Since the original title of this panel was “Museums and the Reality Principle,” the artist-listener might have expected an adrenal in-rousing discourse on exhibition politics, how artists are chosen or ignored, the manipulations of trustees, the perfidy of curators and their lovers, etc. Instead, the Reality Principle at issue quite reasonably concerned the costs of running a museum, the problems of attracting a broad public, and how, having done so, not to go broke being popular. Hilton Kramer described the task of a museum over the past thirty years as changed, from an agency showing classics of modern art to an institution whose function is also to introduce new and emerging artists and movements.
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.
The most talked-about art writing of 1987 College Art Association week was Janet Malcolm’s New Yorker profile of Ingrid Sischy, editor of Artforum. Hilton Kramer, introducing “Has Success Spoiled the American Art World?,” explained how Malcolm found Sischy not “profilable” and so profiled instead a “Cook’s tour of the seamy aspects of the world [Sischy] is obliged to move in.” We, apparently more accustomed than Kramer to the ways and means of artists, thought the scene sounded like just folks and began to wonder anew about Kramer’s sense of the fitness of things. From there he segued into a depiction of the runaway art world of the last five to ten years—the proliferation of art critics, the inflation of indifferent art, and the turning of art into a commodity for the moneyed middle class.
The symposium on “The Relationships between Artists and Museums”—featuring David Bourdon, Richard Hennessy, Diane Kelder, Barbara Rose, and Marcia Tucker—was a formal display of sparring and volleying between five panelists, some of whom raised genuine questions. A few presented themselves as ideologues. Only the final speaker attempted answers.
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.
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.
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.
The New School auditorium is an antiseptic affair after the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union and the raunchy amphitheater at the School of Visual Arts, but its acoustics are much kinder to amateur speakers. If that suggests I’m reviewing these programs as entertainment, I am. Douglas Davis remarked that the panel is itself now “a generic form.” It’s also a form of entertainment with aspects of performance, social arena, soap box, forum, and lately, gathering of lost lambs. This time, though, Barbara Rose came down like the wolf on the fold: “If you publish in an art magazine … you are writing ad copy,” she said, “and if you don’t know that, you’re stupid.”
“Networked Institutions/Institutionalized Networks” sought to shed light on the dynamics of collaboration among institutions—now considered a common way of working in the art and museum worlds—that may have become obscured. Should networks increase an individual’s productivity? Is a network altruistic? Can schemata such as Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s famous diagram of the evolution of modern art, the research-based work of Mark Lombardi, and the politically oriented wall drawings of Dan Perjovschi be considered networks?
When in 2001 the curator Robert Storr mentioned to his friend, the German painter Gerhard Richter, that the Bonn Kunstmuseum was hosting an exhibition of work by the abstractionist Robert Ryman, they jumped into Richter’s Mercedes and sped at ninety-five miles per hour on the autobahn to see it. After arriving, Storr recalled, Richter was a leisurely but deliberate looker, as unhurried moving through the galleries as he had been fast on the road.