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.
“IKEA is huge,” stated Sara Kristofferson, professor of design history and theory at Konstfack in Stockholm, Sweden. Who could argue with her? Founded in 1943, the immensely popular seller of affordable furniture, utensils, and fabrics for the home has spread across the globe and brings in billions of dollars a year. A more intriguing proposition was this: “IKEA has made Swedishness a virtue in itself.” But scratch deep enough, Kristoffersson warned, and hierarchies begin to appear within a company that many people believe mitigates consumerism and capitalism with an egalitarian touch.
In April 1968, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York brought together museum professionals, academics, and computer technologists from IBM for a “Conference on Computers and Their Potential Applications in Museums.” A postconference report,” said Ross Parry, senior lecturer and college academic director in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, indicated that participants and attendees imagined their technological future in the year 1980. They envisioned a computerized image-search database that would allow a person to pull up any artwork that depicted, for example, “sailing vessels,” or to get information on objects in storage or from other museums. “This was reverie,” said Parry, of these predictions for a digital institution.
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?
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.
Carter Ratcliff, art critic, author, and lecturer, spoke at the New Museum on “Fads in Art.” His diagnosis, delivered in a dryly clinical manner, depicted a horrendous condition with tinges of sin, damnation, and guilt. Art faddism is like a “junkie addiction” in which neurotic need meshes with the market forces of our consumer society, he said. Stressing neurosis as explanatory structure, he touched only briefly on economics that encourage such phenomena.
Matthew Miller’s work for the past five years has primarily involved naturalistic representations of his own unusually shaped, closely shaved head, usually with a neutral, enigmatic expression on his face. The Brooklyn–based artist talked about his paintings—oils on wooden panels executed in a painstaking old-master style—in front of a tight crowd at a gallery with a long, unwieldy name, Hansel and Gretel Picture Garden Pocket Utopia.
“Tornadic, whirling movement is something I’ve been involved in right now,” said Alice Aycock. “I’m not really into peaceful things.” This New York–based artist, who turns sixty-eight on November 20, said she trusts turbulence, not balanced or harmonious things, which is typical of her recent work, in particular Park Avenue Paper Chase, a series of seven sculptures on view in the median of an Upper East Side thoroughfare from March to July 2014. During her lecture at the New York Studio School, she talked about this work, her approach to art making, and more to a surprisingly half-full room of rapt listeners.
Concluding the two-day symposium on the work of Jeff Koons was a keynote address by the art historian Thomas Crow of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. By choosing a single decade—Crow’s talk was titled “Jeff Koons in the 1980s: Pop Culture Turns Up Late”—the scholar conveniently avoided discussing the artist’s work since the early 1990s, typically considered the divisive break between those who respect and loathe the artist, in particular when Koons exhibited his Made in Heaven series (1989–91). Indeed, in a review of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, one critic wrote, “Watching Koons between 1985 and 1992 was like being on a roller coaster, beholding the readymade crossed with greed, money, creepy beauty, and the ugliness of our culture.” Even the exhibition’s curator, Scott Rothkopf, skirted the later work in his catalogue essay “No Limits,” which analyzes Koons’s work up to Made in Heaven before defending the artist against the art market for the last half.
Is it possible to be indifferent to Jeff Koons? For many years my attitude toward the artist’s work has been impassive and disinterested. It exists whether I like it or not and has some visual interest, but I’ve never cared enough to form an opinion beyond that. Among the most successful living artists, Koons is comparable to Jay Z or U2: a talented mainstream artist whose early output is considered groundbreaking, but whose later works are noteworthy more for their high production values and their exorbitant, multimillion-dollar price tags than their aesthetic worth. Over the years Koons has managed to stay relevant, with critics and journalists dutifully covering his exhibitions and appearances, just as they would report on Bono’s activism and Hova’s exploits.
IN TERMS OF
Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.