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Contra Murakami

A recent item in New York Magazine suggested that Takashi Murakami's art (currently in retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum) is so wild and crazy that it defies description. This didn't sit well with me, not only because it disparages the discipline of art criticism and the craft of its practitioners, but also because it smacks of cheap marketeering, hoping to elevate the Japanese artist to the undeserved status of demiurgic uberkunstler.

Art of Darkness

March 28 - 29, 2008
Presented by Milwaukee International
495 Broadway, 3rd Floor

Considering those aspects of Armory Week in New York which might be remembered in days to come, I predict Dark Fair will resonate in the annals of art history, and not just for the central conceit of doing it off the grid — of using no plug-in electrical devices or overhead lights at its Swiss Institute venue, instead substituting candles, flashlights, battery powered laptops, kerosene lamps and other glow-in-the-dark initiatives — but for its subversive stance as an anti-fair, an event that emulated the form but not necessarily the mandate to sell. It opened on Friday, closed on Saturday, and in the interim attracted an audience that stretched around the block.

“The Embrace of Locality”... Whitney Biennial 2008

Were the Whitney Biennial an entry on the police blotter of art history, of the Who, What, When, Why, “Just the Facts, Ma’am” variety, then this short text concerns its Where. Unlike other New York museums, which have recently, for better or worse, completed dramatic new building projects (MoMA’s Tanaguchi temple and the New Museum’s grey ghost on the Bowery) or made major efforts in franchising their brand overseas (look no further than the Mc Guggenheims) the Whitney has generally been stymied in its expansion plans.

Death Not Allowed in France

Forwarding along from our good friends at Artforum.


Death is ... unpopular in the village of Pau, France. According to Agence France-Presse, the mayor of Pau has taken a rather different approach: issuing a decree that bans residents from dying in the village unless they have reserved a spot in the cemetery. "It is forbidden for any person not having a plot in the cemetery […] to die on the territory of the village," said mayor Gérard Lalanne, adding that there would be a "severe punishment" for offenders. "The first dead person to come along, I'll send him to the state's representative," he said.

According to AFP, the extreme measure stems from a shortage of space in the cemetery of the village, which has 260 residents. With his decree, Mayor Lalanne hopes to fight a legal ruling that prevents the current cemetery from being enlarged. A precedent was set in another French village, Cugnaux, where the cemetery was expanded only after that town's mayor also outlawed death.

On (the Lack of) Painting at the 2008 Biennial

With so little painting hung at the Whitney, it would have been a more radical gesture, and not really that much of a stretch, for the curators to have gone for broke and selected none at all. Examining what was finally chosen and how it is presented within the show might prove instructive, and not just on the changing status of painting in the 21st century, but also regarding the assertion and abdication of curatorial will.

In the current Biennial, painting seems to be handled with kid gloves, approached like a "viral" entity, quarantined from the primary form of the exhibition (installation), or else treated as installation art in its own right by being sequestered into individual, private rooms. Is this to protect other media from the "infection" of painting? or is it a belated effort to isolate and hopefully rekindle the creative spark of the medium, to counteract the "death of painting" that has been proclaimed so frequently over the last thirty years?

The Great Whitney Biennial 2008 Re-Post

In preparation for, or perhaps in lieu of my own discussion of the show everyone loves to bash, here are selections from texts posted elsewhere: by Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker, by Holland Cotter in The New York Times, by Alexandra Peers and Carly Berwick in New York Magazine (we still await the voice of The Saltz), by David Cohen in The New York Sun, even selections from and Artnet.

They are randomly ordered and vehemently out of context. My original idea was to attribute each snippet, but it flows better without, and you can always look up the authors online.

Here then, for better or worse: The Great Whitney Biennial 2008 Re-Post. Feel free to add new items in Comments.

Jan de Cock, Denkmal 11, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, 2008, Module CDLIX, January 22 – April 21, 2008

 installation shot, Jan de Cock, Denkmal 11 installation shot, Jan de Cock, Denkmal 11

The young Belgian artist Jan de Cock (b. 1976) has shown in many European venues over the last several years, including the Tate Modern in London and De Appel in Amsterdam. This exhibition at MoMA is his first major show in the United States. Landing on our shores after having achieved the status of a distant but persistent rumor, if not quite a cult item, his work turns out to be compellingly erudite, tasteful and clever. But after the first flush of formal audacity wears thin, it unfortunately registers as an emotional dead end, dry and airless, failing to find resonance beyond its own hermetic self involvement.

Spiral Jetty Jitters

Is Spiral Jetty threatened by petro-greed? Two environmental organizations, Friends of the Great Salt Lake and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, recently alerted Nancy Holt, the widow of Robert Smithson, of a wildcat oil company seeking state permission to do exploratory drilling of the West Rozel Field, an underwater oil deposit in the Great Salt Lake just a couple of miles from Spiral Jetty. Holt appealed to her friends in the arts and media, urging them "to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling." Over a thousand emails of protest were sent to the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, which in response has extended the period of public comment to February 13, 2008 on Application to Permit Drilling #08-8853.

Guy Ben-Ner, "Stealing Beauty", Postmasters Gallery, Jan 5 - Feb 16, 2008

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Political art can be a dangerous quagmire, often lending to sanctimony and didacticism, to a keen embrace of the obvious by artists (and curators) who should know better. Witness the anti-capital punishment exhibition, Under Pain of Death, currently at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which adheres to the expected and respectful by being impressed with the seriousness of the issue it addresses. But in carefully covering its bases (Warhol's Electric Chair, natch, and then another one constructed from Lego blocks) it fails to ignite any passion or real interest. It remains literal, antiseptic and inert, like a UN policy paper.

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