Tehching Hsieh created among the most radical, strenuous, and bizarre bodies of work in all of art history. Only prisoners with life sentences or captured soldiers could ever relate to the parameters Hsieh set for himself for his five One Year Performances, which he described in chronological order during his lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts. Prisoners of crime or war rarely elect to put themselves in a position that isolated themselves, mentally and physically, for long periods of time.
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.
Based in New York, the six-year-old advocacy group Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) has supported a single issue: payment to artists working with nonprofit organizations in visual art. Three months ago W.A.G.E. launched a voluntary certification program for institutions that wish to publicly signal their commitment to compensating artists for their work in exhibitions and for speaking engagements and writing, among other things. The group also debuted a fee calculator that establishes a minimum wage, so to speak, for creative labor, as well as a progressively scaled payment schedule based on an institution’s annual operating expenses.
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.
The keynote address, delivered by Thomas Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bounded quickly across the history of museum art buying in the United States and settled on the future role of the art museum. According to Hoving, whose own museum has escaped the financial crunch plaguing art institutions in the 1970s, all is changing for the better. He foresees an emerging “technotronic era” which will not, as Orwell warned, snuff out creativity, but enhance it. “Our Western artistic manifestations will tend to diminish in importance, and we will begin to recognize a multiplicity of centers and styles,” he said, adding that the tastes of a few critics and a small group of curators won’t wield the power they do today.
Not only is art alive, it is thriving, was the assessment given by some of the nation’s foremost museum officials, art dealers, and artists to some four hundred persons at the first World Art Market Conference over the weekend. “Far from being less pertinent, the fine arts and the art museum will become more important,” declared Thomas P. F. Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Billed as “The First World Art Market Conference,” the show was, as John Everett, president of the New School, said in his opening remarks, about the “business of art.” It appeared to be mostly a media event. The press was given the three front rows, fussed over with TLC. Some four hundred others, dealers, and collectors from around the country, and a few artists hoping to learn about “business,” paid $200 each to see and hear the superstars of the art market. Those expecting a clear view of the crystal ball—specific investment advice—were disappointed. But they got lots of encouragement and word that the art market is very good these days.
“In fifty to one hundred years,” Brian Droitcour said during his lecture on “Vernacular Criticism” at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, “the exhibition review might become a sonnet.” The arts of literature and theater were certainly on his mind, as he began his talk by reciting two of his cheeky Yelp reviews on venerated New York art institutions—the Frick Collection and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—from memory for a full auditorium.
At the end of the first chapter of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, the New York–based art critic and editor Ben Davis writes that a “theory of class might provide the missing center of the debate about art.” Indeed, the use, value, and status of art—especially in relation to politics and economics—have been the subject of a constantly flailing conversation since the Occupy moment, since the Great Recession, since the Bush years, since the rise of the biennial, since the Culture Wars, since Reagan, since Conceptual art, since Duchamp—okay, you get the point. It’s exactly this kind of exasperating, roundabout conversation that Davis wants to displace, and his new book does exactly that with resounding success.
The coffee break after the second section was much welcomed, but the talk by Amelia Jones, professor and Grierson Chair at McGill University in Montreal, did little to alleviate my annoyance from the previous section. Jones presented new research on how to think about art after 1960, proposing a shift from object to process and how this shift relates to globalization, digital networking, and a sense of placelessness.