Much Detachment, Very Labor, So Painting

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A well-attended lecture by Isabelle Graw, a professor of art theory and a founding editor of the journal Texte zur Kunst, was titled “The Economy of Painting: Notes on the Vitality of a Success-Medium and the Value of Liveliness.” Jetlagged from a flight from Germany, Graw framed her talk as an eight-step analysis of the naturalization of painting in the contemporary moment. In the late 1990s, she said, painters “felt pressured to justify themselves,” but this anxiety fell away by the early 2000s, due to social, economic, and historical reasons. In particular, artists had absorbed the critique of painting and therefore renewed the medium.

Male Critics Grilled and Toasted

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The fact that this panel of four male critics and editors drew the largest audience I have seen at any comparable woman’s event tells all about power and the perception of power in the art world today. Intellectual exchange was secondary, the audience being less interested in what the panel had to say than in what it had to say to the panel.

Hot or Not

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“I sense some confusion,” observed Casey Jane Ellison, an artist and comedian who hosted a panel called “‘Aesthetics’ of ‘Female’ ‘Attractiveness’” at Frieze New York. Like a daytime talk-show host, she began with a monologue of observational humor—which included a fear of going bald and the dating scene for bulimics—but the audience didn’t laugh. Full of disconnects in timing, diction, and subject matter, her introduction desperately need an applause sign, if not a laugh track. Ellison placed the blame on us: “Art audiences are just kind of like—don’t touch me—you know what I mean?” No, I don’t. “It’s like, get involved,” she implored. “This is about all of us.”

Interview in Art Practical

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In the newest issue of the online journal Art Practical, the artist, critic, and publisher Dushko Petrovich conducts an email interview with Christopher Howard about his experiences publishing In Terms Of. The interview joins other essays and interviews that address the theme of “Free Speech in the Art World.”

Pawns in the Game

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The journalist and sociologist Sarah Thornton was interviewed about her latest book, 33 Artists in 3 Acts, at the New York Academy of Art, where she was also the school’s commencement speaker for this year’s graduating class of MFA students. The book chronicles the upper crust of the contemporary art world—the kind you read about in the Scene and Herd section of—from 2009 to 2013. Benchmarks in conversations and studio visits with the dozens of artists that Thornton interviewed were Jeff Koons, whom she considers to be conservative, and the high-risk Damien Hirst. Other recurring characters include Maurizio Cattelan, Ai Weiwei, and Andrea Fraser, as well as the artist couple Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons and their daughters, Grace and Lena Dunham.

Not Just Another Ism

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Joan Semmel began by citing Lucy Lippard: the more explicit the imagery, the less evocative the erotic work. Response from panelists was poor until John Kacere broke the ice with a meandering monologue on the mediocrity of porn: “If you’re very hungry, it doesn’t take much to turn you on.” Panelists were asked if their own work turned them on; Kacere again. “You can’t be horny for a month.” Panelists agreed that, in effect, their work was not really porn or even erotic—it just referred to a “beautiful human experience.”

Personal Branding with Hank Willis Thomas

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“Would you say your biggest source of inspiration is other people?” an audience member asked Hank Willis Thomas, who had just finished giving a presentation on his work in the basement auditorium of the Krannert Art Museum. The artist replied with a smile: “I’d say.” Indeed, early on Thomas stated that art is about people and connections, and he even began his talk by quizzing the audience, asking who was a student, a faculty member, a first-time visitor. He also asked who in the room had tattoos—there were several students with visibly more than a few—and playfully harassed a few latecomers. Thomas also joshed a reticent audience member halfway through the lecture: “This talk can’t go if you don’t talk.”

They’re Still Out to Get You

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The government has no compelling case for mass surveillance, proclaimed Robert Scheer, a longtime journalist and the editor in chief of Truth Dig. In the predigital days of snooping on the bad guys, he said, “All you needed was a half-sober cop to go sit in a car outside their house and figure out what they’re up to.” American authorities, Scheer continued, were already aware of the Boston Marathon bombers and Charlie Hedbo gunmen before their attacks, and preemptive surveillance by the government is “a betrayal of the American tradition,” to the audience’s applause. He defined this tradition as embracing transparency, honesty, open debate, consumer choice, and the ability to defend oneself within a legal system.

A Better Everyday Life for the Many People

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“IKEA is huge,” stated Sara Kristofferson, professor of design history and theory at Konstfack in Stockholm, Sweden. Who could argue with her? Founded in 1943, the immensely popular seller of affordable furniture, utensils, and fabrics for the home has spread across the globe and brings in billions of dollars a year. A more intriguing proposition was this: “IKEA has made Swedishness a virtue in itself.” But scratch deep enough, Kristoffersson warned, and hierarchies begin to appear within a company that many people believe mitigates consumerism and capitalism with an egalitarian touch.

Landscape Surveyors

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A panel on “The Changing Landscape of Museums Today” coincided with the release of the Asia Society Museum’s anthology of essays, Making a Museum in the 21st Century. Responding to a question asked by Josette Sheeran, president and chief executive officer of the Asia Society—“What does a successful museum look like in the twenty-first century?”—the museum directors Richard Armstrong and Melissa Chiu talked about collections, buildings, and exhibitions, while the bureaucrat Tom Finkelpearl zeroed in on diversity and audience.


Funding for In Term Of has been provided by the Arts Writers Grant Program.


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