You know how lyrics from pop songs look trite and sometimes embarrassing when written down, but come alive convincingly when performed? It’s the same for artist’s talks. Some excel when presenting in public. If an artist is charismatic, unremarkable work becomes good and good work becomes great. The opposite is also true: interesting work can come across as ordinary. The renowned first-generation Conceptualist Robert Barry is one of those artists whose work—which explores speech, memory, light, time, belief, anticipation, fragility, making connections, and states of flux and change—shines when interpretations are expanded on by others. It’s not that he’s inarticulate. Far from it—the artist speaks clearly, in a straightforward manner. But there was a lack of excitement to his reflections on a six-decade career during a lecture at the Hunter College.
It’s no secret that the tuition for all kinds of schools has increased significantly over the last thirty years, and thousands of students take out huge government and private loans to cover their educational expenses. Those armed with BFAs are unlikely to make tons of money right out of the starting gate, as the familiar narrative goes. Yet we live in a time in which euphoric articles pronounce the MFA as the new MBA appear with alarming regularity. What should a young artist do?
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.
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 is an audience? Anyone and anything, really: concert ticket holders, participants in a political rally, a random gathering of passersby. A filmmaker or playwright certainly wants to fill theater seats, and an author aspires to place on a best-seller and/or best-of list. An art dealer seeks both wealthy collectors and gallery foot traffic, and an artist desires the respect of fellow artists or the attention of a powerful curator.
The symposium’s middle part, “Agency of the Everyday,” was a disappointment. Covering Italy ca. 1970, the gregarious Romy Golan, professor of twentieth-century art at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, discussed a few important exhibitions in the country, such as Vitality of the Negative (1970–71), in which each artist received his own room to create kinetic, interactive art, often with elements of refraction, reflection, and projections (and thus without objects). The environments, Golan said, evoked a fun house or nightclub.
For her lecture at Hunter College, Chrissie Iles, curator of film and video at the Whitney Museum of American Art, gave a basic overview of projection art (film, video, slides) from the 1960s to the present. It was an engaging talk with a lot of images to look at. I asked a question during the postlecture Q&A session, though not as articulately as I would have liked. I queried her on why artists haven’t explored—or appropriated—modes of distribution through Netflix (for rentals) or Amazon (for sales).