Olivier Mosset was in town for the opening of his exhibition at Parapet/Real Humans, a project space run by Amy Granat in a storefront in the Fox Park neighborhood of Saint Louis. On view was a framed set of four lithographs of two thick black stripes on a square of white paper. The set, it turns out, was made for a Swiss Institute benefit in 2004. Granat said the work reminded her of September 11—I suppose any two vertical lines will do that. The artist compared them to an optometrist’s vision test. As someone who can’t see six inches past his nose without glasses or contacts (and who never skips his annual eye-doctor visit), that made more sense.
“Language is forced on art,” quipped the artist Rachel Harrison to an audience member during the Q&A session of this event. “We’re just throwing words at art all the time. Is that really best for art? Is that really good for art? Does that make art happy? It might. It employs a lot of people.” Such is Harrison’s self-consciously funny and cynicism-free outlook for giving titles to her works. That outlook is also a good way to understand her art practice over the last twenty years. I lost track of how many times I chuckled to myself during this hour-long talk.
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.
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.
Concluding the two-day symposium on the work of Jeff Koons was a keynote address by the art historian Thomas Crow of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. By choosing a single decade—Crow’s talk was titled “Jeff Koons in the 1980s: Pop Culture Turns Up Late”—the scholar conveniently avoided discussing the artist’s work since the early 1990s, typically considered the divisive break between those who respect and loathe the artist, in particular when Koons exhibited his Made in Heaven series (1989–91). Indeed, in a review of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, one critic wrote, “Watching Koons between 1985 and 1992 was like being on a roller coaster, beholding the readymade crossed with greed, money, creepy beauty, and the ugliness of our culture.” Even the exhibition’s curator, Scott Rothkopf, skirted the later work in his catalogue essay “No Limits,” which analyzes Koons’s work up to Made in Heaven before defending the artist against the art market for the last half.
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. 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 the nose job to be art.
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.
In April 1987, New York magazine ran a story on “Art Fever,” picturing socialite art collectors on the cover and evoking the hum of art rapidly transmuting into gold in the text. By 1989 the business press was routinely showing graphs that proved the superiority of art over stocks as long-term investments, and art-talk events across the land took on the flavor of “Cashing In”—a panel held, please note, at a business college.
Lately I’ve thought about the difference between a work of art that is about a particular subject and one that is a critique of that same subject. Many in the art world operate with the mindset that an artwork dealing with a political, social, or economic issue actually critiques that issue, usually from a leftist perspective, but rarely does the work transcend the kind of factual commentary that states “there’s this thing going on in the world that you should know about” or “my work is about this thing going on in the world.” While I don’t recall Mika Tajima specifically referring to her work as a critique during her artist’s lecture at Parsons the New School for Design, others have noted the approach.
What did this evening’s panelists—three artists who had moved to New York from across North America around the turn of the century—have in common? If you guessed a burning desire to find success—whether that be money, fame, or gallery representation, or just an audience for their work—you’d be wrong. The correct answer is couch surfing. All three artists, Noah Becker, Sue de Beer, and Ryan McNamara, none of whom is a native New Yorker, spent many nights crashing on their friends’ sofas without a place of their own.