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New Museum, Old Oligarchy

December 26, 2009. In the wake of the New Museum's announcement of a controversial exhibition drawn solely from the extensive collection of billionaire Dakis Joannou, one of their trustees and founder of the Deste Foundation in Athens, and slated to be curated by artist Jeff Koons, who is heavily represented in that very collection and who is a close personal friend of Joannou, there has been a glut of commentary both pro and con. Mostly con.

Many resent the obvious conflicts of interest and the elitist monopolization of the finite resources of the art world by just a few players, who strive to dominate, manipulate and benefit their own interests to the exclusion of all others. Many find this cronyism quite reprehensible, and feel it represents "business as usual" at the New Museum, entrenched abuses of power and privilege that the current "Joannou-gate" has merely made more glaring.

William Powhida in A Tale of Three Covers

William Powhida, How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality, cover art, Brooklyn Rail, November 2009
(For a larger, more legible image, click here.)


December 25, 2009. The Brooklyn Rail, founded in 1998, is a scrappy, independent cultural/political broadsheet that covers issues in Brooklyn's waterfront neighborhoods (Williamsburg, Greenpoint, DUMBO, Red Hook) from a politically progressive vantage point. It publishes poetry and fiction and reviews local developments in music, film, dance, theater and books. Most significantly, it provides passionate, detailed, idiosyncratic coverage of the NY arts scene in each and every issue, with a full roster of exhibition reviews, feature articles and long, in-depth "conversations" with artists. Under publisher Phong Bui, it has developed an essential and original voice, and is part of my regular reading list. [Full disclosure: James Kalm, who maintains an ongoing video blog here at, has also contributed regularly to the Rail.]

Viewable online, distributed for free at certain bookstores and alt.culture locations, and also available by subscription, the Rail has a relatively small circulation (around 7,500). Even so, it regularly engages in adventurous promotional efforts normally the province of larger publications; for example, the printing of multiple covers for certain issues to better showcase the artists and contents within.

A case in point: the three different covers of the November 2009 issue. The one I have at home features an image from a Carroll Dunham painting. I understand there was also a Helmut Federle cover. (Both artists had solo shows in NY that month and are interviewed in the November Rail.) However, it is the third cover choice I wish to address here, a b/w drawing by artist, activist, satirist and draftsman William Powhida, executed in full caricature/agitprop mode (and pictured above), in which he addresses cronyism at the New Museum in gleeful, graphic, subversive detail.

Time of the Krampus

December 17, 2009. It might be a sign of the season, but I just heard about the Krampus, a demonic figure engineered to coerce obedience and contrition. Scary stuff, although no worse than some of the art commissars, press agents and museum functionaries I've encountered out there. But please do not fear. They are just dressed up bogeymen. They might shake their chains and make grim noises, but they're only as fierce as you let them be, and they will all eventually pass on.

Jacques Derrida on American Attitude

Derrida's remarks center on cinema, popular journalism and academia, but without much of a stretch they can be applied to the "manipulative, utilitarian" nature of the "Internets", to the expedient assumption that a "readymade discourse" exists, that online "content" can somehow be produced at the snap of a finger. I could "elaborate" on this point, just not right now.

Artists Announced for 2010 Whitney Biennial

The press release from the Whitney Museum arrived two days ago, on Friday morning December 11, 2009, so this information is already a bit old hat. But for those just returning from distant lands, the list for the next Biennial comprises 55 artists, making it one of the smallest in recent memory. By comparison, there were 100 participants in 2006 and 81 in 2008, although that last effort annexed the additional vast space of the Park Avenue Armory.

The pundits have rushed in to label this the Recessional Biennial, but any conscious need to downsize is possibly also based on the Whitney husbanding its resources for the projected expansion to their new downtown branch near the southern terminus of The High Line, with construction scheduled to begin next year. A less sprawling, more pristine and manicured show is just about guaranteed, which seems to reflect the general curatorial preferences of Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari, with each participating artist being allowed just one piece. Less work, fewer mini-retrospectives, greater consideration given to each inclusion, simpler logistics: all givens. And a cursory examination of the list promises more painting than in 2008. Then again, it could hardly have been less.


Find more videos like this on Sharpville

December 13, 2009. Duff Schweninger created the video WILLOUGHBY IN HIS OWN WORDS: A MEMORIAL TRIBUTE for Willoughby Sharp's Memorial at the Guggenheim Museum back in October. For those who did not attend, or who wish to reference the video again, it was just uploaded to Sharpville, and hence posted here. The first anniversary of his passing is this week.

January 23, 1936 – December 17, 2008

Bruce Talks Back: Professional problems. Amateur solutions.

first day of class at BHQFU

In response to Alan W. Moore's critique of their show at Susan Inglett Gallery and my response to said critique, the Bruce High Quality Foundation sent the following note:

Hey Steve,

Thanks for sending this, and thank Alan too for his criticisms. They are well warranted if one is expecting the exhibition to provide a clear argument for what the school is, why it is, or how it got there. For better or worse, we decided against doing that. The school decided to let the school be the school and let the exhibition take a more tongue in cheek, poetic approach to self-representation.

Whatever one feels about that decision, the university itself is a different animal, one that thrives on the kind of conversation you and Alan seem invested in participating in. We will be having our final BYOU meeting of the semester this coming Tuesday and we'd be happy to see you both there. We start at 7 and stop when it's over.


ABMB 2009: First Takes

De La Cruz Collection, facade

December 1, 2009. Artworld Salon, a site to which I have not actively contributed for a year, just posted an open thread on "What to expect when you’re expecting to go to Miami?", and suggested readers send their thoughts.

The following comments will not appear on AWS, but since I have already been down for four days and want to say something about my second home, here are some first takes from Art Basel Miami.

I will not try to make any market predictions regarding who might sell out their booths, or how many satellite fairs will be vindicated in their tents, warehouses and hotel ballrooms. The hundred ring circus will certainly continue. Sixty galleries might have decided to sit it out, but have been handily replaced by ABMB management from the many hopefuls on the waiting list, a testament to the eternal optimism of the human spirit and the unvanquished entrepreneurial appetite of art dealers the world over.

John Zinsser: Art Dealer Archipelagoes @ James Graham

John Zinsser
Art Dealer Archipelagoes

Nov 20, 2009 - Jan 5, 2010

James Graham & Sons
32 East 67th Street
New York, NY 10065
(212) 535-5767

Holly Solomon Gallery

We can all readily cite John Donne on no man being an island, but somehow this inclusive, democratic sentiment never really applied to art galleries. Galleries seem rather to mirror the structure of small duchies in their aloof, quasi-diplomatic hauteur, their protective claims to territory and privilege, and their innate hierarchies: the semi-divine owner/dealer installed in the autocratic center, closely surrounded by a jealous court of advisers and directors, who assiduously attend to the "state visits" of wealthy collectors and influential curators in the snug recess of well appointed private rooms. In this extended metaphor, the icy gallerinas barricaded at the front desks serve as the gatekeepers, the scarecrows or the customs police.

On its own level, the gallery world can be viewed as a miniature recapitulation of the structures and protocols that attend to larger national or corporate regimes. This aping of status and importance is captured with dry, acerbic humor and meticulous historicist rigor by artist John Zinsser in this show of "archipelago" pieces, up at James Graham through January.

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