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 doesn't appear as such.
*redundant, i.e., one mirrors the other.
*non-regulated, i.e., it sets its own internal procedural mechanisms.

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.

“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.

... 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?


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, well, what else, 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

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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.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

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

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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.
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:
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.

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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Gober's leg," Relational aesthetics & Glenn Harper's critical platitudes

aLfReDo tRifF

what's the "next thing?"

here is the situation: positing a "next thing" puts the claim in the difficult morass of the "now." bear in mind that there is no "next thing," except for a constantly-moving "now" until "next thing" opportunistically fits. & who or what does that?

then there is the conflict of interest, which any "next thing" brings forth, namely, the double duty of simultaneously describing & prescribing (more of this later). this is the problem with The Next Thing: Art in the Twenty-First Century, a catalog edited by Pablo Baler, which presents an interesting constellation of art themes.

let's take a look at an essay by Glenn Harper entitled "The Critical Art of the Future."

first, the obituary:
Both art criticism and the magazine business are dying, as the popular press (the vehicle that art criticism grew along with) is undergoing a radical transformation in the twenty-first century.   
why does criticism has to die with "the vehicle that art grew along with?"

harper is inclined to see a cause/effect link here. sure, we know that "radical transformations" bring change. but that A & B are related doesn't mean that A causes B. which of the two is harper inferring? it's not clear. for example, speculative philosophy didn't die with the radical transformations brought forth by gutenberg's invention of the movable type in the 15th century. if you think my point is suggesting cause, i can always say no, i'm merely pointing to a relation. and what's the point of relating two things?

this is a better try:
Art criticism is dying because ... with the explosion of the art fair (and biennials often indistinguishable from the fairs), access to art once again exploding beyond discrete exhibitions into mass market tourist attractions.As Jerry Saltz and others have pointed out, the critic is the one person in the art world who is superfluous in the art fairs.
in this second try for a relevant cause, harper simply assumes saltz & "others'" (whose opinions?).

what role does harper expect the critic to fulfill?

just for the fun of it, i googled "saltz"& "art fairs" and got 41, 000 entries!  this one, with plenty of letters asking saltz's opinions, here, with saltz enjoys the artfair, or this one, with saltz (on facebook) talking about new york's frieze fair, and so on. 

you wonder how somebody so irrelevant spends so much time being, well, irrelevant?  
In the art fair the seller has direct and immediate access with the buyer, and publicity takes the place of criticism (as the only remaining vestige of a middleman albeit explicitly not an independent one).
i don't know which fairs harper is fond of visiting, but my experience is that contemporary fairs keep a 20th-century business model, i.e., buyers deal with gallerists (the presence of the artist is a derivative courtesy, a kind of aesthetic aftertaste).  

art is pretty much an elevated retail business, its supply-and-demand dictated by contemporary art's grandiloquent cultural cachet --provided by the art market. art business's current model remains pre-industrial.

harper zeroes in:
... there has been an explosion of MFA programs graduating hordes of new professional artists every year. These artists are ignored by the galleries... but their presence in the filed is a substantial influence on the size and scope of the art world, and the art professional who sifts through the work of all there new artists is not the critic, but the curator.

1- publicity has taken over criticism, but not because of publicity.
2- art criticism never sifted through artists' works. in the heyday of art criticism (new york 1950's-1970's) the profession was elitist, partisan & regional.
3- critics don't have (never had) the sort of power to shift art trends. art trends happen in spite of critics.

meet harper's art critic,
The art critic was someone with inside knowledge or expertise ... who could write intelligently or at least intelligibly, someone who could interpret and judge and categorize (and also describe for a public beyond those attending the Salon itself). With the rise of contemporary art galleries and museums, the art critic continued as a middle man between the artist-gallery-museum on the one hand and the public (general public or specialized audience).
i have to take issue with this characterization of the critic. after all, harper portrays himself as critic/editor.

1- "middle man" (a term borrowed from sales?)
2- "middle man" (a gender-centric slippage coming from harper-the-critic or harper-the-editor?).
3- a distinction between writing "intelligently" and writing "at least intelligibly," obviously the latter being a less desirable, merely tolerable form. but why? it seems that the critic can get away with something, but this is not harper-the-critic (is it harper-the-editor?), the reason being that he'd be basically shooting himself on the foot.

on a different level, harper feels he has an important advice for the critic (thus, his essay's title). of course, the problem is only aggravated by my earlier point of the conceptual tension between describing and prescribing.  

with a superfluous critic, what's to be done? recall that harper is preparing us for the future. so, he brings damien hirst as an example of a mega artist who has successfully bypassed the critic:
Hirst is certainly crating a media narrative and a public persona. And it could be argued that his art is minimal in terms of form and meaning, even in terms of being art. So is Hirst the new Duchamp, and is Hirst diamond skull the new model of art with no need for the critic or the art press... ?
damian hirst's for the love of god

i have no idea what harper means by the sentence is blue (above). why does he have to compare Hirst to Duchamp, unless he finds the analogy useful for his overall argument? (it was nelson goodman who in jest once said give me any two disparate things and i'll make them relate)

harper doesn't pursue this point (nor his diamond skull-analogy) any further. instead, he goes at length to explore robert gober's untitled (1990).

harper's strategy is to build a critical mass with gober's untitled and then proceed to find fault with it (we'll see why later).

we learn that:

1- gober's leg suggests a still life, or reliquary in the form of a crime scene,
2- gober's realism is disturbing but also ordinary,
3- there's a narrative attached to the work (gober is inspired by his observation of a crowded airplane returning from europe)...
4- more biography: gober's mother told him her first experience working in an operation theather was an amputation,
5- the leg is macabre,
6- the leg suggests a phallic or birth symbol,
7- the leg suggests the phenomenon of the uncanny
conclusion: art is meant to unsettle your eye

and so? there is nothing here. it's all biographical, with timid value inferences (the leg is macabre) or "phallic" or uncanny. harper hopes this helps his cause (of presenting hopeless info). he succeeds, but as we'll see for the wrong reasons. 

then the reader is asked this rhetorical question: "does the critical superstructure that is possible to construct around that mute leg really help?"
I would argue that the impact of the the work is outside of (even in spite of) the biographical and interpretive matrix of the critic or the museum label. The partiality, the ugliness, the mere "there"-ness is where the viewer meets the artwork, rather than through a side trip through criticism.
he tries really hard to show that "critical superstructure" as the rantings of this hypothetical critic fail compared to the "there"-ness (whatever that means). the point is that experience is superior to the "side trip" offered by the critic.

this is what he wants to really get at:
But the point is not that the object means something but that it does something.; it is an experience that the viewer participates in (...) a palpable experience... The aesthetics of the last hundred years, from Russian Formalism to Relational Aesthetics has argued that art is not an object but rather an encounter, an interrelation.
harper's strategy made me think of this cheap french film from the 1970's where a guy tries to get closer to this pretty but nerdy looking girl, who is always glued to a book. what are you reading? he asks. she tells him that she is reading boredom, a novel by alberto moravia. what is it about? the girl goes through the details: it's a story about dino, a young italian artist who has everything. he has a love/hate relationship with his rich mother and has since abandoned painting. dino tries to find love with a younger woman ho had previously been the lover of his neighbor (and perhaps even caused that neighbor's death). she is a person of astounding superficiality, which seems to hide some mystery that threatens to disrupt the very boredom to which the narrator has become so attached. as the girl goes on, the guy becomes more alienated from the girl's narration. when she's done he avers: "i don't have to read 300 pages on boredom to know what's like to feel bored."

i suggest two possibilities: 1- did the girl fail in conveying boredom because of the impossibility of conveying boredom's "palpable experience"? or 2- did the girl succeed in showing that moravia's novel is a "side trip"for the "palpable experience" of boredom?

harper is not far from the guy in the movie who takes the girl's narration as substitute for moravia's novel. harper falls for a self-imposed redundancy: he fails to prove his point the moment he tries (in vain) to explicitly play at failing.

this is not the place to discuss relational aesthetics. but for a critic prescribing the future, appealing to relational aesthetics on the basis of it having being "argued" (defended, legitimized or what not) for the last hundred years, doesn't it seem odd?

harper is so taken by relational aesthetics that he forgets the art's hardware, i.e, the artobject. here comes the prescription:
Foster... is wrong to lecture artists about how to reach a critical moment of experience... the critic risks irrelevancy even in a world more open to the critic than today's, if he or she predetermines the tools that artists can work with. 
now he plays the art censor:
One of the few things I've refused to allow writers to do in the magazines I've edited is to lecture artists about the direction to go with their work (something Rosalind Krauss has done in her categorizations of the "open field of sculpture" and in her more recent comments on material, stating that artists are abandoning their role as artists if they don't concentrate on developing a single medium to its limits.  
on what grounds is using normative tools to evaluate art "lecturing"?
A critical art in the sense that I mean to propose doesn't offer reassurances about the perception or accepted truth of authority. It doesn't accept the role of decorating the halls of power or wealth.
in his essay, harper doesn't really address "the halls of power or wealth." it's only when he objects to the critic's "lecturing" (in passant) that he becomes aware of his blind spot. why? because the relational approach he defends is meant to explain & theorize the very role of (as he mentions) "decorating the halls of power."

harper is clueless that when he plays the censor with critics who dare to "lecture," he's falling for the very prescriptive role he denies the critic.

harper closes his essay under a seventh-seal-of-obscurity:
The critical art of the future is suspended at that knife-edge and offers us a momentary suspension of our onrushing but socialized and codified everyday life.

Friday, January 24, 2014

how do you write da rite?

aLfReDo tRifF

in art you can do veritable magic.

i'm talking about the official sanction of the ceremonial, cultish, faddish, devotion of experiencing art.  

how do you?

(...) This cheekily titled outing is devoted to a clique of artists who reengineered art over the past fifteen years or so. They created the most influential stylistic strain to emerge in art since the early seventies. Their impact can be seen in countless exhibitions.
above is the write/part,

here is the rite/part,

"a clique of artists who reengineered art"  (they did it again and better!)
"the most influential stylistic strain to emerge in art" (a required hyperbole, please, don't take it literally)
"since the early seventies" (saltz wrote this piece more than 30 years since the early 70s)
"their impact can be seen" ("seeing is believing," the market breeds credulity)
"countless exhibitions" (innumerable? a required approximation, please, don't take it literally)

now, how do you arthoodicate your write da rite?

undo it!
That process of canon-building has been destructive in other ways, too. Although this anti-movement began as an excellent palace coup staged by savvy artists, a legion of sheeplike curators has embraced it with a vengeance. For years these annoyingly insular professionals have participated in one another’s panels, schmoozed in hotel lobbies, curated each other’s artists into exhibitions, and written impenetrable texts for one another’s redundant shows. Twenty essays in the “anyspacewhatever” catalogue are by curators! Many of these people have become the weak link in the art-world chain, and they really need to go.
got it?  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

the sudden WalmArtization of art

the armory show, new york, a typical fair where aisle arrangement is 
essential to the enjoyment of the spectacle (maximization goal: merchandise experience)

aLfReDo tRifF

have you not connected the dots yet? we're living the WalmArtization of art.

come, let's walk the through the aisles of any of today's many art fairs, filled with this aura of prominence: expen$ive art  from all over the world & populated by sophisticated visitors. notice that the aisle/grid arrangement of the galleries is not that far apart from Walmart's (neat, well ordered, straight, spacious enough for three people to pass each other comfortably, with visible and clear signage display).

granted, there is a difference in the type & status of the merchandise being sold. did we call art  "merchandise"? comparing Miami Art Basel with Walmart may seem --to any art cognoscenti-- a crude distortion. of course, there are differences.

a walmart gallery (maximization goal: merchandise display)

let's take the art/market side of the equation. the art market, 

* represses --while selling-- the idea of art as commodity,
* favors objects of entertainment and specular pleasure,
* sets rhythms of fashion as ritual recurrences of the always new,
* promotes a culture of self-congratulatory hypnosis, 
* reintroduces mythic and cultic elements to modern secular time (i.,e, contemporary art has no past no future)

the difference is that we treat art as this very particular form of investment (i.e., original, rare, sophisticated). contemporary art is a respected, eminent kind of commodity.

on the other hand, Walmart is the largest global multinational retail, thus a trusted, respected, eminent corporation. 

the "art" part of Walmart which for long figured, latently, as a quasi suffix can now be officially announced:

welcome to WalmArt!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

culture as a form of brainwashing

aLfReDo tRifF

in this epoch of the art fairs & biennials, art becomes a medium for sale and tourism.

this new form of art presentation can be problematized: how many of these events are really about what one naively calls art? we're ready to ask, can art be art independent of art's cultural spectacle?

before the art fair/art biennial paradigm the art object's physicality was primary. now a mere nominal referent. what matters is not art but its supererogatory cult**ural spectacle. what we call art today is spectacle excess. what audiences around the world experience is the cult* (of the as if) of art. coming back to plato, this new paradigm brings back the mimesis phenomenon only that "there is no reality anymore," as jean baudrillard would've said (i.e., art IS the new reality = the hyperreal).   

art is a cultural cluster of stereotyped experiences courtesy of the art market.

this Mona Lisa you take for granted is not the physical Mona Lisa*

let's say that the constant presentation of the art object within these new contexts (the fairs and the biennials) modifies the quality of art's overall perception. art is not (anymore) this particular thing imbued with aesthetic values (what we learned in art history), but a ceremonial cluster arthoodicating & selling art commodities.

if "great" art is dictated by the establishment via arthoodication, then culture becomes a form of brainwashing.  


*for example, physical presence is still relevant for the art object's identity, but it's not as significant. today, the majority of people that have seen the Mona Lisa have not seen the physical Mona Lisa. one could argue that to have an HD image of 780p/1080p of the Mona Lisa is enough for your average experience. after the digital revolution "experience" is in need of revision from the relational/aesthetics's presence paradigm.

in other words, the physical Mona Lisa is to art what gold reserve is to the Federal Reserve. as close to presence itself. one could argue that even ca$h reserves stored physically in a bank vault are less primary (paper can be printed, gold needs to be extracted and it's rare).

Friday, January 10, 2014

become a friend of miami bourbaki

are you tired of chitchatty passing for smart? 

do you care about quality over quantity?

are you sick & tired of art-market's sycophantic manipulations?

don't you wish you could show more the middle finger instead of the sheepish thumbs up!?

don't you wish art & letters were less about trendy and more about quality?

at miami bourbaki we try to keep our critical compass on the real instead of the "virtual" north 

scroll down and just click the join-this-site google-bar below & add your avatar to the list!

Monday, January 6, 2014

James Franco's selfie cogitations

Aren't we all exhibitionists?

Find here Mr. James Franco's musings on the topic of the selfie:
Selfies are something new to me, but as I have become increasingly addicted to Instagram, I have been accused of posting too many of them. I was called out on the “Today” show, and have even been called the selfie king. Maybe this is so, but only because I’ve learned that the selfie is one of the most popular ways to post — and garner the most likes from followers.
I find diverting Mr. Franco's admission of his addiction to Instagram, but his is a half-assed reason, particularly if coming from a Ph.D. candidate @ Yale for, what is it? English Lit.?

Franco is not alone.

But that wouldn't be fair without a bit of background. Selfies are not new. In art we have this genre known as "self-portrait."

Rembrandt had close to 100 selfies to document his entire life.

Modern photographers indulged in selfies: 

The theatrical selfie: Gertrud Arndt (1930's)
A favorite of mine: Lee Friedlander (1997)

The metaphysical selfie: Francesa Woodman (late 1970's?)

They created portrait documents that negotiated self-image with stylistic concerns.  

What's new now is the empty narcissism and the endless cacophony.

In 1967, way before the selfie fever, Guy Debord proposed: Reified man advertises the proof of his intimacy with the commodity.

How does "reification" happen? 
Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society ... at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from. (III, 59).
(A propos, Franco belongs in a luminous cluster of Hollywood entities held together by film industry/market energy. It's called a *star*).

Debord addresses Franco almost by name:
The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. (...)  They embody the inaccessible result of social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. (III, 60).
 Indeed, we crave this "projection" of inaccessibility. Here is the magic part:
(...) the spectacle (...) takes up all that existed in human activity in a fluid state so as to possess it in a congealed state ... (II, 35).
Let's contrast the former with some of Franco's cogitations:
 I can see which posts don’t get attention or make me lose followers: those with photos of art projects; videos telling the haters to go away (in not so many words); and photos with poems. (Warning: Post your own, and you’ll see how fast people become poetry specialists and offer critiques like “I hate you, you should die.”)
How does one know someone pays attention? How many people could check out Franco's Instagram posts (and like them, hate them --or neither) without leaving a trace? Attention (even from haters) could mean circulation!

Franco is right, but does he care WHY poetry & art posts automatically become a distant second to a vapid selfie?

Here the actor has a difficult time explaining himself:
But a well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention. And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking. In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed. It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible.
"Most privileged perspective possible?"

Undoubtedly privileged.

Since when is media spectacle truth-preserving? 

Besides, Franco's attention = power formula is too simplistic. Not all attention matters the same, and not all attention is by far a proof of power because quantity alone doesn't cut it.

Here's Debord again addressing "quantitative triviality":
(...) spectacular abundance (...) develops into a struggle of vaporous qualities meant to stimulate loyalty to quantitative triviality. This resurrects false archaic oppositions (...)  which serve to raise the vulgar hierarchic ranks of consumption to a preposterous ontological superiority. Wherever there is abundant consumption, a major spectacular opposition (...) comes to the fore among the false roles (...) things rule and are young; things confront and replace one another. (III, 62)
As Debord would have it the magic of reification happens not because of some cluelessness on behalf of Franco's Instagram visitors. It is the overall spectacle (of which Franco is merely an infinitesimal fighting for attention) which stupefies people into conformism, isolation, petty surveillance, boredom and repetitive malicious gossip.

Is this sort of power worth it?

You are ≈ horizontal & you feel... tired? bored? stoned? 

The saddest part is that Franco doesn't seem completely clueless.
Of course, the self-portrait is an easy target for charges of self-involvement, but, in a visual culture, the selfie quickly and easily shows, not tells, how you’re feeling, where you are, what you’re doing. 

My work after Bangerz clearly places me along Wagner's Oper und Drama

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

we don't really teach, we train & incorporate students into a devalued economy of substandard degrees

check out this recently found 8th grade exam from 1912. here are some of the questions:
Through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?
How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?
How long of a rope is required to reach from the top of a building 40 feet high to the ground 30 feet from the base of a building?
Compare arteries and veins as to function. Where is the blood carried to be purified?
During which wars were the following battles fought: Brandywine, Great Meadows, Lundy’s Lane, Antietam, Buena Vista?
(a good number of my college students would be clueless). it's not their fault. we don't teach. we merely train & incorporate students into a devalued economy of substandard degrees.

via Bullit County History Museum (for an enlarged rendition of the photograph)

Friday, December 6, 2013

if art can walk the viewer through a desire, the purchase of the product, and the satisfaction of the desire in the use of the product, art (automatically) becomes advertising

A general view of atmosphere at Elle Decor Modern Life Concept House 
Opening Night Event on Art Basel December 3, 2013
Artworks and artists are increasingly becoming elements of advertising campaigns, not only for products and services aimed at the types of older, affluent consumers who have traditionally been patrons of the arts, but also for products and services seeking to reach consumers in their 20s and 30s who are already making art part of their lives. Among the brands and companies getting arty are American Apparel, Chanel, Condé Nast, Dom Pérignon, Gap, Hearst Magazines, Ketel One, Jaguar, Lincoln, Maserati, Red Bull, Samsung, StyleCaster, Vionnet, Louis Vuitton, David Webb and a number of hotels and lodging chains.
artmarket inc.!

new york times (in marketing, art is the thing).

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

“You basically have to treat Art Basel Miami Beach like Vegas”

nate freeman comments artvapity in this article for the new york times.

not to appear pecksniffian at this early stage: art and parties are siblings.

only that,
... the sheer volume of events (dinners, cocktails and blowout parties) not related to art this year is deafening. Sure, the art fairs still display paintings at gobsmacking prices during the day, but the serious art folk are getting sick of the nighttime excess.
serious artfolk?

this is when one needs the right artglasses to properly take pleasure in the spectacle. coming to art basel (an art fair known for its delirium factor) and pretend to brush off its cultural excess is decidedly amateurish. art today is in company of the market. being together, closely supporting each other's goals.

freeman elaborates a bit on the nature of "the company":
But they pale in comparison this year to the flood of parties not related to art but with tie-ins to luxury brands, alcohol sponsors, fashion labels and boutiques. One public relations firm has compiled a party calendar that runs 14 pages and includes 27 events on Tuesday alone, including a fashion show, a brunch for a pop-up store and a dinner for a new furniture line.
27 non-art events on tuesday alone! who doubts that art is a company of the market?

artmarket inc.

so, partygoers of the world, here is a curated list of some of the best art basel's soirees, shindigs and fete champetre:

1- White Cube’s poolside party at the Soho Beach House, 2- Aby Rosen’s A-list dinner at the Dutch and 3- the opening and V.I.P. dinner for the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami’s winter exhibition (this time, for Tracy Emin). 4- The Pérez Art Museum Miami opening, with a series of private brunches, V.I.P. previews and dinners. and this one for celeb hunters: 5-  a performance of Kanye West & artist Vanessa Beecroft @ Mana Wynwood, a sprawling production village in the Miami Art District.

one may ask why are parties so crucial to the miami art basel mystique? parties are catalysts for artmarket inc., that is to say art being the spiritual veneer of the duality (scaffolded by the market).  parties are to the artmarket what enzymes are to organisms: their function is to increase & speed up chemical reactions. 

but let's not stereotype artbasel-party-goers as decadent souls. they are just regular joes who feel as if they are basking in this experience of spectacle conventions we refer to as culture. & what's wrong with that? nothing, except that these conventions are the very stage of operations of artmarket inc.: a socially-induced form of massive self-blinding.

for instance, a leandra medine is quoted in the piece --as candid and oblivious as when these species  utter opinions: "I don't have a relationship with the art world in any profound capacity, so for me it's just a way for me to unwind."

sure, let's unwind. viva the market!

Friday, November 22, 2013


alfredo triff

francis bacon's famous triptych sold for 142 million!

never mind the bloomberg article's babbling. most of the reasons offered beg the question:

artauction is A1,
arthing is A2,

1- A1 functions as a symbolic mediation. a pivot of trading & exchange: $ for commodities.
2- A2 & A1, are presently co-dependent. yes, arthings can function as art (whatever that received notion of art was is of no importance now) but they play as Wertform, i.e., imponderables on the surface (what curators and other art connoisseurs of today refer to as aesthetics, culture & whatnot).
3- behind the scenes, A2 functions as A1's screen of arthoodication.
4- without A1's presentation, A2 lacks valueability (what traders generally refer to as "market price"). as such, arthings don't mean a thing without A1's public awe-inducing sell-offs.
5- arthings are not "usable," yet they remain abracadabraistically "autonomous."

how come?    

here aesthetics makes an entrance by the hand of the art establishment. the received narrative is that arthings refer to themselves. they are "intrinsic" in that they don't satisfy a "real" but a "spiritual" need. A2 satisfies -not a biological but- a cultural need. arthings can be seen as sophisticated ciphers, i.e., objects with a Familienähnlichkeit of cultural status & dominance. it's a cliche to observe that for men cars are power objects, symbols of virility, strength, achievement and coolness, and that they may use cars to project this image to compensate for feelings of inadequacy.

same with collectors and arthings. A2 is ostentatiously presented and consumed & talked about primarily for their cultural valueability. yet, it's of the essence that valueability becomes veiled or disappears altogether.

why? as in magic, valueability's question-begging power must be preserved and nurtured as an "ideal," for its own sake. but then, why are the armies of curators and art personnel ready to arthoodicate it?

perhaps arthings are supposed to express and inhere something they basically lack.