The ’80s at last

Long ago, I announced my desire to see This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, an exhibition that began at the MCA Chicago and was coming to the ICA Boston, put together by a curator whose work I greatly admire, Helen Molesworth. I mentioned it in the context of my interest in a Canadian trio known as General Idea, whose Robert Indiana-inspried AIDS wallpaper was included in the show, as well as in a theoretical exhibition I’d designed in graduate school. As I explained, the banner image used in exhibition publicity was not dissimilar from my own installation.


Installation by General Idea in "This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s" at the MCA Chicago

Installation by General Idea in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s” at the MCA Chicago


My theoretical exhibition, as designed in Google SketchUp, , which you can view in more detail and navigate in 3D here

My theoretical exhibition, as designed in Google SketchUp, , which you can view in more detail and navigate in 3D here

I believe the publicity image above must have been of the exhibition in its Chicago iteration; in Boston, where I finally saw the show on its last day, General Idea was given less prominence. One side of a freestanding wall had the wallpaper on it, but it was covered with works by other artists, not by General Idea.

Despite this slight misleading, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, as art of the 1980s has been one of my primary interests. The exhibition was a great combination of very famous and expected artists and artworks, and since forgotten (at least by most) names, treating similar themes.

One work that made both literal and figurative great impact in person as opposed to in an anthology of ’80s art was David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now?, a wall-sized, whitened and blondified portrait of Jesse Jackson with those words graffitied across his shoulder. Something I hadn’t known about the work was that when it was first exhibited outdoors, black teenagers attacked it with sledgehammers, reading it as racist, rather than as opposed to racism–a telling dynamic in and of itself. Brilliant artist that he is, Hammons has highlighted this ever since, exhibiting the piece surrounded by a fence-like arrangement of sledgehammers, the evidence of their damage on the piece still visible.

David Hammons, How Ya Like Me Now?, 1988

David Hammons, How Ya Like Me Now?, 1988

Beyond that particular highlight, I’m not sure I have much else to say about the show, as it was enjoyable but not surprising to someone well-versed in the era. Walking through it was like going down a checklist–“there’s one of those, there’s one of those…” It was well-organized by theme, well-selected, and I’m glad I saw it. One of the interesting issues about such art is how didactic and contextual it is. Without foreknowledge of the work, reading the label is usually necessary–the texts were at times overly long, and occasionally the interpretations a bit overblown.

Such is the legacy of the art of that era, at the height of postmodern theory. It’s extremely fascinating to me, but I often have trouble explaining why that is to even those within my field, much less those without.

CAA Interlude 3: Morgan Surrealism

I may have alluded to, and I will now specifically say, that I am working on a show of surrealist photography for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, likely to take place next spring. This will be the first exhibition in a museum that I’ll have been the lead curator on. Neither photography nor surrealism are topics I am already expert in, and so I have been reading up in my spare time (which hasn’t been much). It is timely, then, that an exhibition on surrealist drawing that originated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art came to New York, to the Morgan Library and Museum, a fact I discovered when I was given the catalogue for Christmas.

Drawing Surrealism catalogue cover, with Francis Picabia's Olga, 1930

Drawing Surrealism catalogue cover, with Francis Picabia’s Olga, 1930

I must say that drawing is the medium that least interests me, at least since college when I studied studio art. After having to redo the same drawing exercises in multiple classes, I was desperate to graduate to painting; I so much prefer color to line, and the potential effects of a few easy brushstrokes to the conscientiousness that must be put into pencil and charcoal. My recent work at Bowdoin has increased my exposure and therefore interest in both prints and photographs, but drawing still eludes me somewhat.

And so at first my reaction walking into the exhibition was somewhat detached, but the more I saw the more invested and fascinated I became. The exhibition takes a broad view of drawing, and surrealists of course transcended traditional boundaries between media. Included are photographs, photograms and photocollage, all of which will be important aspects of my show.

Despite the fact that aesthetics was not a primary concern of the surrealists–they were more interested, at times, in provoking the perverse attraction that accompanies disgust, rather than using the seductive power of beauty, though the female nude was a constant subject–many pieces were visually arresting. Some artists used rubbing as an automatic process that thereby gave reign to the unconscious; one of the most stunning was a blue painted rubbing of wood grain by, I believe, Max Ernst (it’s not illustrated in the catalogue or online, and I didn’t jot it down, so I can’t be sure).

The great dada and surrealist master Man Ray–known for his photographs though he considered himself more of a painter, at least initially–is represented not only with an aerograph (a painting made by airgun) and rayographs (also known as photograms, these cameraless photographs are made by laying objects on photographic paper and exposing it), but with actual drawings, a medium I do not associate with him. They are precisely and skillfully drawn (more so than his paintings) and have an at first straightforward appearance that seduces the viewer into the image’s strangeness, achieved using just juxtaposition: a giant safety pin hanging in air above a quaint countryside. These drawings inspired the surrealist writer Paul Eluard’s text, Les Mains Libres [The Free Hands].

This is to point out what were to me the two most memorable works out of a show rich with intriguing and unfamiliar works.

A note on revisionism: in this show, in the Abstraction show at MoMA, and the Gutai show at the Guggenheim, there is clearly an effort to familiarize viewers with an international roster of artists who in the past have been overlooked by a Eurocentric, even just France-centric, view of modernism. I wrote about how the MoMA show was organized geographically but emphasized an international network of artists, writers, composers and dancers; and that unlike many I had already learned a good deal about Gutai, a major modern movement that took place in Japan. Likewise, the Morgan show intersperses among the major Western European and American players, Eastern European, Japanese, South American and Mexican surrealists. Given the still-relevant critiques of the Western-centric bias of art history, it is heartening to see that such commentary is actively being taken to heart–canons are being revised, in the best possible way (at least in these cases).

A note on the didactics: the wall texts highlighted notable artists, vocabulary words and concepts by bumping up their size and setting them in a variety of modern and playful fonts. I thought this was a great way to make the texts accessible to those not versed in the material, and who may want to skim but still learn and enjoy, rather than take a reading test.

A note about the building: this was the first time I had been to the Morgan since it was renovated. I know this renovation was critiqued for remaking the Morgan in the guise of any other museum: you now enter through a modernist atrium, rather than stepping into what was a turn-of-the-century mansion designed by Charles McKim, who also designed the Bowdoin Art Museum. The Isabella Stuart Gardner recently underwent a similar transformation, though I haven’t visited it since then. I certainly bemoan the loss of enchantment, the sense of stepping immediately into a different time. It’s hard, however, not to feel comfortably at ease in the spacious, skylit entryway–we’re so used to such anesthetized spaces (though the Morgan atrium is not without character).

Coming up: what I’ve been reading, some fantasy exhibitions, and a long overdue post about repatriation issues…

CAA Interlude 2: Guggenheim Gutai

I’d say even among art people I know more than most (who aren’t Asian art specialists) about the postwar Japanese movement Gutai. A college art history professor included it as part of the narrative of “modernism and the neo-avant-gardes,” as the class was called; and last year I attended a symposium at Harvard that served as a workshop for the exhibition now on view at the Guggenheim, Gutai: Splendid Playground.

The opening reception of CAA was held at the Guggenheim and offered a preview of the show, but I opted out of this in favor of dinner with my family. I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance while I was there, and thought I would have to make a special trip back to the city before it closed, but I ended up with a friend in town on Saturday afternoon and enough time for us to go on an art adventure.

To quote the Guggenheim’s description, the members of the Gutai movement

explored new art forms combining performance, painting, and interactive environments, and realized an “international common ground” of experimental art through the worldwide reach of their exhibition and publication activities.

The typical narrative has them inspired by the example of Jackson Pollock’s action painting, and while this may be true to a degree, scholars no longer want to give all the credit to western influence, citing the movement as growing out of/reacting against previous Japanese art and the postwar political climate. Nonetheless, a certain creative misreading of Pollock can be useful to explain their modus operandi, just as it can be used to explain Helen Frankenthaler’s stain technique or Allan Kaprow’s happenings.

Often more interested in chance processes and performative actions than final products, Gutai artists made paintings with their feet, remote-controlled cars, vibrators, glass bottles of paint thrown and smashed on the canvas. They made works of art by wrestling with mud and smashing through paper screens. Several of their key exhibitions took place outdoors or in other found spaces, where atmospheric and ephemeral artworks required the viewers’ participation to be activated.

Gutai 2nd Outdoor Exhibition, Ashiya Park (1956)

Gutai 2nd Outdoor Exhibition, Ashiya Park (1956)

Many of their artistic activities were somewhat violent in nature–several labels in the Guggenheim mention cuts, bruises and concussions sustained by the artists–thereby signaling a break with the past, one that so recently included two atomic bombs. But the movement maintained an overall playful tone, one that the Guggenheim generally conveys well, and not just with the exhibition title.

You enter the rotunda to a recreation of Motonaga Sadamasa’s Work (Water), 1956.* Made of polyethylene tubes filled with colored water, the original work was hung from trees in one of the first Gutai exhibitions, which took place outside. Though this same work hung in the rotunda does set the right tone for the show, I found myself wishing it was as enchanting as it must have been outside, with the sunlight gleaming through. Similarly with Yamazaki Tsuruko’s Work (Red Cube), 1956: stepping inside this red canvas cube with the sunlight lighting up the space and the top open to the sky must have been quite an experience; to do so in the gallery was a big shrug.

Motonaga Sadamasa, Work (Water), 1956, recreated for the Guggenheim

Motonaga Sadamasa, Work (Water), 1956, recreated for the Guggenheim

This ended up being a common theme, in which the museum-ification of the work got in the way of its original, participatory and playful intent. Tanaka Atsuko’s Work (Bell), 1955, is a network of bells installed throughout the gallery, designed to go off when the museum visitor chooses to press the button; but the museum had guards standing over the button, only allowing it to be pushed once every 40 minutes, so as not to irritate visitors. Gutai Card Box, “an interactive vending machine that dispenses original artworks in the form of hand-painted cards,” was originally created in 1962 and is reactivated here with artworks made by the surviving Gutai artists, and when those run out, by other contemporary artists. Unfortunately, it’s only in operation during specific hours on Mondays and Fridays. Yoshida Minoru’s Bisexual Flower, 1969, is I believe contained within a giant white inflatable environment; I can only guess, because visitors weren’t being let in to see it. (The review in the New York Times, by the way, mentions all these works without their museum-imposed interruptions. Clearly reviewers get the preferential experience.)

Of course it is challenging to represent in a museum context ephemeral works and performances that took place many years ago, and the museum does so to varying degrees of success. A long composite image of Murakami Saburo smashing through paper screens perfectly captures the movement and brings the action back to life, whereas Shiraga Kazuo’s Challenging Mud, 1955, represented in some smaller photos and one large one tucked away in an ill-traversed corner, remained static–a historical fragment rather than a present artwork.

I remember Caroline Jones, an art history professor at MIT, lamenting at the symposium that the exhibition couldn’t give her Tanaka Atsuko in her electric dress; true, but to see it in person even on a mannequin, in color and periodically lit up rather than in a black and white photo, was well worth it.

Tanaka Atsuko wearing Electric Dress (1956) at 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition

Tanaka Atsuko wearing Electric Dress (1956) at 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition

Tanaka Atsuko, Electric Dress, 1956 (refabricated 1986)

Tanaka Atsuko, Electric Dress, 1956 (refabricated 1986)









So too were the paintings, which were quite stunning to behold. Though at times the product mattered little in comparison to the process, at others the artists were extremely interested in materiality, “the scream of matter itself” (the word Gutai means “concreteness”). The unusual production methods and materials show in the works’ presentation–juxtaposed areas of gloss and matte, fragments of glass, torn supports–enlivening the medium in ways that contemporary painters should take note of. The processes too were, when possible, represented with videos, on small monitors on the floor that pleasantly did not distract from the paintings themselves, for once more mesmerizing than the moving image.

Shiraga Kazuo, Wild Boar Hunting II, 1963. Oil, boar hide, and spent bullets on wood panel,

Shiraga Kazuo, Wild Boar Hunting II, 1963. Oil, boar hide, and spent bullets on wood panel.

A note on the wall texts: there’s always a struggle in museums, particularly when showing work that requires a lot of background in order for someone not versed in modern and contemporary art to understand, between making texts overly didactic or patronizing, or obscure and art historical/jargon-y. The Guggenheim did an excellent job explaining the concepts in a straightforward, understandable manner–accessible but not dumbed down.

Another note: that the website for this exhibition is very poorly designed and difficult to navigate; this compared especially to MoMA’s exhibition websites (like that for Inventing Abstraction), which are always stellar (despite how confusing their homepage is). Ann Temkin, a curator at MoMA, was speaking on a panel at CAA about curatorial work and how it’s changed. She mentioned the interesting fact that MoMA gets 3 million visitors at the museum each year, and 21 million on their website. As such, she said the website can’t just be the “5%” of the workload that gets done after the exhibition and catalogue are taken care of. Unfortunately, that is the way my museum has been operating. Though we are lucky to be at college with an IT department that can do web development for us, they’re swamped and so are we, and “after the fact” is usually the way exhibition websites get treated, if at all. We certainly can’t continue on like that, and we’re trying to work on it, among a million other things.

*I have done names as the Guggenheim did them: in the Japanese style, with the family name first.

Next up (hopefully by late Saturday or Sunday), Drawing Surrealism at the Morgan Library…

Prints. PrintsPrintsPrintsPrintsPrints.

Bruce Brown, independent curator and former director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), recently noted (in a panel about printmaking, in conjunction with a show he did about Maine printmakers) that the Maine art world this season has been all about prints. My season has been no exception.

Two shows at my own museum, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, have been about prints. The first, Fantastic Stories: The Supernatural in Nineteenth-Century Japanese Prints, focuses on the presence of ghosts and supernatural beings in gorgeous, hyper-colored, intricately-patterned Japanese woodblock prints. (On view til March 3rd)

The second, which I worked on more extensively, is a memorial exhibition to David Becker, a ’70 Bowdoin alum, print collector/curator/scholar, and extremely generous donor to the museum. Between his gifts and the bequest of his estate (he died in 2010), the Bowdoin Art Museum received 1500 artworks from him, mainly prints. And among the prints are absolute masterpieces: from fine, early impressions by Dürer, Rembrandt, Parmigianino, and Piranesi, to contemporary prints by Jim Dine, Elizabeth Murray, and Kiki Smith, and everything in between. To capture just the tip of the iceberg of these diverse riches in an exhibition of about 80 prints, it was decided (before I arrived) that the show would be organized by letters of the alphabet, each representing a theme, and was titled Printmaking ABC: In Memoriam David P. Becker. As the name suggests, the themes would introduce some of the techniques of printmaking (L for Lithography, W for Woodcut), but also take on thematic subject matters that were well-represented in Becker’s collection, because they were dear to his heart (A for Alphabet – he loved writing manuals and typography, another layer to the appropriateness of the show’s organization; P for Political Activism, T for Trees).

As part of the three-person curatorial team at BCMA, I was extensively involved in deciding what the themes would be and which prints would be in the show (though those two processes were reversed), and then writing texts for certain groupings. Through this, I now know the difference between various printmaking processes – knowledge I did not previously possess.

Hung in clusters by theme, on rich saffron-colored walls, the show looks great. We’ve only received positive feedback thus far, including in a guestbook that has been very actively used, inviting those who knew Becker to reflect on his legacy. There will also be an event on January 31st and February 1st, a two-day symposium of major print scholars and friends of Becker, that will do just that.

The biggest drawback to the show is that there’s just too much there: the prints are rich, small, intimate, detailed, and there are so many of them. Becker was all about close-looking and this show rewards that, but one can only do so much of it. Focusing on the whole of the show, I feel even I haven’t done the kind of intimate looking these prints deserve; when I do, I still find things I’m surprised by. I live with it everyday, and I don’t think I’ll be able to really absorb it all by the time it closes, on March 24th.

I mentioned a print show curated by Bruce Brown: I am referring to Prints: Breaking Boundaries, at the Portland Public Library, sponsored by the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. The explores the ways contemporary Maine printmakers are moving beyond traditional printmaking techniques, incorporating collage, assemblage, installation, three-dimensional surfaces and other supports, and digital printing.

The panel discussion, also mentioned above, that accompanied the show included three artists from the exhibition: Adrienne Herman (a Smithie, like me!), Karen Adrienne (confusing, isn’t it?), and Damir Porobic. The most interesting point that came up in their discussion was that with the increasing hybridization between the various visual arts, the constantly emerging new combinations of media, printmaking is escaping its perhaps once inferior position among them.



Another Bruce Brown print show up in Maine now is Dorothy Schwartz: Evolution of a Printmaker, at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. She is also a Smithie, and the wife of a former music professor at Bowdoin. I plan to check out the show this Friday during the Portland art walk. I’ll let you know what else is of note!

Recent Encounter: “In the Holocene”

This is less full a review, and more quick notes and impressions on an exhibition. One reason not to review fully is that it is an e exhibition that I personally worked on, and so my perspective is skewed. Another is time and energy constraint: you’ve likely noticed the greatly reduced frequency of my posts the last few months. In order to keep this blog sustainable during my busy working life, I need to let go of the idea of fully developed posts.

I was in Boston last weekend, and one of my goals was to see a few exhibitions I’d worked on while I was in grad school there. The first was In the Holocene at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, which I worked on as an intern for over a year. The exhibition tackles the alternative ways that artists have approached scientific principles, including mathematics, different orders of time, biological mimicry, etc.

And after a year of staring at thumbnails in our excel spreadsheet checklist, it was such a pleasure to see the works in the flesh. Since that year was spent so focused on the intellectual and conceptual underpinnings of the show, it was refreshing to see that, in fact, the physical objects included were stunningly beautiful. I was particularly attracted to several sculptures by contemporary female artists, and would have loved to spend a long time just contemplating them:

images are not from the show, and may not be the exact pieces in the show

Carol Bove, Aurora, concrete, bronze, steel and seashells, 2012

Leonor Antunes, Chain of Triangles (from Vernet to Barcelona), 2011, Copper

Thea Djordjadze, Mathèmat, 2006, lacquered steel

Pamela Rosenkranz, Stay True, from the series ‘Firm Being’, 2009

Some works made use of such unique materials that their tactility was quite unlike anything I’d seen before, and these too encouraged prolonged viewing:

Jimmie Durham, Semi-arbitrary patterns, 2004, Stoning, plastic, metal, wood

Laurent Grasso, Studies Into the Past, 2011, oil on oak panel

Rashid Johnson, Electric Universe, black soap, wax, vinyl, wood, book, brass, incense, shea butter, and space rocks

I recall from my work on the show the long struggle over the installation: would all the works we’d chosen even fit? Oh wait, will we actually have enough work to fill the space? Should we choose a dramatic wall color, maybe a dark gray? The installation ended up spare – but by no means sparse – and white, which in fact was the perfect way to let the objects speak, both individually and to each other. I am extremely pleased and proud.

Artists I Like: A Salute to General Idea

For a “Curating Contemporary Art” class last year, we were tasked with creating a theoretical exhibition. I chose the Canadian collective General Idea (1969-1994), because, well, I like them, but also because,

though well-recognized through retrospective exhibitions in Canada and Europe, [I thought they] deserved more attention here.

I also noted:

a recent revived interest in art of the eighties, particularly art related to AIDS-activism (including an upcoming show at the [MCA Chicago and] ICA Boston curated by Helen Molesworth).

With that heightened focus, General Idea seems to making a frequent appearance in e-flux and other art announcements, including in that very exhibition I mentioned, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, in an installation similar to the one I imagined.


Installation by General Idea in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s at the MCA Chicago and ICA Boston


My theoretical exhibition, as designed in Google SketchUp

which you can view in more detail and navigate in 3D here, and was based on a previous installation:

General Idea, “Infections,” as installed at the World Wide Video Centre, The Hague, Netherlands, November 1994

Other recent mentions that have come up – an edition that the collective intended to produce in 1980 but did not fully complete, called Liquid Assets:

General Idea, “Liquid Assets,” 1980

and an announcement of a lecture by AA Bronson, the surviving member of the trio, at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, accompanied by a brief interview in their magazine.

AA Bronson

I love being right…

… but who doesn’t? I refer in particular, though, to when your interpretations of art or artworks end up being validated by the artists themselves (though, if they’re not, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong–or that they’re right).

Today’s case has to do with Fred Wilson, a favorite of mine whose work I have presented and written on before. Last year, for a Curating Contemporary Art course, I began an essay on his work with an analysis of a video segment for Art21, the PBS series that looks at contemporary art.


Here’s what I wrote about the first few minutes of the video, which take place in Wilson’s studio:

The room in his studio where he arranges the objects is a white-walled, naturally-lit, cavernous warehouse space. He moves between this immaculate room and another room, just as high-ceilinged but not as well-lit, cluttered with ladders, portfolios, and artwork wrapped in cardboard and furniture blankets. He repeatedly returns to this room to retrieve objects from a wall of sturdy wooden shelving that houses his collection, resembling a museum storeroom. This analogy is key: Wilson’s studio, reflective as it is of his practice within museums, is itself set up like a museum. The mess of packing materials and the inactive collection occupies the storeroom; the curator/artist brings objects out of storage to be exhibited in the clean, bright, white room – the proverbial white cube of the exhibition space.

It is clear in this case that Wilson’s studio is meant to resemble the museums in which he does his projects; thus his studio becomes a staging area, where he can simulate an arrangement of objects as it will appear in a gallery or museum.

This supposition was based solely on my viewing of the video and my foreknowledge about Wilson’s practice. Here’s what was written in an article in the November 2012 issue of ARTNews:

Wilson bought his studio, formerly a garage, in 2001 and renovated it to look very much like a Chelsea gallery, with a facade of frosted windows, pristine white walls, and a poured-cement floor. “I wanted it to be this way because this is my gallery,” says Wilson, whose interventions in museum collections are often site-specific…

Entering his backroom storage unit is like walking into a combined history museum and thrift shop…

Quite similar, no? I’m realizing this may be coming off as bragging; I do not mean it to be. I only mean to convey that as someone who analyzes art for a living, it is satisfying and reassuring to find that what amount to educated guesses have some basis in reality; not only does Fred Wilson’s studio resemble a gallery, he renovated it to be so.

I experienced a similar feeling at a lecture by Allan McCollum, another artist I wrote extensively about in my undergraduate years. His lecture was a a sort of career survey, as my paper had been. Much of my analysis was based solely on my observations of his projects, as many of them had not been written about by other critics or historians. And much of what he said in the lecture bore out my analyses.

I guess I might have found myself in the right field, huh? I of course have my doubts at times. But lately, though work has been stressful and busy, I am finding that I am loving every single thing I am doing there, and I would be happy to keep doing it for quite awhile longer.

The Art Newspaper, 1

I apologize for getting political, particularly for those who might not agree with me. But, I imagine most of you probably do, so I’m not too worried.

There was an article in the Art Newspaper reminding us, in case we forgot (which we might have, because it’s ridiculous–see below), that Romney and Ryan, like all Republicans eventually do, would propose to cut the budgets of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). I did my second graduate school qualifying paper (I wrote a bit about the first one here) about the removal of a video by David Wojnarowicz from an exhibition at the Smithsonian in 2010, and by extension, about public funding for the arts. This included a slight detour back into the culture wars of the late ’80s and early ’90s, which eventually saw the end of grants to individual artists and the budget of the NEA drastically cut. It has steadily risen since, only to be hacked at again and again.

I don’t plan to go on a rant about how important the arts are to society. I won’t even give you numbers detailing how the U.S.’s arts budget falls far below much smaller countries with much smaller budgets, revenues and GDPs. I will say this: the combined budget of the NEA and NEH is currently $292 million. They would like to cut that in half, and that is part of their plan to lop $3.3 trillion off the federal deficit.

Let’s do some quick math-how many zero’s is a trillion? Oh, interesting, my computer calculator won’t do that many. OK hang on… got it. Cutting the NEH/NEA budget in half would get you — drumroll please — 0.44% of the way towards your $3.3 trillion goal! Congratulations, dream team!

In the meantime, the three R’s, Republicans Romney and Ryan, would lose us $2 trillion in revenue over the next ten years by reducing the tax rate on the top income bracket to 25%, and ending taxes on income from interest, capital gains, and dividends. Fun fact: this means Romney, for one, would pay only .82% on $21 million he earned in 2010/2011. Not a bad deal! For him. Not a bad deal for him.

If I’m being snarky, it’s because I’m absolutely befuddled how anyone could fall for this. This is a lot like my math about how fast I’m reading the many e-flux articles flooding my inbox. It does. not. make. sense.

There’s a note towards the end of the article about how the Reagan administration increased charitable giving from the private sector through tax incentives, and that’s great; it was particularly important for corporations and wealthy patrons to step up to the plate once public funding for the arts went kaput. The implication in the article, however, is that maybe letting the rich keep more of their money will also help with private giving. This is also pretty anti-logical. As an artist/blogger quoted in the article says:

When your tax rate approaches zero, the tax benefit of donating money or art drops, too.

Right. Getting a break on your taxes is no longer a benefit if you’re barely being taxed. This guy adds that there are social and cultural motivations to donating money for the arts besides tax incentives. Of course there are! But those won’t radically shift giving trends, whereas it’s clear that tax incentives do: charitable giving rose 25% under Reagan’s incentives (I would like to state that despite this one policy, I am not a Reagan fan: he is the one who got us into this mess in the first place). The end of the tax incentive would once again cause this number to drop.

It’s basically the same argument they’re making about the economy: putting more money into the hands of the extremely wealthy will “trickle-down” to the rest of us (see! goddamn Reagan!). I wonder how Romney’s charitable giving is.

NOTE: Of course the Art Newspaper requires a digital subscription; I’ll try to get a good scan of the article and post it later. Coming up, a repatriation controversy special! Nigeria demands back Benin bronzes from the MFA!

Keepin’ Up with the E-Flux, 3; or, Why I’m Moving to Rotterdam

I wrote one of my graduate school qualifying papers on the theory of literary critic Harold Bloom, called “the anxiety of influence.” In a quick nutshell, the theory is about how a “poet simultaneously imitates and distorts the work of his predecessors in order to overcome the anxiety that their influence provokes” (my words). It has often been applied to artists as well as poets, as it was in my paper (in my case, to appropriation artists–Mike Bidlo and Sherrie Levine specifically).

I often worry that the artists and theories I’m interested in are passé; in Bloom’s case I believe he has fallen somewhat out of favor because… why was it again? Oh, yeah, cuz he’s a racist sexist jackass. But, much like Freud, his personal shortcomings do not completely invalidate his better ideas.

Anyhoo, I was pleased to see, in my e-flux reading (see parts 1 and 2), that an MFA graduate exhibition in Rotterdam used Bloom’s theory as the theme, and one of his books on the theory, The Map of Misreading, as the title.

Validation! The Witte de With Contemporary Art center in Rotterdam had an exhibition in 2005 on forms of reenactment in contemporary art; it included my guy Mike Bidlo, who is very out of fashion. Man, they really get me in Rotterdam!

Keepin’ Up with the E-Flux, part 2

In my last post, I talked about keeping up with email announcements from e-flux. Another interesting note I came across…

First let me preface this with the fact that I’ve been thinking about curating and exhibitions a lot–well, yeah, obviously, since that is my field. But in particular, I’ve been thinking about exhibition organization and design. For practical reasons, due to a lack of money, energy and time on the part of understaffed museums, exhibition organization and design often defaults to the basic. As my current boss asked me pleadingly in my interview when he was still just my prospective boss, “what’s the solution?” I don’t know, but I’m thinking about it.

I worry that, in my career, not only will I lack the resources but the creativity to come up with alternatives to white walls, single row hangs, organization by chronology or theme. I am finding that when I work with my curator on installations, I think very linearly, while he does not; he says he was the same way when he just got out of school, but he was pushed and he changed, so hopefully I will too.

Part of the tension is that I am perhaps taking the educational function of museums too literally. How can we teach our visitors about art history unless we hang our permanent collection chronologically, or by school or nationality, and explain exactly why we’re doing it? But you can’t teach unless you first attract, and my curator tends to focus on the aesthetics of the installation, without being overly concerned with didactics. There may yet be a happy middle ground between our approaches, one I can learn to implement in the future.

But I digress. The point of this meandering thread was that in my e-flux readings I came across an idea that intrigued me. The announcement was about an exhibition of a Danish furniture designer in a Korean museum:

New exhibition style, new stories each month
In a dedicated space at the museum, some of his famous designs will be displayed differently under different themes each month—a new exhibition style experimented for the first time in Korea…

So many questions! Does this mean an actual rearrangement of the objects? Or just different didactic texts? I doubt they’ll actually be changing wall color, but will they actually be changing wall color?  I want to see what form this experimentation takes, but given that the exhibition’s in Korea, and I’m not sure how good or public their installation photography will be, I doubt I will. So the other question: “the first time in Korea…”–where else has it been implemented? Can I see how that worked?

An intriguing idea, and one to keep in mind in future. But as I said, I worry about the educational function of museums, and that overly designed or gimicky or obscure arrangements will confuse and alienate visitors, rather than attract and educate them. Once again, a middle ground can be found, but it’s a delicate balance.

In my next post, I’ll post (the noun is the same as the verb) a little mini paper/exhibition review I wrote for a museum studies class a couple years ago, about a case when exhibition design went too far.