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The "Christmas Office Party" Show in the LES: Counting Down to 2009

One thing about the Vulture (Devouring Culture) section of the online edition of New York Magazine. When they write about art, it comes with a trendy hook, a fierce desire to stay just one step behind the young and creative. They generally hope to pin the tail on the zeitgeist.

This was again in evidence in their coverage of the recent opening of Without Walls, a group sculpture show at Museum 52, a gallery on Rivington Street, in which work by over 50 younger sculptors was exhibited, with the proviso "that the walls would not be used, and that the sculpture should be within the approximate dimensions of two foot high, one foot wide and one foot deep."

This led to a lot of small objects densely installed on the floor. And apparently it was a VERY crowded opening, with some of the work in seeming danger of being trampled by the celebratory hordes. So the New York Magazine piece naturally advanced a wild, Christmas party hook: "Artwork Goes Miraculously Un-Stepped-On at Perilous Group Show".

Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), circa 2008

Three coincident events have caused me to re-examine Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), a thirty-one minute black-and-white film by Fischli & Weiss, which follows an unmanned chain reaction of low tech events orchestrated in their Zurich studio in 1987. In its broad object humor, material pathos, fanciful appetite for destruction and commitment to an inexorable linearity of cause-and-effect, it is often compared to the "machines" of the cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

First Event. A video of the piece, owned by MoMA in New York, is installed as an introduction to the new Artist's Choice exhibition at MoMA by artist Vik Muniz, entitled Rebus. It is projected in a third floor hallway, just outside the main galleries, as a prefatory comment or demonstration of Muniz's organizing thesis, suggesting the associated "chain" of sculptures, design objects, photographs, drawings, editions, installations and paintings, drawn from MoMA's collection, which he has selected and arranged within.

While the aesthetic cause-and-effect implied by Muniz is neither as linear nor as determined as in The Way Things Go, he does create many instructive continuities and discontinuities, formal similarities and purposeful confusions between "high art" and design objects. These playful double and triple takes, engendered in the audience, inform the entire exhibition and also echo strategies of the meta- which have been the subject of Muniz's own work for years. Interestingly, another F&W piece, Things from the Room in the Back, a room-sized installation from 1999, is also featured in its own separate space.

"The Artist as Troublemaker" at Austrian Cultural Forum, NY

This is a text in progress. It is an unfinished and incomplete version.

The Artist as Troublemaker
December 19, 2008 - March 28, 2009
Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 East 52nd Street, New York
produced by Andreas Stadler, curated by Peter Pakesch

The Artist as Troublemaker just opened at the Austrian Cultural Forum, curated by Peter Pakesch, manager and artistic director at the Museum Joanneum in Graz. The exhibition is concerned with the "trouble" certain artists provoke in their aesthetic practice, particularly with regard to the very spaces and structures in which they exhibit, their relation to the aims and conventions of these spaces, to their parameters of exhibition, and to their self image and self definition. It centers on museums as "the focal point and testing ground of the encounter" between artist and institution, and features the work of seven artists and/or artist collectives: Günter Brus, Clegg & Guttmann, Olafur Eliasson, Martin Kippenberger, Dorit Margreiter, Diana Thater, Sofie Thorsen.

This is, therefore, another rest stop on the well traveled international superhighway of institutional critique, although with an expected (and some might say appropriate) Austrian inclination in its selection of artists and in the nationalities of its curator and venue. This dialectic of local vs. global is a delicate balance that initiatives such as the ACF or the Swiss Institute need to satisfy in fulfilling a parochial mandate while also meeting the wider demands of speaking in the various ecumenical tongues of the art world. It is a continuing issue, not fully resolved. But ultimately, for an exhibition of this sort to fail or succeed would be according to the rigor of its definitions and the intentions of its thesis, not just for the artists and work chosen but for an overarching examination of artist/institutional interplay that we might hope to find ratified throughout. If there is not a single thread concerning the sort of institution that is being questioned nor the sort of inquiries that are being posed by the artists through their practice, we might still hope to find a multivalent approach that sheds light upon a series of institutionally founded critiques.

As Mr. Pakesch has mentioned in conversation, the museum as institution is relatively young, a scant two centuries within the long, long history of art. It has come under closer scrutiny in recent years as museums attempt to redefine themselves in a new millennium, and as artists, some working in new media or with new theoretical and semiotic concerns, push against the existing walls of the institution. This pending process of reinvention is particularly relevant to Pakesch as chief officer of a large museum that showcases not only contemporary art but also craft, the applied arts, period pieces and anthropological concerns - folk art, costume, implements, Baroque sculpture and painting - as well as natural history exhibits in geology, zoology and botany. Founded by Archduke Johann in 1811 (hence its name), the Joanneum hearkens back to that (now seemingly innocent) moment when the sum total of human knowledge and endeavor was deemed capable of being encompassed and studied under one roof. As the explosion of knowledge, communication systems and productivity in the last two centuries makes this conceit feel a bit quaint, it seems the museum has already needed to confront and reformulate the limits of its original institutional imperative.

In the current exhibition we find a multi-generational approach. As with many recent efforts in the reformulation of contemporary Austrian cultural history, its "year zero" is the formative and famous examples of Viennese Actionismus from the mid 1960s. Günter Brus serves as the spiritual and practical "grandfather" of The Artist as Troublemaker, and is represented by a series of b/w photographs documenting his "actions" involving blood, semen, urine, excrement, entrails and the mortification of the flesh, an intentional and primal investigation of the limits of performance, the endurance of the body and the ability of the state to tolerate and regulate the provocative content and execution of his performances. Brus has summarized his aesthetic practice with the triumvirate of Malerei, Selbstbemalung, Selbstverstümmelung (painting, self-painting, self-mutilation).

Julian Schnabel is not Fidel Castro

CBS News featured a 12 minute segment on 60 Minutes last night (Sunday, December 7, 2008) dedicated to Julian Schnabel. The segment was generally respectful, fair minded and generous - some might even say fawning - examining the artist's childhood, career, painting and film making. The central interview, conducted by Morley Safer, took place in Palazzo Chupi, the great pink elephant that Signore Julian has erected on the banks of the Hudson River in the West Village.

The palazzo has engendered some controversy lately, but there was no critique of it offered in this segment, no mention of the several community groups aghast at its ostentation, color, and invasive presence, no discussion of the several unsold units in the building, which Schnabel has developed with his own money and in his own image, a veritable labor of love. This subject is carefully skirted, as any recent mention has caused Schnabel to become confrontational and visibly agitated. But then Safer "dares" to cite critic Robert Hughes, who famously baited Schnabel during the 1980s, calling him untalented, bombastic and supremely egotistical. This proves too much for Schnabel, who lashes out at the grandfatherly Safer and does not forgive him for the remainder of the interview.

You can access the contretemps above at 8:00 through 9:30, with a transcript below from CBC News:

"Speaking of critics, your old nemesis Robert Hughes once said that you are to painting what Stallone is to acting," Safer remarks.

"Is this really what you want to do?" Schnabel asks. "I mean Robert Hughes is, he’s sort of like a guy, a bully in a bar that’s sitting around waiting for somebody to trip on a banana peel."

Way to Go Go (The Tao of the Pink Slip)

The following text is attributed to Larry Gagosian. He reportedly emailed it to his entire staff back in November: after the auctions, before Art Basel Miami.

If you would like to continue working for Gagosian I suggest you start to sell some art. Everything is going to be evaluated in this new climate based on performances. I basically put in eighteen hours a day, which any number of people could verify. If you are not willing to make that kind of commitment please let me know. The general economy and also the art economy is clearly headed for some choppy waters; I want to make sure that we are the best swimmers on the block. The luxury of carrying under-performing employees is now a thing of the past.

First comment: And I thought only bloggers put in long hours.

Second comment: Undoubtedly heads will roll, and soon, and not just a few. It has been conservatively estimated that about 40 percent of the art galleries in New York folded during the last serious market correction in the early 1990s. Whatever the numbers this time, a serious pruning at Gagosian alone, considering his many spaces and employees, is equivalent to seven or eight smaller galleries folding.

With the downsizing of large, multinational art establishments, the closing of museums, the drying up of private and corporate sources of art funding, it's starting to get very cold out there.

Remember the pink bunny who used to picket Gagosian's 24th Street space? After all these years, I think he's proven his determination and work ethic. If he's willing to put in an 18 hour day, perhaps he should leave his resume at the front desk.

Miami from Afar: the Artnet and Artforum Roundups

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Saturday morning, December 6, 2008. Were I in Miami now for Art Basel week, I would be enjoying the annual brunch at the Sagamore Hotel hosted by Cricket and Marty Taplin. I would be eating a crepe or two, sipping a mimosa, lounging poolside, greeting friends, perhaps getting a foot massage. I would go to the beach to view Olaf Breuning's oversize sand sculpture of a bikini babe with a Paul Klee face. I would certainly attend the book signing, in the lobby, of a new 350 page volume on the collection of Marty Margulies. I would bask outdoors in 75 degree sunshine, not look out my window at a semi-overcast 34 Fahrenheit.

But I am not in Miami. Not this year. I am in NYC and getting all my news second hand, through the internet. Still, I already managed to post on ABMB topics five times this week. Apparently, when not encumbered with actually having to attend the event, when sitting in front of my computer nursing a torn tendon in my ankle, when sorting through the coverage of others, I can write much more. Ironic? You can reference the results below on this site.

This will be my sixth (and hopefully last) text, and it will again respond or add to articles on other sites. Because yesterday evening, both Artnet and posted their first major pieces on ABMB by their respective editors, Walter Robinson and David Velasco (who has risen to the helm now that Brian Sholis has left for more esoteric pursuits). Two very different gentlemen. One gay, one not. One young, one not so young. One thin, one not so thin. One goes to parties and takes pictures of (seemingly hundreds of) people. The other confines himself to the Convention Center (at least in this piece) and typically snaps the artwork. One does basic "just the facts, ma'am" reportage, the other flirts with fabulosity. Yet they are remarkably consistent on one point: that things have not changed (worsened) all that much this year. The titles say it all: "Fair Enough" and "Crisis, What Crisis?"


The invitation to the opening of The Station in Miami on December 2 was billed as a special performance by Terence Koh. But the elusive artist, who once called himself "Asian Punk Boy", arrived quite late and then just walked around the space, talking with friends. When questioned, he indicated that this very act of doing nothing was his performance.

Which kind of left Station curator Shamim Momim holding the bag. But she did not become curator of the 2008 and 2004 Whitney Biennials (she included Koh in the latter) for her lack of resilience in the face of adversity. Commenting on the No Koh Show, she indicated: "Terence's art is about nothing. His performance is that he is not playing music."

Then again, this is the man who, after a previous trip to ABMB, declared that "MIAMI SUCKS LIKE A COCK IN AN ASS THAT HAS BEEN TURNED INSIDE OUT."

Ai WeiWei in Miami

I remain in New York, so the following post on Ai WeiWei's presence in Miami is derived from hearsay and images received on the web. But it seems this controversial and formidably conceptual artist has executed a potent double play.

At the Art Nova booth of Galerie Urs Meile at ABMB, he is represented by Light Cube, 2008, in his own words "a large cube made of chandeliers. It took 170,000 amber-colored beads to put it together. It looks like a minimal cube and brings to mind the work of Donald Judd or Dan Flavin".

The picture below, taken on site by Miami blogger Alesh Houdek, shows the artist being interviewed in front of his work.

Less Money, More Civility?

In my earlier post on "Art Basel Miami Beach and the New Economy", I predicted one result of an economic downturn would be to increase horizontality at the expense of verticality, cooperation in place of ego tripping, and to effect a "new modesty of scale and purpose", a "major realignment of the zeitgeist, a 'kinder, gentler' art world."

Seems I'm not the only one to think so. In his recent ABMB coverage on, Judd Tully notes this spirit, recognizing "a new friendly approach from dealers who, in the art market’s boom days, became used to tough bouts of one-upmanship". One gallerist rather transparently reveals that now he cannot be as rude to clients.

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