The subtitle of this panel, “Is Jerking Off Getting Out of Hand?,” could mean anything from, “Once you’ve seen one jerk-off in an art context, you’ve seen them all, so a painting renaissance is inevitable,” to “Painting itself is the equivalent of jerking off, so why paint?” In either case, if you’ve been waiting tensely for the verdict, the panelists agreed that painting is not now, nor is it likely in the foreseeable future to be dead. In fact, one assumes that the four painters convened exactly in order to reach that conclusion. It did, however, take them three-quarters of the evening to start to explain why.
The artists Alex McQuilkin and Cindy Hinant and Kathy Battista, director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and senior research fellow at the University of Southampton in England, met at the NEWD Art Show, a small art fair that coincided with Bushwick Open Studios, to discuss art that deals with “girly” aesthetics. The panel’s teaser offered this: “From makeup to celebrity culture, these artists mine “girly” motifs—often ignored or dismissed as flippant and unserious by the art world—to explore issues of gendered expectations and pressures women face through representations of women in the media and culture at large.”
“I sense some confusion,” observed Casey Jane Ellison, an artist and comedian who hosted a panel called “‘Aesthetics’ of ‘Female’ ‘Attractiveness’” at Frieze New York. Like a daytime talk-show host, she began with a monologue of observational humor—which included a fear of going bald and the dating scene for bulimics—but the audience didn’t laugh. Full of disconnects in timing, diction, and subject matter, her introduction desperately need an applause sign, if not a laugh track. Ellison placed the blame on us: “Art audiences are just kind of like—don’t touch me—you know what I mean?” No, I don’t. “It’s like, get involved,” she implored. “This is about all of us.”
The journalist and sociologist Sarah Thornton was interviewed about her latest book, 33 Artists in 3 Acts, at the New York Academy of Art, where she was also the school’s commencement speaker for this year’s graduating class of MFA students. The book chronicles the upper crust of the contemporary art world—the kind you read about in the Scene and Herd section of Artforum.com—from 2009 to 2013. Benchmarks in conversations and studio visits with the dozens of artists that Thornton interviewed were Jeff Koons, whom she considers to be conservative, and the high-risk Damien Hirst. Other recurring characters include Maurizio Cattelan, Ai Weiwei, and Andrea Fraser, as well as the artist couple Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons and their daughters, Grace and Lena Dunham.
From an aesthetic point of view, the term “punk”—whether referring to a music genre, a fashion style, or a nonconformist attitude—has generated an incredibly diverse creative output that ranges from cynical and nihilistic to self-empowered and ethically sound. Tonight’s panel, organized by A.I.R. Gallery and the Women and the Arts Collaborative at Rutgers University, addressed the passionate, potent combination of youth rebellion, women’s rights, and fast, furious music through the stories of five panelists who emerged from various punk scenes in the United States.
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.
The government has no compelling case for mass surveillance, proclaimed Robert Scheer, a longtime journalist and the editor in chief of Truth Dig. In the predigital days of snooping on the bad guys, he said, “All you needed was a half-sober cop to go sit in a car outside their house and figure out what they’re up to.” American authorities, Scheer continued, were already aware of the Boston Marathon bombers and Charlie Hedbo gunmen before their attacks, and preemptive surveillance by the government is “a betrayal of the American tradition,” to the audience’s applause. He defined this tradition as embracing transparency, honesty, open debate, consumer choice, and the ability to defend oneself within a legal system.
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 internet was once the “meat market for the undatable,” said the journalist Erica Lumière. Now, meeting people online for dating and sex has nearly become completely normalized in American culture. Which is good news, especially for couples who no longer must make excuses for how they met—“at a party,” “through mutual friends,” or something of the sort—and just say “on OKCupid” without feeling ashamed. In fact, men and women older than fifty is the largest growing segment of online dating (and the market cornered by a company called Our Time).
“I was wondering whether anyone has anything good to say about age as an organizing principle?” someone asked during the audience Q&A for “Curators: The Younger Than Jesus Effect,” a discussion hosted by the School of Visual Arts. Jenny Jaskey, director and curator of Hunter College’s Artist’s Institute, recoiled, “No one thinks it is.” When the next audience member rephrased the query—Is there an artist under 30 that you do like?—the five curators on the panel, all based in New York, were smiling but clearly looked uncomfortable. Alaina Claire Feldman, director of exhibitions at Independent Curators International, said flat out, “I think that’s exactly what we’re here not to talk about…. I kind of refuse that question.” Then why, I scratched my head for the hundredth time, are we even here?
IN TERMS OF
Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.