The Performance Art of the Deal

By David Trend:

As I write these words, many Americans remain up in arms about President Donald Trump’s peculiar relationship with the truth.  On a seemingly daily basis, the nation is greeted with a new round of accusations or indignant retorts from the President–– most of which bear little resemblance to objective reality. Let’s just say The Commander-in-Chief has a very “creative” approach to factuality––about everything from crime and immigration to science and the judiciary. Perhaps he’s joking or trying to shock people. Or maybe he’s a pathological liar. Time Magazine devoted a cover to the President’s “Truth and Falsehoods”;  the Los Angeles Times ran multiple “Why Trump Lies” editorials; and The New Yorker is now 14 installments in its ongoing “Trump and the Truth” series. Unsurprisingly, the President doubled-down on his claims, and––in keeping with his fondness for conspiracy theories––has labelled the entire field of journalism “the enemy of the American people.” Endless pundits and commenters have tried to discern a logic in the President’s bizarre behavior––in which mischief and chaos seem the only constants.

Say what you will about Trump, his ability to get public attention is astonishing. And while some critics question the President’s grasp of “reality,” others see a calculated shrewdness in his behavior––an underlying strategy not unlike what Naomi Klein discussed in The Shock Doctrine.  “We already know the Trump administration plans to deregulate markets, wage all-out war on ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ trash climate science and unleash a fossil-fuel frenzy,” Klein recently stated, adding, “It’s a vision that can be counted on to generate a tsunami of crises and shocks.” She predicted economic shocks (as market bubbles burst), security shocks (as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home), weather shocks (as the climate is further destabilized), and industrial shocks (as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse, especially when enjoying light-touch regulation).

“All this is dangerous enough,” Klein added, “What’s even worse is the way the Trump administration can be counted on to exploit these shocks politically and economically. Trump himself forecasted as much often in promising a “radical break” from the past––described by Fox News as a “shock and awe campaign against the Washington establishment.” This new agenda bears little resemblance to earlier “culture wars” between conventional liberal and conservative camps. Moral idealism has no place in Trump’s program of disruption and dishonesty. But his ability to confuse and deceive is not to be taken lightly. The Trump phenomenon raises important concerns about the role of knowledge in contemporary society––and the ways different worldviews are conceived, put into circulation, and frequently politicized.

But let’s look at The Donald a different way––and ponder his apparent distain of “reality.” Is this veteran huckster simply putting on an act? Aren’t all politicians “performers” in some sense of the term? You would expect that in an age of media spectacle most Americans are accustomed to this idea. The problem is that many still yearn for authenticity in their leaders’ words and deeds. Hungering for a vision of a better world, voters will cast aside doubts about a candidate’s claims and promises––only to be disappointed when reality sets in. This partly explains why Americans have become cynical about democracy. One often hears laments for idealized past when “truth” prevailed, that it could be recognized it when it appeared, and that the concept informed America’s behavior in the world. In actuality, Americans (and their politicians) have always had a “creative” relationship with the truth. Might the President simply be taking this tradition to its logical end?

“What you have to understand about Trump, first of all, is that he’s a performance artist, not a politician,” explained filmmaker Michael Moore (one of the first public figures to predict Trump’s election).  In recent months a discourse quietly has begun percolating, which places Trump’s antics in the realm of artistic expression. And if you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Before the recent election cycle, Trump’s most visible role had been that of a media showman in various incarnations of his well-known Apprentice TV shows. His books The Art of the Deal (1987), The Art of Survival (1991), and The Art of the Comeback (1997) are peppered with references to his “creative” financing and bookkeeping. A quintessential proponent of creative capitalism, Trump wrote that “Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I make deal’s, preferably big deals.”Art itself is a “con” to Trump, who once quipped that “successful painters are better salesmen and promoters than they are artists.”  The Trump family has made a fortune from the creative economy –– from Donald Trump’s own entertainment enterprises, to Melania Trump’s career as a fashion model, to Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessory lines, to Donald Trump, Jr’s. real estate investments in New York’s artistic East Village. Recently, famed performance artist Karen Finley put the matter bluntly in stating that “Donald Trump owes all of his wealth to arts and culture.”

The Trump-as-performance-artist premise isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. Entrepreneurial success often hinges on creative traits like imagination, novelty-seeking, risk taking, and “thinking outside the box.” Also, the President’s iconoclastic slash-and-burn assault on liberal sensibilities fits within certain well-established aesthetic traditions. Dada and Surrealist artists of the early-20th century delighted in upsetting bourgeois sensibilities. Often linked to anarchist movements of the time, Dadaist “anti-art” upended conventional logic, aesthetics, and morality to shake up a complacent society and open the way toward a better world. André Breton’s Surrealist manifesto of 1924 advocated “the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” One outraged reviewer in American Art News called the movement “the most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.” Continue reading “The Performance Art of the Deal”

“cultural promiscuity” in art audiences

No facet of society – not even the arts – is immune to the conversation about metrics, measurement and big data.imgres

As LA Weekly explains, “On Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, museum administrators, marketers and cultural leaders gathered at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the presentation of “Culture Track 14” hosted by the Music Center. Billed as revealing a “dramatically changed cultural landscape,” the 2014 study – and the conversations around it – drove home many particulars that audience members already assumed and other dynamics long at play.

“Arthur Cohen, CEO of the culture consulting firm LaPlaca Cohen, painted a picture of today’s arts audience as overcommitted, hyper-connected, overstimulated and characterized by “cultural promiscuity” – meaning they aren’t as likely to join organizations or buy subscriptions, which continues a seismic shift, particularly for performing arts organizations. The idea that “everyone likes everything” doesn’t come as much of a surprise in a moment when pressing that ubiquitous “like” button has come to signify so much about how we express ourselves.

“Millennial” (18-29) and “Prewar” (over 70) participants were shown to be the most active, with “Gen X” (30-49) and “Boomers” (50-69) the least active. (Diversity and income range were not covered in this presentation of the research sample, and audience questions on this point led to private discussions when the event dispersed.)The Culture Track research found that culture is “social first,” meaning a big part of the attendance decision is based on making connections and spending time with friends and family. This holds true especially for millennials, who are the least likely to participate in an event alone. One of the most interesting findings in the presentation was that 79 percent of audiences define going to a national, state or municipal park as a cultural activity, with 87 percent participating at least once a year. It’s rare to see constituencies such as museums and parks leaders at the same table, but perhaps a conference bringing them together could result in impactful collaborations. Could the L.A. River be our next great cultural institution? Also along these lines, presenters also brought up the fact that L.A. is ahead of other cities in terms of diversity and trends.http://www.laweekly.com/publicspectacle/2014/06/11/a-study-shows-how-audiences-are-changing-but-should-data-guide-artistic-decisions

“The closing panel discussion brought certain tensions to the surface. Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, immediately stated that she doesn’t make creative decisions based on research; rather, she hopes to guide audiences toward content they didn’t know they wanted.Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) director Philippe Vergne took issue with the use of the word “culture,” and quoted the artist Carl Andre: “Art is what we do. Culture is what is done to us.” Vergne pointed out that “we” are in the knowledge industry, not the entertainment industry, which brought to mind the architect Rem Koolhaas’ observation that “culture is work, not just passive consumption.”Another topic that deserves further consideration, but was not covered by this event, relates to patronage. Seeing that patrons and foundations are increasingly focused on audience participation and quantifiable impact, we run the risk of failing to protect and promote the immeasurable value of the arts. The balance between scholarship and engaging a fast moving, celebrity-driven culture whose attention is harder and harder to hold is delicate, and we need visionary patrons more than ever. 

“If art audiences are searching for authenticity and connection, as Culture Track indicates, the study raises the question of why and how arts organizations should use data. Studies such as this one are useful for deciding how to package and promote cultural content – topics on which LaPlaca Cohen is available to advise. But the most authentic thing organizations can do is follow one of Philbin’s assertions: artists are leading the way, and organizations should follow the visions of the artists they support. Quantitative value should follow qualitative, not the other way around. As Tom Finkelpearl, the new Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York, recently stated in The Art Newspaper, “We don’t see the arts and culture sector solely through the prism of economics.” 

Continue reading ““cultural promiscuity” in art audiences”

On valuing teaching

How do you change academic culture? One reason that question gets asked a lot is that it’s so hard to answer. Another reason is that so much of academic culture needs changing.images

How might we create a culture that actually esteems effective teaching? The value of such a thing ought to be clear, if only because it would blunt some of the frequent public criticisms of universities for a too-narrow focus on research. But creating a teaching culture hasn’t proved so easy. It’s not that campuses don’t harbor great teachers—even the most research-intensive universities do. But those professors usually tend their personal classroom gardens on their own. They don’t labor as members of a community—or culture—that rewards their teaching and propagates their best ideas about it.

The challenge of how to make good teaching into a communal value has been the subject of the Teagle Foundation’s academic philanthropy for some years now. Last month the foundation convened a meeting, “Community of Scholars, Community of Teachers,” to showcase the efforts of some of its grantees. Professors and administrators described what they had done to create “teaching-positive” environments in the liberal arts at their institutions.

Every one of the grant programs centered on the teaching of undergraduates by graduate students. That’s not surprising. Graduate students do an enormous amount of that work at most universities, so they’re necessary members of any university’s teaching community. But the programs on display at different institutions employ graduate students differently, and at different levels.

Cornell University is working from the bottom up. The university’s teaching center recruited graduate students (in both the humanities and the sciences) for a new fellowship program that leads to a certificate. Fellows studied technology, assessment, and related topics, and did independent research on teaching. Continue reading “On valuing teaching”

Art, money, and labor

There are few modern relationships as fraught as the one between art and money. Are they mortal enemies, secret lovers or perfect soul mates? Is the bond between them a source of pride or shame, a marriage of convenience or something tawdrier?

As the New York Times reports, “The way we habitually think and talk about these matters betrays a deep and venerable ambivalence. On one hand, art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond and beneath mere economic considerations. The old phrase “starving artist” gesturesimgres toward an image that is both romantic and pathetic, of a person too pure, and also just too impractical, to make it in the world. When that person ceases to starve, he or she can always be labeled a sellout. You’re not supposed to be in it for the money.

“On the other hand, money is now an important measure — maybe the supreme measure — of artistic accomplishment. Box office grosses have long since become part of the everyday language of cinephilia, as moviegoers absorb the conventional wisdom, once confined mainly to accountants and trade papers, about which movies are breaking out, breaking even or falling short. Multimillion-dollar sales of paintings by hot new or revered old artists are front-page news. To be a mainstream rapper is to have sold a lot of recordings on which you boast about how much money you have made selling your recordings.

“In the popular imagination, artists tend to exist either at the pinnacle of fame and luxury or in the depths of penury and obscurity — rarely in the middle, where most of the rest of us toil and dream. They are subject to admiration, envy, resentment and contempt, but it is odd how seldom their efforts are understood as work. Yes, it’s taken for granted that creating is hard, but also that it’s somehow fundamentally unserious. Schoolchildren may be encouraged (at least rhetorically) to pursue their passions and cultivate their talents, but as they grow up, they are warned away from artistic careers. This attitude, always an annoyance, is becoming a danger to the health of creativity itself. It may seem strange to say so, since we live at a time of cultural abundance and flowering amateurism, when the tools of creativity seem to be available to anyone with a laptop. But the elevation of the amateur over the professional trivializes artistic accomplishment and helps to undermine the already precarious living standards that artists have been able to enjoy. Continue reading “Art, money, and labor”

Arts job report

What are the latest employment figures for working artists—both full-time and their moonlighting counterparts?Keeping My Day Job: Identifying U.S. Workers Who Have Dual Careers As Artists is the third installment in the National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts Data Profiles, an online resourceoffering facts and figures from large, national datasets about the arts, along with instructions for their use. Arts Data Profile #3 reports on employment statistics for U.S. workers who name “artist” as their primary or secondary job.imgres

According to the NEA, “The analysis springs from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a nationwide, monthly survey of 60,000 American households, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS is the primary source of U.S. labor statistics, as well as other data on volunteering, poverty, computer and Internet use, arts participation, and more.

“The big picture – In 2013, 2.1 million workers held primary positions as artists. A primary job is defined as one at which the greatest number of hours were worked. In that same year, an estimated 271,000 workers also held second jobs as artists. Twelve percent of all artist jobs in 2013 were secondary employment.

“Unemployment trends – For primary artists, the unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in 2013, compared to 6.6 percent of all U.S. civilian workers, but higher than the 3.6 rate for all professionals (artists are grouped in the professional category). This is an improvement over the 9 percent jobless rates in 2009 and 2010, but well above the pre-recession unemployment rate of 3.6 percent in 2006. Architects and designers were among the hardest hit occupations. While both have halved the 10-11 percent unemployment rates they faced in 2009, neither is back to pre-recession employment rates of 1-3 percent. By contrast, musicians have faced a steady unemployment rate of 8-9 percent since 2009, much higher than the 4.8 percent jobless rate in 2006. Continue reading “Arts job report”

But I’m no artist

imagesWho, exactly, is an artist? Many claim the title, with little to back up their assertion. We’ve all met people who define themselves as artists, but have yet to actually produce any actual art.

A new study finds that, surprisingly, the reverse is also true. It identifies a large group of Americans who have every right to call themselves professional artists, but for some reason avoid doing so.

“Our findings suggest that there are significant numbers of individuals who are engaging in the production of artistic work, but are not embedded within the art world,” Jennifer Lena of Columbia University and Danielle Lindemann of Rutgers University write in the journal Poetics. “This lack of embeddedness is fundamentally important to their self-definition.”

The researchers analyzed some puzzling data from the Strategic Arts Alumni Project, a large, nationwide survey of people who attended arts schools in the U.S. (The vast majority, 81 percent, are alumni of an arts-related undergraduate program. Sixteen percent studied an arts-related discipline in graduate school, and three percent attended a high school for the arts.)

Some of this difference could be written off as simple error. In addition, some of the arts-related professions listed (such as “curator” or “arts educator”) were outside the definition of “professional artist.”

Nevertheless, more than one-quarter of the self-described musicians and architects were in this “dissonance group,” along with 20 percent of dancers and choreographers and 18.5 percent of graphic designers. Continue reading “But I’m no artist”

Teaching climate change with art

University courses on global warming have become common, and Prof. Stephanie LeMenager’s new class here at the University of Oregon has all the expected, alarming elements: rising oceans, displaced populations, political conflict, endangered animals.

The goal of this class, as reports the New York Times, “is not to marshal evidence for climate change as a

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human-caused crisis, or to measure its effects — the reality and severity of it are taken as given — but how to think about it, prepare for it and respond to it. Instead of scientific texts, the class, “The Cultures of Climate Change,” focuses on films, poetry, photography, essays and a heavy dose of the mushrooming subgenre of speculative fiction known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, novels like “Odds Against Tomorrow,” by Nathaniel Rich, and “Solar,” by Ian McEwan.

“Speculative fiction allows a kind of scenario-imagining, not only about the unfolding crisis but also about adaptations and survival strategies,” Professor LeMenager said. “The time isn’t to reflect on the end of the world, but on how to meet it. We want to apply our humanities skills pragmatically to this problem.”

“The class reflects a push by universities to meld traditionally separate disciplines; Professor LeMenager joined the university last year to teach both literature and environmental studies.

Her course also shows how broadly most of academia and a younger generation have moved beyond debating global warming to accepting it as one of society’s central challenges. That is especially true in places like Eugene, a verdant and damp city, friendly to the cyclist and inconvenient to the motorist, where ordering coffee in a disposable cup can elicit disapproving looks. Oregon was a pioneer of environmental studies, and Professor LeMenager’s students tend to share her activist bent, eagerly discussing in a recent session the role that the arts and education can play in galvanizing people around an issue.To some extent, the course is feeding off a larger literary trend. Novels set against a backdrop of ruinous climate change have rapidly gained in number, popularity and critical acclaim over the last few years, works like “The Windup Girl,” by Paolo Bacigalupi; “Finitude,” by Hamish MacDonald; “From Here,” by Daniel Kramb; and “The Carbon Diaries 2015,” by Saci Lloyd. Well-known writers have joined the trend, including Barbara Kingsolver, with “Flight Behavior,” and Mr. McEwan.

Continue reading “Teaching climate change with art”

Art history at the crossroads

There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits, as the Washington Post reports. Unknown

“In a recent column for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute lauded the Chinese government’s policy of cutting financing for any educational program for which 60 percent of graduates can’t find work within two years. His assumption is that, because of government education subsidies, the United States is full of liberal-arts programs that couldn’t meet that test.

“Too many aspiring young museum curators can’t find jobs?” he writes. “The pragmatic Chinese solution is to cut public subsidies used to train museum curators. The free market solution is that only the rich would be indulgent enough to buy their kids an education that left them economically dependent on Mommy and Daddy after graduation.” But, alas, the United States has no such correction mechanism, so “unemployable college graduates pile up as fast as unsold electric cars.”Bill Gross, the founder of the world’s largest bond fund, Pacific Investment Management Co., has put forth a less free- market (and less coherently argued) version of the same viewpoint. “Philosophy, sociology and liberal arts agendas will no longer suffice,” he declared. “Skill-based education is a must, as is science and math.”There are many problems with this simplistic prescription, but the most basic is that it ignores what American college students actually study. Take Frezza’s punching bag, the effete would-be museum curator. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that no such student exists.

“According to the National Center for Education Statistics, humanities majors account for about 12 percent of recent graduates, and art history majors are so rare they’re lost in the noise. They account for less than 0.2 percent of working adults with college degrees, a number that is probably about right for recent graduates, too. Yet somehow art history has become the go-to example for people bemoaning the state of higher education. A longtime acquaintance perfectly captured the dominant Internet memes in an e-mail he sent me after my last column, which was onrising tuitions. “Many people that go to college lack the smarts and/or the tenacity to benefit in any real sense,” he wrote. “Many of these people would be much better off becoming plumbers — including financially. (No shame in that, who’re you gonna call when your pipes freeze in the middle of the night? An M.A. in Italian art?)” While government subsidies may indeed distort the choice to go to college in the first place, it’s simply not the case that students are blissfully ignoring the job market in choosing majors. Contrary to what critics imagine, most Americans in fact go to college for what they believe to be “skill-based education.” Continue reading “Art history at the crossroads”

The gallery industrial complex

A new year. A new New York mayor. Old problems with art in New York. I have a collection of complaints and a few (very few) ideas for change.imgres

As Holland Cotter observes in the New York Times, “Money — the grotesque amounts spent, the inequitable distribution — has dominated talk about art in the 21st century so far. It’s a basic fact of art history. Emperors, popes and robber barons set the model for the billionaire buyers of today. Of course, it is today that matters to the thousands of artists who live and work in this punitively expensive city, where the art industry is often confused with the art world.

“The distinction between the two, though porous, is real. The art industry is the nexus of high-price galleries, auction houses and collectors who control an art market renowned for its funny-money practices. In numbers of personnel, the industry is a mere subset of the circle of artists, teachers, students, writers, curators and middle-range dealers spread out over five boroughs. But in terms of power, the proportions are reversed, to the degree that the art world basically functions as a labor source, supplying the industry with product, services and exotic color but, with the age of apprenticeships long gone, only uncertainly sharing in its wealth.

“Do I exaggerate? A bit. The argument can be made that labor is benefiting from its ties to management, in a high-tide-floats-all-boats way. Visit art schools or galleries, and you get the impression that a substantial portion of the art world is content to serve as support staff to a global ruling class.

“The reality is that, directly or indirectly, in large ways and small, the current market system is shaping every aspect of art in the city: not just how artists live, but also what kind of art is made, and how art is presented in the media and in museums. I got tired of money talk a while back. Rather than just sputter with indignation, I figured it would be more useful to turn in another direction, toward art that the industry wasn’t looking at, which is a whole lot of art. But reminders keep pulling you back to the bottom line. With every visit to the gallery-packed Lower East Side, I see fewer of the working-class Latinos who once called the neighborhood home. In what feels like overnight, I’ve watched Dumbo in Brooklyn go from an artist’s refuge to an economically gated community.”

More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/arts/design/holland-cotter-looks-at-money-in-art.html?_r=0

 

The social commentary of Yoshua Okón’s “Salo Island”

Writing in OC Weekly, Dave Barton writes of the new exhibition at UC Irvine of a work by Yoshua Okón, entitled “Salo Island.”

“The Marquis de Sade was rotting away in the Bastille of pre-revolutionary France when he wrote one of his first pornographic novels, 120 Days of Sodom.beach

: “A mind-boggling litany of sexual perversion, the plot is about a foursome of wealthy French elite—a Judge, a Bishop, a Banker and a Cardinal—who kidnap a group of boys and girls, take them to an isolated castle, and then humiliate, rape and murder them. Heinous masturbatory material that it is, it’s also a grimly funny social commentary, with the degenerate Marquis pointing fingers at fellow travelers in his own social class, people who were doing things he only fantasized about.

“In 1975, Marxist Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini used the infamous book as source material for his film Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, considered by many critics the most controversial movie of all time. Changing the setting from France to the last Fascist holdout of Mussolini’s Italy, Pasolini’s film doesn’t have the Marquis’ mordant sense of humor; playing things deadly serious, the bold visualization of the novel’s atrocities turns the political tract into cinema’s first torture porn.

“Shortly before the film’s release, Pasolini was brutally murdered, supposedly by a teenage male prostitute who ran over him with his own car on a desolated beach. Believed at the time to be a sex deal gone bad, the murderer (who had right-wing ties) has since recanted his confession, claiming Pasolini was assassinated for his politics, as well as his open homosexuality. Fascists apparently don’t take kindly to portrayals of themselves as ass-licking, shit-eating, child murderers. Continue reading “The social commentary of Yoshua Okón’s “Salo Island””

CAA awards for Rainer and O’Grady

Two former faculty at the University of California, Irvine, Department of Art will be honored at the upcoming meeting of the College Art Association. Professor Emeritus Yvonne Rainer will receive this year’s “Lifetime Achievement” award for an artist.  Former UCI Assistant Professor Lorraine O’Grady will receive the “Distinguished Feminist Award.”

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As CAA describes the honorees:

“Yvonne Rainer has been instrumental in the movement to merge the visual arts with dance, performance, and filmmaking. As a founder of the Judson Dance Theater (1962) and of the improvisational group Grand Union (1970), Rainer choreographed major dance works for many decades. She has also produced films that have been hailed globally, and her videos have dissolved the barriers between art forms and revealed a new unified vision of the arts. The author of four books and recipient of prestigious fellowships, Rainer was a longtime professor at the University of California, Irvine, where her prodigious talent and innovation has greatly influenced numerous generations of creative people.

“CAA recognizes Lorraine O’Grady for her considerable and important service to the feminist art community, especially in her determined efforts to underscore discrimination and bias through her performance art, photo-based work, writing, teaching, and activism. O’Grady has worked to expand the political content of art, persistently returning to a complicated place that she describes as “where the personal intersects with the historic and cultural.” As part of a small group of women of color in the Women’s Action Coalition, she has used this platform to accentuate the involvement of black women artists in contemporary culture and the perpetual disregard for their contributions. Continue reading “CAA awards for Rainer and O’Grady”

Foundations pledge to save art in Detroit

National and local philanthropic foundations have committed $330 million toward a deal to avoid cuts to Detroit retirees’ pensions and to save the Detroit Institute of Arts’ renowned collection, federal mediators involved in the city’s bankruptcy proceedings announced on Monday.images

The plan was a first both in the foundation world, as the New York times reports, “which has not been a source of money to shore up public-sector pensions in the past, and in municipal bankruptcy cases, experts said. It also offered the first indication of progress in the intense mediation with Detroit’s creditors to resolve the city’s financial crisis. Those talks have been proceeding under strict secrecy guidelines.

“Nine foundations, many with ties to Michigan — including the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — have pledged to pool the $330 million, which would essentially relieve the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts museum of its responsibility to sell some of its collection to help Detroit pay its $18 billion in debts. In particular, the foundation money would help reduce a portion of the city’s obligations to retirees, whose pensions are at risk of being reduced in the bankruptcy proceedings. By some estimates, the city’s pensions are underfunded by $3.5 billion.

“As part of the plan, which negotiators have been working on quietly for more than two months, the museum would be transferred from city ownership to the control of a nonprofit, which would protect it from future municipal financial threats. The foundations would stipulate that Detroit must put the money into its pension system, said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation. Continue reading “Foundations pledge to save art in Detroit”

Suspicious fires plague Detroit public art

On Detroit’s Heidelberg Street, where a local artist turned the shell of a crime-ridden neighborhood into an interactive public art project, visitors coming to see offbeat display are noticing something that’s not part of the quirky exhibition: yellow fire tape.

The Guardian reports that “There have been at least eight fires since early May – the latest last Sunday – leading to questions about who might be

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targeting the installation known as the Heidelberg Project, and why they want to burn it down.

“Founder and artistic director Tyree Guyton and his compatriots vow to carry on, make more art and overcome the assault on his vision, yet worry threatens the whimsy as the fires snuff out building after building.

“Now, piles of rubble alternate with the three remaining house installations within the two-block area on the city’s east side that has become famous over the years for the exhibition featuring shoes, clocks, vinyl records, stuffed animals and other found or discarded objects.

“The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been investigating along with Detroit authorities. An ATF spokesman, Donald Dawkins, said investigators have interviewed several people, some more than once, but he said there is no one yet that officials consider a suspect or person of interest. El Don Parham, chief of the Detroit Fire Department’s arson unit, said it’s far too early to speculate on a motive but believes that “someone is pinpointing” the Heidelberg Project. Continue reading “Suspicious fires plague Detroit public art”

The rich ruin art for everyone

f you can believe all the hand-wringing and soul-searching these days among artists, art critics, imgresand sundry other arts professionals, you’d imagine that nobody is really happy about the $142.4 million paid for a Francis Bacon triptych at Christie’s the other day—or the $58.4 million for a Jeff Koons at the same auction or the $104.5 million for a Warhol at Sotheby’s the following night.

As The New Republic suggests: “Those prices are as repellent as Leonardo DiCaprio’s baronial frat house shenanigans in the coming attractions for Martin Scorsese’s new tale of Gilded Age excess, The Wolf of Wall Street. Among the most revolting sports favored by the super-rich is the devaluation of any reasonable sense of value. At Christie’s and Sotheby’s some of the wealthiest members of society, the people who can’t believe in anything until it’s been monetized, are trashing one of our last hopes for transcendence. They don’t know the difference between avidity and avarice. Why drink an excellent $30 or $50 bottle of wine when you can pour a $500 or $1000 bottle down your throat? Why buy a magnificent $20,000 or $1 million painting when you can spend $50 or $100 million and really impress friends and enemies alike?

“These questions will not go away. And it is a little too easy to blame it all on the super-rich and the various counselors and courtiers who cheer them on at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Of course there’s nothing we can do about what Steven A. Cohen and Peter Brant choose to sell at the auctions or what Roman Abramovich and Sheikha al Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani choose to buy. But the total lack of embarrassment with which everybody involved conducts themselves must at least in part be blamed on an educated public that has become embarrassed about discussing—much less advocating for—anything that suggests a principle or standard of taste. While the professional people who worry about every $10,000 in their 401(k) may shake their heads at the stratospheric auction prices, they get a kick out of them, too—too much of a kick, I tend to think. Continue reading “The rich ruin art for everyone”

England’s politics: The Art Party

Big names from British art have been at the inaugural Art Party Conference, an alternative political party conference that saw delegates chew

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 over the state of culture in the UK and throw missiles at a likeness of Education Secretary Michael Gove, as reported by the BBC:

“Where are we going?” called the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. “Scarborough!” came the enthusiastic reply from a couple of hundred artists, students and art teachers. They were in Scarborough already, in fact, marching along on the beach with colourful placards. “What are we going to do when we get there?” called Smith, who is one man but uses both names Bob and Roberta.

“Breakfast!” shouted a voice. “Party!” replied another. The mob had not got the hang of the response Smith has been training them to shout: “To better advocate the arts to government!” They were on their way to the first Art Party Conference, an artists’ alternative to the annual political party conferences that always used to be held in such seaside resorts. An adapted coconut shy has busts of Michael Gove instead of coconuts Organised by artists, the event had an appropriate air of anarchy and oddness, but with serious intent and indignation at its heart. It was, the venerable sculptor Richard Wentworth remarked, like “a cross between a Navajo gathering and an Irish horse fair”. In the main hall, a Salvador Dali impersonator acted as the compere as figures from the arts world mounted a kind of pulpit to deliver short sermons on the state of the arts.

Continue reading “England’s politics: The Art Party”

Art grads, good jobs & happiness

Think that art school dooms graduates to a life of unemployment? The numbers paint a very different picture, reports none other than the Wall Street Journal

“Artists can have good careers, earning a middle-class income,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “And, just as important and maybe more, artists tend to be happy with their choices and lives.”

“A 2011 report from the center found that the unemployment rate in the first two years for those graduating with bachelor of fine arts degree is 7.8%, dropping to 4.5% for those out of school longer. The median income is $42,000.”Artists’ income is comparable to other liberal-arts majors,” he says. “They do a little better than psychology majors, since counseling and social work is a very low-wage occupation.” For artists who go on to graduate degrees, the most common of which is the master’s of fine arts, the unemployment rate for recent graduates drops to just under 5%, and their median yearly income increases to roughly $50,000.

“Other studies have also found relatively high levels of employment and satisfaction. The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University conducted a survey of 13,000 graduates of visual and performing college-arts programs between 1990 and 2009; 2,817 were in the fine arts.

“Among the findings: Almost 83% worked the majority of their time in some arts occupation, such as art teaching or in a nonprofit arts organization.

“Arts graduates are resilient and resourceful,” says Curb Center Associate Director Steven J. Tepper. Sixty percent of the fine-arts graduates in the survey work more than one job, he says, “but they are happy with what they put together.” Bruno S. Frey, research director of the Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts at the University of Zurich, echoes that finding. He says he has done “happiness research for some time” and found that “artists generally are happier than the rest of the population.” Of all arts professions, fine artists, writers and composers were found to be the happiest, because “the profession they have chosen gives them autonomy, and that makes them happy,” he says. “Actors and musicians, on the other hand, are less happy, because they are disciplined by various rules and have less autonomy.”

 

More at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304402104579149060054918936

The 1% crowding out creative talent

imagesRampant inequality is squeezing out the artistic genius that made New York such a vibrant cultural capital. We can’t let that happen, writes David Byrne in an editorial in The Duardian

“I’m writing this in Venice, Italy. This city is a pleasantly confusing maze, once an island of fortresses, and now a city of tourists, culture (biennales galore) and crumbling relics. Venice used to be the most powerful city in Europe – a military, mercantile and cultural leader. Sort of like New York.

“Venice is now a case study in the complete transformation of a city (there’s public transportation, but nocars). Is it a living city? Is it a fossil? The mayor of Venice recently wrote a letter to the New York Review of Books, arguing that his city is, indeed, a place to live, not simply a theme park for tourists (he would like very much if the big cruise ships steered clear). I guess it’s a living place if you count tourism as an industry, which I suppose it is. New York has its share of tourists, too. I wave to the doubledecker buses from my bike, but the passengers never wave back. Why? Am I not an attraction?

“New York was recently voted the world’s favorite city – but when you break down the survey’s results, the city comes in at No 1 for business and only No 5 for living. Fifth place isn’t completely embarrassing, but what are the criteria? What is it that attracts people to this or any city? Forget the business part. I’ve been in Hong Kong, and unless one already has the means to live luxuriously, business hubs aren’t necessarily good places for living. Cities may have mercantile exchange as one of their reasons for being, but once people are lured to a place for work, they need more than offices, gyms and strip clubs to really live.

“Work aside, we come to New York for the possibility of interaction and inspiration. Sometimes, that possibility of serendipitous encounters – and I don’t mean in the meat market – is the principal lure. If one were to vote based on criteria like comfort or economic security, then one wonders why anyone would ever vote for New York at all over Copenhagen, Stockholm or some other less antagonistic city that offers practical amenities like affordable healthcare, free universities, free museums, common spaces and, yes, bike lanes. But why can’t one have both – the invigorating energy and the civic, intelligent humanism? Continue reading “The 1% crowding out creative talent”

Those boring lenses and frames

Certainly, the lens and the frame are useful as metaphors, but as used, they are also quite limited. As an experiment, the next time you see one used, replace “frame” or “lens” with “context,” adjust the necessary conjunctions, and see if any meaning is lost. If in a given piece of writing, “seen through a queer lens” could just as easily be “seen in a queer context,” then the optical device isn’t living up to its potential as metaphor.

The chief ways in which optical metaphors can be improved in our writing are through diversity and specificity. imagesThese go hand-in-hand: the more diverse our optical metaphors become, the more specific they are able to be. Lenses, for example, can be convex-convex (the usual “lenticular” shape, which incidentally I suspect of being where lentils got their name, though I’ve done no research on this), but they can also be flat or concave on one or both sides. So, some lenses are plano-convex, others are convex-concave. These lenses behave differently and have different applications, and so could be employed in a diverse range of metaphorical applications.

“Lens” and “frame” get used a lot in theory writing. A recent post on Bad-at-Sports i getting cranky about this:

“The difference between a lens of any type and a frame is that we are directly aware of the ways in which lenses alter the image we are seeing. A biconvex lens held at the right distance from the eye will magnify the image. (At this distance, the image is not inverted; held out further, the image inverts, but the reason why is beyond my ability to explain from memory, so go Google a diagram.) This is the classic magnifying glass. Other types of lenses, such as eyeglasses, subtly alter the focal distance of our eyes (or rather, adjust the image to account for a flawed focal distance). Multiple-lens apparatuses like binoculars and microscopes magnify and can be focused. The point is that we are immediately aware of this alteration of the image we are seeing, because it is inherent to the function of the lens-based device. Continue reading “Those boring lenses and frames”

Art and tragic events

imagesThe Economist gave the United States a whole weekend to mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre before telling the entire nation to suck it up. “Those of us who view the events remotely … unless we start to evince a newfound appetite for gun-control measures to prevent future mass slayings, are doing little more than displaying and enjoying our own exalted strickenness,” writes one M.S. “This is an activity at which we, as a culture, excel.”

Why, thanks, anonymous writer, for telling an entire nation its feelings are unproductive. I am reminded of Eddie Izzard’s bit about St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians—and the Corinthians’ response: “Dear Paul, fuck off. Who are you? Why do you keep sending us letters? You arrogant bastard, writing a letter to an entire city! What do you want us to do, put this on a board or something? Just fuck off!… Love and kisses, The Corinthians.”

On the other end of the spectrum, there was the Washington Post‘s Style section, which, earlier this week, asked its arts critics to “meditate on the role of the arts in coping with grief” and “share works that have resonated with them in such times.” Theodor Adorno once said that poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric. The Post appears to be asking its critics to hand out artworks as antidepressants. Continue reading “Art and tragic events”

Rethinking art education

“In arts education, something profound is happening that will force us to rethink what and how we teach,”  writes Sean Buffington in the Chronicle of Higher Educationimgres

“Art making has changed radically in recent years. Artists have become increasingly interested in crossing disciplinary boundaries—choreographers use video, sculpture, and text; photographers create “paintings” with repurposed textiles. New technologies enable new kinds of work, like interactive performances with both live and Web-based components. International collaboration has become de rigueur. Art and design pervade the culture—witness popular television programs like Top Design, Ink Master, and—the granddaddy of them all—Project Runway.And policy makers and businesspeople have embraced at least the idea of the so-called creative economy, with cities rushing to establish arts districts, and business schools collaborating with design schools.

“Those developments are already affecting how the arts are taught: Curricula are becoming more flexible, with students encouraged to reach outside their departments to master whatever tools they need to make the art they want to make.

“But there is another shift occurring that is more subtle and more destabilizing to art colleges: Suddenly, everyone is—or can be—an artist. Continue reading “Rethinking art education”