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.

Residual Rights—Can the Concept Be Implemented?

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Rubin Gorewitz, coauthor of an artists’ rights bill under study by Congress, noted that the mafia is now buying art for profit and that his bill would discourage them. He also said it would deter thieves. This reporter doesn’t see how a thief would be prevented from selling to a secret buyer who wants the work only for himself. Moreover, work could still be held for ransom, a common purpose of art theft.

Residual Rights for the Visual Artist—Are They Desirable?

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The panel got off to a late start because Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Scull were still out to dinner—together. Then Lawrence Fleischman opened by objecting to the residual agreement, a not-unexpected position for a dealer. Artists would be more hurt than helped, he said; anyway, “90 percent of artworks go down in value.” Paula Cooper was in favor of the 15 percent, but pessimistic about implementation. She has one artist who uses the voluntary contract, but says she meets buyer opposition.

The Paradoxical Absolute

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If I understand her convoluted comment-question correctly, an elderly woman in the audience wanted to know, during the Q&A session, if the speaker, Frances Stark, had just done a performance. Based on Stark’s zigzag lecture on her relationship to the artist Robert Ryman, I had wondered the same thing. For about an hour the Los Angeles–based artist covered a range of topics, which seems typical of her multidisciplinary practice that embraces expository and confessional writing as well as visual art in diverse media (drawing, collage, photography, video, and performance). But by the end it became clear that Stark’s talk was among the most bewildering and cryptic that I’ve ever attended, and I can’t decide if my frustration is justified—that Stark meandered without having anything substantial to say—or if I just didn’t get it.

 

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