Thursday 31 January 2008

Blogs in action

I think it's likely that soon RSS feeds will replace group emails and list-servs. Here's why.

Yesterday (American-time) at 11.57am Tyler Green reported on an email he'd received from Nancy Holt, the widow of Robert Smithson:

Yesterday I received an urgent email from Lynn DeFreitas, Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, telling me of plans for drilling oil in the Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty. See Attachments. The deadline for protest is [today] Wednesday, at 5PM. Of course, DIA has been informed and are meeting about it today.

I have been told by Lynn that the oil wells will not be above the water, but that means some kind of industrial complex of pipes and pumps beneath the water and on the shore. The operation would require roads for oil tank trucks, cranes, pumps etc. which produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place.

If you want to send a letter of protest to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling, the emails or calls of protest go to Jonathan Jemming 801-537-9023 Please refer to Application # 8853.
The ripple effect (sorry, not punny) is almost immediate: here's Bad at Sports Hank Blog Grammar Police Richard Lacayo The New Modernist the Walker Art Center and PORT- and that's only a selection.

"Ordinary" people beating the journalists to the story is nothing new, but I think this might be the first time I've seen this kind of rapid-fire community action over an art event.

Above- Spiral Jetty, photo by Wibbet 64
Below - Drilling proposal, posted by aur2899

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Turn around bright eyes

Since beginning blogging again this year, I've been meaning to write about the shows I saw in New Plymouth and Hamilton over the break - but I just can't summon up the words.

After years of looking forward to the Govett-Brewster's summer shows, which always seem to have been programmed to pull in the Christmas art-nomads, this year's selection felt stale. I think it may have been my shortest-ever visit.

Meanwhile, 'Existence: Life according to art' has been throughly canvassed on John Hurrell's site. My main take-out from the show was the question: can artists exert any control over the showing of works that they no longer own? If, for example, you felt your work had nothing to do with creation myths? Or if your work was included in one of those resuscitation shows - "unfairly overlooked artists of the 1970s"? A woman artist's work included in a show curated from a feminist standpoint you don't share?

So - onwards and upwards. It's nearly February, the dealers are opening again, there's a bunch of busy artists out there, new baby artists are about to start their first year at art school, and soon the Barrs (and hopefully Peter P and One moment caller) will start blogging again. 2008 is about to start in earnest.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Upside downside

Along with Ed Winkleman, and with a nod back to my AiA blog roundtable rant, I'd recommend Sarah Boxer's article on blogs in the latest NY Review of Books.

Boxer summarises the creation and rise of the blog, the nature of the 'blogosphere' and some of the characteristics of the bloging medium and mentality. Upside - a great overview, and some of the best writing I've read on what makes blogging distinct from other forms of communication.

Downside - a stronger emphasis than I'd put on the fame-seeking side of blogging (as opposed to community-building) and, inevitably, being adapted from the print original, no links to the many blogs and blogging moments she mentions. Which underlines the whole point, really.

Monday 28 January 2008

Tip #1: write arresting post titles

One of the most frequently given pieces of blogwriting advice is 'write sticky post titles'. So how could I go past How to preserve a chocolate Santa butt-plug?

You'll remember the aforementioned work from Over the net. The post itself is a recap of a panel discussion on conservation and contemporary art, featuring artists Rachel Harrison, Doris Salcedo, Paul McCarthy, curator Elizabeth Sussman, and conservator Christian Scheidemann.

Thursday 24 January 2008

Will blogging change the art world ?(part II)

So - here's how it began. Painter and writer Peter Plagens asked, in Art in America, where's the art criticism gone? *

In a lengthy article, he slipped in what might have been a throwaway comment:

More and more people in the audience for contemporary art would rather read Tyler Green snark somebody in his blog, Modern Art Notes, than ponder the considered judgment of Michael Kimmelman on a MOMA retrospective.

And the art blogging community went a bit mental.

So Plagens decides, seeing as he really knows very little about this whole art bloggy thing, and given there are dozens - nay, possibly hundreds - of these things out there, maybe he should read some and then write another article. And then he decides that maybe it might be even better to let some bloggers represent for themselves, so invites Ed Winkleman, Tyler Green, Jeff Jahn, Regina Hackett and Roberta Fallon & Libby Rosof to an email round table.**

It was published in the November issue of AiA, and - because the damn thing wasn't available online - I finally got round to reading it last weekend. I'd previously read a bit of blog response to the piece, including this about the experience, from Ed Winkleman.

You can see a list of the questions from the round table on Grammarpolice (who started a campaign to get other art bloggers to post their own answer) . Some of the questions were interesting. Some were just weird.

Why can't blogs go further, to the point where there's hardly any discernible difference between artist and critic/commentator, blog and work of art?
My newspaper column is also a painting.

In general, is blog art criticism more open and liberal, and print criticism more closed and conservative?
Yup - only left-leaning handwringers have harnessed the power of the interwebs.

Art magazines come out once a month. Newspaper art reviews usually appear once a week. Blogs appear more or less daily, and sometimes have updates by the hour. Do you think that the faster pace of blogs will start to affect the pace of art-making?
Oh, come on. Did the speed of art making increase with the introduction of the printing press?***

Some of the questions I would have liked to have seen asked:

- Do you get treated the same as print reviewers by institutions? Tyler Green's blog gets nearly 90,000 hits per month. Is he being sent press kits, invitations to press previews, provided asap with any images he requests?

- Before you blogged, did you do anything similar? And because you blog, is there anything you've stopped doing?

- If you went to work in an arts institution, would you keep blogging? Do you think more people in arts institutions should blog?

- Do people ever say to you at the end of a conversation - "OH - you won't blog that, will you?"

- If newspaper editors could track how many people read print reviews - do you think dead tree media would still host art reviews?

The best question (well - statement, 'cos it wasn't Plagen's observation - was this):

Tyler has cited Joy Garnett's NewsGrist blog as doing a great job of "placing art within a sociocultural and political context." What I see on NewsGrist is a magazinelike interspersing of short profiles, exhibition reviews, op-ed pieces on how other people are covering things, and Village Voice–like political takes. But what does Tyler's comment mean to you, and why are blogs in general better positioned than print to do what he describes?

And the best response was the briefest, from Winkleman: it's the links.

Now, blogs have many advantages over print media. First off, anyone can have one - you don't have to be picked by an editor to share your opinion (or hand out photocopies of your writing on a street corner).

You can put in as many images as you like, write as much as you like, be as plain-spoken or obtruse as you like. Depending on the kind of interpretation you're interested in, you can be as polemical or as mannerly as you choose.

But the power of the blog - and the web - firmly rests on the hyperlink. It allows, as I observed a couple of days ago, information and opinion to be indicated, intermeshed and made instantly available in a way that I personally find quite magical. So Peter - I don't think blogs are likely to turn into sculpture anytime soon, or to increase the speed of artmaking. But I think they're here to stay, and will evolve as the barriers of entry to technology continue to lessen, and the power of online communities continues to help like-minded people seek each other out.


*Because the confounded Art in America web presence is little better than a brochure site, that's a link to the ever-useful FindArticles.

** Private admittance: whenever the dialogue from a 'round table' discussion gets printed, I always naively assume that the publisher shelled out to get the participants together in a room for a real-time exchange of ideas (I can forgo the round table). Finding out that this one was conducted via email has shattered yet another illusion.

***Hey - maybe it did. That would be interesting.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Tauranga Art Gallery

I posted last year about the opening of the Tauranga Art Gallery, and during the Christmas roadtrip I checked it out.

While the exhibitions - Mark Braunias, Arthur Dagley, Jim Cooper - didn't rock my world, I loved the gallery spaces. The atrium, which you walk straight into off the street, has soaring double-storey white walls (the best of which is obscured in this photo), and would make an amazing project space: I'm thinking Sara Hughes, Simon Morris, Judy Millar, Benjamin Buchanan for wall works - Rose Nolan would be to die for - Rohan Weallans, Mike Parekowhai, Peter Robinson, Judy Darragh for installations; anything big, bold, and maybe a bit mad.

The upstairs space is more domestically scaled, and when I was there broken up in a series of bays using temporary walls, which worked really well for showing smaller pieces. I could see photography and drawing shows looking great there - especially historical work when the bays are up - but the ambient light, even with the blinds drawn, seemed frighteningly bright.

One of the nice things about the size and layout of the building is that you can see or sense most of the other spaces from wherever you are - which cuts down on that 'only person in the room' feeling. And the other people who were there seemed pretty happy. It was at that moment that I realised that I wasn't the audience the gallery probably needs to hit. I was rapturing over the building, and the other visitors were looking at Arthur Dagley.

In a Radio NZ interview last year director Richard Arlidge talked about the gallery's role in bringing Tauranga artists and art history to public attention. I wanted to see big brave work that played off the great spaces, but the local community - which voted out a Council that was trying to establish a museum to go with the gallery, and voted in a councillor who's proposing to halve the gallery's operating fund - might be a lot less interested in what's happening nationally and internationally, and a lot more interested in local artists.

The GBAG has traditionally managed to do both. I hope Tauranga can too, just so I can go back for the art, as well as the building.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Will blogging change the artworld? (part 1)

Last week, in a time-strapped post, I pointed to parts 1 and 2 of Tyler Green's interview with Village Voice art critic Christian Viveros-Faune.

On Friday, Green posted the final part of the interview, in which he challenged Viveros-Faune over the conflict of interest involved in being an art critic for a major publication and simultaneously the director of two commercial art fairs. Extracted from V-F's reply:

I believe you can wear a lot of hats in the art world, and one needs to because, among other things, critics can't survive on the money that they make from writing. Very few critics can. And, not only that, but I'm interested in curating, and I firmly believe that there is no interest in the art world without a conflict of interest.

Green, to put it briefly, was not impressed. He was also clearly quite unhappy with the way this had all panned out:

On a personal note, this is uncomfortable for me. I've done dozens of Q&As on MAN with all sorts of art world figures, people such as Getty CEO James Wood, critic Jerry Saltz, Gugg curator Nancy Spector, ex-Walker director Kathy Halbreich and artist and New Yorker photographer Robert Polidori. I hope the history of this site indicates that I don't do ambushes and that I don't do gotcha-journalism.

So I want to explain how this all came out: On Monday, impressed with a recent Lawrence Weiner review, I asked Viveros-Faune to come on MAN and he agreed. That night, while researching and preparing for the Q&A I discovered the hiding-in-clear-sight conflicts-of-interest discussed here. When Viveros-Faune and I did our Q&A on Tuesday, my last few questions were about this topic. I expected him to say that he was in the process of separating himself from his commercial interests, or some such thing. He didn't.

Green was by no means the only person to feel this way: here he links out to a number of other bloggers who have commented on the situation. And you can read Ed Winkleman's response here (and don't forget the comments).

And now the Village Voice has announced that Viveros-Faune will no longer be writing for them.

Later this week I'm going to (very belatedly) post about Peter Plagens' roundtable with a group of American art bloggers, published in the November 2007 Art in America (I would have done this sooner, but the article's not available online, which is pretty fitting when you read the print version.) The article probes at what some of the differences and similarities between blogging and print criticism might be.

Some of the things that I think set print criticism and art blogging apart include speed, increased transparency, the ability to assemble lot of information and opinion to create context through hyperlinks, and the ability for readers to feedback. The Viveros-Faune situation, I think, could become a classic case study for the inevitable MA that will soon be written, asking how blogging is changing the artworld.

Friday 18 January 2008

Friday's child is ... pissed off

Reviews like this make me wonder whether people who clearly hate contemporary art and all it touches should be allowed to write about it.

Selected gems from Richard Morrison's review of economist Don Thompson's recently-published The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, about the contemporary art market:

"Thompson sets out to discover why someone thought it was fulfilling and rational to spend $12 million buying a dead shark that had been turned into an artwork by Damien Hirst. "

"In what sense is a buyer acquiring a unique work, if the artist feels free to create near-identical pieces for other buyers (as Warhol did and Hirst does)?"

"In what sense do they [artists] “create” artworks that unnamed assistants actually paint, cut up or assemble?"

"Should we lament the present confusion between cash price and artistic worth – or, as Thompson puts it, “the ease with which art history is now rewritten with a cheque-book”?"

"Is the success of a few superstar artists good or bad for the rest – those who scrape by on the poverty line, yet produce art that may well be far richer in significance than some of the conceptual piffle churned out by the big names?"

Image: Damien Hirst's The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living (1991) - conceptual piffle. Image from

Thursday 17 January 2008

Sorry, sorry,

busy week.

Meantimes, check out the first two parts of a three part interview by Tyler Green with Village Voice art critic Christian Viveros-Faune, about "the Jerry[Saltz]-Roberta[Smith] critical axis, negative reviews, and ethical responsibility."

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Making a splash

Today Mayor Bloomberg and the Public Art Fund will announce Olafur Eliasson's waterfall project for New York's East River. Eliasson will construct four freestanding waterfalls on the river, between 27 and 37 metres high.

Bits and pieces of information about the project have been leaked to the press. No images though, apparently, with the New York Sun instead presenting this artist's impression, helpfully captioned "above, a waterfall and a view of the East River".

Reporters may have had more luck searching Flickr, where one user has posted a photo of a waterfall installed at the University of Dundee by Eliasson in 2005. The photo is helpfully titled Eliasson's 'Waterfall' Is This Art? Discuss.

Monday 14 January 2008

While in Wanganui

Wanganui. It used to be 'well worth the journey' but now it's 'welcome home'. Yup.

In the weekend an article by Grant Smithies on NZ's river city noted that although a "long-overdue upgrade was quashed by an unsympathetic council, much to the disgust of the local artistic community, ... the Sarjeant Art Gallery on Queens Park hill remains the most beautiful art gallery in the country, with the kind of sharp curation normally found in major metropolitan galleries."

Visiting the gallery before Christmas, I was taken aback by the sheer amount of work that solo curator Greg Donson churns out. There are currently six shows or installations up, and the gallery felt a bit crammed, but exciting.

The highlight for me was Joanna Langford's soaring, complicated installation in the dome space - one of the best I've seen there. (Apologies for the crappy image, it's the best available on the Sarjeant's site).

The lowlight was possibly the 'Woodwork' show, which gave a nook or two's space to five artists: Regan Gentry, Warren Viscoe, Glen Hayward, Harry Watson and Ben Pearce. Brought together under the premise that they all work with the same material, although in different ways, the presentation somehow flattened out the differences between each artist's work.

Matt Couper's show 'The Museum of Inherent Vice' sprawled and scrawled its way through the end gallery. It's interesting to wonder if impolite art has some trouble with the Sarjeant's genteel spaces. Both Couper's and Langford's works resulted from their residencies at Tylee Cottage last year, which I guess goes to show that the council hasn't suceeded in ruining everything yet.

Image: Joanna Langford, Down from the nightlands, 2007.

Thursday 10 January 2008

Art TV

It's not talkback on Radio Art, but it might be the next best thing: New Art TV. Featuring Martin Creed, Dana Schutz, Daniel Buren, tape from the press preview of Richard Serra's survey show at MOMA with interview, and more. Geek comment: check out the barriers in the Serra installation.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

A lump of coal in your stocking

The announcement that influential LA collector Eli Broad will create an independent foundation to maintain control of his collection, rather than gifting it to a museum (or museums) is creating chatter on the American blogs. The foundation will loan the works to museums.

The announcement is seen as a particular slap in the face for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is due to open the Renzo Piano-designed, Eli Broad-financed Broad Contemporary Art Museum next month. One of Broad's reasons for his decision is his concern no museum has space to place a large portion of his 2000+ piece collection on permanent display.

The most interesting quote for me in the article was this:

Mr. Broad ... said he did not view his decision as a vote of no confidence in the museum. Rather, he said, it represents no less than a new paradigm for the way museums in general collect art and interact with one another.

“I think it’s a new model that makes sense for other collections,” he said. “If it was up to me, I believe that museums ought to own works jointly.” Mr. Broad encouraged that practice last year with his purchase of a work by the artist Chris Burden, which he then gave jointly to the county museum and another Los Angeles institution, the Museum of Contemporary Art, where he was a founding trustee.

Image: The Broad Contemporary Art Museum under contruction, photo from the New York Times.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Best of 3: the provincial edition

Welcome back!

Over the next few posts I'll share the fruits of my summer travels around the North Island - the Sarjeant, the G-BAG, the Waikato Museum, and the spanking new Tauranga Art Gallery.

In the meantime.... a while ago I posted about New Zealand art galleries on Wikipedia. Today, while reading up on the Existence show at Waikato Museum, I noticed a link to Wikipedia as 'more info' on Francis Upritchard. Which got me thinking - who else is there?

Quite a few people actually: Colin, Toss, Louise and Rita (but only a little Gordon, and no Milan, Bill or Doris); Ralph and Michael (Smither, that is, no Tony or Allen); Shane and Mike P, but not Michael Stevenson, Peter Robinson or Seraphine. Francis, but no Simon Denny or Dan Arps. Interesting.

And finally: raising the shade of the McCahon/Kelvinator pairing:

on Jen Graves' blog [thanks J]