Value Added

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Future generations researching the good old days at the College Art Association’s Annual Conference may take this panel for a distillation of its moment, as it casually splices ideals, philosophy, jargon, celebrity, and non sequitur with talk of art-as-money. We see also the intense longings, the search for uplift, the demands for salvation that are increasingly deposited in art. The most interesting discussion of the panel addressed whether they belong there.

It’s Koons’s World—We Just Live in It

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“It was a look of horror … or a smile,” said Scott Rothkopf, curator of the exhibition Jeff Koons and moderator of a panel discussion called “The Koons Effect Part 1,” regarding the responses he received when telling others of his research for a retrospective on the artist. Artists were interested in Koons, to his surprise, and he noted that Pierre Huyghe is fascinated by the “story that didn’t get made,” and Andrea Fraser enjoys Koonsian economics. Tino Sehgal finds Rabbit (1986) to be an iconic work, the curator continued, and Kara Walker responds to the advertisements for art magazines from 1988–89. For this panel, Rothkopf invited four American artists to discuss what Koons’s work means to them and how it has affected contemporary art.

The Authorial Intent

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Is it possible to be indifferent to Jeff Koons? For many years my attitude toward the artist’s work has been impassive and disinterested. It exists whether I like it or not and has some visual interest, but I’ve never cared enough to form an opinion beyond that. Among the most successful living artists, Koons is comparable to Jay Z or U2: a talented mainstream artist whose early output is considered groundbreaking, but whose later works are noteworthy more for their high production values and their exorbitant, multimillion-dollar price tags than their aesthetic worth. Over the years Koons has managed to stay relevant, with critics and journalists dutifully covering his exhibitions and appearances, just as they would report on Bono’s activism and Hova’s exploits.

Night of the Shamans

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Once upon a time in a constantly collapsing and re-rising city, the inhabitants made buildings with large spaces where people sweated to make things for others to sell. But one day they painted the spaces white and displayed mysterious and precious objects there. At last, on a night in spring, 1983, many people gathered in such a space to hear messages from shamans who made the precious objects. They worried about a tool producing these objects quickly and easily, and wondered if the new objects would be precious in the old way. So they gathered to DEFINE THE DIFFERENCE.

Repainting the Battle Lines

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Craig Owens, senior editor of Art in America, sat with the six panel members and spread his hands, butterflylike, cigarette dangling from the long fingers. We, seated on the floor of the crowded gallery, were, mercifully, not permitted to smoke, having squeezed in while others less fortunate clamored at the entrance and pressed against the window to see “Painting and Photography: Defining the Difference.” Owens’s hands seemed to point to two points of view even while he hoped those who had come for the latest installment of the historical battle would be disappointed. They were there, he said, to “define difference,” not define or create false oppositions.

The Punch in the Face That a Poster Can Have

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Weeks after the Occupy Movement started, in September 2011, museums began racing to collect the posters, flyers, and other materials from the protests. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History dispatched archivists from Washington, DC, and the New-York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York sent representatives downtown. In an editorial for CNN published in November, Michele Elam, a professor of English at Stanford University, wrote, “Occupy art might just be the movement’s most politically potent tool in its dramatic reframing of the racial dynamics of a populist uprising frequently characterized as largely white and ‘hippie.’” Academics, museums, and the media clearly recognized the importance of both Occupy and its visual culture in American history.

Revealing Mystic Truths

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Is Bruce Nauman psychedelic? Though his early work is generally considered formally and conceptually apolitical, one wonders how much the culture in San Francisco in the mid-1960s—from the Free Speech Movement to the Summer of Love—influenced his mindset at the time. After Nauman graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 1966, he established a studio in a storefront in the Mission District, where he spent several years realizing a now-seminal body of work that drew from the city’s tradition of Funk art as well as Minimalism from New York and Finish Fetish from Los Angeles. Though the artist has only admitted to drinking a lot of coffee in the studio, might he have sweetened his beverage with special sugar cubes?

Building a Better Beehive

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Pioneer Works in Brooklyn hosted a lecture, titled “Sacred Geometry and the Architecture of Well-Being,” by the upstate New York gardener and apiarist Ron Breland in conjunction with The Six-Sided Force, an exhibition of drawings by Louise Despont that take their inspiration from the hexagon of the honeycomb. Sporting a white beard, a gray mullet, and the normcore outfit of a high school teacher, Breland clearly had the eccentric polymath look down, and his wide-ranging talk surveyed scientific knowledge and folk wisdom, pragmatic environmentalism and esoteric spiritualism.

Fun Fun Fun on the Infobahn

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In her opening remarks for “The World Wide Web at 25: Terms and Conditions” at the art fair Frieze New York, the panel’s moderator Orit Gat remarked that conversation about net neutrality has changed in recent years. Indeed, public awareness regarding the controlling forces behind the delivery infrastructure of the web has risen sharply after two pieces of federal legislation introduced in 2011—the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)—failed to develop, along with the “internet blackout” protest on January 28, 2012, and the onslaught of related op-ed pieces over the last couple years.

A Special Kind of Ordinary

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There’s a special kind of ordinary that folks in the art world love. Artists, curators, and critics often fall over themselves to praise the everyday, elevate the banal, and highlight the overlooked, momentarily relegating what normally would be banal to a distinct realm of interest and reflection. But sometimes the ordinary is, well, simply unremarkable. The discussion that took place during “Blonde Art Books: Artist Conversation and Launch” was ordinary in that unexceptional sense.

 

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