Sunday, July 24, 2011

Life Work, Work Life

Surprise! A weekend post! The reason being: I will be in Peru from July 25 through August 5. I won’t be blogging in that time, as I’ll be too busy digging through my brain’s foreign language files and dusting off the Spanish folder, as well as fraternizing with llamas, to do so. Until my return, here’s some food for thought from the Frieze archives:

Life, to start with, is not just about your professional life. There is so much more to it than just work. The trouble is that, when you get into art, that ‘so much more’ is precisely what you want your work to be about. Life is what you want to immerse yourself in through your work. The freedom of the artist and intellectual, Theodor Adorno wrote, lies in the possibility of not having to separate work from pleasure as all those caught up in the system of division of labour do. This is our chance for a good life. But this is also why things tend to get messy. [...]
[...] To be part of an art scene was probably always as emotionally confusing as it is today. With who [sic], and in what guise, do you want to get involved and recognized? As a professional or as a person? How do you mark the difference? How do you draw the line between colleagues and friends? Why even categorize? You may wish to be open to whatever someone who enters your life might become for you. Still, recognizing a real friend seems crucial when everyone around you is professionally friendly. And love is a mess anyway when you happen to be in the same field, in the arts, with all of us being – how shall I put it? – a bit special (beautiful and difficult, grandiose and needy, generous and selfish, seeking and giving intense pleasure). So, rather than draw lines, we may want to invent a new language to commune with the strange phenomena that the people who get under our skin inevitably are and will continue to be.

It’s a poignant piece that hits close to home. A career in art does not constitute a 9 to 5—rather, a 9 to forever. The workday never ends, and every day is a workday. And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Discussion: Skill vs. concept // “But this is revolutionary!” “It looks like a 4-year-old made it and then sneezed on it.”

First, an Exquisite Corpse update: The artist application window is now officially closed. Thank you to all who applied! The portfolios I’ve looked through so far are fantastic. I’m impressed not only by the quality of the art, but also by the variety of media (my inbox is filled with everything from animatronic sculpture to performance to guerilla art), themes (race, gender, sexuality, and class! death, decay, and the grotesque! beauty! freedom! promise Im not just throwing out buzzwords!), and applicants (artists range from emerging and still in school to established and with work that can be found in collections around the world, from the local to as far from Chicago as you can get—hello, Australian creatives!). Hmm, I believe I just drafted part of the exhibition’s press release with those juxtapositions. Artists, I will be contacting you within the next couple of days.

I also enjoyed being addressed as a “respected sir” in one of the cover letters.

Second, here’s my latest Sixty Inches From Center article, in which I interviewed the gallery director of Western Exhibitions, as well as a few artists, for insight into People Don’t Like to Read Art, a group show. (For the record, I love reading art. And reading. And art. Look at that!)

And now: We’ve examined conceptual art and its [monetary] value, as well as what we value in art and what draws us to particular works of art. (Those discussions are still active, by the way! Check out their comment sections to hobnob with your fellow collectors, artists, art professionals, and art lovers.) Let’s expand the conversation back to a more comprehensive level: concept vs. skill. Art Radar profiled a panel discussion on a very specific issue—the decline of contemporary ink painting—but one panelist’s observations resonate with the subject at hand:

All media, such as oil, are struggling with issues similar to those ink is facing. Today’s artists prefer to use multiple media rather than master a single medium. There is less need to grapple with challenging media because they are primarily interested in conceptual art; the medium of a work and its subject are mere tools for expressing an artist’s ideas.

I have my own opinions on the subject. As an artist myself, I try to strike a balance between technical skill (I can draw) and conceptual vision (for my thesis project at Columbia, I created hundreds of self-addressed and pre-stamped postcards, all blank save for the prompt, “Tell me one thing you dream of doing before you die—use this card as your canvas,” marked each with a code, and placed the cards in public spaces throughout Manhattan, using the codes to record where I left them; when the postcards returned to me, I was able to pinpoint the exact location of where each had been found, and thus created a map of the city from New Yorkers’ dreams—no technical skill needed), in addition to making needlessly verbose parenthetical statements. But I won’t trouble you with mine [yet].

What are your thoughts? The most common reaction to much contemporary art, I’ve found, is “I can do that.” I’ve also found that the proper response to such a grievance is “But you didn’t.” Many people may indeed be technically capable of executing what can be seen in galleries and museums, but they weren’t the ones who conceived the ideas behind those pieces in the first place, and that’s what counts. Or is it?

Can we excuse mediocre (or downright poor) craftsmanship if the artwork communicates a groundbreaking idea (perhaps the piece possesses great sociopolitical significance) or, more simply, a clever idea? If an idea is good enough, exactly how “good” must that idea be? Is it necessary for contemporary artists to master a medium? Which do you hold in higher esteem: technique or concept? Or do you regard both equally?

Excluded from this discussion, however, is James Franco trolling the art world. (And whatever you do, don’t read his prose. Ketchup randomness.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Discussion: Should I shell out a hundred grand in cash to watch a museum guard slowly strip naked?

Today, this blog is one month old! Since its inception four short weeks ago, it has received over 6,800 pageviews from 76 countries across six continents (someone please donate laptops to the penguins in Antarctica), each post with more hits than the last. I see sixes and an eight. This is good. Thank you, lovely people, especially all the returning visitors and those who, astoundingly, spend more than half an hour on this site (hopefully that means you’re actually reading the posts and pages instead of stepping away from the computer to take an extended coffee break while forgetting to close this tab). Again, thank you. Make sure you share the love and point your friends in this direction!

In the last post, we discussed the many reasons for collecting art. In the same vein but less broad, let’s consider collecting art that is more ephemeral and/or conceptual. Newsweek (they of the hilariously misguided top 10 artists list) recently published a piece profiling collectors who purchase conceptual art, asking their readers if these buyers are “crazy or on the cutting edge.” An excerpt:

When you buy a [Lawrence] Weiner you don’t acquire the lettering itself, let alone the 3-D work it implies. You buy Weiner’s immaterial idea, as a certificate that lets you write his phrase in a room, or come up with the sculpture you think it describes. “When you take ownership, you can realize it any way you want,” says Victor Gisler, the Zurich dealer showing Weiner’s balls-y piece, priced at $160,000. In late June, the Museum of Modern Art in New York put a vintage piece of his on display as part of a major acquisition of so-called immaterial art. MoMA curators are eagerly backfilling a collection that has tended toward the material.

“I think good art is when I can hear the ideas bouncing off each other in my brain. This is where aesthetics are for me—not in my retina,” says Aaron, a 76-year-old lawyer who makes his living suing Big Pharma. “Ninety percent of the money [at Art Basel] is spent on painting,” he adds with a hint of contempt. Whereas the Levines want work that makes you wonder if it’s even art—and therefore might be the art that’s breaking new ground.

From the collectors who own the Tino Sehgal piece referenced in this post’s title:

“What’s interesting is people talking about the work,” says Josée. “You may think more about a Weiner [text piece], over time, than about some canvas you’ve bought… An idea may not be material, but it’s powerful.” She refers to her memory as the “medium” such works are realized in—and then you realize that that’s where most art lives, anyway, most of the time.
Her husband chimes in: “When the work is immaterial, we’re just its temporary holders. Accumulating fancy goods is absurd. We buy works to talk about them, and to stretch people’s notions of what art is… But some people want the opposite: a reassuring object with a big name.”

What do you think? Are these collectors ahead of the game, or are they being duped? Would you buy art you can’t simply hang on a wall?

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