Archive for the The failure of American Art Museums Category
Posted by: admin in Struggling small art organizations, Americans pretty much hate artists, Ah Minneapolis..., What planet are art policy makers from?, Minneapolis art town blues, Ah New York..., The art world is its own worst enemy, Commerce and the failure of art, Art market decline, The failure of American Art Museums, Art museums and filthy lucre, Artistic failure in America
If you thought the news hasn’t been bad enough for the arts over the past few years, that was before the culture brought out the salt.
Consider item one: The amendment that was supposed to dedicate a portion of a dedicated sales tax to support the arts in Minnesota gets coopted by rich organizations of an, at best, nebulous artistic nature. This includes greedy history centers, a zoo, a public television station, and a juggernaut public radio empire (all of whom, unlike true arts organizations, have armies of lobbyists at their disposal).
Then, it is announced, some of the nation’s leading artistic organizations are announcing bad news. Many of these venerable institutions — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and other key components of the culture industry in New York City — lost between 30 and 50 percent on the value of their endowments in 2008. The main reason? Overly agressive investment strategies:
Endowment asset allocations [in recent years] moved away from the safety of fixed-income instruments, such as high-grade bond funds, to the volatility of domestic and foreign equities and even to “alternative investments,” such as distressed debt and venture-capital equity. This investment strategy paid luxuriantly during the good times, resulting in bloated budgets and massive expansions. Yet with only quarterly meetings, arts boards proved too slow to navigate away from the hazardous investments once the bad times began. In short, arts organizations adopted bad habits.
Posted by: admin in The art world is its own worst enemy, crap is art, Artistic self-destruction, Po-mo oh no, The Vicious Circle, The Thousandth Word, art is crap, The excesses of artists, My published arts writing, Decline of human accomplishment in art, The kids are all doing it, The failure of American Art Museums, Idealizing bohemian excess, What planet are curators from?, Decline of art
Here’s a review of a recent failed art exhibition that I wrote for The Thousandth Word blog: “Bang a Drum for the Losers.”
Be forewarned: My take on the show at hand, “Millions of Innocent Accidents” by the artists collective Hardland/Heartland at the Minnesota Artists Gallery (at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), is a tad harsh. But I had a point to express, related to the cause of so much artistic failure across the land of late, which was this:
Shrill gestures like breaking windows, destroying property, and flouting the rules of civilized society do not make compelling symbolism. Instead, acts of a hopeful, imaginative, empathetic, or out-reaching nature are what’s needed to attract and capture the attention and support of others….
….As soon as I walked into this gallery and saw the poorly conceived, dolefully hopeless work that this well-meaning group of artists purported to consider compelling visual art—all their random and indistinct trash and burnt paraphernalia and jumbles and piles of detritus and tossed off dreck and doodles and goats’ heads and black tar corner accretions—my spirit fell. The show was a disaster, off-putting and uninspiring, and it was clear at a glance that this loudly shouting, in-your-face visual group had failed to reach out to others in any meaningfuly to get their righteous points across….
The chief problem is that, while it’s clear that Hardland/Heartland’s hearts are in the right place and they have the energy to make a lot of work (and I mean a lot of work), they just don’t know how to make much that is compelling and symbolically relevant or that embodies and expounds on their frustrations, fears, and angst in a way that someone else would care to look at. There’s no hope here, no imagination, and certainly nothing to empathize with.
Summer is usually a dry season for news about local arts. But the past month’s litany of surprise announcements of organizational failures, resignations, firings, and so on has pretty much come (you may have noticed) to dominate the postings on CAFA. I apologize for this, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to turn my attention more outward very soon.
In the meantime, today, I want to reiterate that a few days ago I laid even odds on the Minnesota Museum of American Art becoming the next victim of artistic failure in Minnesota. There are basically two reasons for this. First, as related in this story by Scott Russell, the museum is facing a “triple whammy of organizational stress” (40 percent reduction in reserves in the past four years and scant opportunity to grow income; the loss of its director after eleven years on the job; and the impending eviction of the museum from its current location). Second, the most commonly suggested solution to the problem–brought up by people over and over–is for the city of St. Paul (the current home-city of the MMAA) to step in a help bail the institution out. This, of course, is pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking by people who are unaware of how little real support the Twin Cities lends to the arts. In fact, leaving it up to local city government to bail out an arts organization is, in my estimation, akin to leaving it out in the cold to die.
Perhaps, then, I should be getting better than even odds for my wager…
Posted by: admin in Art is the first thing that goes out the window, Plus ca change plus d'art échoue..., Minneapolis art town blues, Bullet Points of Failure (B.P.O.F.), Ah Minneapolis..., Struggling small art organizations, The failure of American Art Museums, Art museums and filthy lucre, The art world is its own worst enemy, Americans pretty much hate artists, Artistic failure in America
Mary Abbe of the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s been busy of late. She’s the source of two of today’s Bullet Points of Failure (B.P.O.F.), both of which follow up on items I’ve been covering here on CAFA in recent weeks.
- In Anxious artists’ fears quelled, protest averted with attorney’s answers, Abbe writes to follow up on the MAEP kerfuffle. Apparently, on July 24 a group of artists attended the MIA’s annual members meeting, attempting to mount a protest, only to see it wither “under the weight of parliamentary procedure… Board president Brian Palmer, a Minneapolis lawyer, defused the situation by answering each question with judicial precision and disquisitions on the museum’s legal responsibilities. The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program will continue unchanged and independent, he said. Questioners would need to ask the program’s coordinator why he resigned voluntarily if they wished to know.” And thus spaketh the passionate crowd.
- In SOS: Same old struggles at the MMAA, Abbe reports further on a story reported here previously, the resignation of Bruce Lilly, the director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art. “The resignation last week of Bruce Lilly,” she wrote, “the museum’s director for 11 years, highlights the St. Paul institution’s long-festering problems. Museum officials put a brave face on the situation, insisting that the organization would find a new leader, new quarters and more money. ‘It’s not easy, but the staff here is up to the challenge,’ said Natalie Obee, the museum’s business manager, who who stepped in as interim executive director.” Apparently, the museum has had a long cycle of debt–including an estimated deficity of $260,000 in 2007, on an annual budget of about $700,000–and is facing the loss of its current space (the second time it’s faced a move in the past five years).
On Tuesday, the Star Tribune announced, in a story titled “Upheaval continues at the MIA,” that yet another local arts leader, Stewart Turnquist, has resigned. Turnquist was particularly supportive of, and beloved by, the great mass of local visual artists. He was known for his calm demeanor, diplomatic nature, and ability to keep a program vibrant despite ongoing institutional attacks and growing lack of board support.
Here’s what Strib arts writer Mary Abbe had to say of this news: “The departure of Turnquist, coordinator of the artist-run Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), signals continuing turmoil at the institute where management has been in upheaval the past five years. In that time, it has had three directors and lost at least seven curators and top administrators to other jobs, retirement or death… As word of his imminent departure leaked out Tuesday, artists worried that it signaled the end of the MAEP program, the state’s most prominent showcase for Minnesota talent.”
I came to know Stewart Turnquist well in my capacity as leader, between 2002 - 2005, of VACUM, a MN-based art critics association. He was instrumental in helping to set up a regular lecture series by our group at the MIA. A few years before I came to know Turnquist better, I described him thusly in a story about the organization he ran (the MAEP):
The meeting starts with opening comments by program coordinator Stewart Turnquist–a senior civil servant in this tumultuous democracy. He is a dapper and cheerful man–he reminds one of a favorite uncle–and has served as the program’s coordinator since early in 1977 (that is, for all but the program’s first year). “Hard to believe, but I’m your obedient servant,” Turnquist begins, after introducing the other members of the MAEP support staff (who are all employed by the MIA): program associate Randall, and program assistant Karen Harstad. He then launches into an hourlong, homespun slide-show recap of the past fiscal year–a state of the union address, or perhaps a state of the art.
In 2005, I wrote about an internal kerfuffle at the MIA — involving a prominent local corporation (which I dub the “Bullseye” corp) — that may have eventually helped lead to Turnquist’s ouster at the institute. At that time, Bullseye Corp had intervened in the scheduling of MAEP shows (the first time such a thing had ever occurred) — pushing back one MAEP show, and extending another — so as not to mess with the timing of a Bible Art show that BE Corp was financing. “What’s most strange,” I wrote, ”is Bullseye Corp, perhaps actually believing the rhetoric of its own advertising (which positioned the Corp as a purveyor of “higher end” and “hip” product as opposed to just plain old run-of-the-mill trinkets and crap) suddenly seemed to be having a lot of influence on artistic decisions at the institution.”
I’ll also add that, a few years ago just after I returned to MN after a short stint away, Turnquist confided in me the on-going struggle he was having to keep hostile fringe agents at the MIA (in particular, meddling board members) from attempting to reign in, or even dismantle, the one-of-a-kind artist-run exhibition program (the MAEP) that he had led for more than 30 years. I’m sure Stewart was not surprised at his fate at the hands of those who are now steering the big art ship. Still, I feel for this great and gentle local arts warrior, and I wish him well with this blessing:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Posted by: admin in Ah Minneapolis..., Struggling small art organizations, Americans pretty much hate artists, cutting the arts lifeline (budget), Art is the first thing that goes out the window, Minneapolis art town blues, What planet are art policy makers from?, Minnesotan Art Failure Tales (MAFT), Foundations and artists, Artistic delusion, The struggles of artists, Lies, damned lies, statistics, My published arts writing, The failure of American Art Museums, What planet are curators from?, Art museums and filthy lucre, Artistic failure in America
Attached below is a piece, recently published on mnartists.org, that describes a public forum I attended on “The State of the Arts in Minneapolis.” In the essay, I attempt to dig a bit further beyond the usual propagandistic platitudes and oft-repeated old saws about art here in frozen Minnesota to examine what things are really like for artists and small art organizations here.
COMMENTARY: What is the State of the Arts in Minneapolis?
Commentary by Michael Fallon
Or, “The Future’s So Bright, You Gotta Wear Blinders:” arts administrator and critic Michael Fallon comments on the recent panel discussion about the state of arts in Mpls and makes a case for candor in our civic conversation on the subject
On the evening of June 12, the Minneapolis Arts Commission, “a volunteer body that oversees the city’s public art and promotion of the arts,” invited a panel of arts leaders (from a handful of the city’s most influential arts organizations) to participate in a discussion at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with the aim of taking stock of “the current state of arts in Minneapolis, and how to move it forward?” The commission’s website describes the night’s agenda as follows: “Minneapolis has enjoyed an arts explosion in the last few years, but how do we use that momentum and continue to build Minneapolis’ reputation as a leader on the national arts scene?” mnartists.org asked arts administrator and critic Michael Fallon to attend the event and report back with his impressions on the evening’s conversation.
IF YOU HAPPENED TO MISS THE FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES of the recent panel discussion on “Minneapolis’ artistic future,” sponsored by the Minneapolis Arts Commission, you didn’t miss much. In what best can be described as an excruciating exercise of intensive local arts spin, early attendees to the event were treated to a host of thought-terminating clichés from Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson and from representatives of the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minnesota Orchestra, Loft Literary Center, Guthrie Theater, and McKnight Foundation.
Just to give a taste, the event began with a vague (somewhat desperate-sounding) appeal from Johnson to the scattered 65 or 70 audience members: “Please know the city views the arts as an essential part and great promoter of our community.” The panelists then unanimously echoed their convictions about the significance of the local arts community. “We’re in great shape,” said Jennifer Komar Olivarez, an associate curator at the MIA (filling in for the previously planned speaker, the Institute’s new director Kaywin Feldman). “Compared to other cities, Minneapolis is very impressive in terms of art,” agreed Philippe Vergne, chief curator at the Walker Art Center. And thus followed a succession of many of the same, shop-worn old saws that local arts advocates are prone to tossing off (usually without supporting statistical proof) when asked about the arts here. This is just a sampling of the glib, oft-repeated claims that were reiterated in the night’s opening remarks: Minneapolis is the “most literate city in America,” has the “most theater tickets sold per capita outside of Broadway” and the “widest array of artist service organizations in the country,” not to mention the “deepest sources of philanthropic support of the arts anywhere.”
It would be a fine thing if the vaunted art-city status that Minneapolis grants itself were provably true, and if the lip-service served up regarding support for local arts actually had the solid basis in fact that people claim. Unfortunately, the truth, as it can be empirically shown, is less sunshiny than I’m guessing any of the evening’s panelists are willing to admit. Minneapolis—unlike many cities around the country (including its neighbor, Saint Paul) and, notably, unlike most other cities with a reputation for arts friendliness—actually provides little practical support to the arts. Minneapolis offers almost no city funding to arts organizations and artists (beyond the requisite occasional public art project) and has no staff dedicated to overseeing arts development or planning. But, as was not the case with the optimistic spin offered up at the recent panel discussion, you don’t have to take my word for it. This bleak assessment of the lack of practical arts support by the city of Minneapolis actually comes from scholar and economist Ann Markusen, author of a national study investigating how various cities support the arts. Here’s what Markusen uncovered about Minneapolis in her 2006 paper, “Cultural Planning and the Creative City”:
In Minneapolis … the City Council abolished its Department of
Cultural Affairs in the 1990s, leaving only a small Office of Cultural
Affairs with responsibility for public art and publicly supported arts
programming, moved under the umbrella Community Planning and
Economic Development Department. There is also a separate City of
Minneapolis Arts Commission, but it has few powers and little
political clout, and is in general ignored by the more powerful arts
institutions in the City [this has important ramifications, as explained
below]. Cultural affairs departments and offices have suffered
relative resource losses in recent decades as taxpayer revolts and
higher priority placed on everything from public safety to
economic development have squeezed their shares of the public purse.
Markusen further explodes the myth of Minneapolis’ abundant arts support through a point-by-point comparison of urban arts policies around the nation. As opposed to the other, more truly arts-friendly cities—Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and several others—revealed by Markusen’s research, Minneapolis has no dedicated arts funds to support local arts activities, no central planning mechanism or agency to manage arts development activities around the city or region, and there is little sympathy for the arts reflected in urban planning and economic development initiatives. It’s telling that, unlike what you’ll find in some cities, for the City of Minneapolis, cultural policy has little standing. There are few formal avenues for interaction between arts organizations or artists and city planning departments with regard to the management of land use or the city’s zoning laws, which do not permit the mixing of commercial and residential use. Such restrictive policies about urban zoning make it needlessly difficult for artists and small organizations to survive in the region; specifically, these sorts of policies tend, over time, to foil artists’ and small arts organizations’ attempts to create affordable live/work spaces. Further, Markusen explains, in Minneapolis, it appears that “larger arts and cultural institutions have garnered the lion’s share of city commitments in terms of land, parking garages, and support from state bonding funds.” Generally, allocating such a large proportion of civic resources to a few big arts institutions further leaves small organizations, neighborhood arts centers, and individual artists out in the cold. (It is important to point out here that the bulk of the panelists work for just such large organizations which have been among the few beneficiaries of the city’s narrow arts policies, and that may help explain their allegiance to the group-think about local arts.)
If you are beginning to feel your blood pressure rise upon reading all of this, you will begin to get a sense of how I was feeling after the first round of statements by the panel. Fortunately for my health and yours, however, it was at that precise moment that the panel moderator, Fox 9 news anchor Robyne Robinson, stepped in to begin directing panelists toward a more measured assessment and constructive discussion about how the city is doing regarding the arts. “We can sit here and repeat over and over how great things are,” Robinson said, “but then you hear these constant complaints from artists. If things are great, why is the discontent there? Do we just have too many artists and are unable to feed everyone?”
McKnight Foundation program director for the arts, Vickie Benson’s response to this question—voicing her particular concern about the well-being of individual artists locally—represented the first genuine moment of the night, and her remarks elicited an outburst of loud applause from the audience. “We can’t forget,” Benson said, “about the artists who live with poverty, who have no health insurance, and who face a lack of retirement money. We can’t forget about the artists who bring so much vibrancy to our community.”
Other panelists, at first, weren’t quite so willing to immediately validate the local artists’ disgruntlement. “We cannot please everybody,” said Philippe Vergne, slightly testily. “We make choices and, by nature, this is discriminating. Discontent of this sort is not just present in Minneapolis. It happens in L.A., it happens in New York. It is in the nature of what we do.… Desire is important. We need desire or art dies.” Jennifer Komar Olivarez of the MIA agreed: “If you look at the broader picture, our role is to set a certain standard, a bar for local artists to aspire to. We can’t be everything to everybody.” Still, Robinson, to her credit, persisted in asking about the city’s role in supporting smaller organizations and individual artists. She kept dancing around this point throughout the next hour or so of discussion, digging for a more human, more specific response, asking for panelists’ assessments of the current state of affairs which might go beyond feel-good spin. And, as a result, over the course of the evening the discussion grew increasingly realistic about the state of the arts in Minneapolis and about its immediate prospects in the current times and near future.
In short order, Robinson asked whether there were inflated expectations for large Minneapolis arts organizations as a consequence of the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of expansion many of them have undergone in the past five years. (Some panelists admitted there has, indeed, been some tension and growing pains in the wake of recent redevelopment.) Robinson also asked about the potential for large locally-based businesses—which have given tons of corporate money to support these expansions—to exert undue influence on arts programming at the organizations on the receiving end of their largesse. (Most panelists sidestepped the question, instead arguing about the relative merits of “blockbuster” shows. I feel compelled to point out here that I suggested evidence of such corporate influence on arts programming was already beginning to emerge in an essay I wrote more than two years ago.) Robinson—again, to her credit—pressed the point, asking if the panelists’ organizations ever worry about “selling out” in the wake of their recent expansions (which the panelists again, for the most part, side-stepped). Then, she followed up with a question about whether the small organizations in town have suffered from competition with the large institutions (ole!).
As the discussion progressed toward its conclusion, and these expert panelists became less and less able to answer the hard questions about the struggles of the larger art community in Minneapolis, I could tell that Robinson was beginning to circle the truth. When she asked about the financial challenges facing the arts community in the current economy and, specifically, about whether the big organizations had contingency plans to deal with the difficult fiscal realities of the times, the panelists all—to a person—gave grudging nods. “We talk a lot about it,” admitted Vergne. “It’s a very constraining moment…. We’ve been much fatter in the past, but at the moment we are on Weight Watchers.” The other panelists spoke about the various ways that their organizations have been readjusting their activities to cope with declining support and increased costs, even as they grapple with the high expectations that a tapped art public has for these highly visible (and expensive) institutions. Then Vergne continued: “We have to change the way we operate and change our rules of engagement. If we don’t, we become dinosaurs and die.”
And so, the curtain had at last been lifted, revealing a reality beyond our blind faith in the region’s art supremacy. Now, perhaps, a real discussion can begin.
Addendum re: Minneapolis’ Failing Arts Future (June 24): The New York Times noted today that the Dia Foundation has announced the hiring of noted Minneapolis arts booster Philippe Vergne to take over directorship of the struggling foundation. Vergne’s departure marks the fifth high-profile Minneapolis arts leader to leave the city within the past year. Others include former Walker director Kathy Halbreich and chief curator Richard Flood, state arts board director Tom Proehl, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts director William Griswold.
Posted by: admin in Minneapolis art town blues, Jumping on the artistic failure bandwagon, The Thousandth Word, Bullet Points of Failure (B.P.O.F.), The Art Happy Hour, The Museum of Modern Failure, Ah Minneapolis..., Minnesotan Art Failure Tales (MAFT), The struggles of artists, Decline of human accomplishment in art, My published arts writing, Drinks with artists, Decline of human culture, The failure of American Art Museums, Artistic failure in America
I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Pittsburgh to check out the 2008 Carnegie International, and I’ve also been scrambling to get a few projects done this week, so I’ve been unable to post to CAFA for the past week. To make up for this recent blog-lull (blull?), below are a few quick Bullet Points of Failure for June–this miserable month of miserably (so far) gloomy weather.
- Last night, at a dreary-wet, underattended Art Happy Hour (my side-project designed to counterbalance the constant depressive pull of failure from this site), I got to speaking with a local artist named Jim. He’d just come back to live in Minneapolis, where he is from, after spending five years teaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is, it seems, a regular reader of CAFA (the first I’ve ever met, actually), so we got to talking about failure and local art, and he said something brilliantly perceptive: “Here’s what I think about Minneapolis now that I’ve been away and come back: I’ve never been in a place filled with so many brilliant, capable, and creative people who are going nowhere.”
- I didn’t realize this at the time, but back in November, 2007–about the time I was starting up this blog on artistic failure–a Carnegie Mellon University art professor started The Museum of Modern Failure, as a project for a class called “Art in Context.” The idea was to celebrate people’s personal failures, and the “museum” was a black wall on which people post a wide range of “failures”: whether technological (the Hindenburg, the Titanic), unpopular inventions (Segway, Firestone tires, Comanche helicopters, the DeLorean), cultural flops (Milli Vanilli, Ebonics, the mullet), or so on. The concept was suggested by student Rachael Brown, a 22-year-old creative-writing major. She noticed that the store that would come to house the museum, located at 2628 E. Carson St., had a “history of failure… The most recent failure was Bookends, a used computer store operated by the adjacent Goodwill, where old Epsons and educational CD-ROMs had failed to keep the business afloat. ‘I just find it really humorous that blunders aren’t what we celebrate in museums, just big successes,’ Brown explain[ed].” In a perfect coda to the project, the temporary museum close just shortly after it opened, in December of last year.
- My review of the Carnegie International, as well as a long Q&A-style interview with its curator Douglas Fogle, went live on another new side-project of mine–a blog of visual arts writing on the Rakemag.com site called The Thousandth Word. I didn’t realize it until later, but my take on this big blockbuster international survey exhibition reflected something about the clouds of failure that hang over these times:
The best work in the 2008 Carnegie International reflects intimate, eccentric, often uncertain moments even as it hints at deeper and vast problems in the society. This is art of the resigned, pitiful shoulder-shrug variety, not of the noisy (and perhaps useless) hammer-thud variety–such as what was on display in such blustery recent shows as, say, the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Many of the personal and intimate gestures of these artists are designed, in fact, to spill out over from the private mind into a public realm, perhaps like pond ripples or a zen butterfly’s wings flapping or other suitable metaphor.
Gerald Prokop blogged yesterday, in response to my previous post on These Regressive Times (for the arts), about something I’ve often thought about. I’m talking about the ironies of a city growing drastically poorer while having to support big and greedy art institutions–like the Guthrie Theater, MacPhail Center, and Walker Art Center–which have recklessly built multimillion dollar new buildings in recent years even as artists and average American workers and families and wide swaths of the community are left to suffer and decline and disappear in silence.
As he put it: “In these dark times, why are these places growing and getting better?”
Well, not to fear GP, according to a recent Associated Press article, big arts institutions are also beginning to feel the pinch of failed economic policies, poor public policy decisions, and just plain bad government.
Like homeowners and stockholders, museums, concert halls, dance companies and other arts organizations are feeling the pinch from the faltering economy.
Museums and symphony halls that financed renovations with seemingly safe municipal bonds saw interest rates spike in recent weeks; other arts institutions are suffering from low returns on investments; and some arts executives are worried that recession fears could take a bite out of donations and ticket sales.
“What turns my stomach every time I turn on the news is the current perception of what’s happening in our economy and whether people will get nervous and cut back on their charitable contributions,” said Charles Thurow, executive director of the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, which used a $5 million fundraising campaign to renovate in 2006 an old Army warehouse into its first permanent home since opening in 1939. “That would affect our annual operating budget.”
Posted by: admin in What planet are curators from?, Art is the first thing that goes out the window, Holland Cotter, Jumping on the artistic failure bandwagon, Art museums and filthy lucre, The failure of American Art Museums, Commerce and the failure of art, NYT arts articles, Art market decline, My published arts writing, Artistic failure in America
I have no way of knowing yet how accurate was Holland Cotter’s NYT review of the just-opened Whitney Biennial, but, based on his descriptions of the show and what I know of it myself, this assessment sounds about right:
…this year we have a Whitney show that takes lowered expectations — lessness, slowness, ephemerality, failure [emphasis mine] (in the words of its young curators, Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin) — as its theme.
A biennial for a recession-bound time? That’s one impression it gives. With more than 80 artists, this is the smallest edition of the show in a while, and it feels that way, sparsely populated, even as it fills three floors and more of the museum…
Past biennials have had a festive, party-time air. The 2004 show was all bright, pop fizz; the one two years ago exuded a sexy, punk perfume. The 2008 edition is, by contrast, an unglamorous, even prosaic affair. The installation is plain and focused, with many artists given niches of their own. The catalog is modest in design, with a long, idea-filled essay by Ms. Momin, hard-working, but with hardly a stylistic grace note in sight. A lot of the art is like this too: uncharismatic surfaces, complicated back stories…
…the overall tenor of the show is low-key, with work that seems to be in a transitional, questioning mode, art as conversation rather than as statement, testing this, trying that. Assemblage and collage are popular. Collaboration is common. So are down-market materials — plastic, plywood, plexiglass — and all kinds of found and recycled ingredients, otherwise known as trash.
As a side-note, I have visited the past two Whitney Biennials, and I have reviewed them—usually focusing on the Minnesota angle for a little Minnesota-based web-publication. I find Cotter’s quick take above on the past two Biennials to be pretty spot-on, though I’d probably be a little harsher in my assessment of the 2006 show (and, indeed, I was). So, I have no reason to doubt him about the 2008 version.
I also then must say, “kudos, Whitney!” for recognizing—like CAFA—that failure is the order of the day in art.
As a final note, I do plan, once I can break free long enough to do so, to visit this failure-focused Biennial. In a perfect world, in which I have enough time away from my day job and enough left-over energy, I’d write more regular reviews of local and national art for a hungry local audience. (I say this fully realizing that all the local art criticism venues are rapidly dying off.) Still, I’m hopeful that I can, later this spring/summer, visit the seemingly less dire, more circumspect, more internationally derived Carnegie International, which opens in May, and write a comparative survey of these two major art events.
And heck, if I can’t get the review published somewhere good, then you can be sure it’ll end up just another feature of Failure. Stay tuned!
Posted by: admin in Artists are their own worst enemies, The tortured artist, Misunderstanding the artist's life, The excesses of artists, Friends of Failure, The art world is its own worst enemy, The failure of American Art Museums, Drinks with artists, Failed artist, Decline of human accomplishment in art, My own artistic failure, The struggles of artists, The Cult of the Amateur, Artistic failure in America
I’ve been busy with administrative tasks on CAFA the past four days, so I’ve not had time to think any new thoughts about failure. (I promise, by the way, to have my blogroll back up soon…)
However, here are some interesting links from sundry Friends of Failure:
—One of my favorite artist blogs, SELLOUT, which is an examination of the hard issues facing artists—written by artists—declared suddenly yesterday it’s going on a hiatus to refine and retool. The reason for this sudden stoppage, despite the quick notoriety the site has gained: Overwhelmed with email… Hey, SELLOUT, I hear ya. If you figure that one out, let me know. But hurry back!
—Sharon Butler, author of the arts blog Two Coats of Paint, which recently went through its own retooling, just published an expose-style article in the Brooklyn Rail, called Swimming in Pigment, about the lollapollooza art fairs that occur in Miami Beach. Her conclusions about the events? They’re a mixed bag, but mostly, when you take into account only the good art that was there, she found the experience positive:
It’s too easy to scorn Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellites as a vulgar coalescence of dilettantes and profiteers. Beneath that veneer, they provide an invaluable one-stop annual inventory of the art world: a dazzlingly broad array of artwork, much of it vigorous and thoughtful, in two nearby neighborhoods geared for high-intensity viewing, through which art becomes a proud rallying point for an entire city. On an individual level, accepting the challenge of apprehending such a vast ocean of work without props, as it were, is to rediscover the very process by which you first figured out what you loved about looking at, and making, art. The opportunity to redefine and articulate your passion is a lot more than just a good party.
—Meanwhile, Art Happy Hour!, which also just retooled (must be the season for it), wrote that it is holding its inaugural gathering in Minneapolis. If you’re anywhere near the area, you simply have to come check this out—the first artist community-wide happy hour in the country (that I know of)!
–And, finally, your favorite CAFA administrator, Michael Fallon, has just caused himself no small amount of trouble by publishing an essay about the artistic drive in artists, titled (provocatively, on purpose) “The (Endlessly Annoying, Horribly Consuming, Creepily Off-Putting) Drive in Artists to Make Art.” Here’s just a little teaser, in which I take to task a pretentiously wannabe-artist, and former friend, named Mike:
EVERYONE AT SOME TIME IN LIFE ENDS UP WITH A FRIEND LIKE MIKE. Mike wanted desperately to be a screenwriter. Or, to put it more accurately, he wanted you to think of him as a screenwriter.
Another friend of mine, G. (who wouldn’t care much whether or not you knew how accomplished an arts writer, artist, and craftsperson he actually is), first encountered Mike after a meeting which was initiated for the purposes of “screenplay research.” “Man,” he said, “that’s a guy who’s just desperate for attention. Do me a favor and keep me out of the loop next time.” S., yet another friend and a self-taught artist who earned his skills by hard toil over band saw and workbench, after a few months’ acquaintance took to calling Mike an intellectual Baby Huey. “You know Baby Huey, right? Always wanting attention, always bumbling into every situation like an attention-seeking whale in a wading pool. That’s Mike!”