During July and August, In Terms Of will be catching up with a backlog of reviews of lectures and panels from the past six months. Expect to read about a dozen (or more) critical analyses of live speaking engagements that took place in New York and Chicago during 2014.
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.
George Segal said a certain amount of “cruelty” in the art world is necessary for the making of good art, although one could reply that sufficient cruelty would exist in the art world even if artists got 15 percent residuals.
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.
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 twenty-five-year-old artist Amalia Ulman announced that she just had plastic surgery while spending time in California for her recent solo exhibition, Used & New, at LTD Los Angeles. The before-and-after pictures of her profile, projected onscreen above her, showed nearly imperceptibly minor work on her nose, straightening a slight bend on it. Ulman also revealed that she had Botox fillers injected under her eyes. According to comments in an Art in America interview published a day before this event, Ulman considers the eye fillers and nose job to be art.
The legendary artist Robert Morris doesn’t often participate in live interviews, whether in public, in person, or on the phone, so a recent appearance by him at the New York Public Library was a rare treat. Indeed, as the scholar and curator Jeffrey Weiss noted at the outset, “Agreeing to speak is not something he does too freely.” But when Morris, Weiss, and the art historian Julia Robinson gathered in celebration of Weiss’s new book, Robert Morris: Object Sculpture, 1960–1965, the ensuing conversation was a frustrating affair.
After being asked to participate on this panel, I wanted to know what kind of writing on socially engaged art is already out there. My conclusion is that there’s a lot of writing on socially engaged art out there. We have books devoted to the subject by Grant Kester, Claire Bishop, Pablo Helguera, Tom Finkelpearl, Nato Thompson, and Gregory Sholette, among others. We have essays by the above authors, as well as by Ben Davis, Steve Lambert, and Yates McKee. (Why so many men, I wonder?) They write on Project Row Houses, Theaster Gates, Suzanne Lacy, Tania Bruguera, Superflex, and the Yes Men, as well as projects sponsored by Creative Time, Art in Odd Places, and local and state arts councils across the country.
To conclude the conference “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” two speakers—a curator and an art historian—offered their thoughts on the day’s events. Dieter Roelstraete, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, spoke polemically about the conference theme, wanting his remarks to be “a case and a plea” for a curatorial attitude that “shouldn’t be ashamed of its aesthetic ambitions and its aesthetic aspirations.” In contrast to this passionate approach, his session colleague, David Joselit, professor of art history at the Graduate Center, commented briefly on several points raised during the conference.
What happens when artists act as curators, organizing exhibitions for museums, commercial galleries, and other venues? Well, they become curators, if for one show only. Is this new? Is it a trend? What advantages and complications result when an artist takes on a different professional role? The third session for the conference “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” simply titled “The Artist-Curator,” explored these ideas and more.