Make American Art Great Again

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The audience gathered in the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery of the Art Students League, a midtown Manhattan art school founded in 1875, was mostly middle-aged folks and senior citizens, with a scattering of younger people who were probably students. They arrived to see and hear James Little, an abstract painter and professor, give a lunchtime talk. I was unaware of him prior to the event—I did not know if he was a critic, an artist, or some other art professional before showing up. Born in Tennessee in 1952, Little earned his BFA from the Memphis Academy of Art in 1974 and two years later received an MFA from Syracuse University. June Kelly Gallery has shown his work since the late 1980s.

Nice Guys Finish

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Two years ago I stopped attending panels of art critics discussing the state of the field, mainly because the subjects such events would cover could easily be predicted: (1) money, and how there is little to be made writing about art; (2) a perceived loss of power in the art world, ceded to dealers, curators, and collectors; and (3) the differences between writing for print and online publications. Speakers overwhelmingly wrung their hands over problems that have existed for decades. The numbing repetition—I can’t even.

Landscape Surveyors

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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.

The Punch in the Face That a Poster Can Have

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Weeks after the Occupy Movement started, in September 2011, museums began racing to collect the posters, flyers, and other materials from the protests. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History dispatched archivists from Washington, DC, and the New-York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York sent representatives downtown. In an editorial for CNN published in November, Michele Elam, a professor of English at Stanford University, wrote, “Occupy art might just be the movement’s most politically potent tool in its dramatic reframing of the racial dynamics of a populist uprising frequently characterized as largely white and ‘hippie.’” Academics, museums, and the media clearly recognized the importance of both Occupy and its visual culture in American history.

The Paradoxical Absolute

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If I understand her convoluted comment-question correctly, an elderly woman in the audience wanted to know, during the Q&A session, if the speaker, Frances Stark, had just done a performance. Based on Stark’s zigzag lecture on her relationship to the artist Robert Ryman, I had wondered the same thing. For about an hour the Los Angeles–based artist covered a range of topics, which seems typical of her multidisciplinary practice that embraces expository and confessional writing as well as visual art in diverse media (drawing, collage, photography, video, and performance). But by the end it became clear that Stark’s talk was among the most bewildering and cryptic that I’ve ever attended, and I can’t decide if my frustration is justified—that Stark meandered without having anything substantial to say—or if I just didn’t get it.

In Love with Itself

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A packed room rustled and bustled in anticipation of this star-studded panel organized by Hrag Vartanian, a former art critic who now edits the blogazine Hyperallergic. Vartanian truly “understands the Bushwick meme,” according to Peter P. Hopkins, the director of the Bogart Salon, a social space in a gallery building called 56 Bogart Street in Brooklyn. Not simply a “cheerleader,” Hopkins continued, Vartanian also “interrogates” the Bushwick art scene—whatever that means.

 

IN TERMS OF

Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.

 
Funding for In Term Of has been provided by the Arts Writers Grant Program.