Saturday, February 28, 2009

Will the recession be good for art?

Lately there's been a lot written on this topic. Among the most thoughtful are my favorite art blogger Edward Winkelman, and, in the Times, Holland Cotter, and Dave Hickey in this February Art in America (unfortunately Art in America is not online). Most predict a rejection of irony and academic decadence. That's fine with me, but aside from hearing these same predictions just a few years ago, after 9/11, I have a few other caveats.

I've noticed when people predict the end of decadence, schadenfreude aside, they're referring to art they happen to hate. When you get down to specifics there's a lot less agreement. Is Warhol decadent? How about Jeff Koons? Damien Hurst? Matthew Barney? Mariko Mori?
See what I mean?

More important, I'm not convinced that a big-money, trendy art scene necessarily hurts art or artists. Of course it's disgusting to see art trivialized and people behaving in unseemly ways. It denigrates what most artists do out of sincere conviction and more often than not, financial sacrifice. But historically there are plenty of examples of artists that were hugely popular and richly rewarded (e.g. Rubins and Picasso) and that didn't seem to hurt their art. And sure there's a lot of bad artists that became rich and popular, but their success didn't necessarily exclude other artists from making great art. Just the opposite. These artists support galleries, get the public interested and increase the size of the entire scene increasing the possibility of other artists to succeed -- or at least get shown. It's not like there's a given amount of money out there and if one artist gets it another doesn't.

More often (not surprisingly) it's lack of attention and reward that hurts art. Cultures that don't support the arts rarely produce good art.

But there will certainly be a radical shaking out -- if things get as bad as Paul Krugman predicts there's going to be a much smaller art scene. It'll be an interesting few years watching who and what survive.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Imagine Atrium Closing Sale Postponed

This came in from Anne Barry:

Imagination Atrium is one of my favorite spots in Jersey City, and I'm surprised so many of my friends have never even heard of it. It's on Jersey Ave between Christopher Columbus Drive and Newark. I've been to several events there, and I order books there locally, right in Downtown JC, rather than trekking by train to a Barnes & Noble.. I know, I know, you pay "regular price" at Imagine Atrium, with no crazy Amazon discount. The slight added cost keeps an independent bookstore in Jersey City, and besides, you save on postage. I've ordered books and gotten them FAST, much faster than Amazon, and gift wrapping is free. Garrad, the man who owns and runs the store, is a treasure. He's been trying everything he can think of to keep serving this community. It's a little place, with a good stock of children's books, an eclectic and often oddball stock of grown-up books, and various tchochkes, puzzles, gifts, etc.

He's got a big screen for showing movies and TV shows in the evening. When Oprah had a multipart series on and with Eckhart Tolle, you could download it to your own lonely computer, or you could go to Imagine Atrium each week and see it with a bunch of like-minded people on a big screen, and afterwards discuss what you saw. Another week recently, people could pick of a free copy of Fahrenheit 451 at the bookstore or at the Free Public Library in JC, and later in the week watch the film of the book at Imagine. Lots of cool stuff there, good talk, and a fine place to meet your neighbors.

Everyone's broke, it's tough times, so we need to support this local and comforting shop. Go out and treat yourself to a book, or give someone a book, and help keep Imagine Atrium open.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Success for Arts Stimulus!

Score one for arts activists everywhere. In a striking reversal of the momentum that lead to the exclusion of arts funding from the stimulous package, the aid has been suddenly reinstated. Americans for the Arts reported last night that:

"Just moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved their final version of the Economic Recovery bill. We can now confirm that the package DOES include $50 million in direct support for arts jobs through National Endowment for the Arts grants. We are also happy to report that the exclusionary Coburn Amendment language banning certain arts groups from receiving any other economic recovery funds has also been successfully removed."

Wow! The announcement goes on to state that:

"This is an important victory for all of you as arts advocates. More than 85,000 letters were sent to Congress, thousands of calls were made, and hundreds of op-eds, letters to the editor, news stories, and blog entries were generated in print and online media about the role of the arts in the economy. Artists, business leaders, mayors, governors, and a full range of national, state, and local arts groups all united together on this advocacy issue. This outcome marks a stunning turnaround of events and exemplifies the power of grassroots arts advocacy."

To everyone who participated, petitioned, called, and otherwise made noise-thank you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It ain't like the good old days

I just returned from a short visit to southern California. I didn’t see any art - it was a family visit - but I was reminded how small, and in some ways provincial, the Los Angeles art scene was when I lived there in the sixties and seventies. And that, for me, was a good thing.

When I first got there I was an enthusiastic, wide-eyed graduate student at UCLA, eager to learn about contemporary art. The University offered little but my fellow students -- some who made major reputations in art history (Serge Guilbaut and Tom Crow among them) were a great resource. We’d argue intensely and interminably about the importance of the framing edge or objecthood or whether there was such a thing as good or bad art. Sophomoric, I know, but I learned a lot.

Nick Wilder, who had the best of only a few galleries at the time, also taught me a lot. He introduced me to Bruce Nauman and Ron Davis (who got me started making art) and even took me to John McLaughlin’s studio in Dana Point. Later I met John Coplans, then editor of Artforum, Walter Hopps, Curator of the Pasadena Museum, the artist and critic Peter Plagens (who got me started writing) and Charles Garabedian (who most influenced my art). Because so few people went to galleries, dealers (including Larry Gargosian who started selling posters in Westwood Village) were eager to talk to anyone. I even got to spend a week with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground when they came out to LA.

As fun as dropping all these names may be, my point is that I, a mere student with no money or ability to advantage anyone, not only had access to these people but they eagerly took me under their wing and taught me about art and the art world. There was a sense of being in it together for the cause of not only promoting the Los Angeles art scene but helping contemporary art in general.

Artists had similar experiences in New York in the fifties when the scene was much smaller, and again, in the seventies and eighties in neighborhoods like Soho or the East Village. When I first came to Jersey City, in 1982, there wasn't much going on so I clung to the few expatriate Los Angeles artists out here and we shared a sense of fellowship and being in on this adventure together. Soon, in the nineties, the Jersey City art scene began to grow. Art galleries were popping up in 111 First Street and all over the Downtown. Openings were parties and usually included local poets, musicians, dancers and performance artists. And again there was a sense of togetherness, camaraderie and a desire to promote Jersey City.

Sadly, with the destruction of 111 First Street, I and many other artists active in Jersey City over the years, feel disheartened. Why should we do anything to promote Jersey City when we were so stabbed in the back? The camaraderie, the sense of togetherness for a cause is gone -- and it's a great loss. I miss it and want to get it back. My hope is with the new young people arriving here every day -- ones who haven't yet grown cynical and defeated. Maybe they'll have the enthusiasm and hopefulness to get something exciting started.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Resources for activism: American Association of Museums (AAM)

I finally joined AAM last week and attended their advocacy webinar called: Listen up Legislators! Getting your message across. I didn't know what a wealth of resources the AAM would prove to be, and even though I'm not currently working in a museum profession (hello recession!), the advice they gave for making the voices of smaller institutions heard are just as valuable for anyone else looking to bring their concerns to the national level. Check out their website if you're at all interested in learning how the process works (great stuff).

For those of you motivated (yes please!), Museums Advocacy Day is this February 23-24 in DC. Directors, administrators, and participants in all sorts of museum and non-profit arts related activities will be heading to the capitol to meet with their national leaders. And, believe it or not, this will actually happen. If you sign up for a meeting through the AAM they will use your address to find your congressional or senatorial representative and throw their weight around to get you a one-on-one meeting.

AND! Even more shocking: these meetings actually make a difference! According to the AAM, state legislators are most influenced by these personal appeals, followed by personal letters (not those form letters everyone seems to send), personal emails, and lastly, phone calls. And if you speak on behalf of yourself (not as a member of an institution), legislators are even more inclined to take what you say seriously.

If you can't attend (I'll be at the concurrent CAA conference), there are other things you can do. Send a letter. I mean a real letter explaining how the global economic climate has affected you as an artist, a leader, a citizen. I'm writing about me and all the friends I know who are well- educated, enthusiastic, and motivated to work in arts organizations, but who became recent graduates as the economy went down the tubes and now can't find a job in the field. Since students can't file for unemployment, they're totally off the radar. Type in your zipcode here for a list of who your legislators are.

I know many of you are demoralized and cynical about the way local and state government works, and I'm not trying to gloss over the more sinister aspects of our political system. But because there is so much we can't control in the legislative process it becomes that much more important to seize what we can and run with it. So please. Give it a shot.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stimulus, take 2: $50 million for the NEA?

ADDENDUM: Oh how idealistic I was. The Coburn Ammendment passed 73-24, with no Republicans voting against it. This apparent misunderstanding and mistrust is really indicative of a failure of arts leaders to educate our representatives on the key role these institutions and individuals play on the formation of America's cultural heritage. We matter, and we've got to make them understand. See the above AAM post for more info.

Elizabeth Blair of NPR reported yesterday that President Obama's stimulus package includes an additional $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and a whopping $150 million for infrastructure repairs at the Smithsonian.

Seeing as through the government is having trouble getting companies to actually put the TARP money they've been given back into the economy (getting banks to lend and businesses to reinvest), I would argue that giving money to the NEA is probably the best way to ensure that those funds get put to use immediately. Artists have to consume in order to create, and buying art supplies, renting exhibit space, having works framed, and maybe (if there's any money left!) holding an opening, have an direct impact on the local economy. Plus, if big companies had to write grants that were anywhere near as intensive as those the NEA requires, there would be no question that the money they were being given was needed and of long-term value.

But, I am not in the Senate (fortunately or unfortunately), and some members are diametrically opposed to any such arts funding. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma- I am willfully resisting the urge to say anything deprecating about the culture of Oklahoma- is submitting an amendment today that would not allow ANY funding for the arts through the stimulus package.

The language of the amendment, (Amendment No. 175, as filed) is, "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas."

The amendment is laughable and sad. But what is even worse than grouping casinos, dry heat saunas, and museums together is the fact that Coburn is most likely not alone in his apparent hatred of arts institutions. Love of the arts is not universal. But that's why we're here, right? I don't think this will pass the Senate, but it is a reminder that staying on top of government is of ultimate importance (after all, [and no offense to the Senator from Oklahoma] most of the time elected officials are not that bright). It is our duty as responsible citizens for the arts to keep track of the decisions that affect us, and work to both expose and change them. Idealistic? Maybe. But fighting a good fight is honorable, even if you lose.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Click here for: "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation"

Edward Winkleman is a New York art dealer who writes one of the best art blogs around. This is a consolidation of years of his excellent advice to artists.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Guide to Lower East Side Galleries

Galleries, even in this economy, are spawning like mushrooms -- and they’re closing even faster. Keep your eyes open for new ones, or ones I missed. Please write in with any additions (or subtractions).

Following a map is nearly impossible (the best one I found can be downloaded from: so I came up with this route to follow:

Begin at Houston & Bowery, one block north of the The New Museum:
276 Bowery: Feature
270 Bowery, second floor: BLT

The New Museum, 235 Bowery at Prince

Just south of New Museum:
195 Bowery: DCKT & Janos Gat

Continue south on Bowery to end of the block, left on Rivington
5 Rivington - Thierry Goldberg
(Side trip to 1 Freeman Alley - Salon 94)
11 Rivington - Eleven Rivington

Right on Christie
134 Christie: Envoy Gallery
(Side trip: 301 Broome: Preston & 133 Eldridge: Woodward)

Turn opposite direction on Christie
195 Christie: Bottom Feeder
201 Christie: Lehman Maupin

East one block on Stanton to Forsyth, left on Forsyth
208 Forsyth: Half Gallery
210 Forsyth: Myplasticheart

Continue Forsyth to Houston, Right to Eldridge, right on Eldridge
237 Eldridge: Sunday

Continue on Eldridge to Stanton
57 Stanton: Fusion
53 Stanton: Fruit & Flower, Luxe & Smith-Stewart

Back to Eldridge
163 Eldridge: Nichole Beauchene

Back a block to Rivington, right
95 Rivington: Museum 52
143 Ludlow (left of Rivington): 31 Grand
Essex Market (right of Rivington) Cuchifristos & Gallery Bar
128 Rivington: Sloan & Onetwentyeight

To continue: go west 4-5 blocks to Orchard and south one block to Delancy

Starting at Delancy and Orchard
133 Orchard: On Stella Ray
98 Orchard: Bridge
92 Orchard: Mark Miller
(Side trip: 85 Ludlow: Inborn)

Walk two blocks on Orchard to Grand, left on Grand to Essex, right
39 Essex: Number 35
27 1/2 Essex: Heist
165 E Broadway (& Essex - red awning, second floor): Reena Spaulings

From Essex and Canal go west (a left if you found Reena Spaulings) to Orchard Street
14 A Orchard: Invisible-Exports (between. Hester and Canal Street)
34 Orchard - Lisa Cooley
36 Orchard - Miguel Abreu

Back to Canal, right two blocks to Christie, right on Christie
55 Christie: Canada

Why I hate the new Modern

With every renovation and addition the Museum of Modern Art has gotten worse and worse. Philip Johnson’s expansions of the 1950’s and 60’s was sterile and noisy, but compared to Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi’s new space, Johnson’s building seemed like a chapel. At least the proportions were comfortable and you could look at the art without too many distractions. What we have today is more like a busy shopping mall with arty and wasteful architectural conceits.

Here are a few of my main gripes:
  • Most of the exhibition spaces are clamorously noisy. It’s not only because the Museum is popular -- the Met has a lot of people too but it rarely feels unpleasantly crowded. 
  • The MOMA rooms are too large, too brightly painted and lit; and they feel more like corridors than intimate self contained spaces. 
  • I admit the galleries for the permanent collection are nice. The wood floors and human proportions create an intimate environment allowing peaceful concentration of the work. But even there you can easily get lost and feel you’ve missed some rooms. 
  • The entry lobby is unwelcoming and more chaotic and confusing than the streets it connects. 
  • The Sculpture Garden is too geometric and formal and lost the intimacy of the old garden even though it is isolated from the street by a two-story blank wall on 54th street. 
  • And the nerve of that! Yes it’s nice to have a peaceful garden removed from the bustle of the street (although it’s not exactly a quiet space anyway) but to put a high blank wall on a public street? Why not place the garden in the middle of the museum or at least put something of interest along 54th street? 
  • Very little art can succeed in that ridiculously high (110 feet!) atrium. They actually put Monet’s Water-lilies in there when it opened and people were so outraged they quickly returned it to a quieter space (but still not as good as the old building where it had it’s own room). The Martin Puryear show worked well, and the current Pipilotti Rist video projections are okay, but it’s a really tough space -- and such a waste. 
  • Someone is going to get hurt, if they haven’t already, on those escalators. There’s no clear direction to go when you get off so some people just stop at the bottom trying to decide whether to go left or right. I’ve seen some pretty unpleasant pile-ups. 

They have such a great collection, it’s too bad it’s now necessary to work so hard to appreciate it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

National Endowment makes case for Stimulus funds

The National Endowment for the Arts came out with an interesting statement that makes the case for using money from the economic stimulus package (still being debated) to fund programs and projects in the arts. Specifically, for the Endowment to distribute the funds through its established grant program, thereby boosting the arts division of the economy and creating jobs in creative industries.

Quoting from the statement: "...NEA Chairman Dana Gioia noted, "Arts organizations have been hit enormously hard by the current recession. They've seen their support drop from corporations, foundations, and municipalities. This infusion of funds will help sustain them, their staffs, and the artists they employ. We are hopeful that Congress and the new administration will support this important investment."

Hopeful: the Endowment preceedes to make its case for more funding through the stimulus bill, but with current opposition to the massive amounts of spending proposed strong in the legislature, it's unclear if /when the package will pass, or if the Endowment will get anything at all.

BUT! If the National Endowment does get a piece of the stimulus pie it will be looking for well-developed project proposals and initiatives that can best put that money to use immediately. Meaning- now is the time! Jersey City arts organizations, pull back out your pipe dreams and start developing ideas for how to make this glimmer of national funding work for you. Plus, the case the Endowment makes for the arts as just another sector of the economy that would benefit from an infusion of funds is an excellent one that can be used as an argument for aditional municipal arts funding. Make use of it.

Read the full press-release here