November 2009 Archives


No, it isn't the holiday that's being exacted. By "enforced holiday" I mean that my little Air is back in the shop, this time with an audio output malfunction (it simply stopped). If I'm very lucky, and my neighbors at Tekserve are really kind, I'll have it back on Wednesday, but I'm preparing to expect a slightly longer wait because of, yes, the holiday. In the meantime I'm using the equivalent of a borrowed jalopy, so I won't be posting here for a while.

A lot of people aren't looking at their computers this week or next anyway, between the preparations for and the distractions of Thanksgiving and the Miami art fairs, so I'm concentrating on the arrangements for our own little roasted bird in good conscience: It's a small Canard de Barbarie, and I picked it up yesterday at Ottomanelli's. Our plans to celebrate the feast in Brooklyn with 14 others were sadly cancelled at the last minute. Unable to invite company only days before the date, we had to re-think our favorite harvest féte as a much smaller and more home-based event. If it's a culinary success, there will be a report in our Food Blog.

[image from Huro Kitty's Flickr]

Wayne Thiebaud Display Cakes 1963 oil on canvas 28" x 38"

We're telling the bakers' families that cake just isn't enough.

Yes, yes, the rich and powerful have always been with us, and they have always pretty much controlled what art gets seen, even if they may no longer control everything that gets made. But the playing field was almost wholly altered by the explosion over recent decades in the monetary value of the work they compete for at the top end of what they have made into just another "market", and most remarkably in the run up of contemporary art prices.

When Barry and I first met with William Powhida to discuss the New Museum's plan to turn over its spaces to the Joannou collection he agreed that we all knew that this is pretty much how large art institutions operate, but added, "I just don't like them rubbing my face in it".

That was several weeks ago. Now it's become clear that Powhida wasn't the only one.

In the last decade the speed and breadth of communications provided by the internet has altered the art world even more profoundly than big money, and in ways we're only beginning to understand. Among them is the demand for transparency and accessibilty.

I've started to think that maybe earlier protests and movements for institutional reform in the arts, including but not limited to the one identified with Marcia Tucker and the founding of the New Museum itself, were only skirmishes; this time it might be the real thing. Watching what has been happening on line and elsewhere over the last week or so, I'm more and more convinced that we've started something really big, a narrowly-focused critique which has finally taken on a life of its own and gone beyond the current practice of the New Museum. I think it's particularly exciting to find that there's such a range of responses to the legitimate questions which are being raised. It makes me think a little of the conversations which preceded and continued within the French regional and national assemblies which eventually made a Revolution in 1789. Well, maybe now I'm stretching.

As a history nut I may be partial to discussions which invoke the past, but I think a commenter whose remarks appeared on Jerry Saltz's New York Magazine November 16 Vulture post yesterday morning (Wednesday) may have the right metaphor:

The issue here is deeper than this one particular event at the New Museum. There has been some kind of paradigm shift that is not being acknowledged at the top levels of the arts, and they keep partying like it's 2006. It's not.

That's all. It's the Marie Antoinette issue, let them eat cake...

Something feels illegitimate about the time, as if this current era is holding on too tightly to a time that is already gone. I sense that people are simply saying "move on". The public, contrary to Jerry's perception, is not just made up of a bunch of pauper moralists with nothing to say. Sometimes, there is a zest of zeitgeist in the air.

by hellorinis

The rich will always be with us, but maybe, just maybe, we can show them that art is not just another commodity. The aristos can keep their heads this time.

[image from SF MoMA]


Five years ago today Barry and I launched the first version of the ArtCat Calendar (then called ArtCal). It was an outgrowth of the messy lists I used to make on a lined pad (yeah, paper) and carry around the city. The process had become pretty unwieldy as the number of galleries grew. It was also impossible to share with others.

The original on line version did no more than keep track of shows and dates by neighborhood, but it was sophisticated enough to list Chelsea galleries by street and building number.

Some history:

* Images added: September 6, 2005
* RSS and iCal feeds added: December 12, 2005
* E-mail newsletter launched: March 30, 2006
* Newsletter reaches 1000 subscribers: March 13, 2007
* Redesigned: August 28, 2007
* Merged ArtCal and ArtCat: March 2009


HOMU is out, and the director is in.

We've just received word that the continually enthralling, yet characteristically elusive HOMU booth will be out and about today, Tuesday, on West 20th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues, next to the entrance to the Highline Park), as the Director writes, "circa 1-4 PM".

These images were taken last Tuesday, when just before Barry and I had squeezed ourselves onto the little chairs in front of the "Director is [hanging square wood tile] in" sign mounted on the front of the portable booth. We were having so much fun, both constructive and unserious, that we hadn't realized a small crowd had gathered above and behind us. We've been enthusiastic members of the Museum for years, so we had no problem getting up and making room for new visitors.


Honoré Daumier Le Membre de toutes les Académies [Member of All the Academies] 1842 lithograph 9.5" x 7.75" (sheet)

We're "Art Moralists", according to the headline above Jerry Saltz's second New York magazine "Intelligencer" piece. That headline reflects the attitude of some in the art world who have commented on the objections being raised to the New Museum's intention to fill its galleries with a show of a part of Dakis Joannou's collection curated by Jeff Koons, but others are wondering what the critics of that plan have against the museum, the collector, the curator, or perhaps even the art itself.

While it's refreshing to see an American use a form of the word "morals" and not be complaining about unorthodox sexuality, it's hugely disappointing to see an art critic whom I've long respected, and continue to respect, almost casually dismiss the genuine issues of institutional ethics (which have been raised since September 25th) without bothering to understand them or refute them with a judicious argument.

Saltz isn't the only commentator who has failed to recognize the merits of the arguments of the people whom he describes as having "harped" on the ethics of the NuMu/Joannou deal, but at least he doesn't question their integrity. I've seen a number of writers do just that, having failed to see the problem. They're questioning the motives of what one source refers to as the "morality police", asking what kind of grudge the critics of the arrangement might have against the principals involved.

I have complete confidence in the integrity of my original argument, and it's pretty much the same argument outlined by William Powhida, picked up elsewhere, and still being pursued today all over the art world. While I cannot look into the souls of other writers and commenters I have no reason to believe their arguments are based on grudges any more than my own: I have always been enthusiastic about the concept and, usually, the reality, of the New Museum; I have to confess to having an almost total ignorance of the details of the current NuMu administration until this issue appeared; I've found Massimilliano Gioni's curatorial input interesting and worthy of attention; and I've never made fun of Jeff Koons's work or doubted its virtues or those of the artist.

The merits of the argument are genuine. I don't doubt that they can be intelligently disputed, but only if they are understood and if hysterics can be avoided on all sides. Regardless of where the reader stands on the issue now, a calmly-reasoned Bloggy post, published November 12, is a useful reference. It succeeds in moving the entire discussion into a much larger framework. It's well worth sharing with anyone interested in the arts in America, so I've re-blogged it below. [full disclosure: Bloggy is the personal site of my partner, Barry]


Museums, the art market, and public subsidies

A set of scattered thoughts on the New Museum's plans to show works from Dakis Joannou's collection selected by Jeff Koons.

  • Many people have argued online via blog posts or comments that the collection is so interesting that it doesn't matter what the ethics are in presenting it at the museum where Mr. Jouannou is a trustee.

  • I for one don't want to see some of the limited resources and spaces available to show art in this city devoted to a huge exhibition mostly composed of previously-market-validated living artists that we have all heard of already.

  • The New Museum and other museums receive public funding, to say nothing of the subsidies represented by the tax exemption of donations of art and money. The 990 for the New Museum for 2008 shows over $940,000 coming from government grants.

  • Because public funding is still a relatively small percentage of their operating budgets, museums and other non-profit cultural spaces must raise money from wealthy patrons, foundations, and other sources (which are subsidized through tax deductions or the non-profit status of foundations).

  • This is a country that has trouble convincing taxpayers that guaranteeing decent education and healthcare for all American children is something government should do. If that is considered a luxury in the USA, the use of tax-exempt art museums to show works (owned by wealthy collectors) by artists who have been successful in the commercial art market is a rather decadent use of public subsidies.

  • If the market is how we decide what works of art are important, then the market should find a way to cover the costs of presenting these works to the public. The curatorial, educational or scholarly mission of museums is tossed aside, and thus the rationale for providing subsidies, other than the tourism draw of such institutions, disappears.

  • Abandoning the assistance that non-profit institutions have provided to emerging artists, unknown artists, and artists whose work is not successful in the commercial art market will further undermine public support for any kind of funding for culture, which is already pretty shaky.

[image from Lacma Collections]

abcgallery/olga's gallery]


In the second of the New Museum's public forum series of monthly seminars, "Propositions", Nikhil Chopra presented a three-part lecture/performance over the weekend, delivering "Yog Raj Chitrakar and the Traveling Troupe", in sections described as, hypothesis, research, and synthesis.

The image was taken near the beginning of the artist's program on Friday evening, when he offered his hypothesis. Chopra, costumed and performing as a mime throughout the evening-length lecture/performance, is seen playing a flute to accompany the beginning of a video and slide show recording the start of the adventurous and magical story of a road trip to Kashmir, later described to the audience as "paradise on earth".

Chopra regularly tore off a section of brown paper from the large roll seen at the bottom right. He would tape it to the wall, covering the sheet with maps and texts drawn in charcoal, then, returning to the roll, he repeated the process with another sheet - for another page in the story.

This is the text on the sheet seen above:

Yog Raj Chitrakar
(mapmaker and draughtsman)
would like to get the
fuck out of the city,
on the road, making
drawings, dressed like
a fruitcake, chronicles
of the landscape as it
do you want to
come along?
call A 646 346 0333

Earlier he had announced the odyssey with these lines:

destination Kashmir - disputed area [arrow pointing toward his map]
performances from Bombay to Kashmir
on the road six months
from village to village
town to town - chasing

The ambient sound of the video, like the lecture itself, dispensed with any voice-over. It was composed of three or four basic elements: There was the thrum of the engine and smooth whine of the transmission of the truck-like vehicle in which they traveled, and the rhythms of the South Asian songs, both traditional and Bhangra, unwinding from the dashboard cassette player, but this counterpoint was punctuated by the sound of conversations in languages unfamiliar to most in the audience, whenever the party of vagabonds would pause or stop.

Throughout the performance Chopra returned again and again to a carousel slide projector and an old Victrola at the left of the platform stage, changing the still images and switching wonderful old 78 rpm records in harmony with the video and his text drawings.

The musical (and extra-musical) complexion of the evening was a striking change for an artist whose work is usually presented in almost total silence, at least in my experience over the last few weeks.

Barry and I were unable to go back Saturday afternoon, so this post is a completely inadequate account. The resolution of the proposition, the complete story of Chopra's story, has to be left to another. If someone who was able to attend the "resolution" and wants to describe it, I'd be happy to publish the account either as a comment to this post, or, if I'm pointed to something elsewhere, to link to it in an addendum here.

detail of Nikil Chopra's enormous charcoal mural drawn en plein air on Ellis Island last week

Barry and I returned to the New Museum on Sunday to witness the conclusion of Nikhil Chopra's performance. Bloggy has the story, and more pictures.

We're both astounded that there hasn't been more coverage of this extraordinary piece. The installation itself, including videos of earlier performances, remains in the lobby gallery through most of the winter.

We will be there again tonight at 7 for his lecture.





The last 45 minutes were probably the most moving moments in a performance perfectly matched to the situation of the museum's Glass Gallery, not least because of the changing physical disposition of the people present at the time, inside and outside of the space.


Anselm Kiefer Deutschlands Geisteshelden (Germany’s Spiritual Heroes) 1973 oil and charcoal on burlap, mounted on canvas 121" x 268.5"

Still a home for Dichter und Denker


Five major events in German history* are directly connected to November 9, the most recent being the fall of the Berlin Wall, twenty years ago today. Whatever else we make of it, the anniversary of this latest in a series of fateful moments should be a timely reminder, in our contemporary obsession with the present, that everything has a story, if not a reason. Of course I'm talking about history.

"The German Problem".

Historians don't record statesmen and diplomats ever speaking of an enduring "French Problem" or a persistent "English Problem" (although I believe Americans should be more aware than we are that the rest of the world is increasingly thinking of an intensifying and abiding "American Problem"), but over hundreds of years, even two thousand years, for the Romans, the Byzantines, the Carolingians, all the Slavs, the French, Poles, the Danes, the Belgians and the Dutch, the Russians, the Balts, even the Spanish, and, irregularly, the British, there was always something on the order of what would eventually be known as "the German Problem".

The problem was recognized or imagined by non-Germans as the perceived threat of a large and vigorous people without natural borders. The danger was to be minimized by means of policies which would contain the Germans geographically, limit their economic authority, and, by the later nineteenth century, assemble and maintain counterweights to their real or potential power in a united nation-state. It worked pretty well while "Germany" consisted of hundreds of mostly-independent realms (Reiche), and especially during periods when Germans were enduring or recovering from plagues and dynastic battles. The horrible ravages of the Thirty Years War were mostly visited on central Europe (viz., the Germans), but in the midst of the impressive economic and cultural resurgence which followed those religious "crusades" a new player, Prussia, equipped with a modern bureaucracy and a highly-trained standing army, appeared on the field, almost out of nowhere, eventually to succesfully engage with, or seduce, the cultural forces of nationalism in founding the Second German Reich.

Whatever the merits of the proposition, for much of the planet the most important lesson to be learned from two twentieth-century world wars was the imperative of eliminating "the German Problem" once again, and this time for good.

Then suddenly the unexpected, the inexplicable happened, confounding everyone's expectations. The Berlin wall fell, the Soviet bloc and its system collapsed, Germany was peacefully reunited.

New York Times Berlin Bureau Chief, Nicholas Kulish, in a piece in the paper two days ago quoted Robert E. Hunter, senior adviser at the RAND Corporation and an ambassador to NATO under President Bill Clinton. Hunter was able to describe the profound significance of what happened in 1989. After recalling the fears of those observing from the outside that the sudden appearance of "this thing in the center of Europe, if it were allowed to become unified, was going to be a cancer once again and lead to Act III of the great European tragedy." Instead, he continued, "the German problem, which emerged with the unifying of Germany beginning in the 1860s, is one of the few problems in modern history that has been solved.”

Okay, now my eyes were too wet to immediately read further.

Four months after the proclamation of the united German Empire inside the Hall of Mirrors of the occupied Palace of Versailles, the German Austrian composer Johannes Brahms completed a large-scale piece for chorus and orchestra.

Tonight I'm going to be listening to a recording of Brahms' Schicksalsied to accompany thoughts of the deep sadness and unbridled joy linked with this date. Brahms wrote it after reading a poem by Hölderlin which was included in the author's 1797 novel of letters, "Hyperion". The poet had been inspired by the freedom struggle of the Greeks and in these lines he contrasted the glorious world of their ancient gods with a mankind continually threatened by Schicksal (destiny).

The text appears here, in both German and an English translation.

I've just now listened to a sample of the Brahms on line and I was reminded of how much of it relates to the music of his near contemporary, the German German composer Richard Wagner, represented at the time of its composition as Brahms' musical antithesis, that is, defined so by the passionate factions of each. Together they created the Brahms-Wagner "War of the Romantics", which disfigured musical life in the second half of the nineteenth century, but which, so far as I can tell, resulted in no fatalities.

the symbolic collapse of the Revolution of 1848, the collapse of the monarchy in 1918, the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Kristallnacht in 1938, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

[image from lacma]


Nikhil Chopra settled into his temporary home in the lobby-level Glass Gallery at the New Museum on Wednesday.

Ever since the opening of the new building almost two years ago I've heard and read many criticisms of this space, a broad, twenty-foot-deep box on the far end of Marcia Tucker Hall which the architects have described by a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. I don't have a problem with it myself, and in fact I think it's an inspired device. Especially with the right installation, meaning a powerful concept (however subtle it might be), it effects a bridge between the formal, clean white spaces of the Museum above and the vibrant life on the Bowery outside. At the same time it shares its (ideally) seductive offerings with the various functions of the foyer, shop and cafe areas, all very urban, and on a human scale. It has the special appeal of being absolutely free, and it probably works best when it is not just a large shop window but actually open to a visitor walking into the box.




Chopra's is the right installation, and “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX” is a powerful concept. It has the seductive attraction of a live performance and the public is not only invited into the middle of it, but encouraged to bring their cameras. I wrote a short paragraph about the work after visiting the installation during the the press preview last week. This past Wednesday I spent at least two hours with Chopra's performance, in several visits throughout the day, positioning myself on both sides of the glass wall. Since his character in this work is that of a nineteenth-century artist/draughtsman (modeled somewhat on his own grandfather) I was delighted to see that at least one visitor was actually sketching, working on a pencil drawing of the entire installation/performance. Yes, he was sitting in a chair in the cafe which is witness to everything that goes on to the other side of the glass. Myself, I only had a fancy digital camera. Sigh.


The artist, in the character of Yog Raj Chitrakar, will be installed for five days within, in the Museum's description, a "gallery transformed into a turn-of the-century tableau vivant". Except for several excursions outside the museum, he will be eating, drinking, sleeping, washing, shaving, dressing, and sometimes simply observing, all while remaining inside that gallery until the end of the day Sunday.



On Thursday morning he was expected to rise, dress in his antique costume, and, carrying his ever-present brown-paper-wrapped, string-tied bundles, he was to take the subway to the bottom of Manhattan. There he was to catch the ferry to Ellis Island where he would spend much of the day sketching the New York skyline in charcoal on one of the three huge sections of canvas he will have taken down from the east wall of his temporary home. He was expected to do the same thing on Friday and Saturday, each time taking along a different section of canvas, and returning to the Glass Gallery by mid-afternoon.

Both Yog Raj Chitrakar and the by-then-completed mural can be seen inside the space all day on Sunday. I am told we can expect a surprise.

Chopra's performance and installation was curated by Eungie Joo, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs. The New Museum has scheduled additional programs related to this work next weekend, and aspects of the performance and exhibition can continue to be seen at the museum until next February. From the press release:

At its conclusion, remnants of Chopra’s occupation of the space remain on display as an installation. Documentation from three previous performances also on view in this exhibition—Memory Drawing II (Mumbai, 2007), Yog Raj Chitrakar visits Lal Chowk (Srinagar, 2007), and Memory Drawing VI (London, 2008)—suggests the many ways in which the history and reality of a location impact the artist’s execution of characters though costuming, gesture, and action.


Alma Thomas Watusi (Hard Edge) 1963 acrylic on canvas 47.5" x 44.25"

I thought it was a joke, but the story seems to be true. The Painting by Alma Thomas, one of the 45 artworks the Obamas chose to borrow from national museums to hang mostly in the private quarters of the White House, has quietly disappeared from the list.

[By late October, "Watusi (Hard Edge)"], which had been the only painting listed for the East Wing - and reportedly destined for Michelle Obama's office - was no longer on the list. The Hirshhorn confirmed that it had been sent back, but no one involved with the White House loans would say why.

Right-wing bloggers had gone super crazy over the choice of Thomas' work and it now appears they've been able to both assault the personal aesthetic taste of the President and his family and exercise a cultural veto with national ramifications. has much more on both Thomas and the crazies whom her quiet work incites in this blog post published before Thomas went missing.

ADDENDUM: Richard Lacayo has still more, in this TIME/CNN on-line piece, datelined November 5th.

[image from the Hirshhorn]


The White House switchboard lit up with calls from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s emissaries several weeks ago with a message that was polite but firm: The mayor is going to win re-election, they said. We think the president should stay out of the race.

lead paragraph of the lead article in the Late Edition of today's Times

Did Bloomberg really tell Obama he'd better not support Thompson? Did Obama refrain from supporting Thompson because of the Republican mayor's implied theat? Does Obama need Bloomberg that much? Did Bloomberg need a no-show Obama in order to win?

This whole scenario looked crazy yesterday; today it looks insane.

Bloomberg barely tallied 50% of the vote in a very small turnout, even though he spent $100,000,000 on his campaign. His opponent, with a tiny fraction of that kind of money, was almost unknown to most New York voters, and almost invisible. Days before the election the Times reported that some black New Yorkers didn't know Thompson was black. Obama stayed away from the campaign, and never even mentioned Thompson by name.

Does anyone doubt that Thompson would have won had Obama made even the smallest exertion to associate himself with the Democratic candidate? With an upset like that Obama, whose popularity has been declining fast lately, would have become a hero everywhere in the nation. As a coward who wouldn't challenge the billionaire mayor, and his assertion of invulnerability, Obama gets nada; New Yorkers don't get change; everyone continues to lose hope.

APPENDIX: Anthony Weiner must be kicking himself this morning.

[image, otherwise uncredited, from queenscrap]

go to large, high resolution image here

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, especially if it's been drawn by William Powhida. The artist's editorial cartoon, addressing the current weird curatorial course of the New Museum, completely fills the cover of the Brooklyn Rail out tomorrow.

I wrote this post back on September 25th, immediately after reading the NuMu's press release announcing a metamorphosis which will find it installing a series of museum-wide shows displaying the collections of one or more of its own wealthy trustees and curated by those collectors' favorite wealthy artists.

I followed it with this related entry.

From the beginning I was sure this story had legs, but then I noticed almost no one wanted to talk or write about it, even if they were as outraged as I was. Now I think its time has finally come. Thanks, William.

Pick up a copy of the Rail if you live anywhere near one of the outlets. If not, and if you have some coin, you can subscribe (to what I think is the most vital and definitely the most beautiful magazine published anywhere) here.

[image courtesy of the artist and the Brooklyn Rail]


I would argue that Gawker* doesn't quite go far enough in its condemnation of Bloomberg's candidacy, since it stops a little too short of suggesting the obvious alternative. I have no hesitation myself in endorsing the Billy Talen for mayor over Thompson. Thompson (unless he's actually working for a Bloomberg victory) ran an extraordinarily incompetent campaign, and he finally appears to be something of a fool (okay, just for starters, look at where he stands on bike lanes).

Talen is the candidate of a significant political party, the Green Party, but you may never have seen him or heard him; you may not have heard of him: The commercial media ignores Talen and he's not allowed to participate in their vaunted mayoral debates or in their interviews with the approved candidates. But I've heard him talk, of course to crowds, in character as the colorful and truly-righteous Reverend Billy, but also as "layman" Billy in small groups, and to individuals, and he has a better (in both senses) understanding of the city and the world than any of the politicians foisted upon us by the corporations in whose pay they perform, and certainly superior to the small-minded billionaire who blithely, and regularly, buys his high office outright.

Vote for someone tomorrow whose ideas you share. You deserve it; we all deserve it. Talen's mayoral platform is a dream - unfortunately - but that's not a bad place to start.

Hell, if I could I'd even endorse him for president - right now - this time confident we'd get change when we voted for it.

in a post written by Alex Pareene.

[image from Bradley R. Hughes]

untitled (torn t-shirt) 2009

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