too bad.

But Devin Borden got around the inconvenience factor with his show Table Top by showing mostly very small sculptures--the kind that can fit on a bookshelf or in a china cabinet. The funny thing is that when I think of pieces like that, I think of ceramic tchotchkes. Things your grandmother might have cluttering up her parlor. Or to be more modern about it, the toys and action figures that hipsters and comics nerds collect--you can buy stuff like that at Domy or Bedrock City.

And in a way, the work in this group show is a variation of that. Matt Messinger's pieces seem to be a direct riff on that theme of grandmother-friendly ceramic tchotchke.

Matt Messinger small sculpture installation

Matt Messinger, Untitled (Cat), 2011, found ceramic, buttons, resin

When I see stacks of buttons like that, I think of Tara Donovan, but her use of them is clearly different. She uses identical buttons to create a texture. Her buttons tend to have neutral, unassuming colors. Messinger is going for color with his stacks.

Matt Messinger, Untitled (Owl and Teacup), 2012, found ceramic, buttons, resin

So unlike Donovan, I think Messinger is all about these little ceramic things and the buttons for what they signify--I kind of domesticity that reminds one of  of a particular place and time. You are a child and you visit your aunt or grandmother and you see these things, and you nose around, looking in drawers (because you're bored) and you find old buttons. The three twisting stacks of buttons in untitled (Owl and Teacup) reminded me of DNA. And this kind of stuff is in our DNA. It's a part of our collective culture.

more Matt Messinger in the back room

Awww, cute!

Sharon Engelstein, Cat Mount, 2008, plaster and cyanoacrylate adhesive 3-D print

Also verging on cute is Cat Mount by Sharon Engelstein. But it's also kind of mysterious. Because the image is small, when I saw it I saw it as a scale model for something bigger. With the jagged rock-like form and the steps on the right, you could see it as the top of a rock outcropping, or the very summit of a mountain. And on top of this mountain is a strange piece of cartoon-cat-shaped equipment. It has two pipes, implying liquid or gas moving through it. It could almost be a piece of gas pipeline equipment. Except that it's cat-shaped. I imagine that someone has taken a long stairway up the side of a mountain--not a high mountain (no snow), but still it took some effort to get to the top. And then you behold this mysterious piece of equipment. To me, that would be like discovering that magic is real. It's a hike up a mountain worth taking. Needless to say, I love this little sculpture.

Sharon Engelstein, Bumbry, 2002, plaster and cyanoacrylate adhesive 3-D print

This earlier piece, Bumbry, feels like a model for one of her large forced-air pieces, but I have never seen this particular arrangement of bulbous partial spheres in any of those larger pieces. But like the inflatable pieces, it is playful and biomorphic.

Nicholas Kersulis, Objects for a Table (Rocks: Taos: Rumsfeld), 2010, black gesso on found rocks/studio table with Cornforth White paint

These rocks by Nicholas Kersulis are not cute at all. Kersulis was a Core fellow a few years ago. I've seen similar pieces to this where he used white gesso. I don't know how he makes the gesso so thick, except that maybe he paints on layer after layer. Gesso is naturally white because it's made out of gypsum and chalk, but it can have pigment mixed in, which is presumably the case here.

Nicholas Kersulis, Objects for a Table (Rocks: Taos: Rumsfeld) detail, 2010, black gesso on found rocks/studio table with Cornforth White paint

The way the gesso part of each rock is kind of swirly makes it look a bit like obsidian (although less glassy than obsidian). Its utter blackness reminds one of coal or asphalt. The fact that the rocks are bisected in a way--the bottom half natural rock, the top half black thick gesso, make me think of rock strata. And the display on the table looks like a collection. With a glass top to turn it into a vitrine, it could be a display in a natural history museum. But one can't get around the fact that the gesso portion of each "rock" looks weird and unnatural. And ironically, that's what is so appealing about them.

Kaneem Smith, Untitled (White), 2010, cloth, cotton balls, wax; and Wring Out, 2012, burlap, cotton, wax

Kaneem Smith's work goes a bit off message--Untitled (White) is a wall hanging instead of a table-top sculpture. But the scale is the thing, really. Even though Smith is working on table-top scale, she has produced work that is the opposite of cute (like Kersulis). These pieces are not going into auntie's china cabinet. The work is grungy. The use of burlap and cotton perhaps are meant to recall the importance of cotton in Houston (and the South generally), and the grungy quality of the work, as well as the "wrung out" aspect of Wring Out may be a reference to the back-breaking labor, performed first by black slaves and later by black sharecroppers in appalling conditions.

Darryl Lauster, Diarama, 2011, found toys, electric motor, wooden table

Darryl Lauster takes U.S. history and the American scene as the subject of his often quite amusing artwork. Diarama [sic] takes on the revolutionary war. The motor keeps the seesaw element rocking back and forth--sometimes the British are up, sometimes the revolutionary soldier is up.

Darryl Lauster, The New World, 2012, acrylic, electric aquarium pump, steel, brass, water, cement and silicone

The New World seems especially appropriate for Houston. In fact, I'm always puzzled by the relative lack of art that relates to oil and gas production. It was in 1863 that Charles Baudelaire in "The Painter of Modern Life" instructed artists to look around and depict the modern world in which they lived in their art. And yet, oil production remains under-explored as an artistic subject. This witty piece, like The New World, has a kinetic element--bubbles pumped from the bottom that make the octopus clinging to the side of the platform move. Folks in the oil industry will recognize that this is a fairly archaic form of drilling platform.

Thematically, there is little to link these artists. Lauster and Smith both touch on industries that are associated with Houston historically. (Kersulis rocks, if you see the black gesso as symbolic of oil-bearing rock, could also be read as relating to oil production.) Messinger explores cuteness and nostalgia, and cuteness is touched on by both Engelstein and Lauster. But mainly what we have here is a heterogeneous collection of small sculptures, each with its own virtues.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Criticism or Diagnosis--The Dilemma of John Adelman's Art

Robert Boyd

I recent read Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century, a biography of Grigori Perelman by Masha Gessen. Perelman is a great mathematician who solved the Poincaré conjecture, which was one of the great unproved math problems. But Perelman is also extremely eccentric, to say the least--an extreme misanthrope who has now cut himself off completely from all human contact except, apparently, for his mother. He even turned down a $1 million prize for solving the Poincaré conjecture for reasons that from the outside seem utterly inexplicable. In the book, Gessen discusses the details of Perelman's behavior with a variety of psychologists and neurologists who conclude that he may have Asberger's syndrome, a type of autism that allows one to function in human society but that makes it hard for one to understand other people.

I thought of Perelman as I looked at the work of John Adelman at Darke Gallery. Adelman's art consists of paintings/drawings created by methodical, repetitious, and indeed tedious actions. For example, with 3212 (nails), Adelman dumped 3212 nails onto a black wood panel then carefully drew an outline of each nail where it dropped with a white gel pen.

John Adelman, 3212 (nails), mixed media on wood panel, 24" x 24"

What can you say about this? First, you might recall that Jean Arp did something similar--he would tear colored paper into squares and drop them onto a larger piece of colored paper. He would glue the pieces he dropped where they landed. In short, chance, rather than human agency, determined the final composition of the work.

Second, one might think of the wall drawings of Sol Lewitt, where the work was really the set of instructions or rules that Lewitt created rather than the final result. For each drawing, Adelman creates a set of rules for himself and then more-or-less mechanically executes the rules.

John Adelman, 73160 (straw bale), gel ink on paper, 29" x 48"

You could make 73160 (straw bale) yourself, if you had plenty of time and patience. It would be different from Adelman's--the number of pieces of straw in the bale would certainly vary, and the random location of each piece of straw would be different as well. But the idea would be the same.

I asked Adelman why, then, did he just not hire someone to execute the pieces? He said something about the process of doing it being important to him. He likes counting the nails and pieces of straw. He likes numbers in general--he can tell you how many hours he spent on each piece. And as you might expect, these pieces are so laborious that he has little time for anything else. He said making these things leaves him with no spare time to do other things. Which starts to sound a little like Gregori Perelman, although unlike Perelman, Adelman seemed quite capable of and willing to carry on a conversation with another person--at least about his art.

So when you look at the pieces and ponder their making, things like Asberger's syndrome or obsessive-compulsive disorder come to mind. That's what I meant by the phrase "criticism or diagnosis." Do we approach this work (and the process of making it, which is clearly an important aspect of it) through criticism? Or do we do we attempt to make an amateur diagnosis of the artist? The latter option strikes me as inherently unethical. And yet, we do this unethical thing all the time when discussing certain artists and writers. It's hard not to think of people like Antonin Artaud, Malcolm Lowry, or Forrest Bess without thinking about their psychological problems. Their work seems so intertwined with their mental health. And those were three that popped into my head--I think without much effort, I could come up with a list of dozens. And no matter what one thinks of Adelman's pieces as works of art, the more one knows about the process of making them, the more curious one becomes about his state of mind. Or, at least I'm curious about it.

John Adelman, Empty, 48" x 48", gel ink on paper

Adelman describes Empty as "a stable structured design of handwritten dictionary definitions." He uses the dictionary because he sees it as neutral (having no political, religious or personal meaning). Presumably he also uses it because you can go through it methodically. (Of course, there is ideology in dictionaries. At the very least, we have to say that dictionaries, like encyclopedias, are products of the the Enlightenment.)

John Adelman, Empty detail, 48" x 48", gel ink on paper

But in the end, we are left with a piece that looks like something. The process is never not going to be important, nor the mind of the person who created it. We can't pretend those things are irrelevant. But I look at Empty and see this fuzzy but highly regular patter. And I look at 142136 (nails) and see these falling curtains of light that strike me as beautiful.

John Adelman, 142136 (nails), mixed media on paper, 48" x 96"

That John Adelman dropped 142,136 nails onto this piece of paper and drew an outline of each one is perversely fascinating, but if the result wasn't interesting to look at, would we care? Instead, what remains is a work of art that is, for me at least, delightful to see.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Read My Review of John Waters' Art

by Robert Boyd

Headline #1
John Waters, Headline #1, 2006. C-print, 22.5 x 98 inches, edition of 5

This show is of filmmaker John Waters' artwork is on view at McClain Gallery for just a few more days. And I have a review of it at Temporary Art Review. CHEGGITOUT!


Artists Getting Paid

by Robert Boyd

Hyperallergic has a couple of really great posts about artists not getting paid. The main article is by art provocateur William Powhida. The title is suggestive: Why Are (Most) Artists (So Fucking) Poor? But the post doesn't address this question in a general sense, but rather discusses a small but obvious part of it. In this article, he talks about a survey of artists who displayed work in New York non-profit spaces between 2005 and 2010 by W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the General Economy).
On Friday evening W.A.G.E. presented the results of its 2010 survey of payments received by artists who exhibited with nonprofit art institutions in New York City between 2005 and 2010. The survey found that 58% of artists who responded received “no form of payment.”  The audience, including Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár, asked questions critical of the survey methodology, but did not refute the group’s findings. W.A.G.E. has partnered with Artists Space to explore the development of a self-regulatory model, mandating the implementation of a fee schedule within the institution. Presenter A.K. Burns explained one of the rationales for artists fees, “nonprofits get money from different sources for public education, and the artist is the educator. We are wondering why the artist isn’t being paid?”  That artists should be remunerated for their cultural value in capital value is one of W.A.G.E.’s positions from its statement and one that remains controversial. [William Powhida, "Why Are (Most) Artists (So Fucking) Poor?", Hyperallergic, April 23, 2012]
When you think about this, it's kind of weird. I am on the board of Frenticore/Frenetic Theater. I've looked at our books in great detail. When we put on a show (for example, the Houston Fringe Festival), we pay the performers. We are a non-profit, so we get our money from donations, grants, and charging folks to see the shows we produce or charging folks to use our theater space for their own shows. Why would an art exhibit at a non-profit space be different? (By the way, if you have an act and want to be in the Houston Fringe Festival, the deadline for submission is May 1, so get to it!)

But a theatrical or dance performance is different. First, it's expected that the theater will charge people to see it. And more important, with a performance, the performance itself is the work. And so we pay for the work. A visual artist, by contrast, has something physical to sell (I'm not going to get into the issues around installations or other temporary/immaterial artwork). So the theory is that for an artist, being in a show at a non-profit space gives you exposure with which you can then leverage to sell physical artworks. An exhibit at such a space is like a really long television commercial for your work. And there is some truth to this. Greater exposure in high-profile venues makes selling work easier, on average.

The question is whether this justifies no payment at all from the non-profit venue. I don't think so. Sure the artist gets a small, indefinable benefit, but so does the institution. They aren't showing this work as a favor to the artist. So in a way, they are like any other venue for creative work. If a magazine or newspaper publishes your work, they pay for one-time rights. A non-profit venue should do the same.

Why Are Artists Poor
Hans Abbing, Why Are Artists Poor?: the Exceptional Economy of the Arts. I have no idea if the contents of this book, which I have not read, are relevant here, but it seems apropos.

One argument that a non-profit might make is that they don't have a lot of money. And with certain exceptions, this is true. I don't expect non-profit art spaces, as a class, to suddenly conjure thousands of dollars out of thin air to pay artists. But they should pay artists, and the money needs to be taken from within the institution. Maybe this means fewer shows per year, or a smaller staff or less marketing. It would be a real sacrifice. I'm not denying it. But as someone who sits on the board of a non-profit that pays its artists, I know it can be done.

One wonders how it got to this state. But the answer is economically obvious. More people want to be artists than there is demand for art. In fact, people are willing to be poor if that's what it takes to be artists. It's one of those professions that attracts way more people than can be reasonably paid. So this makes it a buyers market--and non-profit art spaces are, essentially, buyers of art. I don't mean that that they have collections, but they do essentially rent art for six weeks or so at a a time. And right now, the rent they pay is close to zero. That should change.

To see a bunch of infographics put together by W.A.G.E. on this topic, see this post.

(Fair disclosure. The Great God Pan Is Dead doesn't pay a piaster. Dean Liscum is being totally exploited by me. I am an utter hypocrite. Just thought I should point that out.)