Friday, September 30, 2016

aren't you "so" sick?



(to my phi classes)

"so" has exploded in our social consciousness as sine qua non ideatory crutch. 

the understanding of human communication is essential for our human interaction. but a great deal of human communication, i maintain, is just memetics.

we just repeat what's "out there" as a way of coping with social pressure.

we adapt rather than starting from scratch.

remember when the filler "like" swallowed the double proposition "as if"?

specialists from anthropology and neuroscience argue that imitation may improve overall social performance. further, imitation may solve the figuring of top-down complex sets of rules that could otherwise prove redundant. and here comes good old grammar.

grammarians out there: is it really a psycholinguistic/evolutionary goal of homo sapiens to (speak) (write) clearly?

to the point, we're living amidst a "so" epidemics.

let's go over the purported grammar of "so,"

1- a conjunctive adverb for consequence, as "i took my umbrella with me, so i didn't get wet" 
2- the pervasive explanatory "so that," as  "i'm being clear, so that there's no misunderstanding"
3- addition, as "i moved to miami, and so did my friend John"
4- degree, as "this pudding is so good"
5- confirmation, as "i don't think so"

still, it's clear that our "so" epidemics exceeds any possible grammatical usage in 1-5, 

what if babbling is an evolutionary form of social bonding?

we're infected. it's a fact. all you have to do is take a video of yourself talking and play it back. 

you'll be surprised at the finding. 

i was.

why more art and less diversity?


aLfrEdo tRifF

there is a growing trend amongst art theorists that more art is produced today than ever before, and yet, today's art has less stylistic diversity.

why?

there are four main hypotheses:

1- the "avantgarde-centrist" argument: (stemming from greenberg's early formalism and subsequent developments) modernity stimulated exploration, while postmodernity thrives on revision. there is no way back to modernity.  

2- the "art/market redundancy" argument (a bit more complicated): 

we have two protagonists: the art system and the art market.

art system (art schools, curators, museums, artcubes) art market (art auctions)

previous "X" trends, favored by the market & deemed successful become favored by the art system. once the "X" flatlines, the market automatically makes room for "Y" trends, which will be provided by the art system.

the second side of the equivalence has been tackled by baudrillard in his the conspiracy of art.

3- the "end of art" argument: take 1- in the list and add hegel's end of art thesis. in other words, there's nothing else to discover.

4- contemporary art is exhausted: there simply no much more to invent from (this argument resembles the early 20th century skepticism towards the growth of physics, before einstein's relativity and quantum mechanics).

so, more sameness, less stylistic diversity.

is 1-4 true? and if so, which hypothesis is better?

(i will discuss this in a forthcoming post)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

what is artforuming?


aLfrEdo tRifF

at some point during the late 1990s the task given to art writers was to pack less content per article as the publication packed more content per page (see that these are functions with diametrically opposite curves).

what happened? the media industry offered a miscellanea of reasons:

*"higher amount of characters per column interferes with brain's ability to scan through text easily,"
* "the quartz curve: fast and focused and shareable, but not long enough to be a pay-off for readers,"
*"shorter articles are shared more often,"
*"less is more" (dah)
* "SEO favors leanness"
* "the attention span of a regular reader is 9 sec."

wasn't that always the case for the average reader?

never mind, the constant remains,

content = $elling content. 

which, in the context of contemporary art means,

short reviews = $ale$ pitches (disguised as art fact$).

with more content variety one would expect more stylistic diversity. instead, artforum has built a stylistic homogeneity, which oscillates between the brainiac (either theory-laden or theory-related), to epiphanic rantings (the kantian-sublime-prop implicit). many of these reviews feel unconvinced, as if the text vacillates between the needed pitch to $ell and ramain true to one's own duty of good faith to the public after all these are persons, not artforum robots.  

in short,    

artforuming
Hanne Darboven’s systematic output is intimidating, partly due to its inscrutability but mostly because of its scope and ambitionThis is serious work, as in labor, and it is displayed here to a rare enough degree that initial feelings of awe turn into a strange sense of gratitude.
above is a typical example by reviewer Honora Shea. after the epiphanic declaration in yellow comes a faux pas:
"... this is serious work."  
as if one didn't get a goody load in the first sentence, i.e.,

"systematic," "intimidating," "inscrutability," "scope" & "ambition."

not just work, but "serious work." what's the difference? you expect to move into darvoben's work. yet,
"... as in labor."
as in labor? what else would work mean if not, well, labor?

if one errs once one may err twice:
"... and it is displayed here to a rare enough degree."
rare enough degree?  

(so that),
... initial feelings of awe turn into a strange sense of gratitude. 
me too share the awing for artforuming.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

more conspiracy theories at The Federalist. Why not? It works

a composite image of multicultural London

aLfrEdo tRifF

I was sent this article in The Federalist, published by Franklin Einspruch. I take the occasion to congratulate him for his piece,

and to argue this sentence:
It’s plain fact that political correctness and multiculturalism derive from notions hailing from the Frankfurt School, which in turn took its cues from Karl Marx.
What an irony, like Trump, Einspruch uses "political correctness" unproblematically. I bring Trump up because he's the man of the moment, misrepresenting ideals of pluralistic tolerance as a sign of decadence within American culture.

eugenics poster in 1920s America

Let's venture a provisional definition of political correctness:

A disposition of speech act awareness and tolerance towards others.     

We've committed these words to the trash can:

1- "n_gg_r",
2- "retarded" or "mongolic," instead of "mentally disabled or challenged"
3- "faggot," (for homosexual)
4- "Indian," (referring to Native Americans)
5- "mankind," (instead of "humankind"),
6- "bum," (instead of "homeless"),
7- "whore," (instead of "prostitute" or "sex worker"*), and so on.

Why?

Because words are used in specific historic contexts, and the wronged party has a right to be heard. I cannot speak for a black person offended at the word in 1-. I simply haven't lived his experience. So I defer the usage for the sake of understanding.

Which doesn't prevent me from understanding Kant's use of Menschheit for "humanity." See, "mankind" was not a problem back in 1790s. Today it feels inconsiderate towards women.

meanwhile Trumps ridicules any overture for more conscientious usage

Politically incorrect people don't get it. This is not a fight for the purity of words. No word is pure. In fact, there is nothing essentially wrong with the words in 1-7. Usage is always conventional! But that doesn't mean that convention doesn't matter. It does. A word's meaning has a limited time scope (what, three generations?). New contexts bring forth new meanings. It's conceivable that some of the words in 1-7 may come back clean from their previous dirty dealings. For that to happen the context would have to be very different.

As Wittgenstein made clear, meaning is usage. Usage reflects who we are as people at a given time. And we should be willing to negotiate usage in order to build a better, more civilized pluralistic society.

But why am I wasting your time? Trump's list of politically incorrect Trumpisms is sufficient proof that political incorrectness is a smokescreen for an essentialistic unitary ideology unwilling to negotiate language & speech acts for the sake of social cooperation.

What a waste of time to fight over a word that clearly offends someone.**

Next claim:
 ... multiculturalism derive from notions hailing from the Frankfurt School 
baloney. 

"Multiculturalism," the concept, emerges in the 1980s when the Frankfurt School generation has already disappeared. Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Marcuse are all dead by the late 1970s.**

You will not find the word "multiculturalism" in any of their canonical texts.

What today is referred to as "multiculturalism" emerges from a series of world events:
1- the end of World War II in Europe,
2- the multinational influence of the United Nations in global affairs,
3- the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination (1965-1969),
4- the end of colonialism in Africa and parts of Asia,
4- the Civil Rights Movement & the passing of affirmative action laws in the US,
5- the trends in migration in the 1970s,

By the 1980s, these diverse processes bring forth ideological, legal & economic shifts that include regionalist, ethnic and gender equality legislations within Europe and the USA. It's the outcome of these processes what we know today as multiculturalism. Only then, one begin to find these early texts addressing the idea of multiculturalism.

Let's investigate this supposed link between the Frankfurt School and Multiculturalism, by taking a look at the sources which make up for said "connection."

1- The first generation of texts on multiculturalism happens in the early 1990s, with authors like, Iris Marion Young's Justice and the Politics of Difference, Nathan Glazer's We Are All Multiculturalists Now, Amy Guttman's "The Challenge of Multiculturalism" in PPPA,  22:3, 1993, Dave Hollinger's Post-Etchnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, etc. By the 2000s we get a second generation of texts which incorporate the post 9-11 and post-War contexts of Afghanistan and Iraq: Again, Will Kymlicka's 2005 Multicultural Odysseys, Multiculturalism and Political Theory by Laden, A.S., and D. Owen (eds.) 2007, Multiculturalism without Culture by Anne Phillips, 2007, etc (by no means I pretend to exhaust these primary sources). 

2- If the connection between Multiculturalism and the Frankfurt School was obvious, you would expect a consensus amongst reputed conservative scholars opposing multiculturalism to share it. But this is not the case.

In his Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America (1997), Alvin Schmidt has a whole chapter for Marx's influence in multiculturalism. Not a single reference to the Frankfurt School is found. In his Perils of Diversityconservative author Byron M. Roth argues against a liberal pro-Marxist academic establishment in the USA and the West, but doesn't mention the Frankfurt School by name. On the often consulted The Disuniting of America by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., where the author examines the idea of multiculturalism in detail, the Frankfurt School never appears as a influence. Yes, there is one quote in Allan Bloom's famous 1987 Closing of the American Mind on page 65, where he mentions the Frankfurt School by name. So what?

Is Einspruch not reading too much into Marxist conspiracy theories?

Finally, even if one could find authors connecting the Frankfurt School with "multiculturalism," that doesn't mean that the latter derive from notions hailing from the former. 

Simply because contiguity is not a necessary condition for causation.  

(And to think that Einspruch's piece in The Federalist is filed under "Philosophy")

__________________
* I've learned "sex workers" from my abolitionist students. I'm at the border here: There is plenty of good literature treating the subject as "prostitution." But "sex workers" makes perfect sense, if one holds an abolitionist view. **Imagine a Trumpian defense: "Why should I change usage, if all I mean is the original word as it was used back in the time?" Because when one utters: "retarded" in a class, for example, a disabled student may be offended appealing to "back in the time" only refers to an earlier context where we didn't know better). ***There are other thinkers, which have been quite important for early multicultural thought, for example, Charles Taylor, his Multiculturalism and The Politics of Recognition is a required reading on the topic, as is Will Kymlicka's Multicultural Citizenship

Monday, September 26, 2016

Art Criticism vs. Artblicity

 down with thumbs up!

alFreDo tRifF

Our epoch is defined by two distinct & opposing modes of discourse: Art criticism and Art publicity (Artblicity from here on). The latter owns the show. The former is hibernating. For how long?

To bring Art criticism back we need to stop taking for granted the platitudinal, unproblematic picture presented  and defended– by the artMarket and its minions.

Here is a tentative manifesto:

Artblicity presents advocacy as a blessed redundancy: the advocacy is justified merely by its provenance, its provenance by the $ale$.

Artblicity represents an abduction of critique for the sake of cultural entertainment. Its social media equivalent is Facebook Thumbs up!

By leveling pervading conflicts of interests, Artblicity homogenizes positions and disagreements. This process I have called arthoodication.

Being the mouth-piece of the artmarket, Artblicity is opportunistic & sensationalistic. Hyperbole wins the the masses' approval.

Artblicity stereotypes and distorts art & art discourse with travesties of theory (whether formalism, lacanian or freudian psychoanalysis, diverse forms of post-structuralism, hermeneutics, and other subjectivisms). The more arcane the better.

Artblicity turns art discourse into *art fat*.

Artblicity is epiphanic. Masses have a propensity to happily to embrace artMarket's hubristic Logorrhea. 

Artblicity doesn't really address the art. The art is left at the periphery in favor of perceptions of mea$ure$.

Artblicity pretends neutrality on stage while letting conflicts of interest through the back door.

Artblicity reaffirms commodity fetishism by turning a blind eye to the dirty dealings of the artMarket.

Artblicity is structurally & politically disconnected from reality. Money talks! 


In clear opposition to the former:

Art criticism stirs debate, fosters discussion, and reframes positions.

Art criticism is adversarial, not hostile.

Art criticism is committed to exposing the coverups & lousy dealings of the artMarket and its institutions.

Art criticism fights Artblicity's platitudes & distortions.

Art criticism rewards critical courage: Call a spade a spade!

Art criticism is acerbic & lean.

Art criticism is an inter-subjective social practice not a solipsistic ideological masturbation. Don't forget the juice!

Art criticism fights digressions and non-sequiturs with clear explanations. If nobody understands it you don't understand it.

Art criticism is pluralistic.

Art criticism identifies derivative art by:

1- seeking originality, novelty and richness, while,
2- unmasking contemporary art's artfair art, artlibor, arthoodication,
3- deferring easy praise in favor of judicious patience,

Art criticism's relationship with other art practices is unstable, incomplete, uncomfortable and enriching.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Inverse: a convergence of hubris & bad theory in contemporary art

laura lima's the inverse (photo: fredrik nilsen studio)

alFreDo tRiFf

This interesting article, written by Monica Uszerowicz for Hyperallergic got my attention. It reviews Brazilian artist Laura Lima's recent show @ ICA, entitled The Inverse. 

here's Uszerowicz's description:
... a massive swath of rope, deep blue and thickly knotted, traverses the entirety of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami’s Atrium Gallery, looping itself over beams and columns and scraping the floor. The varying thickness and gradient of color throughout renders the rope an overwhelming morass of textures, and at any level of the space from which it is viewed it’s difficult to determine if it’s one rope or many.
it continues:
... the rope, gradually dwindling in size, ends in a makeshift room where, as outlined by the artist’s intent, it “merges with a female body.” To be clear, the rope ends in the woman’s vagina, sheathed, as it were, by a finger cot — a detail not explicitly shared with museumgoers.
you get the picture by looking at the photo above. Lima's installation looks imposing, except that one has to look carefully (behind one of the four central columns towards the back) at the protruding, tiny human lower extremities.

This is what happens next:
A few of the performers, unsurprisingly, felt uncomfortable with the rope’s placement; one in particular, who thought insertion was optional, felt coerced. Though it’s described in more detail here, there seems to have been some miscommunication: the ICA’s staff didn’t want their performers forced into anything that made them uncomfortable; meanwhile, Lima insisted on the insertion of the rope as essential to the piece — to her understanding, it was empowering.
How is that "empowering?  Here's Lima's justification:
I set the piece up so that you have to move yourself to discover its details. There are many things that arrive at the perception of the viewer — some are more important than the others — and I like that some of it gets lost. It’s not going to be obvious. You don’t know what’s going on behind the wall — but she is there. She knows a lot about the piece, and she is committed to engaging with the idea. In some ways, this is a universal subject, for centuries or millenniums, this subject of women. It is a more empowering thing. They are going to do it by themselves and they are, in a certain way, the ones who will take care of the piece.
I call this bad theory: The performer is, "there," ... "knows a lot about the piece," presumably because, (ahem) she inserts the rope inside her vagina? And she is "going to do it" and is, "in a certain way, the one who takes care of the piece."

Behind Lima's galimatias of empty constatations one can detect reified theory threads to buttress a system geared to legitimize contemporary art's presentations. I call this hubristic process arthoodication.* 

Meanwhile, Uszerowicz acknowledges that "a few of the performers, unsurprisingly, felt uncomfortable with the rope's placement." She tries hard to negotiate a mid point between her journalistic voice (in green below) and Lima's own (in red):
... by hiding this hugely important component of the show, Lima hopes that it will affect the viewer’s understanding of the work in some subconscious way. And maybe silently holding the literal end of the rope inside one’s own body could feel somehow special, even if it is a secret and especially if Lima had previously discussed it with the performer at length.
This is how Uszerowicz presents the disconnect between Lima's demands and the performers' reports:
Taken from the perspective of the artist-as-designer but not participant, these ideas seem reasonable.
"Reasonable?" Methinks too charitable.

How is the insertion of the rope inside a performer's vagina subconsciously relevant, whatever that means from a psychological standpoint (I'm just trying to fathom a science that could articulate Lima's declarations) if the performer only shows —as Uszerowicz explains,
... her feet... poking through a mouse-sized hole in the room’s wall?
and how could anyone in the audience address a performer's mental states by just looking at her legs!

Consciousness is exclusively a first-person report. The only way to address "conscious" or "subconscious" behavior is to obtain a performer's report, which is what Uszerowicz does in her piece.** In fact, her unease with The Inverse transpires in the piece's title: "When a Body is Reduced to Materiality for an Artwork."

Yet, as much as Uszerowicz digs into it, she cannot bring herself to shake her dithering between justifying Lima's demands, on aesthetic grounds, and her misgivings that these demands cause the performers emotional distress.

My position is that Lima's insertion demands make no sense within the aesthetic scope of The Inverse. Why? Because the performer's behavioral interaction with the public is minimal, a mere lie-there on the floor for three hours, inside a wall, showing one's legs through a hole. Furthermore, if inserting a rope inside the performer's vagina makes no difference to the piece, then the undue emotional stress caused to the performers is wrong. 

There is more: In a second article, Claire Voom confirms the performers' reports:
When Lima entered, she asked if Performer A was wearing underwear and replied, “Perfect” when she said she was not. Lima made her change into a beige dress to match her skin tone, complete with a sewn-on flap meant to cover her genitals as she lay down. Lima also placed a finger cot on the rope and handed her lubricant, telling her the penetration wouldn’t hurt.
This is what matters: the performer's first-person report:
I felt so lost and alone ... I was hoping for someone to enter the room and speak to Laura. … Laura handed me the lube and said, ‘OK, now put it inside of you. I will be waiting for you on the other end of the wall. … Don’t worry, you are safe. I’m watching you, and no one can see.’
performer A adds,
But I wasn’t safe ... I felt like I had no choice, and I also felt completely responsible for it because I didn’t say no. I inserted the rope. I laid down, and she adjusted my legs and opened them. She whispered through the hole, ‘Good, now everyone can see you.’ I started to cry. Something changed; I wasn’t the same. I was waiting for her to leave so I could remove the rope because there was so much discomfort. I peered through the opening, and once she left, I pulled it out and hid it by the side of my leg. 
This is a new detail: Even if the performer silently cried inside her hole, the audience would not have noticed. Behavior is by definition response to external stimuli. Only in this case, the performer's response doesn't matter. What if Lima showed the performer's face? I'm speculating, but at least the performer would've had the proper outlet to negotiate her emotional distress with the audience (as Levinas suggests, the face is a powerful medium for emotional redemption).

Visualize a troop of Lacanian feminists, taking issue with Lima's The Inverse. They take the structuralist approach (i.e., the artist's intentions are secondary to the work's reception) and decide to charge Lima with outdated patriarchal forms of female fetishization to please Eurocentric aesthetic modes of reception (evidently, a charge as hubristic as Lima's demands).

One last point: there is no question that these events are now part of The Inverse and Lima's resume. Perhaps after this reality check, she will modify her future performative demands. But then again, given the media attention received in Miami, perhaps not.

___________________
* What I mean by this is not a judgment against theory, nor contemporary art, but the hubristic confluence of both. ** A propos of bad theory, William James makes this point about first-person report: "human experience prevents the imposition of conceptual fixities."

Monday, September 19, 2016

The art publicist: the new associate of the art market



The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses…Works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish."-- Theodor Adorno.

Alfredo Triff

Since the deregulation of the media in the mid-1990s and the corporatization of art market in the 2000s criticism has waned to the pòint of extinction.1 There's a new focus in the practice of art reception. Writers do not feel they have to evaluate anymore. Instead, they produce eleemosynary commentaries. What happened? 

There is no art, only "art events"

Corollary 1: Art is defined and consumed by "how," "when," and "where" it is presented. The "event" is (controlled by) the market. 

Damien Hirst's For the Love of God, a $100 M 8,601-diamond skull.  

This is how Isabel Graw, professor of Art History and Theory at Stadelschule Art Academy in Frankfurt describes it:
I think that we are actually dealing with a gradual shift concerning the relationship between art and the market, and this shift is reflected in the market's increased power of definition over what is regarded as a meaningful work of art. In other words, what has changed for artistic production since the '60s and '80s is the very structure of its universe -which has become a mass corporate industry embracing the logic of celebrity culture. 2a
James Panero writes:
The art market has a unique talent for promoting art about the market. Since exhibition history enhances value, the collectors of what we might call "market art" have a vested interest in seeing their work take up space in traditional public collections. They often have the financial leverage to make it happen. In this way, the hedge-fund collector Steven A. Cohen could place Damien Hirst's shark tank on temporary loan at the Metropolitan Museum. The oversized trinkets of Jeff Koons start appearing at the same time in the museum’s rooftop gallery.
During the Twentieth Century, art criticism was defined as a practice of judging. The phenomenon of the art market was mentioned only tangentially -as appreciation or depreciation of the artwork's value. This value was seen within the classic Capitalist picture of  supply and demand. In this version, the market is a transparent medium, an invisible hand reflecting the artist's overall worth in a world of free consumers. Something else added to the market mystique: Both Kant and Marx's elucidation of art as non-instrumental and non-productive respectively yielded the art market as spontaneous catalyst of human interests, a necessary vehicle to distribute taste (Kant) or propagate culture (Marx).

At the receiving end, critics were outsiders to the dealings between collectors, curators, gallerists and museum-directors. Profit and its political ramifications never got addressed in the writing.2b The real productive and speculative dynamics behind the art was ignored. Two very different discourses were taking place: the public ramblings of the critic and the private behind-the-scenes money-talk of art transactions.

Was the critic aware?

 Clement Greenberg, the quintessential Modern critic.

Until the 1970s, the art market kept this old-school Fordist touch of conventional respectability. Collecting was a practice of the very rich. Artist's marketability was measured in terms of constancy: producing, showing and being collected over time. "The art market is boiling with an activity never known before in history," wrote Eric Hodgins and Parker Leslie in an article published for Fortune Magazine in 1955. "Against the rising demand for art, the available floating supply of Great Art is an ever shrinking quantity" (my italics). Hodgins & Parker predicted that this market would not only grow but would "turn increasingly to modern and contemporary art" (in hindsight, a pretty sound projection). The magazine listed "speculative or "growth painters" (their version of today's "emergent artist"): Kooning, Pollock, Baziotes, Motherwell, Still, Reinhardt, and Kline, amongst others.

This is the Greenbergian moment of art criticism. A moment of trend-setting and discovering "high art," which bathed the critics, artists and market in a glow of prestige. Then the market exploded at Sotheby's Scull Auction of 1973, the event which marked, not only the rise in prices, but also the dominance of money in any discussion of contemporary art.


Critic Barbara Rose, reported the 1973 auction for The New York Magazine:
They (The Sculls) learned how to turn themselves into objects through packaging (Mrs. Scull appeared to have had everything lifted for the occasion), media exposure, and sheer, unadulterated chutzpa. The Sculls transformed their banal, nouveau riche selves into personalities by not being afraid to own up to being all that was considered lowbrow, déclassé, grasping, and publicity-seeking. They made a thing out of being vulgar, loud, and over dressed. They were, in short, shameless; and it was their shamelessness that finally got them the spotlight they ached for. 
Rose's personal account of the whole episode misses the real reason behind the sale: What happens with the Scull Auction is that the aristocracy's dominance of the market is over. After 1973 the art market explodes and goes "public." It shifts from individuals actors selling and buying and collecting to new techniques of profit.

Accumulation gives way to speculation.    

Andy Warhol's 200 One Dollar Bills sold for $49 M in New York (i.e, a plain demonstration of the magic of the market: each Warhol dollar is now worth $245,000!).

If art accrues meaning according to how it's talked about and presented, then one could see the art-publicist-turned-"critic" as a tacit ally of the market: a framer, an apologist of goods, a middleman who is apt to translate pictorial codes into clear a language of commodity exchange. From the 1960s to the 1990s, as artists happily rallied behind this legitimation process, collectors were happy to invest and museums to acquire and to show.

The critic got displaced by a better trained creature in the art of legitimizing art. This description of the curator by Michael Brenson is worth a treasure:
Not only an organizer, but a person that can think imaginatively about the points of compatibility and conflict among the different artworks. They must be at once aestheticians, diplomats, economists, critics, historians, politicians, audience developers, and promoters. They must be able to communicate not only with artists but also with community leaders, business executives, and heads of state. They must be comfortable with people who have devoted their lives to art and culture, with people who neither like nor trust art, and with people who may be willing, if they are convinced that art serves their interests or is sufficiently connected to their lives, to be won over by an artist or an exhibition. 3
The artist as financial-chart (taken from art.net.com.). For the first time, the market unapologetically presents artists as commodities.

Curators become the publicists of art par excellence. Here is how Panero characterizes the curator's attitude to the market:
Curators defend such expensive contemporary work as relevant to the commercialism of the age: the market gives meaning to the art. The public meanwhile gravitates to such contemporary art because the public sees its own profligacy reflected in it—an attitude that the public then feels justified in maintaining.4a
Today, as the art market bypasses the critic, the writer regurgitates the supply side, blind to what's going on behind the scenes. Critic Stephen Melville explains:
The critic mostly does not travel in these circles, does not get about these ways, and is now more often than not a distinctly belated arrival in front of the work that has already been received, swathed in discourse, located and described, and often enough, sold. 4b
The market needs fresh stock.

Corollary 2: By ignoring art's political alignment, the critic misses the best part of the story. 

As critic Boris Groys puts it, "what matters in a review is which artists are mentioned, where and how long they are discussed. Everything else is everything else." 5 Being already squeezed out the market side of the equation, the critic-turned-art/writer has no choice but to get closer to his public, to become a "cultural commentator." Meanwhile, the public is ignorant as to why they were presented this or that art/product.

Is this dumbing down of art discourse the market's version of "cultural education" for the masses? 6

Corollary 3: The critic art publicist no longer affects what is seen and discussed. He/she is a hired scribbler.

It makes (Capitalist) sense! As the market creates new desires for mass spectacle, it keeps circulating newer art/products. The media, as the market's selling arm, repackages art commodities as "art/events" to a public avid for cultural spectacle. Art/writing legitimizes cultural commodities.

Pamela Anderson arrives @ Miami Art Basel (with David La Chapelle).

"art experience" = "cultural phenomenon."

"emergent art" is a carefully orchestrated assembly-line choreography.

so, "art experience" (the opposite of what it presupposes) simulates and disguises the reality of what is being shown.

Have direct access to culture!

Pamela Anderson's (photo-op performance?) at Miami Art Basel.

Corollary 4: How do the media presents the market's case? Fabricating a narrative and making it familiar. What is accessible and heavily promoted becomes desired.

The art publicist is a mouthpiece of the market.7

The predominant art/writing style in journalism (newspapers, weeklies, non-specialized magazines) consists of a formulaic pottage between commentary and descriptive platitudes. A frustrated critic puts it this way:
As we read the review of the art show, we are told of its social flavor, made by incidental side comments. We understand the writer's intentions and preferences. So we are presented with the artist's judgments, not the critics'.  Why is judgment shunned? 8 
Onajide Shabaka, photo, (2008).

Contemplation of art takes second seat to the enjoyment of the art-spectacle: 

Friends With You Art Parade, Art Basel, (2006).

As the market gets bigger, it has a way to become omniscient. Take for instance  Mark Spiegler, co-director of Art Basel. In this interview one can tell how hard he tries not to become identified with the market he represents, to distance himself from it, to avoid words such as "speculation," "volatility," (to suggest that people who collect don't speculate).

The market always presents itself as "OTHER." 

Corollary 5: Being outside, consumers feel they are "free" to make choices, to -even- reject the market. 

Here is a bit of another interview:
Steven Kobler: With the hype art has been experiencing for a couple of years now, the market has taken over the final say on the relevancy of an artist to a museum. Are the market mechanisms dangerous for the function of art in society?

Mark Spiegler: We don’t agree that the market replaces museums in determining the relevance of an artist. In fact, one could argue the reverse: Major museum shows have an enormous impact upon the market of an artist. And when it comes to determining which artists have a lasting relevance, it is not the art market but rather the artists themselves who play the largest role- followed closely by those writing art history (my italics).
Does Spiegler need to say more?
_______
1 This has been the central argument of media critic Ben H. Bagdikian, for whom the media in general, and newspapers in particular, are increasingly controlled by "a new kind of central authority over information -the national and multinational corporation." So, how independent is the media today when profit and shortermism rule editorial policies? See Who Owns the Media? Competition and Concentration in the Mass Media Industry, Benjamin M. Compaine, Douglas Gomery Eds, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000). 2a"Art and Its Markets," Artforum International (Volume: 46, April, 2008).   2b I had this experience recently. After being commissioned to write a review for Darby Bannard's retrospective in Miami, I submitted my review. It was rejected by the Miami Herald editor because it was "more about me than about Bannard." I had to provide my readers with a picture of "Bannard the person" (the person was more important than his pictures in the show!). 3 "The Curator's Moment", Michael Brenson, Art Journal (Volume: 57. Issue: 4, 1998).  4a Boris Groys, "Critical Reflections," Art Forum (October, 1997). 4b"The Art Market Explained" James Panero, The New Criterion, (Volume 28, December 2009), p. 26. 5 As a writer, I always felt as an outsider, having the choice of looking at the art -or look at the dealings behind the art presented. For reasons that I cannot pursue in this piece, I decided for the former.  "Is This Anything", in The State of Art Criticism, (Routledge, New York, 2008), p. 114. Art Basel Miami Beach, was triggered by a willful group of Miami collectors. They lured curators, which lured the investors. In all these art transactions, the critic is always left out. Getting too close to the work has its dangers: criticism eventually disappears, as buffer of taste between the art and the much needed evaluative practice of art. Think of the media mobilization behind Art Basel/Miami Beach, our yearly 3-day art-extravaganza. ABMB brings much needed revenue to Miami. More importantly, it brings cultural cache. Imagine what this mobilization of resources means for the institutionalization -and homogenization- of the market in terms of curatorial & museum practices. 7 Take for instance the "Best Of" practice of weeklies, such as The Miami New Times. Who makes the call for what's Best Of? If the writer, it presents a serious conflict of interest. The paper's editor's conflicts come with the territory: It's called "art assignment." Full disclosure: While I worked at the Miami New Times for almost 7 years, I never participated in "Best Of" decisions. How about the conflicts of interest between the curator/writer, the curator/artist, the curator/artist/writer/promoter? There is also the collector/writer. He gets the best of both worlds!  8 Tom Romley, "Who is the critic?" The Evening Standard (London, May 2007).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016