“You might say that a people or a movement must be constituted musically before it can be constituted politically.” This was one argument among many declared by Michael Denning, a professor of American studies and English at Yale University, during a talk for his new Verso book, Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution. Denning, however, made it clear that the music culture during the brief period of time studied in his book—from the widespread use of electrical recording in 1925 to the early years of the Great Depression—was not revolutionary politically.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
Prem Krishnamurthy’s talk “Double Agency” addressed the speaker’s two primary roles: a founder of the design firm Project Projects (with Adam Michaels) and director and curator of P!—an interdisciplinary curatorial space that he described as a “mom-and-pop kunsthalle”—on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Project Projects has a critical and conceptual relationship to graphic design, Krishnamurthy said, that includes curatorial and editorial roles, but with respect to the traditional worker/client relationship. His goal is to produce design that is porous rather than unidirectional, working with existing materials and ideas instead of starting new with each project.
The second and final panel on the symposium for the Jewish Museum’s exhibition Jack Goldstein x 10,000 featured presentations by two artists—Kathryn Andrews and Paul Pfeiffer—who emerged a couple generations after Jack Goldstein. Neither artist was directly influenced by Goldstein, as they arrived at their aesthetic approach prior to gaining knowledge of the elder artist’s work. One of two panel moderators, Claire Bishop, described the situation as “reverse engineering.” While hers was certainly a clever use of the phrase, the concept is standard operating procedure for scholars making connections between the art of different decades. That doesn’t mean artists don’t have a say, and here is what they said about Goldstein and influence.
Did you get into the Paul Chan lecture? Someone at SVA said they called Columbia and were told only Columbia grad students can attend those lectures. I forgot that Jerry Saltz was also giving a talk last night. I arrived at the studios just as some fellow students were headed over there. So I went with them. It was good in Jerry’s “I’m-not-gonna-beat-around-the-bush-with-you” way. His thing is this down-to-earth, no bullshit thing. There was nothing revelatory in his talk. He said many of the same things one finds in his writing and that he regularly seems to mention.
On Tuesday night, the art historian and critic Donald Kuspit spoke at the School of Visual Arts. Tonight, Ken Johnson gave a talk at the New York Studio School. A prolific writer of articles and reviews and the author of dozens of books, Kuspit spoke on “Why Artists Hate Critics,” which was a provocative title for a pedestrian talk. I’ve never been a fan of Kuspit’s writing, which general cries out for an assertive editorial hand, and his often curmudgeon points of view.