Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fountain is, and is not, a urinal


alfRedO tRifF

I've been reading Robert Hopkins' essay "Speaking Through Silence," on conceptual art.* I take issue with this paragraph:

While I might appreciate, say the audacity of Fountain on seeing it, my experience is not altered by my awareness of that feature. The urinal looks the same whether I'm engaging with audacity or not (...) The idea is that for other art, sense experience plays the role of medium of appreciation; whereas for conceptual art it provides nothing more than means of access to the work.
I take the last sentence. So, according to Hopkins, whereas my sense of horror is the medium of appreciation to Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes,


 the same feeling cannot apply in the case of Puto (2007), by Michael Rees.


Why is the "means to access(ing)" my horror NOT a sort of "medium of appreciation"?

Hopkins obsesses too much with the urinal and overlooks Fountain. He takes them to be exactly the same. They are not: Fountain is, and is not, a urinal.

My statement in red is not a logical proposition. Take it as aesthetic amplification. Ready-making automatically turns something into something else.** This act of investing instant "artness" (on urinals, or anything for that matter) is described in this letter sent to the Blind Man by Duchamp himself:
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
For Hopkins Caravaggio makes you feel more, instead of just, differently than Duchamp.*** For example, in A Propos of Readymades, Duchamp's goes for elimination of the experience (i.e., the dissolving of aesthetic sense):
(...) I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "readymades" was never dictated by aesthetic delectation.This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste – in fact a complete anesthesia.
I don't know about Hopkins, but I when see Fountain I don't see a urinal. I see instant coffee. 
____________
*"Speaking Through Silence," in Philosophy and Conceptual Art, by Peter Goldie, Elisabeth Schellekens (Oxford University Press: 2007). p. 56-58. **Remember Russell's famous 5 Minutes Hypothesis?  ***Keep in mind that different styles may demand different analyses. The ways in which we apprehend objects though conceptual cerebration is different from that of more traditional forms of representation. Piero Manzoni's Merda d'artista is not apprehended in the same way than Monet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe.

Monday, August 18, 2014

why pamela druckerman (a native miamian) still deserves credit for her inane article about miami for the new york times


alFreDo tRiFf

from the ny times, written by ex-patriate miamian pamela druckerman:
MIAMI even has a homegrown dialect. Young Latinos — regardless of whether they even know Spanish — speak English with a Spanish twang. To non-Miamians, they sound like extremely fluent immigrants. Phillip M. Carter, a linguist at Florida International University, says that when young born-and-bred Miamians visit the rest of America, or even Boca Raton, people often ask them what country they’re from. “Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan. People typically don’t realize they’re speaking a dialect unless they leave Miami, Mr. Carter says.
are young latinos to blame for speaking english with a spanish twang?

does druckerman know that english is considered a pluricentric language. i.e., that language and ethnic identity are essentially divergent? if so, english is more like a heterogeneous socio-phonetic universe.

what is the english language if not an amazing pottage of germanic, french, latin, greek, and whatnot?

and what, if not ethnic bias, would predispose an american from elsewhere, listening to a native miamian speaker, to assume that she/he is from a different country?

druckerman is happy to cash in an appeal to authority by a linguist at FIU by the name of phillip carter, whose pseudo-academic dictum is as thin as air:
“Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan.
here's the meaning of "cosmopolitan":
1. Pertinent or common to the whole world: an issue of cosmopolitan import.
2. Having constituent elements from all over the world or from many different parts of the world: the ancient and cosmopolitan societies of Syria and Egypt.
3. So sophisticated as to be at home in all parts of the world or conversant with many spheres of interest: a cosmopolitan traveler.
would you expect modigliani, picasso, kandinsky, rilke, max ernst & joyce (all foreigners) to speak french in the 1920's with a piccardian twang?

oh, but 1920's paris is, in fact, the paradigm of "cosmopolitan."

what is this distinction between "international" and "cosmopolitan" that doesn't beg the question on ethnicity?

& with "cosmopolitan" & "international" being so close, why is miami not "cosmopolitan"?

i bet druckerman favors definition #3. above: miami lacks sophistication.

why?

at this point, druckerman offers a no-brainer: miami's unequality.
Most locals also don’t seem bothered that Miami is one of America’s most unequal cities, with lots of very poor people living close to rich ones. Miami’s have-nots are easy to ignore, since — if they’re not cleaning your house or parking your car — you just drive past them.
it's clear that in most cosmopolitan cities, reach and poor live pretty close, next, i'll gloss over druckerman's unwarranted inferences & vapid satire. however, she has a point: miami has lots of poor people.

but that nothing to do with cosmopolitanism. for instance, oxnard-thousand oaks-ventura, california, population 822,000 (with a 72% of well-to-do whites), is the sixth most affluent city in america, but does that make it a cosmopolitan destination?

since druckerman cannot successfully establish the rich/cosmopolitan connection, she is left with an even worse conjecture:

miami is --generally-- stupid.
And while there are some thinkers scattered around town, Miami is overrun with lawyers, jewelry designers and personal trainers, all trying to sell services to one another.
while druckerman conveys very little cogitation in her article, we should marvel that this native miamian can write such a goofy piece for one of the best newspapers in the world and get away with it.

go girl! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

if being a young farmer in america makes no sense, my diet automatically becomes a political issue


atRifF

being a young farmer in america makes no sense. that's bern smith's conclusion in his article for the nytimes. 
The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income.
a sobering statistics. when over dinner, people praise the merits of organic or slow food, rarely the discussion veers from the aesthetic merits & flavor & nutrition of the food to who grows the food.  
On top of that, we’re now competing with nonprofit farms. Released from the yoke of profit, farms like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., are doing some of the most innovative work in the farming sector, but neither is subject to the iron heel of the free market. Growing Power alone received over $6.8 million in grants over the last five years, and its produce is now available in Walgreens stores. Stone Barns was started with a $30 million grant from David Rockefeller. How’s a young farmer to compete with that?
we're generally blind to our food provenance. is it ignorance, bad faith or both?
... in urban areas, supporting your local farmer may actually mean buying produce from former hedge fund managers or tax lawyers who have quit the rat race to get some dirt under their fingernails. We call it hobby farming, where recreational “farms” are allowed to sell their products at the same farmers’ markets as commercial farms. It’s all about property taxes, not food production. As Forbes magazine suggested to its readers in its 2012 Investment Guide, now is the time to “farm like a billionaire,” because even a small amount of retail sales — as low as $500 a year in New Jersey — allows landowners to harvest more tax breaks than tomatoes.
(forbes' suggestion makes my skin crawl)
It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda. We need to fight for loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. 
if what smith discusses is true, we have a big problem. we need not just good food, but more sustainable farming. food production should not destroy the very planet we're trying to feed. of course we understand the adaptability of the market, a three-pointed vector that includes agribusiness, factory farming & the so called intensive crop farming (and the problems associated with water conservation, pollution, food prices, government subsidies, etc).

smith's article hits me with its factual force. i feel i've lowered my guard & once you lower your guard you become an accomplice (incidentally, complicity is more widespread than we're prepared to accept: see it as a befuddlement between seudo-enlightenment and social anomie).

what's the meaning of "slow" or "organic" if it's produced from the top down & financed by big farm?

in the last few years our food has gotten better, people are changing eating habits, but the food message is coming from the wrong source. 90% of independent farmers don't have the means to underwrite the the food publicity ads we urbanites read.

this is the picture: america's urban poor are hooked to junk, which leaves the dwindling middle class and the rich full access to "better" food (let's assume now that some of our better food comes from big farm and their interests posing as "sustainable"). by the way, the mantra that better food is not necessarily more expensive is a discussion the poor will not understand as long as they are socially conditioned to eat poorly. the asymmetry in food consumption reflects the chronic dysfunction of our system.

so, i'm prepared to connect two apparently disparate vectors: if being a young farmer in america makes no sense anymore, my diet automatically becomes a political issue.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

coming back to ugliness (that underrated aesthetic currency)


aLfRedO tRifF

in our last post we explored the possibility that ugliness has been left out from aesthetic discourse.

then, we find this source:

jiang feng (above) was very unhappy with his offspring's facial features. he suspected foul play, but a DNA test proved him wrong. then, he found out that his wife had spent $100,000 in plastic surgery on her face before they had met. jiang divorced her and sued her on the ground of false pretenses.

(i don't care if the story is a fabrication. imagine it as a thought experiment).

how about jian's offspring? are they to blame for expressing their parents' genotype? are these kinds as "ugly" as jiang paints them to be?

is "ugly" essential or conventional?

one could imagine jiang's grown up daughter protesting his dad's aesthetic dogmatism: dad why am i responsible that your trait for "pretty" was recessive? 

wittgenstein's idea of Familienähnlichkeit makes "ugly" conventional. in jiang's case it's fifty-fifty genetic. phenotypic resemblance is like a lotto (there are plenty of examples of "pretty" offspring from "ugly" parents).

publicity campaign for arno, brazil

wittgenstein seems to suggest that "ugly" & "pretty" are just family types. they acquire aesthetic relevance within their type recurrence and accepted conventions. comparing the two, "ugly" ends up as a deviation from accepted conventions.

indeed, but the problem is that "deviation" (a custom established by usage) already begs the question on convention! yeah, in the end "pretty" wins. an expedite solution, but in this case, i'm not satisfied with wittgenstein's answer (the pretty/ugly struggle needs to happen at a more essential level).

it goes way back to plato, the master of form: in the symposium, socrates suggests that eros & ugliness don't get along (aischron is translated as shameless). can "ugly" be reformed?

german philosopher karl rosenkranz, a disciple of hegel, has a whole treatise devoted to hässlichen.

for rosenkranz, ugliness can be: 1- a lack of form (what beauty optimally possesses), 2- an incorrect representation: i.e., illness, deformation, etc, 3- as a moral lack of self-determination or freedom, i.e., (carrying the burden of formal dependence). beauty is independent of ugliness, but not the other way around. (as a result, ugliness generally depends on beauty). aesthetics has made ugliness a slave of beauty.

how could "ugly" become nonradically itself? by giving up its past, i.e., the very notes that stereotype its form. and here one can really fall for a travesty, that is to say, ugly becoming non-ugly.     

what if ugliness' -so-called- form was an axiological fraud?
   
the ugly duchess, quentin massys 1525-30
above renaissance painter quentin massys' alleged portrait of margaret countess of tyrol, the ugly duchess, in all its ugly-glory. massys revels in the duchess' purported facial unpleasingness (she probably suffered from paget's disease).

rosenkranz comes to the rescue:

can the duchess break free from ugliness' bondage? only by giving up its familial nexus with beauty. 

but how?

(to be continued)

Monday, July 28, 2014

when it comes to damien hirst julian spalding is all over the place


alFrEDo tRiFf

critic julian spalding drops the bomb in a recent article for the dailymail. 
 I had dared to say what many of my colleagues secretly think: Con Art, the so-called Conceptual Art movement, is little more than a money-spinning con, rather like the emperor’s new clothes. That goes for the ‘artist’ Carl Andre who sold a stack of bricks for £2,297. It goes for Marcel Duchamp, whose old ‘urinal’ was bought by the Tate for $500,000 (about £300,000). It goes for Tracey Emin’s grubby old bed. And, of course, it goes for Damien Hirst.
against-the-grainess is always stimulating. but to prove that con art = conceptual art? 

dumping hirst with duchamp implicitly demotes duchamp at the level of a "con," but conning conceptual art (i.e., that the concept behind the object is more important than its instantiation) is not, by far, enough to convince anybody. i don't know where spalding wants to go with this, but since conceptual art goes back to early 20th century and has three incarnations, one would assume he should discuss (and provide) a historical argument (none of it here).

never mind, with the audience stunned at the critic's courageous declaration, it's time to his thesis:
But why is it art? ‘Because it makes you feel something.’ When I asked what it makes them feel, most referred me to the guidebook explanations. What quickly becomes apparent is that it is like a religion.
(i have my doubts with "feel" as a reliable aesthetic broker) the reason is that different people normally offer different responses to a given stimulus. on the other hand, as vague as it is, explaining one's feelings is a start. do i seem a little impatient? let's give spalding his time.
I found out what propels people, many of whom rarely visit art galleries, to queue for 60 minutes for this marketing circus. ‘Is it art?’ I asked and pointed at a shark preserved in formaldehyde, a wall of dots, and flies feasting on a dead cow’s head.
"i found out what propels people"?

when i read this i think of actual empirical evidence. do you picture spalding polling, i.e., taking the time to furnish each person in line to see hirst's exhibit with a scripted quiz and then proceed to tabulate the responses for this article?
Everyone is strangely committed to the cult of Hirst – but few can articulate what is fantastic about a soggy, sad-looking shark, preserved in a vitrine with all the menace of a sagging sofa. 
spalding's ad hominem is not doing the best job at explaining why hirst' "art" is really not art. even if vitriol has its place -19th century french and british critics like barbey d'aurevilly & wilde used it sparingly. yet, the critic should (for the sake of his own argument) try to keep his/her bias in check.    

then,
Created by a Turner Prize winning artist, the dead tiger shark, grandly named The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, should be one of the great artworks of the last century, yet most visitors spent less than three seconds looking at it. 
and so many visitors could equally -totally- ignore this mondrian,


or this rothko,


which doesn't suggest that there's a problem with the paintings -nor for that matter with the people's lack of attention. people go to museums for different reasons: to see and be seen, to partake of so called culture, to validate their taste or distaste, etc. standing in front of a painting is as fuzzy as a politician averring his honesty.

in fact, with a lot of modern art, one must develop predispositions to understand what one sees. for instance, one may need different abstract glasses for the mondrian and the rothko above (they belong in different styles).

let's come back to spalding:
Traditionally, in exhibitions of ‘real art’, visitors cluster around the paintings or sculptures while the rest of the gallery is empty. The Hirst exhibition is another matter. People mill about like unmagnetised iron filings. Why? Nobody is engaged. One enormous spot painting is half hidden behind a formaldehyde-preserved cow. Smaller vitrines containing skulls are dumped on the floor at random.  
once again, betting on people's "attention" to discuss aesthetic evaluations is -at best- chancy.
But it is the rotting cow head, called A Thousand Years, that I can’t bear to look at. Blood trickles out of it, swarms of flies feast on it and the horrific stench is pumped into the gallery. ‘It’s very macabre,’ says Craig Thurlby. What an understatement. ‘I interpret the flies and cow as life and death, so I guess it has meaning and stuff,’ says Craig.
is spalding not begging the question of whether hirst is a con artist by appealing to his own feelings to establish the very conclusion he's set out to prove? it's like saying: "the reason i hate your work is because of the way it makes me feel."

in parenthesis, why should one eschew the macabre?


can you smell the rot & hear the hellish quavering inside this boschian nightmare?

i expected much more. i've read spalding's the eclipse of art and found his arguments against contemporary art quite interesting. here he's just cerebrating in circles.

at some point, the critic explores a promising angle:
I’ve long believed him to be a money-hungry charlatan but as the richest living artist at the age of 46, he must be doing something right.
then he misses his opportunity with this platitude:
It was at Goldsmiths that he met Charles Saatchi, who would propel him from chancer to millionaire before they parted company in 2003 after a disagreement over the way Hirst’s works were staged at Saatchi’s gallery. Around that time, Hirst admitted: ‘I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.’ Which raises the question: is he consciously playing us for fools?
what's spalding's point really? we get a philippic against conceptual art buttressed on what? "feel"? people's attention? the macabre?

spalding is all over the place & hirst is just a cog in the machine!

(to be continued)

Friday, July 11, 2014

"culture is like oil in the ground" -- stefan simchowitz

image, via vulture

atRifF

i find this article on art space, on collector, producer, maverick & arthoodicator stefan simchowitz.

remember, what we're after here is oil in the ground. we'll find it soon.

as with all myths, there is always a "before" and "after"

before:
(...) you had the emergence of small galleries, expert writers and critics, academics, curators, and small groups of artists—many of them emigrants escaping the bleak landscape of Europe—that led to the expansion of the art business, both demographically and geographically. And over a 60-year period, as dealers like Leo Castelli guided artists’ prices to grow in a linear fashion, art was given its value by the people who wrote about it in journals and more traditional media.
after:
Then the Internet occurs, you have the browser, and in 2006 you have the emergence of what is essentially the mainstream social media, and you begin to see the distribution of imagery and artworks begin to expand online at the same time that you see the rapid expansion of the art business, because essentially there’s much less friction for the spectator to experience the artwork. More people see the art, more people can consume it and engage with it, and, more importantly, many more people have started taking and sharing photos and describing what they’re seeing.
"when the internet occurs, you have the browser." could one assume a more blatant reduction? you smell simchowitz's spielerisch rap from afar. but let's not fight over peanuts. art has become a "cultural spectacle" not because of the internet, but because of the market. the market is the source, the internet one of its conduits.

here's the proof, coming from "the source":
I think that when it comes to art and culture, as opposed to having singular authorities that define it, you have what you could call amplification nodules—people who for some reason have cultural integrity and a following that they address through a social-media structure. And it’s not so much about speaking to a mass of 10,000 people, but rather being followed by key decision-makers, players, and collectors in that network.
"amplification nodules," "key decision makers, players, in that network"? now simchowitz just contradicted his not-so-naive initial point on the power of Internet & social media's massive aggregations in shaping contemporary art's reception. do "amplification nodules" get amplified through social media or in the private innards of the system?

this is why simchowitz calls himself "cultural entrepreneur".

more importantly, will he be able to reverse his aporia? that is to say, convincing us that his denial, i,e.:
I think art advisory is very banal in that it generally simply involves someone who has access to several rich people and who, relative to those rich people, has slightly better taste.
is actually what happens.

as expected, now comes a deception disguised as know-how:
(...) there are a lot of people who are trying to do what I am doing because I have done very well, and there are outsized returns. But people who think, “Gee, I can buy a piece of art from a gallery for $5,000 and sell it for $25,000” don’t understand the complexity of thinking necessary to get to this position. It requires research, knowledge of the canon, knowledge of the past.
really? "the canon,"? "the past"?

could there be something else, for doing "very well"?
I’ve managed to build an extraordinary following in the art market that is very unique. I work with Sean Parker, Steve Tisch, Orlando Bloom, Guy Starkman, Enrique Murciano, and Rob Rankin, who is the head of investment banking at Deutsche Bank worldwide.  I think you need a very widely distributed clientele, with everyone from the very rich to people who need to stretch to buy an artwork. 
c'mon stefan. you are a very successful flipper. you have enviable market connections. in fact, by part-to-whole mereological extension, you are the market!  

which is why you can render this canonical definition of culture as (gosh, could one think of a more obviously non-renewable, non-biodiverse source than) petroleum?
You have to think of culture like it’s oil in the ground: it needs to be mined, refined, and it needs to be distributed.
QED.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

concerning nicholas powers' article for the indypendent: wrong! art "guidelines" suck


aLfRedO tRifF

critic, poet and professor nicholas powers writes for the indypendent about kara walker's A Subtlety, an imposing 40-foot tall sculpture made out of 80 tons of sugar! @ the soon-to-be-demolished Domino Sugar Refinery in williamsburg, brooklyn.

he opens with a critical salvo:
"You are recreating the very racism this art is supposed to critique," I yelled. The visitors lowered their cameras. Just seconds ago, they had been aiming their lenses at the sculpture of a 40-foot tall, nude black female sphinx. Many posed under its ass; some laughed and pointed at its vulva. As I watched their joking, my thoughts spun and I walked into the crowd, turned to face them and began yelling. It wasn’t my rage, it was our rage. In early June, I went to the exhibit. The anxiety increased when I saw the factory — in line, nearly everyone was white. The alarm rang louder.
powers feels these (white) folks were not getting it. by "it" i mean the idea, message, content, that walker's A Subtlety implies.
The "alarm" is a reflex most minorities have, it's a rising anxiety that signals you are surrounded by people too privileged to know they're hurting you. Or who would not care if they did. It can beep quietly.
point taken. what powers refers to rings true. he's right to feel upset. but things get more complicated when powers revises his own feelings:
Anger shot up my body like a hot thermometer. Face flushed, I walked to the Mammy sphinx. Couples posed in front of it, smiling as others took their photos. So here it was, an artwork about how Black people’s pain was transformed into money was a tourist attraction for them. A few weeks ago, I had gone to the 9/11 museum and no one, absolutely no one, posed for smiling pictures in front of the wreckage. 
if the science of psychology makes any sense, a feeling is a lingering response to a stimulus. if so, one should take into account that different contexts (artworks?) elicit different responses. how could powers prevent a person's misinterpretation? (& is not any mis-interpretation an interpretation?) more technical, but not less fitting, how could one accurately attribute a certain behavioral disposition to a supposed mental state?

i think a more "subtle" point is that walker's sculpture evinces asymptotic layers, which make for a variety of responses. for example, this mammy is actually white. what i'm saying is that walker "whitefaces" black, a daring inversion, which ultimately honors the piece's title. why does powers miss walker's conceptual "teasing"? another asymptotic layer is that in the space of analogical histories sweet/sugar plantations becomes bitter/slave trade --this latter analogy is observed by powers.


now it's time for history:
I caught the eye of the few people of color, we talked and shook our heads at the jokey antics of white visitors. We felt invisible, and our history was too. It stung us and we wanted to leave. I forced myself to go the backside of the statue and saw there what I expected to see, white visitors making obscene poses in front of the ass and vulva of the "Subtlety." A heavy sigh fell out me. "Don't they see that this is about rape?" I muttered as another visitor stuck out his tongue. What is the responsibility of the artist?
one thing is to "feel" invisible (i.e., not being considered present) and another to imply that that automatically renders one's whole history invisible. why does powers have to assume this self-centered, emotivist, conclusion? i can agree that the piece is about rape, but certainly it's not solely about rape. it can't be. this is an artwork (not a history of a people, which can only be partly, limitedly conveyed by the piece). and this mammy doesn't look defeated or miserable by her long, painful history. in fact, A Subtlety presents us with a riddle: for example, the mystery behind her hermetic & proud sensuality.

an artwork's meaning --by definition-- cannot be univocal, otherwise it wouldn't "mean" anymore. if meaning is transparent we wouldn't have to negotiate for consensus anymore, provide valid reasons, etc, which is precisely (luckily!) what powers does in his engaging piece.  

so, what's really going on?
Something snapped. I strode to the front, turned around and yelled at the crowd that when they objectify the sculpture’s sexual parts and pose in front of it like tourists they are recreating the very racism the art was supposed to critique. I yelled that this was our history and that many of us were angry and sad that it was a site of pornographic jokes. 
powers was right to feel angry at some stupid white people & what he did was even necessary. this is what good art is supposed to do, to elicit discussions --and learning.

now, what follows is baloney:
People are going to bring prejudices and racial entitlement into the space. Duh. Instead of challenging the racial power dynamics of white supremacy, Walker and Creative Time, in their naivety or arrogance, I don't know which, simply made the Domino Sugar Factory a safe place for it. Thanks for nothing, Ms. Walker!
"thanks for nothing ms. walker?" from rightful indignation, powers now -ironically- shifts to self-pity. in other words, not only he has "unveiled" walker's "intentions," but expects art to become a didactic medium to challenge (racial stereotypes?). the "walker & creative time" binity --as if they were a Co. is a despairing ad hominem. and why is walker to blame because some white folks (or some black people, let's not rule out that possibility, though powers didn't witness it) don't get it?

it gets worse:
(...) but the sad thing is that thousands of visitors are still seeing a sculpture that symbolizes the history of racial violence with no guidelines on how to interpret it. 
which "guidelines"? who would construct and provide such criteria? the sponsors? the curators? powers?

and what is the distance separating "guidelines" from, say, mild censorship, even zdhanovism?  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

is ugliness a form?


aLfReDo tRifF

artist seth alverson, good find!

these are difficult, courageous, paintings. the subject matter is, how to put it? ugly.

precisely. and what's "ugly"?

"it just is" one would declare. & here's the redundancy. one resorts to this nugacious bit automatically. but we shouldn't treat ugliness like a fact. the depiction of a "deformed" hand doesn't refer to a fact.

still, it's a hand: "... the terminal part of the human arm located below the forearm, used for grasping and holding and consisting of the wrist, palm, four fingers, and an opposable thumb." or this: "... a prehensile, multi-fingered extremity located at the end of an arm or forelimb of primates such as humans, chimpanzees, monkeys, and lemurs." alverson's hand has six fingers.

polydactyly is defined as a congenital anomaly. but how anomalous is a condition that becomes regular? the wikipedia entry congenital disorder acknowledges: "most people have one or more minor physical anomalies if examined carefully." alverson's images waver between normal & abnormal.



below, alverson's painting of a face.
 
smashed face (2013)

we don't know if "smashed" is literal or dyslogistic. obviously, alverson's art dwells in the teratological, but smashed face is not really "smashed." methinks the title conveys alverson's own legerdemain. i.e., in the set of all "normal" faces, this one appears "as if" smashed (an important point if we want to understand ugliness, as if beauty and ugliness were structurally related).

the face above is not crushed by a blow --or accident. its wrinkled guise is less offensive and more incongruous, a ridiculous "soft" face (after a while you feel like kissing it). in that sense, alverson's smashed face is not "normal".

normality requires consensus, facts (generally) don't.

for the sake of argument, imagine smashed face as the norm in twin earth. what then? twin earth people's faces are all "smashed" & they don't have any problem with it. their "normal" is just at variance with ours on earth.  

kant analyzes ugliness in his aesthetic theory. i just want to present some quick ideas (the yellow is my interjection into kant's text).
In order to decide whether or not something is beautiful (ugly). we do not relate the representation by means of understanding to the object for cognition, but rather relate it by means of the imagination (perhaps combined with the understanding) to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure.  (CoJ, 203)
"by means of the imagination" already suggests that ugliness is not a fact, but this needs qualification. kant's exposition is quite nuanced. we should see his third critique as part of a larger project which includes his two previous critiques. when we say "this is ugly" we are not expressing a fact (i.e., ugliness is not epistemic), neither are we expressing a moral sentiment (i.e., "ugliness" cannot be subsumed under a moral concept such as "evil"). so, aesthetic pleasure consists in this attunement (Stimmung) between imagination & understanding.

when i call something ugly, i feel disgust? and believe my feeling can be justified, but my justification is not empirically irrevocable; someone else could feel something different and still claim she is right (this, according to kant, is structural to the judgment of taste). am i not implicitly appealing to a prejudging standard am not aware of? (this is a variation of the cultural relativist argument applied to taste). kant avoids the relativist pitfall by an interesting conceptual transaction: though judgments of taste are particular their reach appears universal.

(is the taste of clos de los 7 from mendoza, argentina, just a subjective property?)

besides, art can show something ugly in a beautiful light. how?
The art of sculpture, too, has excluded from its creations any direct presentation of ugly objects, since in its products art is almost confused with nature. Instead it has permitted [ugly objects] to be presented by an allegory -- e.g., death ([by] a beautiful genius) or a warlike spirit ([by] Mars) -- or by attributes that come across as likable, and hence has permitted them only to be presented indirectly and by means of an interpretation of reason rather than presented for a merely aesthetic power of judgment. (CoJ, 178)
as per the subject of disgust (in german, Ekel) oft associated with ugliness, kant explains:
(...) There is only one kind of ugliness that cannot be presented in conformity with nature without obliterating all aesthetic liking and hence artistic beauty: that ugliness which arouses disgust. For in that strange sensation, which rests on nothing but imagination, the object is presented as if it insisted, as it were, on our enjoying it even though that is just what we are forcefully resisting; and hence the artistic presentation of the object is no longer distinguished in our sensation from the nature of this object itself, so that it cannot possibly be considered beautiful.  (CoJ, 172)
 

the image above is ugly (beauty gets botched by exaggeration). is it disgusting?

((can too much of beauty become ugly?))

the shot above is not a painting. the subject appears as posing, though that's not crucial to save kant's point about "nature". art, according to kant must have "finality" (Zweckmäsigkeit). in #45 of CoJ, under the subtitle fine art is an art, so far as it has at the same time the appearance of being nature kant explains that art has the intention of producing something intended to be "accompanied by pleasure" (could it be accompanied by ugliness?). he takes pain to elucidate the interplay between art and nature:
... hence the finality in the product of fine art, intentional though it may be, must not have the appearance of being intentional, i.e., fine art must be clothed with the aspect of nature although we recognize it to be art.  
here's kant again (with a bit of my help in yellow):
If the object is presented as a product of art, and is as such to be declared beautiful (think ugly instead), then seeing that art always presupposes an end in the cause (and its causality) a thing of what the thing is intended to be must first of all be laid at its basis. (CoJ, 173).
the impression of finality (as form) on the faculty of cognition amounts to the very feeling of pleasure itself, the subject's cognitive activity is the "causality". of course, there's a lot more, only we don't have the time. this is just a sketch.

going back to the form

one would think that to understand ugliness we have to address beauty, or at least opposites in plato's theory of forms "ugliness" is a contrary to "beauty" in protagoras,

useless foot (2014)

is "ugly" a lesser beautiful form? do i need to understand beauty to apprehend ugliness? if X is non-beautiful, X doesn't have to be ugly (one doesn't necessarily contain the other).

christian theology doesn't admit of ugliness in heaven.

well, plato really never solved the riddle.

Friday, June 20, 2014

what's the purpose of destroying the integrity of MOCA's collection for a half-arsed, selfish profit?


atRifF

the result of the negotiations @ MoCA ends with a weird note:
Citing a confidential source, the New Times says that under the agreement, the current board of trustees would leave the institution with 150 key pieces from the well regarded collection. MOCA’s website says the permanent collection includes about 600 works. 
you think negotiation is a give-and-take. initially the board wanted to take the whole collection to the bass museum. are we supposed to disregard urban affluence, race & class as having no part in the plan? after six months of legal fight one may suppose that one fourth of the collection seems a prudent price to pay to settle the dispute.

why would a board that intended to seize MOCA's 600 pieces to give it to the BASS be so interested in leaving with a mere "150 key pieces"?

we don't know which pieces are being considered in the deal, but i bet that MOCA's existing collection will be seriously compromised without these 150 art works.

if the idea of culture has any value at all, this outcome is a phyrric victory for the city of north miami and a defeat for its people (who are morally & invested in this collection).

the board of directors' action makes them look socially disconnected & culturally indifferent. but what's new?

finally this note:
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Benson addressed one item in the New Times piece, which said that both parties would pay MOCA half of the appraised value of the departing art.
if true, what's the purpose of destroying the integrity of MOCA's collection for a half-arsed, selfish profit?

some ca$h is better than no ca$h.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

overalls and aprons



overalls and aprons, a documentary, directed & produced by my friend thibaut fagonde, to premier this summer, dealing with the relation between sustainability and food-taste.

don't miss it!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

the newest protest art is the destruction of the old protest art


aLfrEdO tRifF

jed pearl for the new republic regarding the caminero/weiwei affair.
The halls of power are theirs. Ai Weiwei is by no means the only artist who has built a reputation on a belief in the death of the original and even the destruction of the original but now expects his work to be accorded the respect due to old-fashioned originals. Is it any wonder that a critical silence has descended around Maximo Caminero?
a different take from ours. pearl (an author i respect for his deep and well-researched new art city: manhattan at mid century) ends his piece with this:
Is it any wonder that a critical silence has descended around Maximo Caminero? The little guy’s dumb, scrappy Neo-Dadaist gesture is so totally last century.
his is the general consensus in the tradition of humanism. pearl misses that the performative destruction of art is not a dadaist invention, perhaps a dadaist channeling. our point is that art's destruction is structural to art-making. here bakunin is right: the urge to destroy is a creative urge. 

keep you posted.

Monday, March 17, 2014

arthoodication: the art of profiting while appearing (almost) prudently beneficent.


aLfReDo tRiFf

@ miami bourbaki, we're interested in the relation between contemporary art and the market.

by "contemporary art" we mean an industry producing specific objects whose function is (presumably & primarily) "aesthetic." by the market we mean an institution of exchange of art objects for mon€y.

such relation is:

*normative, prescribing stylistic & cultural values.
*inconspicuous, i.e., in your face but it never appears as such.
*redundant, i.e., they mirror each other.
*non-regulated, i.e., "free market for the sake of culture."

we've  called this relation (between contemporary art & the market) arthoodication.

this article by carol vogel for the new york times features the recent meteoric trajectory of colombian-british artist oscar murillo.

(murillo is a fitting example of the contemporary art/market binity):
“This is a market hungry for the players of the future,” Allan Schwartzman, a Manhattan art adviser, said. “But almost any artist who gets that much attention so early on in his career is destined for failure. The glare is simply too bright for them to evolve.”
does the market care? so, what is mr. schwartzman (a manhattan art advi$er), really saying?

he's simply playing his (redundant) role.     

how does arthoodication work?

* by exhibiting art/commodities &
*by transforming such art/commodities from "unknown" to "highly desirable," with art publicity campaigns (we call it artblicity).

let's take vogel's article bit by bit. we'd like to present it as a process:

a bit of background  

Mr. Murillo’s rapid rise in the United States dates to March 2012, when Donald and Mera Rubell, seasoned Miami collectors, saw a suite of paintings Mr. Murillo created for the London dealer Stuart Shave, which were shown at the Independent Art Fair in New York, a popular event for talent spotting. “By the time we got there, everything was sold out,” Ms. Rubell recalled in a telephone interview.

cause
“We were so blown away by the work, I told Stuart we wanted to meet him even though there was nothing left to buy.” “We arrived at 9 a.m., and he looked disheveled, exhausted, like a homeless person,” Ms. Rubell recalled. “He’d stayed up 36 hours straight and had made seven or eight paintings, so he had something to show us. They blew us away. We ended up spending four hours talking to him.”
let's move to the commodities:
Not only did the couple buy all the work, but they invited Mr. Murillo to their home and their Contemporary Arts Foundation in Miami. He stayed for six weeks and created a series of large-scale canvases.
 fifty large canvases, to be precise.

effect
... in December 2012, the Rubells showed the paintings at their foundation, timed to Art Basel Miami Beach, the must-see contemporary art fair that draws collectors, curators and museum directors from around the world. Ms. Rubell isn’t surprised by the success that followed. “Everyone copies everyone else,” she said. “It’s in the air.” Mr. Murillo’s canvases also reflect what is fashionable in contemporary art: They are abstract, often incorporate a word in the composition and have a lively color palette.
of course ms. rubell isn't surprised, her "everyone copies everyone else" arthoodicative market-lever is as redundant as a rolling ball.
“Seeing his work at the Rubells gave collectors confidence,” said Benjamin Godsill, a former curator at the New Museum in New York who is now a contemporary art expert at Phillips, the auction house.
gave collectors confidence... indeed. rubell's arthoodication of murillo caused the latter's work to appreciate from around $40,000 per piece in 2010 to $400,000 at a christie auction in 2011.
“People now recognize his paintings,” Mr. Godsill added. “They’ve become a status symbol.”
from "unknown" to "status symbol" in a matter of few hundred days. isn't it clear that arthoodication did it?

Q.E.D.

one last point.

a rodolphe von hofmannshtal, murillo's manager, now co-director of David Swirner in london, is cited in the article:
Mr. von Hofmannsthal ... aware of the potential damage a harsh spotlight can inflict on a young artist, (...) acknowledged that it’s “a really hard situation.” “It’s easy to say he’s got it right now, but what about tomorrow?” Mr. von Hofmannsthal said. “We’re trying to keep prices down, to protect his work.” Perhaps most important, Mr. von Hofmannsthal wants to “just let an artist be an artist.”
wait, "keep his prices down" as in we'd rather forfeit a more lucrative commission to "let an artist be an artist"?

perhaps you buy herrn hofmannsthal's pleonastic reflections. we don't. once more, his conflict of interests illustrates arthoodication's inconspicuousness: the art of profiting while appearing --almost-- prudently beneficent.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

carlos suarez de jesus' parallel universe

carlos suárez de jesus

aLfReDo tRiFf

carlos suarez de jesus writes an article for the miami new times entitled PAMM goes local. the title's second clause reads: with a new exhibit the bayfront museum silences its critics. 

not to waste any time to present the exhibit as a referendum on PAMM's curatorial inclusiveness, de jesus opens with this bombast:
Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié has a message for Maximo Caminero, the local painter who deliberately shattered a million-dollar Chinese vase last month to protest the new Pérez Art Museum Miami's "lack of support for South Florida talent."
but the matter is that carlos' assertion is simply false.

de jesus failed to update his information with an article from the ny times  published on february 18! (by nick madigan): 
News reports here (Miami) said the vase was worth $1 million, a figure the museum said was provided by the police as an estimate based on previous appraisals of similar works by Mr. Ai. An official appraisal of the vase’s value is underway, said Alina Sumajin, a spokeswoman for the museum. A similar work, called a Group of 9 Coloured Vases, consisting of Neolithic vases painted by Mr. Ai in 2007, sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2012 for $156,325, a price that included buyer’s premium.
carlos, i don't mind you're a fan of abuelo añejo, but what parallel universe do you inhabit?

this kind of writing makes you look like a mouthpiece & the miami new times (presumably an alternative publication) a sort of cheap corporate underwriter.

of course, i won't go into duval-carrié's declarations against caminero, a fellow artist, but here is a point duval-carrié seems to overlook: does he really expect a neutral observer --of average wit-- to take him seriously when imagined landscapes opens @ PAMM this thursday?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

is the contemporary art world in trouble? (smirk)

party at art basel, miami beach, 2013

aLfReDo tRiFf

steven zevitas writes about contemporary-art insomnia for the huffington post. 
If you were to walk through the aisles of any one of the dozens of art fairs that now take place globally on an almost weekly basis, you would get the sense that the art world is a happier place than Disney World. Big art, big artists, big dealers and big money play their roles in a hypnotic and well-rehearsed production, and toothy smiles abound. Yet this intoxicating spectacle is just the most public manifestation of a problem in the art world that has become increasingly obvious over the past decade: more and more, the cart is pulling the horse.
"the cart is money and lots of it" concludes zevitas. we agree.

@ miami bourbaki, we've tried to define the money cart (more of this later).

the cart pulls the "contemporary art" horse. how does it work?

money goes where profit is to be made & profit necessitates a well-defined domain, i.e., the art market. now, let's analyze what makes art art. is there a standard for "contemporary"?
(...) in fact, that the word "consensus" has come to be all but synonymous with another art-world favorite, "quality." Their combined weight, piled on layers of subjectivity, has, over time, exerted enough pressure to create a very strange substance: virtual objectivity.
well said. zevitas is showing the redundancy behind "quality."

if "quality" is grounded on "consensus," and the latter is produced by layers of subjectivity, then "quality" ends up an empty norm, a sort of naked king bestowing fashion standards. zevitas' idea needs a bit of scaffolding:

why is quality an empty cipher?

zevitas describes how quality is subsumed under "consensus."  
Right now the "consensus" is that serious art involves raw canvas, a smattering of paint, possibly an exposed stretcher bar, and a "who the fuck cares if it looks done" attitude -- some of this work is quite good, by the way. The "context" that this work is presented in is the hippest galleries and art fairs in the world. And collectors who do more listening than looking are lapping it up in large amounts and at absurd prices.
after duchamp the "fuck how it looks" position became part of the game, but many 20th century avant-garde movements still regarded the old idea of inherent quality traits as an art norm. the problem was that the cart was being pulled by the idea of "the new."

with post-modern art "novelty" became the norm. now "quality" was redefined as novelty. this is the proper birth of contemporary art. the paradox is that "contemporary art" is not -really- new. it cannot be. "contemporary art" is a redundant presentist paradigm with no past & no future. 

at miami bourbaki we propose: 

whatever is "contemporary" is *automatically* accepted  

but "accepted" doesn't necessarily mean good. there are lots of artists working within the "consensus" that never make it. only a few gain access to the contemporary-art global olympus. what's the secret?
    
what turns young emerging artists into future superstars is arthoodication, a process of market legitimation.

if "consensus" is the perception-element, then arthoodication is the acting-element.

who are these artists?
(...) a small group of mostly young white male artists such as Joe Bradley, Jacob Kassay, Lucien Smith and Oscar Murillo start to sell work for six-digit amounts, it should raise a lot of red flags.
we're glad zevitas brings up murillo. @ miamibourbaki, we analyzed the rubell's arthoodication process of murillo. we advanced:
how does arthoodication work?

1- commission an in situ production of 50 pieces!
2- print a catalog, with an interview by hans ulrich obrist, (starcurator maximus & master of interviews --a predominant arthoodication trampoline) and essays by liam gillick, jonathan p. watts and nicola lees).
3- devise a publicity blitz, which includes numerous articles in some of the art market's favorite outlets.
in closing, zevitas tries to "fix the mess" --as he puts it, but his recommendations waver between naïveté and self-importance:

to artists: "avoid consensus." & why would they do that? didn't zevitas acknowledge that consensus is what yields "quality," the supposed criterion of acceptability? artists have spent years producing creative dispositions toward contemporary art styles. they are known, their works sold, etc, because of this consensus. they would find the advice to stop doing what they do (even if they couldn't or wouldn't see market forces behind it) preposterous.

to magazines: "allow exhibition reviewers to take stances that might be in conflict with the interests of your advertising department."  is zevitas dreaming? it won't happen. the reason is that art magazines are fighting for survival. they desperately need the ca$h generated by publicity & sponsors. conflict of interest will keep proliferating like fungi on putrid soil.

to museums: "expand your boards to include a wider demographic." why should they? museums do just fine exploiting the current culture-as-spectacle model where financial status & celebrity rule.

to collectors: "think for yourselves." but they do, which is why they advocate collecting art as a "social exercise."

to art dealers: "refuse to do business with anyone whose motives are even remotely speculative." is zevitas kidding? art dealers speculate as naturally as frogs leap.

next,

Saturday, February 22, 2014

weiwei's performativity principle on its head (the opinion pendulum is switching)


aLfReDo tRiFf

the caminero performance/protest gets renewed attention from critic jonathan jones @ the guardian.

how could a critic from across the atlantic see better than PAMM's claque & officials?
On Sunday, a man called Maximo Caminero has smashed an artwork by Ai Weiwei, one of the most famous artists of this century and a hero to many for his defiance of the Chinese state (...) this is not such a simple story. Caminero's proclaimed motive – that the Perez Museum in Miami should be showing local, not global, art – is pretty daft (...) he has accidentally punched a massive hole in the logic of contemporary art.
jones is right. but which logic is he referring to?

what we've called the weiwei principle, 
(...) by shattering it we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable— how we decide what is valuable.
jones develops a different argument than the one we explored at miami bourbaki, but his conclusion is similar: 
Ai Weiwei is courageous and eloquent but this incident and his response – for he has condemned the vandal – make me wonder about the rules of art right now. The reasons for condemning one destructive act and celebrating another don't seem clear. Suddenly, the world's most respected artist looks a bit conceptually fragile.
some of the comments jones gets in his article gloss over this logic. why?

let's see:
frustrated artist: Much as I dislike the iconoclasm of smashing- or repainting- ancient vases, there's a clear difference. Ai Weiwei bought the vases first. They were like those Goya prints that the Chapmans bought and then altered. But Caminero smashed someone else's property. That's illegal.
"illegal?" and who says that what is legal is necessarily moral? 
barmycabbage: When Ai Weiwei dropped and photoed the Han's pot, he was trying to make a statement, that is, one has to try to destroy what is deemed to be traditionally valuable and only then, a new view can be established. Now, that is the difference. The artist never owned the Ai Weiwei pot, and the act of protest is to express a disagreement of other people's exhibition on the site.
see how easily people accept weiwei's "shattering" on the grounds of ownership, which seems like saying that ownership unproblematically overrides other relevant moral and political considerations. not even propery-rights master john locke would agree with that:
For this "labour" being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others (paragraph 26).
does ownership (of the ancient urn) settle its shattering tour court just because weiwei paid for it? to whom? are we to disregard the history of these artifacts? how about the artisan who made them? what if the urns were stolen, or even arbitrarily undersold or unjustly appropriated? (within a feudal exploitative relation of production?) could one not say that even if in owned by weiwei, the chinese people have a right to the urn's integrity? there are reasons to believe that for locke the chinese urn is sort of "owned by all." in other words, property rights are justified only on the grounds that it can be shown that no one is made worse off by the appropriation. could one not object that cultural rights supervene ownership rights? 
snertly: It begs questions like What, if anything, separates Caminero's actions from those of Laszlo Toth, who in 1972 took a hammer to Michalangelo's Pietà?
it doesn't. michelangelo didn't invoke iconoclasm to produce his pietá. toth was deranged (he screamed "i'm jesus risen from the dead" as he pounded michelangelo's masterpiece).



however, weiwei is also getting the heat of it. here are some comments:
davegunner: Except eating his own medicine doesn't have the same effect. Ai WeiWei is a vandal and ought to be jailed for destroying a 2000 year old Han era urn. Owning the urn does not make it his right to destroy antiques as there's heritage value for China and even the world at large.
now it's time for caminero detractors (on the grounds of property destruction) to defend weiwei (on the gounds of cultural heritage destruction).
homeboy 88: An attack on the Chinese artist's installation in Miami has been condemned as an act of vandalism. Why is smashing art only acceptable if an acclaimed global artist does it? So what you're telling us is that hypocrisy is rampant within the art community? I believe you.
no comment.
karl schwinbarger: So in theory I could buy the Mona Lisa and scratch off the paint and then white wash the canvas and I am good to go because I owned it. We need new laws to protect cultural artifacts in private hands so that it would be just as wrong legally to destroy a cultural artifact you "own" as it is to skin your pet dog and then put the writhing skinned creature on display as a conceptual art piece for which the viewer is left to the decipher the meaning. Buying something that is irreplaceable should entail responsibilities as well as rights. 
why has the west been (historically, notoriously) silent about the rape of cultural artifacts from elsewhere, most notably, the parthenon marbles, the nefertiti bust, the rosetta stone, etc?

is one not entitled to say that the caminero protest/performance @ PAMM has brought forth the issue of whether weiwei has unconsciously played with our cultural blind spots?
biggsthe2nd: Let me get this right. Ai Weiwei got some 2,000 year old vases and vandalized them by pouring paint over them. This gave the vase a one million pound value. I suspect the vases about are churned out by under paid Chinese craftsmen in China and could be produced time and time again. Who really cares. From the photos I've seen the installation is rather dull and predictable. I'm actually on the side of the artist who wants to see his local art gallery support local artists.
biggs can smell the history of exploitation behind questionable property rights.
panpipes: A better comparison would be to say that the Taliban had an absolute right to destroy those ancient Buddhas because they ran the country.
precisely the taliban "property" argument.
quarrytone: Perhaps Ai would have been better to have remained silent, than to condemn Caminero. To remember where his anarchism really comes from.
agree.
gulleysimpson: Should Robert Rauschenberg be arrested for erasing a deKooning? As I see it... the art installation begs the viewer to break the pots on display as per the photographs of OuiOui. And, really, those are some ugly glazes.
interesting point.

see that we are not saying that cultural considerations override property rights. that is a different argument which is tangential though pertinent to this one. what we are doing is problematizing the naïve assumptions made by PAMM, some people in the media and some miami artists and personalities that rushed to present caminero's protest/performance as an act of vandalism.

such assumptions selectively ignore that performance art is repeatable & politically & morally symmetric. that is to say, weiwei has no rights to his performativity principle that he could refuse others on similar grounds.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

the political imperative: ai weiwei should congratulate máximo caminero for smashing his "one-million dollar vase" on PAMM's floor

ai weiwei's colored vases (2006)
scandal is sincerity when it is not programmed. sincerity is scandal when the wise world officially runs up against it. -- günter brus (1971)

alFrEdO tRiFf

it all begins with this odd piece of news from the new york times:
(...) a valuable vase by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei had been deliberately destroyed by a visitor in what appeared to be an act of protest. A spokeswoman for the museum said the incident occurred on Sunday afternoon when a local artist walked into the waterfront museum and picked up one of the vases in an installation of Mr. Ai’s work titled “Colored Vases.” A guard asked the man to put it down, but instead he threw it to the ground, smashing it, the spokeswoman said.  (click the CNN video in the nytimes piece).
who is the culprit? máximo caminero, a local miami artist.
Mr. Caminero, a native of the Dominican Republic who has long lived in Miami, told the Miami New Times, a weekly newspaper, after his arrest that he had broken the vase to protest what he said was the museum’s exclusion of local artists in its exhibits.
since caminero has no known previous criminal record, it's only fair to take up his reasons:
1- "It was a spontaneous protest,"
2- "I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei's photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it. And I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest." 
protesting on which ground?
3- (...) "for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here." 
are caminero's reasons justified?

the CNN video implies that caminero's protest "mirrors" weiwei's. performativity (as we'll see later) follows its own norms.

according to the nytimes article, PAMM's description of weiwei's piece discloses that the chinese artist dropped a 206 BCE-220 CE urn to the floor "to express the notion that new ideas and values can be produced through iconoclasm."

new ideas and values produced through iconoclasm? here weiwei is basically endorsing a cultural practice of (deliberate) destruction of a culture's symbol for political motives. in 1995, on the occasion of smashing the dynasty urn, he manifested:
I think by shattering it we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable— how we decide what is valuable.1
let's call this justification (of the destruction of symbols in order) to crate new forms, the weiwei's performativity principle.

in order to avoid the charge of vandalism, weiwei's performativity principle must --implicitly-- presuppose a political (or moral) justification.

let's not miss a subordinate point here: weiwei's iconoclasm brings transgression to a centre stage, i.e., the destruction of a chinese cultural treasure is performatively and thus morally/politically justified. but the justification of weiwei's act prsupposes that weiwei's destruction of the ancient chinese urn is a vandalic act.  

is caminero's protest/performance not politically justified?

exploring what makes a performance legit is important --in this case-- because caminero's protest has been presented as a criminal act by a PAMM's official by the name of leann standish, who was quick to denounce it as "an act of vandalism."


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2
you'd expect this quick and crude assessment from the police, not from an official representative of a museum exhibiting a performance/document where its author (ai weiwei) appears smashing a similar vase, under the same performative principle which caminero now simply reenacts.

see that we're not underplaying or excusing caminero's action (his unconventional (perhaps radical) use of weiwei's vase as a vehicle for his protest has legal ramifications), nor are we heeding the ridiculous price-tag of $1 million, quickly thrown by PAMM to put a figure to his "crime."


what is at stake here (in following weiwei's performativity principle) is whether the reasons for caminero's protest balance out standard property-rights considerations. let's see:

weiwei's performativity principle bypasses property. why? because owning an ancient chinese urn doesn't give anyone the right to break it. cultural artefacts are considered exclusive in their archaeological, ethnological and social significance. weiwei is, de facto, introducing a different normative order here, i.e., iconoclasm supervenes property.

the question now is are there moral/political reasons to repeat this principle?

philosopher & performance theorist judith butler makes a case for this possibility. she calls this act of repetition (in performance) "citationality."
Performativity is not a regular act, for it's always a reiteration of a norm, or sets of norms, and to the extent that it requires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition. Moreover, the act is not primarily theatrical, indeed its apparent theatricality is produced to the extent that its historicity remains dissimulated (and conversely its theatricality gains a certain inevitability ... a performative is that practice that enacts or produces what it names.2
performativity "is not a regular act." in a sense, caminero's protest presupposes a reiteration of a norm. which norm? by smattering the vase, the performer at once legitimates & overcomes the transgression involved. art's performativity is a productive activity: the breaking of norms justify the creation new forms.

what makes a protest/performance legitimate? we suggest a criteria we discussed with performance artist and theorist marina abramoviç on the occasion of her 2007 conference at FIU. she mentioned proper context, &  compelling reason.

máximo caminero

proper context: caminero carried out his protest/performance right in front of weiwei's document/piece @ PAMM in front of everybody. see how (in the CNN clip & later photos) caminero stands next to weiwei's installation & calmly & deliberately proceeds to let the vase fall onto the floor (as he looks onto weiwei's photos).

compelling reason: caminero's protest/performance was meant to call attention to a persisting problem of the art establishment.  

which problem?

contemporary art's arbitrary criteria of inclusion. 3    

no vandal would act in this manner. a gratuitous act of destruction destroys either for its own sake or (as some artists in facebook & elsewhere have implied) for the sake of a self-aggrandizement.

this is what performance theorist & actionist günter brus refers to as sincerity. caminero was simply doing what he thought was right. as important performance theorists like abramovic, oko, burden, schneemann, etc have pointed out, performance art is much more than mere theatricality.

some limit situations have a purpose because they bring to the open a persistent problem that is often overlooked or ignored altogether. performance artist chris burden has identified how these "limit" situations offer a purpose:

by setting up aberrant situations my art functions on a higher reality.4 

caminero's smashing weiwei's so-called "one million dollar vase" @ PAMM is aberrant enough (in our present context of an incestuous & redundant art market) to fit burden's prescription. performance art is neither inside --nor outside-- the political or moral realms; it becomes a sort of inter-dependent realm to discuss political and moral issues.

here @ miami bourbaki, we present arthoodication, the problem caminero protests against, as a riddle: 

Where is the magic of art if people realize that what makes art art is a market strategy?

which brings me to weiwei's reaction to caminero's protest/performance.

i was baffled by his comment as quoted in the new york times:
The argument does not support the act,” Mr. Ai said. “It doesn’t sound right. His argument (Caminero's) doesn’t make much sense. If he really had a point, he should choose another way, because this will bring him trouble to destroy property that does not belong to him.
even worse,
“My work belongs to me, it doesn't belong to the public and also it doesn't [belong to] somebody else.”
wait a minute, are you saying that your (iconoclastic) conceptual recipe applies only to you? 

this is an unfortunate verdict, coming from china's enfant terrible of the arts.

by denying caminero the performativity principle his art depends upon, weiwei has lost a great opportunity to actually put his money where his mouth is.

thus, i leave weiwei with günter brus' motto: sincerity is scandal when the wise world officially runs against it.


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1ai weiwei and larry warsh, weiwei-isms  (princeton university press, 2012), p. 37. 2 judith butler, bodies that matter (1993), tracey warr and amelia jones (the artist's body, themes and movements series, phaidon press) p. 263. 3 we've discussed arthoodication  elsewhere. enough to ask: what are the criteria for what goes on the walls of an exhibit? the truth is that the art market, through its collectors & institutions and curators, unproblematically arthoodicate what counts as contemporary (i.e., "contemporary" becomes a sanctioned & redundant convention of style, i.e., if X is on the wall X is good). 4 contemporary art, a source book of artists' writings, (university of california press, 1996), p. 768.