Monday, October 31, 2016

My facebook comment protocol

Closing this election cycle and we see ourselves amidst facebook defriendings and unfriendings with salvos of impolite discourse, vulgarity, ad hominem & hyperbolic rantings.

A veritable feast of uncritical thinking.

It's not difficult to surmise what this "battle of ideas" amount to: Lots of posturing and little arguments.

I'd suggest coming back to Wittgenstein's idea of Sprachspiel.  For Wittgenstein, meaning and understanding is embedded in language games we play. For some time the left and the right of our political spectrum have retreated into their own language games, which makes communication between opposing factions virtually impossible.

One is aghast at the emotional excess of our discussions. Even in this microuniverse called facebook, we should observe a minimum of decorum.

Our political discourse has descended into a protracted senseless folly.

Like the Chinese, I propose five points:

1- Let's conduct ourselves alwayswith civility.
2- Let's not win a point when by doing so we make ourselves look like bullies. Knowing when to retreat speaks of prudence and self-government.
3- Facebook is a public forum. There are people watching and judging. Getting good grades on politeness is always a plus.
4- If your friend and you don't agree on political issues, stop flogging the horse.
5- There is always the editing tool. If I say something I don't feel proud of, I can always edit my comment, rather than leaving a record of my nastiness in the eyes of the world.

Until the next elections!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The aftertaste of gentrification

Alfredo Triff

Is gentrification good or bad? The answer to the question is somewhat complex because the idea of gentrification is simultaneously denounced and defended by opposing sides of the political spectrum. Let's try to move beyond "binary thinking" and examine the roots of the ideological debate.

There is a "production side" theory advocated by Neil Smith, professor of anthropology and geography at Hunter College, and a "consumption side" hypothesis espoused by Miami architect and urban planner Andres Duany, principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. In a 1981 paper entitled "Gentrification as a Process of Uneven Development," Smith defined gentrification as a conflict between upper and lower economic classes that gives rise to racial tensions and physical dislocation. Following World War II, the market price of land in core urban areas fell behind that of the burgeoning suburbs. Property owners and other real estate interests began to disinvest from inner-city neighborhoods, which contributed to their physical deterioration. Frequent changes of ownership became commonplace, and that discouraged financial institutions from continued investment within the inner city.

What followed, according to Smith, was "redlining," the practice of withholding loans or insurance for homes considered high risk. The South Bronx in New York and Hoboken in New Jersey are well-known horror stories: Landlords no longer collected enough rent to cover basic costs, and structures were abandoned or torched for insurance payouts. Add to this bleak picture the evaporation of jobs (owing to the suburban flight of industries, governmental tax incentives for suburbia at the expense of the inner city, and the often brutal highway policies of the Sixties), and you have a recipe for poverty, deprivation, and homelessness.1

According to Smith, over time this process creates a "rent gap," which he defines as the difference between the rent commanded by a piece of inner-city land and the potential rent it could command if put to "higher and better" use. Eventually the gap grows so wide that affluent developers seize the opportunity to make profits from reinvestment and rehabilitation. Smith's theory ends up on the left end of the political spectrum. His macro-analytic approach is valuable because it explains the basis of the rent gap in the inner city and points to the social ills it creates. Smith, however, ignores and demonizes the dynamics of the middle-class urbanites (or gentrifiers) who move back to urban centers. Additionally his theory lacks empirical data in the case of younger cities with no significant industrial past, such as Miami.

Andres Duany2 is on the right side of the debate. He believes it is small-scale, middle-class entrepreneurs (instead of uncaring developers and bankers) who initiate the process of gentrification. This sector of the population rejects the cookie-cutter suburban mentality and prefers to live in the city's core. In his 2001 paper "Three Cheers for Gentrification," Duany identifies three stages of inner-city transformation: A "spontaneous" first wave of "risk-oblivious" low-income pioneers (students, artists, gays, and other self-marginalized social groups) who discover the allure of the area. Then he sees a second wave of "risk-aware" investors, mobile enough to secure loans and therefore capable of satisfying building codes and permits "that the first wave probably ignored." These are baby boomers who "enjoy the bohemian lifestyle while holding secure jobs." This is followed by a third, "risk-averse" wave, made up of "conventional developers who thoroughly smarten up the buildings through conventional real estate operations -physical renovation, improved maintenance, and organized security."

Seen from the point of view of the gentrifiers, I agree with Duany's phases. What I disagree with is how he dismisses the potential negative consequences for the people already renting and owning inner-city property before the third wave moves in. According to Duany, it's very difficult to intervene "supposedly on behalf of low-income residents because urban gentrification is organic and self-fueling. Its motive force is great urbanism." I'm surprised that Duany finds "great urbanism" more relevant than social upheaval. What is worse, he opposes one against the other.

Duany follows a pessimistic and indifferent trend akin to David Rusk's "law of urban dynamics." In his 1993 book Cities Without Suburbs Rusk declares, "Ghettos can only become bigger ghettos." Or Myron Orfield's Metropolitics, in which the author proclaims, "The lack of social mortar to hold neighborhoods together … makes economic development in extreme-poverty tracts or ghetto areas all but impossible."

Furthermore, Duany's diagnosis is incorrect. In fact there are examples of inner-city revitalization and reinvestment -even gentrification- that succeed without social displacement. Paul Grogan, in Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival, cites the South Bronx and Jersey City as areas where low-income and middle-class residents united behind nonprofit community development corporations to bring change in the form of "investment, developing or renovating property, building on assets, and generally drawing power and capital into the community rather than scaring it away." In truth the gentrifier is neither Duany's hero nor Smith's villain. I could see myself as one of them (between the first and second wave), trying to find a decent condo apartment with interesting architecture in the center city. And even if I accepted that gentrifiers are agents of change, the important question remains: Who has the real power? The answer to that, in my opinion, is indisputable: The true powers behind gentrification are the property owners, the developers, and the commercial lenders who finance them. That's the production side, not the consumption side.

And as for the initial question -is the gentrification of Miami a good thing or a bad thing? -I can answer that it depends. Miami's downtown has seen some reinvestment and revitalization, which is good. Downtown's development would add jobs, improving infrastructure, increasing tax revenues, and diminishing the trend toward suburban sprawl.

This is a different story from other neighborhoods in Miami, such as Little Haiti and Little Havana, where a residential base already exists.

If these residents were slowly evicted or bought out by the third wave of "risk averse" developers, the result would be bad gentrification. Why? Because it violates a basic principle of distributive justice: Treat people equally. Distributive justice, or welfare capitalism, is not the antithesis of free enterprise, the true fuel of gentrification. The two can coexist productively. The problem occurs when poorly managed gentrification leads to rocketing price inflation, social disruption, and a loss in cultural diversity.

I'd like to suggest a promising paradigm that shifts away from ideology. I'm referring to the idea of "cultural capital," a term coined by sociologist Sharon Zukin in her book Loft Living, a study of the gentrification in New York City's SoHo district during the Sixties and Seventies. Gentrification for Zukin results from a combination of culture and capital that generates urban cosmopolitanism. Her account of Sixties Manhattan surprisingly resembles today's Miami.

According to Zukin, as postwar New York replaced prewar Paris as the center of culture, the art world began generating tourism revenue and bringing prestige to the city. In the Fifties, Manhattan's upper-class elite discovered that modern art could work as an important urban and economic power. A change of the urban fabric was initiated by artists themselves, who fought a war with landlords, city agencies, and zoning laws for recognition and support of their lifestyle in the city's once-derelict industrial spaces.

Thanks to the artists' perseverance, an aesthetic and economic rebirth of those vacant warehouse districts began to take shape. The "artist's loft" of the Sixties became a symbol of urbanity and consumption of culture. By the Seventies the metamorphosis was legitimized when artists won the legal right to reside in loft spaces in key sections of lower Manhattan. Also in the Seventies, ironically, SoHo underwent Duany's third phase of gentrification. When real estate developers discovered the potential gold mine, the less prosperous among the cultural proletariat were priced out of the very area they had helped revitalize. They were forced to leave and begin the cycle anew in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Perth Amboy. Today Brooklyn arguably has a more exciting art scene than Manhattan.

Will Miami's Wynwood neighborhood resemble the earlier phase of Lower Manhattan's renaissance?

We have to wait and see. Wynwood had a defining moment from 2004-2007, when Real Estate interests came, bought and built, followed by brand name commercial developments along North Miami Avenue.3 That was then. With the Real Estate Bust of 2008-2009 it seems as if gentrification may have slowed down. But it's only temporary. Though Real Estate prices have come down considerably, bank restructuring has made lending even tougher for low middle-class people. And there is unemployment: Our jobless rate of 11.1% is the highest among Florida's major urban counties. Builders and wealthy tenants have the means to hold and wait. Private and commercial interests can always benefit from lower condo prices.  

Our "condo-miracle" may have (temporarily) helped Miami's economic base, but it could prove costly. Why? The almost simultaneous emergence of gentrification and displacement, speculative activity, and large-scale foreclosure provides a schizoid image of a city half-phoenix /half-ashes. And in the midst of the ashes stand not only unsold condos and broken dreams, but un-housed and displaced people, a paradox of the new order.
1 For a revealing account of the Hoboken renaissance click this 1984 New York Times article by Anthony de Palma. 2The more one examines DPZ projects, the more one understands its basic tensions: 1- New Urbanism assures integration and affordability but its projects are built for the elite. Despite the best intention of planners and designers, 2- New Urbanism operates within an economic system that benefits the status quo: Developers, Real Estate and Banks interests. 3- On the surface, New Urbanism seems to contribute to more inclusive and equitable communities, but in fact it spurs the growth of exclusive developments. 4- While the public rhetoric of New Urbanism project a committment to traditional patterns, its actual approach to growth betrays modernist tactics and premises. From a post-2008 recession point of view, Duany's DPZ fares better on its "Downtown Plans" than its "Villages and Towns" (the explanation would take us beyond the topic at hand). What is left of physical and intellectual landscape? Through advertising, public order legislation, gentrification and the commodification of popular culture, Global capital has effectively appropriated the social agency to bring about conscientious change. Hence, as the Spacejackers Manifesto puts it, "to exist today means to tread on the property of other."  4 Wynwood has changed its face. Some important galleries (like Perrotin) have closed or (like Locust Projects) moved to the Design District. Some smaller galleries that populated North Miami Avenue, have moved to North West 2nd Avenue and beyond (which gallery would really treasure being next door to the West Elms, Targets and Marshalls of Miami?).

Monday, October 24, 2016

The magic power of contemporary art, or how representation hides leverage

aLfRedO tRifF

In the context of current theories of aesthetics, art theorists miss the urgency of discussing the art market and its deleterious power on art and art reception.

My thesis is that the art market can be compared to the natural science idea of depleted environment.

By "depletion" I mean a reduction in the art sphere, to adequately express aesthetic, social and political needs. 

What is the point of discussing "specificity" as a curatorial point (whether transgression or spectacle or early modernism or whatnot) if deleterious forces behind the art being presented and talked about remain absolutely intact? What's the point of hammering Schiller, Hegel, Adorno and Peter Bürger if the aesthetic discussions gloss over the very issues of these discourses address?

For example, within the bigger discussion of environment, what's the good of taking recycling for granted if,
... To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.  
In the best of possible worlds, a good citizen "recycles," and yet she's doing nothing for the environment. Of course, she'll keep recycling out of self-discipline, but she is not ready to see bad faith in the face. On the other hand, the discussion in the NYTimes shouldn't be dismissed as being "against recycling" (notwithstanding the cloying feeling of helping the planet).

This is the paradoxical nature of our CULTURE. We believe the cultural consensus because it comes down the pipe.

But what if something we take for granted is a scam?

Art defined as (re)presentation

From here on, representation will not be the old received Platonic/Aristotelian mimesis. Representation doesn't mean likeness anymore. Now it means cause/effect.

Bernheimer's now forgotten 1960s The Nature of Representation gets it right:
The function of representation is most akin to the much neglected and little known one of substitution.1 
Substitution! One thing presented in the place of another. What you see is not what's really there.

When you see a contemporary artwork in a white box, you see a different thing than what the artist made. When it's sold to a collector or auctioned, or purchased by a museum the artwork changes.

The difference between the first and the last in the series is its aggregate value.

Let's defer to the Gombrich/Danto definition of representation, and modify it a little bit:
Representation is a making present (again) of what is absent; or more formally, A is a representation of B when it can take B’s place, can function as B’s substitute or as B’s replacement in its absence.2
From the making to the presenting to the buying, each one is causing the other, each one is re-pre-sen-ting.

Let's revisit these three:

1- Making: the Romantic idea of the starving artist, the autarchic poet involved in the act of creation.
2- Presenting: The arthoodication of the whitebox.
3- Representing: The buying and collecting defined as futurity.

Why is it that the making is always made to look more crucial than the other two?

The difference between the represented 14-foot tiger shark in Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death In the Mind of Someone Living and your ordinary jaws majestically swimming in the subtropical Florida Straits is that the latter is not inside a vitrine filled with formaldehyde in a white box.

There is a bit of magic here: Aesthetically speaking The Physical Impossibility of Death is not better or worse than the Carcharodon Carcharias, it's just different.3

It's represented!!

Ξ The difference is aggregate value, i.e., a differential value defined in the future.

The magic consists in (the market) taking Ξ and substituting it as aesthetic value.

The Physical Impossibility of Death is now automatically art ("represented" as art).

Again, the causal function of representing is hidden from the artwork.

You see the art, you don't see the $futurity$.

How did it happen? Let's do a little bit of history:

First, in the political realm, substitution operates as a standard of fairness.Take Madison's Federalist #57:
Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, or religious faith, of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people. 
We know article #57 doesn't generally happen. It doesn't matter. We keep using it. We have faith in it.

Are we blind? No. We're cultured. Here is Hume explaining the power and sustenance of social conventions:
And thus justice establishes itself by a kind of convention or agreement; that is, by a sense of interest, supposed to be common to all, and where every single act is performed in expectation that others are to perform the like. Without such a convention, no one would ever have dreamed, that there was such a virtue as justice, or have been induced to conform his actions to it.
Acculturation breeds authority. (check Weber's dictum).

In the economic realm, substitution takes the status of trust. I leave you with Adam Smith:
We trust our health to the physician . . . . our fortune, and sometimes our life and reputation, to the lawyer and attorney. Such confidence could not safely be reposed in people of a very mean or low condition. Their reward must be such therefore as may give them that rank in the society which so important a trust requires.4 
Though our trust is beaten time and again, we keep paying our mutual funds fees.

In the aesthetic realm, substitution operates as a bridge between aesthetics and morality. Which is why Schiller renders "beauty" as moral excellence (Über Anmut und Würde)
What is true of the aesthetic applies also to the moral: as, in the one case, it is only a person’s morally excellent character that puts the stamp of moral quality on one of his actions, so, in the other, it is only the mature and perfect spirit from whom maturity and perfection can flow.5 
Bataille, a marxist, marveled at how fascism could be uncivilized and yet aesthetically appealing. 

I think it's time to bring these substitutions for a provisional corollary:

Contemporary art is an apparatus designed and sustained by the circulation of capital.

Of course, we should end this post with a little bit of Culture. Ready for some entertainment?

These are random comments about Hirst's piece in this website:
Sometimes I think the titles are what makes something art. This could have been called "Shark Tank" or "Thing I killed" or "Big angry thing with lots of teeth," and people would nod and walk by. But call it "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," and it's very deep and you pause and consider it way more than if the title was boring. Is it the title that makes it art, or would it still be art if Hirst had named it "Shark Tank?" 
Hirst, is this the same guy who created the butterfly exhibit that caused a great deal of controversy recently? It certainly seems like the same style.
How do you think the decay of the shark meaningful in and of itself? 
Did anyone else find it funny and a tiny bit disturbing that we can call a corpse art?
Does anybody know how old the shark is?
See? The shark discussion goes on oblivious of the "magic."

Is the environment depleted or not?  

1Richard Bernheimer, The Nature of Representation (New York: New York University Press, 1961), p. 24. 2 Ananta Sukla, Art and Representation: Contributions to Contemporary Aesthetics p. 70 3See how aesthetics is about value? Something "ugly" or "menacing" (taste attributions to a common jaws) is not what the shark really is. 4Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, p. 86 5David Pug, Dialectic of Love: Platonism in Schiller Aesthetics, (McGill-Queen University Press) p. 134.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Donald sniffing poesis

The meeting of relational aesthetics, Gober's leg and & Glenn Harper's critical platitudes

aLfReDo tRifF

Dear artists and art lovers: What's the "next thing?"*

Here is the situation: positing a "next thing" puts the claim as opposed to the morass of the "now." Bear in mind that there is no "next thing," except for a constantly-moving "now" until "next thing" opportunistically fits. And who outside the "now" can do that?

Then there is the conceptual conflict any "next thing" brings forth, namely, the double duty of simultaneously describing and 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 Glenn Harper's ponderous essay 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 have to die with "the vehicle that art grew along with?" Were these two always together?  

Methinks Harper is inclined to see a cause/effect link here. We know that "radical transformations" bring change. But that A and B are related doesn't mean that A causes B. For example, speculative philosophy didn't die with the radical transformations brought forth by Gutenberg's invention of the movable type in the Fifteenth Century.

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.
C'mon, art fairs and biennials are just a cog in the wheel. The art market apparatus is a product of social political and economic forces, which according to Max Weber, develop "authority" (Herrschaft). As the authority raises, the role of criticism wanes.

And why bring up "Saltz and others?"

Just for the fun of it, I googled "Saltz" and "art fairs" and got 41, 000 entries!

This one, with plenty of letters asking Saltz's opinions, here, where Saltz enjoys the Art-Fair, or this one, with Saltz (on facebook) talking about New York's Frieze Fair, and so on.**

You wonder how somebody so irrelevant wastes so much time being 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).
My experience is that contemporary fairs keep a Twentieth-Century business model, i.e., buyers deal with gallerists directly —the presence of the artist being a derivative courtesy, sort of a 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. But the truth is that art business' 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.
True, but let's qualify that:

1- Artblicity 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 1950s-1970s) the profession was elitist, partisan & regional.
3- Critics don't have (in fact never had) the sort of power to shift art trends. Art trends happen because of complex interactions between social, political and economic forces.

Now, 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. It seems that the critic can get away with something, but this is not Harper-the-critic talking. Is it Harper-the-editor? The reason being that he'd be basically shooting himself in the foot.

On a different level, Harper feels he has an important advice for the critic —thus, his essay's title. Naturally, the problem is only aggravated by my earlier point of the conceptual tension between describing and prescribing.  

With the critic gone, 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's 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 in blue, above. Why does he have to compare Hirst to Duchamp, unless he finds the analogy useful for his overall argument. But 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).

The strategy is to build a relationality argument with Gober's Untitled.

We learn the following:

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- Gober's mother told him her first experience working in an operation theater 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

Harper's Conclusion? Art is meant to unsettle the eye.

See that #1, #2 & #4 are presented as descriptive, but they are not. Once Harper uses an adjective to qualify a thing he's in normative terrain, which brings the is/ought perennial problem. #3, #5, #7 are clearly prescriptive (they evaluate the art object).

Harper states that his analysis is not about the object's meaning, but instead about the object's relational role (what it does). So he asks 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.
Quite obscure. Perhaps Harper is saying that "critical superstructure" the rantings of this hypothetical criticfail when compared to the "there"-ness (thereness means, I guess, the thing's objective qualities). His point is that "experience" is superior to the "side trip" offered by the critic.

But how does one build "experience" without any previous conceptualization? 

This is what he wants to 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.
Remember: the object does something. And yet, when Harper writes that the leg is this or that, he's talking not about his "experience" he's definitely not doing phenomenology but referring the object via grammar, semantics and so on.

How does Harper conveying "there"-ness is any different from an ordinary critic backing up her views using concepts clothed in grammar and semantics? I don't buy it.

Before we go on, we should discuss relational aesthetics:
A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space. (RA, p. 113)
Ok, Harper's relational aesthetics strategy makes me think of this cheesy French-Italian film from the 1970s where a young nerdy guy tries to get closer to this young and pretty nouveau-rich 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 most minute details: It's 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 who had previously been the lover of his neighbor (and perhaps even caused that neighbor's death). This woman 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 chatting, the nerdy guy becomes more alienated from her 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."

Here are two impromptu possibilities to apply to relational aesthetics:

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 nerdy guy in the movie. He falls for a self-imposed redundancy by failing 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 that seem odd?

Harper is so taken by relational aesthetics that he forgets art's hardware: the art-object!

Here comes his 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 Harper plays 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. 

To top it off, 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.
(a post addressing relational aesthetics is forthcoming)
* As we all know, Relational Aesthetics had its heyday during the early 2000s. **Let's add here that Jerry Saltz fell big for the relational aesthetics spell. He bombastically declared about the 2008 Guggenheim "theanyspacewhatever" show of the relational aesthetics gang that "they created the most influential stylistic strain to emerge in art since the early '70s."  

Friday, October 14, 2016

the rubells and the arthoodication of oscar murillo

Oscar Murillo
aLfrEdo trRifF

the spanish paper el país publishes this article entitled: a new basquiat or a new bluff?

the article, by miguel ángel garcía vega, briefly speculates the meteoric rise of colombian/english artist oscar murillo, an unknown a year ago who now sells paintings for $400,000.

what happened?
(...) Until a couple of months ago very few people had heard of Oscar Murillo. He was one of the thousands of young artists trying to make an art career in London. A native of La Paila, Colombia, Murillo moved to London when he was ten years of age. Passionate about art, he graduated, without honors at the Royal College of Art. 
Drawing off the Wall, 2012
On June 26 an unidentified buyer paid at Christie's auction no less than $391,475 (about 290,000 euros) for a large mixed media painted by Murillo in 2011.** A week ago, another work of Murillo, Drawing off the wall, reached a record $401,000 (297,000 euros) @ Phillips de Pury's. The buyer, after a bitter succession of bids (the piece started at $ 30,000) was actor and collector Leonardo DiCaprio. Suddenly, Murillo's art fetched the same value of two of the most celebrated Colombian and Latin American artists: Botero and Doris Salcedo. Yet, Murillo's professional curriculum achievements are still limited.
"curriculum achievements still limited?"

that's the wrong lead. garcía vega is thinking of the "received" model of art success:

i.e., a slower, arduous trajectory of legitimation, 
i.e., being shown, being collected, being published & being "talked about."

as far as anyone can see, artistic success, being a process in time takes time.


1- murillo's works don't appear in temporary or permanent exhibitions of any great museum. he had a brief presence at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where had a performance, and also @ the London Institute of Contemporary Arts (LICA).
2- before june 26, murillo didn't have a single published monograph about his work.
3- most significantly, he didn't have the support of curators or critics.

unless someone powerful can change all of that suddenly.

Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan (1962)

murillo's art is not breaking ground, in fact it's derivative.

but that's not the point.  his work has the artblicity factor!

that is to say, it's marketable, with strong influences from twombly (above), the 1980s graffiti artists, particularly basquiat. in the end his art is what i call "derivative"contemporary." he is young & proficient, comes from a good art school and has a latin american background.

art is not what matters here. it never did.

in fact, contra garcía-vega, murillo is not the "bluff," someone else is.

since the 2008 financial crisis, we've learned that "bluffing" the market is just the market's NORMAL.
it reflects the market's irrational appetite for profit accumulation (the scorpion will sting the frog even at the risk of drowning, that's it's nature).

what we have here is ready-made mechanism of the art/star phenomenon which artblicity endlessly presents and represents.

collectors like dicaprio have to have art advisers to advise him of an "unknown" like murillo. if the bid started at $30,000, how come it ended up fetching more than 10 times its original value? a phantom bidder? a last minute phone call to miami? we'll never know (phantom-bidders?).

murillo is famous now good or him. but this being christie's (an epicenter of the art market) the murillo auction points at something else.


where is the magic if people realize that what makes art "art" is just a market strategy?

contemporary "art" is defined by "how" and "when" and "where" and by "whom" it is presented. 

the Saatchi The Rubells factor

murillo's unbelievable ascension is a result of a deliberate and well-planned strategy.

i'll take the rubells' side of the connection.

the question is, how does arthoodication work?

1- commission an in situ production of 50 pieces!
2- print a catalog (with an interview by hans ulrich obrist, wuderkind, starcurator maximus & master of interviews —a predominant arthoodication trampoline—and essays by liam gillick, jonathan p. watts and nicola lees).
3- devise a media blitz, which includes articles written by prestigious reviewers and critics in some of the art market's favorite outlets.
4- sit and wait for murillo's auction.

coming back to the "received" slower model of art success explored above: if  murillo was seriously lacking in that department, the rubells' miami "commission" took care of it in one single coup.

the financial times: 
Colombian-born London-based artist Oscar Murillo is just 27 years old, and the hottest market darling around. Prices for his large abstract canvases, which incorporate dirt and other media, have rocketed from a few thousand pounds just a couple of years ago to a stunning $401,000, made at auction at Phillips New York on September 19, over an estimate of just $30,000-$40,000. Murillo hit the headlines in Florida last year. The Rubell foundation gave him a residency where he made 50 works, all of which they acquired. 
50 works right before the price explosion at christie's. question: what percent did the rubells paid for the 50-piece lot compared to what dicaprio paid for the piece above @ christie's?

a view of the murillo exhibit @ the rubells

the art newspaper, whose subtitle reads: The 26-year-old artist on what it was like to live and work at the Miami collectors' private museum this summer.

it bids "candid-while-paradoxical" murillo excerpts:
1- They saw a solo project I did with Stuart Shave/Modern Art at the Independent fair last March in New York, and they were curious to know more about what I do. 2- It’s a kind of residency but it’s not something that [the Rubells] do as collectors—they did it to facilitate my project. 3- It wasn’t like a commissionI was never told “we want this type of work”, but I knew I was going to have a show in that space and there were certain things I wanted to focus on.
BOMB (with interview by legacy russell):
My gallery called, “Don and Mera want to come to your studio.” And I said, “Well, I don’t have any work in the studio.” The gallery said, “We’ll get some work from storage and bring it over.” I thought, Bringing paintings back to the studio, what’s the point? For me it was an opportunity to show my work in process because the process is very important. Finished paintings they could see in the gallery. So before the Rubells visited, I stayed up all night and made a couple of paintings. Making these works created a residue of the process. And the Rubells understood that. (...) This year they invited me to do something there. They suggested this incredibly large room—I mean, it’s overwhelming! 
why is legacy using interview format here? great vehicle to sell: it sounds intimate, revealing, kind of unfiltered, almost honest. get it?

art in america, (a regurgitation of BOMB)

kaleidoscope, (with a sort of "serious" parlance by isobel arbison)
In its attempted integration of the physical and public with the pictorial and personal, Murillo’s practice might echo many earlier performative approaches, from the Japanese artists in the Gutai Group — in which painting was performed on the horizontal, floor-bound canvas by bodies swinging, sweeping or crawling across its surface (a notable example being Kazuo Shiraga’s use of his feet to paint, in the mid1950s) — to the rambunctious strokes of Yves Klein’s blued-up female nudes moving over blank canvases in front of awe-struck bourgeois crowds in the early days of Art Informel (IKB, 1959).
"integration of the physical and public with the pictorial and personal ... from the japanese artists of the gutai group to yves klein?"

arbison's hyberbolic paragraph is just a sales pitch playing hired hand to the system (i wonder is she actually saw murillo's work, or if this is review-at-a-distance, like i know reviewers do today, with digital photos, showing on an iphone).

the art observer, (much of the same cacophony)

bloomberg: obviously partisan in its there's-a-lot-of-cash-on-the-sidelines mantra:
He’s had the quickest upward trajectory for his age of any artist I’ve seen in 25 years,” said Kenny Schachter, a London-based dealer, curator and writer. There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point.
that's seven media outlets i found selling murillo's commission and exhibit @ the rubells!

murillo's work is arthoodicated. 

yet, one cannot help marveling at the speed and synchronicity of the system to get things done! 

and as if by pure coincidence the rubells own 50 murillos!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Culture: the new religion of the art market (with a little help from Max Weber)

aLfrEdo tRiFf

In all ideology men and their relations appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.- Karl Marx 

In this post I'd like to discuss some of Max Weber's more artsy paragraphs to expand our discussion on the art market, contemporary art & the absence of critical discourse.

First, we need to review some of Weber's nomenclature: Weber approaches Modernity, and particularly Capitalism with ambivalence. In broad strokes, Protestantism replaces medieval Christianity with a new economic form: Capitalism, where the old ethic of spirit & atonement shifts into a new ethic of profit-making & accumulation. That would be a superficial reading.

Rationality for Weber comprises two complementary and antithetical aspects: Wertrationalität (substantive rationality) which is often contrasted with the pragmatic idea of Zweckrationalität (goal-oriented rationality). While the latter is technocratic, the former is bureaucratic. Modernity turns the old "charismatic authority" (Charismatische Herrschaft) into a new "bureaucratic authority." See it as a mind behind the apparatus.

We're interested in Wertrationalität because of its paradoxical nature. This is a normative step above goal oriented rationality. Think of meta consciousness, a mind behind the system. For our purpose, the question is, how could the mind behind the system legitimize and implement practices or policies that endanger the system?

This is the aporetic side of Wertrationalität which can produce value judgments which are non-utilitarian in nature.

The apparent contradiction between the two rationalities becomes enforced by the authority emanating from the system (Herrschaft), which presents a structural redundancy within Modernity. This is fascinating: Rationality being swayed here and yonder by authority.

We need this background if we want to understand our present predicament. Let's move onto three aspects of late capitalist Wertrationalität:

1. The subjugation of the natural world (Global Warming).
2. The pursuit of military supremacy through nuclear technology (Cold War).
3. The subordination of capital, trade and migrations to a global system (Globalization).

To connect the art/market alliance, we're particularly interested in #3.

Reading Weber on art
Magical religiosity stands in a most intimate relation to the aesthetic sphere. Since its beginnings, religion has been an inexhaustible fountain of opportunities for artistic creation, on the one hand, and of stylizing through traditionalization, on the other. *
The dichotomy religion/aesthetics is essential to understand Weber's thought on art. Initially, art & religion are connected. Art is a powerful medium to express religion's purpose (didactic medieval art being an example). These two are brought together by "asceticism," the devout practice behind religiosity, which Weber defines as "definite, methodical conduct of life." Asceticism becomes the spirit of work, frugality and savings, i.e., capitalism's conveyor belt. With the waning of religion, asceticism merely changes its initial rejection of the world for a new worldly conduct.

The agent which brings this ascetic shift is "sublimation" (Sublimierung). A transformer of drives, sublimation turns raw libido into a spiritual ethos.
This sublimation of the religious ethic and the quest for salvation, on the one hand, and the evolution of the inherent logic of art, on the other, have tended to form an increasingly tense relation. 
As part of this process of economic and technological change, art becomes a new medium to channel society's old religious drive (paradoxically, as we will see, this cannot fully obtain).
This development causes the disappearance of those elements in art which are conducive to community formation and conducive to the compatibility of art with the religious will to salvation.
This is Weber's picture: Art withdraws from the life-world (Lebenswelt) and its communitarian role is left asunder. The new set of values presents art as self-sufficient (for example, l'art pour l'art countermovement, in contrast with the more community driven Arts and Crafts Movement in end of Nineteenth Century England).

But we're ahead of ourselves.            
Under these conditions, art becomes a cosmos of more and more consciously grasped independent values which exist in their own right. Art takes over the function of a this-worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted. It provides a salvation from the routines of everyday life...
Two things here: "salvation" vs. "this worldly salvation." Fast-forward after the end of the avant-garde into postmodernism and beyond to the now. The worldview where art is self-sufficient is dictated by a new authority: The art market. One figures "salvation" should come from this worldly capital accumulation.

Does art become the new religion? Not quite.

Once it has been cut from its epiphanic telos, art cannot congeal to a purpose. Art serves a different master: Time. ** In other words, art needs a form in the theater of the present. Not the passing instant, but a contractual alliance with a permanent present of capital accumulation: A life insurance with which to scaffold its foundation of magic.

This is how time and money form a binity:

Weber was curious about the cultural and economic implications of Benjamin Franklin's motto: "time is money." Indeed, financial capitalism is about instantaneity and money. With the reign of Globalization, capital remains a form of labor substitution, but as financial capital becomes more salient, labor recedes more into the shadows (a collector doesn't pay more for a painting because artist "X" spent more time on it: that's up to the art market, the supreme price equalizer).

 Nowness becomes contemporary art's residual financial value cashing in ae$thetic value.

or better, market value = ae$thetic value

We come back to Weber original insight: Magical religiosity stands in a most intimate relation to the aesthetic sphere. The lost magic of religiosity comes back sublimated as market accumulation. Not social, but financial exchange reaping an aura of inevitability.     

Ae$thetic value as the new self-normativity
Art takes over the function of a this-worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted. It provides a salvation from the routines of everyday life, and especially from the increasing pressures of theoretical and practical rationalism. 
As Weber has it, our disenchantment (Entzauberung) with the world cannot be redeemed with only art. Art is the means, not an end. Art, or better yet, contemporary art is preserved inside a social summum called Culture. This is the supreme constellation of values.

Following Weber's discussion to the now: Culture transforms the old "what's right" of morals into "what's beautiful" of aesthetics. In fact, the kantian prerequisite of beauty as purposelessness automatically vanishes.

"Beautiful" is not an aesthetic category  even if presented in that manner in art catalogs & art publicity but a top-down economic diktat legitimized as "aesthetic" value by the art market.

"beautiful" is whatever sells

Authority (cultural) is directly proportional to economic power.
The inaccessibility of appeal from aesthetic judgments excludes discussion. This shift from the moral to the aesthetic evaluation of conduct is a common characteristic of intellectualist epochs.
Critical discourse doesn't have a place here. Present "aesthetics" excludes "discussion" because critical discourse's nature is resistant to art publicity, the art market's selling arm. When the art market's Wertrationalität takes over, "inaccessibility" becomes a obscurantist strategy with the sole purpose capital accumulation.

As contemporary art presentations multiply and the masses consume it as culture, more and more publicity discourse is produced to support it. "Inaccessibility" is an obscurantist strategy of obscurantism with the sole purpose of profit-making.

Here are some provisional consequences of our present cultural paradigm:

 More auctions (capital circulation to produce capital, Marx's old definition).
 More art fair art, which in turn requires opening up new art fair markets to assuage market appetite. 
 More redundancy, less stylistic diversity.
Multiplication of conflicts of interest, i.e., market vs. art institutions become more pronounced.
 Market pressure foists wishy-washiness into curatorial practices.
 Outsourcing labor to specialists to produce more non-making art.

The danger ahead is that Culture, in its all-pervasive form, stimulates conformity through a pretense of active pursuit. In fact our general sense of achievement is nothing but anomic resignation in the face of occupational specialization.

(to be continued)
*All quotes taken from "The religious rejections of the world and their directions," in H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds), from Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 340-3. ** The definition of productivity is the value of goods and services produced in a period of time, divided by the hours of labor used to produce them. The industrial revolution shortened time per production of each unit, which increased productivity. Marx's idea of surplus value is linked to these correlations.