Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Museum Wrecking Earth Humping Chuck Close Infringing Links (NSFW)

Robert Boyd

With Friends like Eli Broad, Who Needs Enemies? The firing of Paul Schimmel from LA MOCA raised a ruckus, so damage control was called for. But an editorial by Eli Broad, a "life trustee" of the museum, has poured gasoline on the fire. He says things like:
Over the years, MOCA has mounted many great exhibitions. However, the museum has also curated a number of exhibitions that were costly and poorly attended, often exceeding $100 per visitor. In today's economic environment, museums must be fiscally prudent and creative in presenting cost-effective, visually stimulating exhibitions that attract a broad audience. ["MOCA's Past and Future," Eli Broad, July 8, 2012, Los Angeles Times]
Which leads to responses like this:
• “Home of the D-Cup: The Topless Girl in 20th-Century Culture.”
• “You Love Their Songs, Now See Their Paintings: The Art of Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan.”
• “Collaboration and Conflict: Great Football Plays and Their Players.” 
Those are just a few of the exhibitions I think we may be seeing in coming years at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and possibly at other museums around the world, if current trends continue. ["Museums Are About the Art, Not Racking Up Big Numbers on Crowds and Revenue," Blake Gopnik, The Daily Beast, July 9, 2012]
We laugh, but since Jeffrey Deitch arrived at MOCA, there has been a trend towards celebrity fluff exhibits. Christopher Knight, the Los Angeles Times art critic (how nice that the Los Angeles Times has an art critic, don't you think?) put it very bluntly:
If you're confused by the convulsive goings-on at the internationally admired Museum of Contemporary Art, which culminated in the June 25 firing of the illustrious chief curator instrumental in putting the museum on the map, don't be. It's not that complicated.
In fact it's quite simple — as easy as one, two, three: 
1. In 2008, MOCA was operating a stellar art program on a dysfunctional business plan. When the U.S. economy tanked, the museum careened into a ditch. 
2. In 2010, MOCA announced the unprecedented decision to put an accomplished businessman, one who built his career in art, in the director's chair, charged with fixing the broken business side. The reins were handed to a successful New York gallery owner with virtually no experience running a large nonprofit. 
3. By 2012, the new director had made little progress in repairing the museum's dysfunctional business plan, but he was far along in dismantling the once-stellar art program. Dumping the chief curator ignited an explosion. 
That's all there is to it. One, two, three. 
A great art museum whose board of trustees has a combined net worth far in excess of $21 billion shouldn't have financial problems. But welcome to MOCA. ["Critic's Notebook: Seeing L.A.'s MOCA as a company — therein lies the rub," Christopher Knight, The Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2012]
He goes on for quite a bit laying out his case, but this is the essence. Essentially, the trustees of MOCA have decided to "save" the museum by turning it into a clown show.

The thing is, museums have been doing crowd-pleasing, money-spinning shows for decades. So-called blockbuster shows where there are lines around the block. (I remember as a kid waiting in a line that snaked through a public park for hours to see the big King Tut exhibit in New Orleans.) So is what is happening at MOCA (in terms of exhibits, etc.) any different? Why not let James Franco or Mike D curate some shows? Or let some bank curate an exhibit? (I heard the Mike D show was good, after all.)

The problem is that when you start using the metrics Broad uses (cost per visitor), you crowd out other criteria, such as scholarship and taste. Sure, costs have to be contained, and support must be adequate. Maybe you need the occasional blockbuster to keep membership levels high.  But you also need to serve art through exhibits that may not create around-the-block lines but instead feature challenging or uncompromising work and serious scholarship. Some sort of balance must be struck.


The Humping Pact Trailer from Diego Agulló on Vimeo.

Earth Humpers. And now for something completely different. Actually, when I saw this video, The Humping Pact by Diego Agull√≥ and Dmitry Paranyushkin, it reminded me of a piece of art I had seen at LA MOCA, The Garden by Paul McCarthy. (The video above appears to be a mere excerpt of the movie as a whole.) It also made me think of the scene in the novel Friday by Michel Tournier in which Robinson Crusoe in an act of supreme horniness has sex with the soil. And that in turn made me think of the great Milton Nascimento song, "O Cio da Terra" ("The Earth in Heat"). And what does it say to me that when I see this video, I can instantly think of several other artworks, in various media, dealing with a similar sexy subject? Excuse me while I go take a cold shower. ["The Humping Pact," Pas un Autre, July 10, 2012]


Scott Blake self-portrait made with color tiles (2008)

Don't Fuck With Chuck Close. That's the lesson Scott Blake learned when he got an all-caps email from Chuck Close in regard to his website freechuckcloseart.com. Chuck Close wrote Blake the following in 2010:
YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO USE MY WORK WHICH IS COPYRIGHTED. NOR DO WISH TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR PROJECT. YOU MUST SHUT DOWN YOUR WEBSITE IMMEDIATELY OR I WILL BE FORCED TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION.
This was followed by a very level-headed email exchange where Close calmed down a bit, but was still insistent. Close made the following argument:
I must fight you because if I know of your project, and do nothing to exercise my legal rights, that will put me in a position where I can’t fight the next, even more egregious usage of my copyrighted image and use of my name.
And this is semi-true. It was one of the weird facets of copyright law that if you allow some people to use your copyrighted material without your permission, you give up the right to disallow others from using it. You in effect allow it to become public domain. That's how Robert Crumb lost his comic page "Keep on Truckin'". After this image became ubiquitous in early 70s hippie America, his lawyer stared sending out cease-and-desist letters. But it ended up in court and there were enough instances where Crumb had ket it slide for friends that the images were declared to be in public domain. (That's the story I've read, anyway.) However, this weakness in copyright law should be moot now that the U.S. is a signatory to the Berne Copyright Convention. (It goes without saying, I am no lawyer or any kind of expert on copyright law.)

The article Blake writes is quite interesting--he describes how his own Close-like computer images came into being, and he traces the history of computer-pixelated photography to a few years before Close started painting his photo-real images. I don't think there is a clear villain here--Close, for the reason outlined above, feels he has to protect his copyright vigorously. One would hope, however, that there would be a way for Blake and Close to cooperate--for instance, some kind of legal licensing agreement. ["My Chuck Close Problem," Scott Blake, Hyperallergic, July 9, 2012]


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