Saturday 29 October 2016

Reading list, 29 October 2016

Shelley Bernstein teases a new wearable-tech approach to interpretation at the Barnes.
“When you go to a store, they are public buildings as much as they are privately owned businesses. You walk into Topshop, you walk into Loewe, you walk into J.W., you walk into a department store — they are these open buildings, which I feel have to give back. Now, they can give you back an experience, customer service, or something you’ve never seen before so it’s educating you at the same time."
“I enjoy going into a store where I find something new, so when I go to Dover Street [Market], I go 'Wow, that fuelled me up for today.' Now I will come back and make a repeat purchase, it’s not a hard sell. We need to lure people in to make them feel part of what we’re doing.”
I continue to be interested by how Jonathan Anderson's view of designing for two fashion houses links with running museums.

The time is certainly ripe for the "rediscovery" of Carolee Schneemann.

Walsall is a town in England's West Midlands, with a central population of about 68,000 and a wider borough of about 270,000. Faced with having to find  £86m in savings by 2020, the local council is floating proposals to shutter 15 of its 16 libraries and slashing funding to the 15 year-old New Gallery, opened during the regional museum-building boom of the turn of the century. This article, interviewing local library users, shows the kind impact on quality of life these closures threaten. Working for a council myself, I fully understand how imperative - and difficult - finding savings can be, and I have such sympathy for this situation.

Can a polemical, even propagandist, cartoonist be absorbed into the framework of outsider art? Jeet Heer on the death of Jack Chick, the 'Leni Riefenstahl of American Cartooning'.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Reading list, 22 October 2016

Carolina Miranda for the Los Angeles Times on artist protests over gallery-driven gentrification in the city (a much more nuanced article than I expected from the headline). On Hyperallergic, a pendant piece by Seph Rodney on galleries moving into Harlem.

John Morrison for The Conversation, proposing an alternate narrative of the development of Scottish art, driven by Scottish identity, for the country's galleries.

Lana Lopsei and Francis McWhannell review Artspace's New Perspectives for The Pantograph Punch. The discussion format reminds me of the issue of the Circuit podcast where Thomasin Sleigh, Mark Amery and Tim Corballis discussed Stephen Cleland's Inhabiting Space at the Adam Art Gallery.

Researcher and activist Chris Garrard critiques London's Science Museum over entry charges and sponsorship by an oil company for their new children's lab.

Elizabeth Merritt of the American Alliance of Museums on volunteers and museum labour.

Kaywin Feldman of Mia on gender and leadership in American museums:

We recently completed a branding process at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, working with the design firm Pentagram. We had been in the fun and engaging process of fully defining and expressing our brand for the previous 4 years. Pentagram studied us and responded, “Your full name is too long. Luckily, your acronym is pronounceable. You’re just saying your name wrong. Instead of being MIA – Missing in Action or the Miami International Airport – you should be “Mia”, which means “mine”, “my own”, or “beloved” in 8 languages. Now that was pretty compelling, but our team was concerned. At first nobody articulated it, but the discomfort derived from Mia being a female name. Finally, one of our trustees voiced it: he didn’t like Mia because “it is not strong. It’s not classical or smart. It’s just not serious.” I pointed out that if our name spelled “SAM” or “STEW” he wouldn’t have had the same reaction. What he was clearly saying, was that the name – a female name – didn’t have “gravitas”.

Monday 17 October 2016

A month of protest at the Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

I'm publishing less here this year, and moving a lot of my regular writing to a weekly Tiny Letter email newsletter (you can sign up here) where I bring together a group of things I've read in the past few weeks that share a theme I'm interested in. This past weekend's newsletter was a bit different, so I thought I'd share it here

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On September 16 the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) opened the exhibition Kelley Walker: Direct Drive. Organised by their chief curator Jeffrey Uslip, the exhibition is a major survey of the New York artist's work, and takes over the entire museum.

Walker, born in 1969, is a white conceptual artist, whose work uses the forms of advertising and the techniques of screenprinting and digital reproduction to comment on political and social themes. Kelley Walker: Direct Drive includes a body of work from 2005 called Black Star Press. From the exhibition page on CAM's website:
A parallel to Warhol’s canonical 1964 painting Race Riot, Walker’s Black Star Press series comprises images of racial unrest that have been digitally printed on canvas, silkscreened with melted white, milk, and dark chocolate, and rotated in ninety- degree increments. These manipulations mask and partially censor the act of police brutality with a perishable material as well as alter the power dynamic between the image’s subjects. Similarly, in his series schema; Aquafresh plus Crest with Whitening Expressions, the artist scans smears of toothpaste directly onto a flatbed scanner. Digitally overlaying the scans onto a variety of images—including the cover of men’s hip-hop magazine KING—Walker creates gestural abstractions and alludes to consumption, objectification, and impermanence.
Works from the Black Star Press series are held by both the Saatchi Collection and MOMA (who have a sizable collection of his work).

On September 17, Walker spoke about his work in a talk at the museum. On Facebook, the black St Louis artist Damon Davis wrote about Walker's appropriation of black bodies, the display of these works in St Louis after Fergusson and in the current climate of race relations in America, and the artist and curator's lack of willingness to address this aspect of his work. Hyperallergic interviewed a number of attendees about the talk, and the subsequent call for the show to be boycotted.

On September 18, three black members of staff wrote to the museum's leadership, calling for Uslip's resignation, the removal of works, and stating the limitation they were placing on their working duties for the duration of the show.  Walker released a response through his dealer, Paula Cooper Gallery.

In late September, director Lisa Melandri said that removing the works would be censorship,but the museum would build a wall to conceal the works, and put warning signage in place. A press statement released by CAM stated:
Throughout our dialogue with community activists and leaders, we have listened to their requests to remove Kelley Walker: Direct Drive from the museum. In accordance with CAM’s steadfast commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, we have concluded, after lengthy and thoughtful deliberations, to keep the exhibition on view. Taking down the show would violate the Museum’s core principles and end the productive dialogue that this work has initiated. CAM has a history of showing controversial artists; we have shown works that have challenged common sensibilities and presented work that has critiqued, in a difficult way, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and the military industrial complex, among other issues. Despite the debates and discomfort these exhibitions generated, we never removed them.
On September 29, the St Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial stating that Walker and Uslip should have backed the exhibition and treated controversy as an opportunity for meaningful discussion.

On October 3, a CAM staff member was harangued at a petrol station while wearing a CAM-branded t-shirt: the museum released a statement that a number of its staff members had been harassed and threatened over the exhibition.

On October 7, a public event was held where Lisa Melandri took questions on the exhibition. (As a director of a contemporary art gallery myself, the idea of this fills me with fear, and also admiration.) At around the same time 20 local artists withdrew from a CAM-organised open studio event in protest over the exhibition.

At the beginning of this week, the resignation of curator Jeffrey Uslip was announced; CAM have said he is moving to another institution but chooses not to say which. Three days ago James McAnally wrote a piece for Hyperallergic titled A Call for a Collective Reexamination of Our Art Institutions:
What specific factors made the museum unable to appropriately address the community’s concerns and is the reason unique to this context or is it generalizable? Is it actually the museum staff or board members involved — their biases, their inability to act — or is it the complex relations between the museum and its many partners, supporters and collaborators at stake? Is it the maintenance of the museum’s reputation within the art world itself, defined here as the spectacle industry of art fairs and commercial galleries, biennials and trickle-out economics? Or perhaps we have to admit here that the art world and its institutions are in fact constructed of mutually exclusive communities — donors and neighbors, corporate supporters and those seeking alternatives, the demographics claimed in a grant report and those whom the exhibitions are actually organized for.
Watching this story unfold over the past month has filled me with questions. I can imagine the museum's leadership being sideswiped by what has happened. I can see a scenario where they believed they were bringing to their city an ambitious exhibition by a high-profile artist, containing works which were controversial but which could provoke meaningful discussion, in a move that would garner them national attention - if not for the reasons they thought. I can see a scenario where the leadership was bewildered as to why decade-old works were provoking protest when they hadn't previously. I can see a scenario where non-leadership staff looked at what was being planned by the people above them and were appalled by their choices but felt powerless (or simply chose not) to raise questions. I can see a scenario where staff on the floor had to soak up the community's response whilst they felt leadership was hiding in a bunker. I can see a scenario where board members, funders and other stakeholders lost their shit whilst collegial support melted away.

Most of all I have taken out of this how quickly our social contexts and social movements are changing. Artworks which ten years ago were judged valid and valuable for their political statements are now being decried and protested. It's a sobering (or perhaps an illuminating) thought as a museum professional.

Saturday 15 October 2016

Reading list, 15 October 2016

The Adam Art Gallery and Victoria University are offering an intensive course over summer 2016/17 on Researching, Writing and Curating - an amazing opportunity not only to learn from the best, but be widely introduced to people and organisations in the gallery and museum sector.

Emil McAvoy writes for Pantograph Punch on Julian Dashper, the "friendly ghost", and his appearance across the recent Circuit symposium and more.

Tim Corballis on the connections and disconnections between Ira Cohen's The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda and Francis Upritchard's Jealous Saboteurs at City Gallery Wellington.

The 2016 Salient arts coverage has been ace. This week four regular contributors wrapped up with their peaks and pits.

A lengthy piece by Alison Croggon for The Monthly on the pernicious pruning of arts funding in Australia and the long term effects.

An even longer piece from Micah Walter at the Cooper Hewitt, documenting how they sent their Immersion Room to the London Design Biennale. A text-book example of the generous sharing you see in the museum web world.

Robin Wright covers the reopening of the National Museum of Beirut for The New Yorker, four decades after the museum closed during the Lebanese civil war.

I find the auction market to be a fascinating marker of wider trends in the art world (and from there, wider trends in society): Is the art market racially biased?  by Brian Boucher for Artnet.

Saturday 8 October 2016

Reading list, 8 October 2016

A typically mean-spirited response from American critic Lee Rosenbaum to the news that the Met's staff layoff will affect their digital innovation unit

A sloppy review of digital developments in museums by Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic

A much better review of digital developments in museums by Brian Droitcour, William S. Smith for Art in America

A very good review of the digital overhaul at the Cooper Hewitt and how it fits with its philosophy as a museum of design by Desi Gonzalez, also for Art in America

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Saturday 1 October 2016

Reading list, 1 October 2016

The Met raises $12M-plus for its collection by auctioning off duplicate Chinese ceramic holdings

A quite interesting article about the National Gallery of Art in Ottawa's summer exhibition visitation over recent years.

The latest Artsy podcast starts with a discussion about whether the language around "pioneering" feminist artists and the "rediscovery" of important women artists actually undermines their position in the art world.

Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi has been sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for his part in the destruction of historic buildings in Timbuktu in 2012 - the first war crime conviction for the destruction of cultural sites.

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