My show at Flashpoint closes its doors forever in two days. Yet even here, in the last week of the show, there are still folks ready to enter into the BY REQUEST press bonanza--specifically, Danielle O'Steen at the Express and Justin at ReadySetDC.
Judging from the comments that an earlier post on the book has generated, people's reactions range from being pleased that something, anything at all will be published about DC art...to being puzzled by the various phases of the selection process or the scope or aims of the book...to being outraged by various omissions and/or inclusions.
As one anonymous commenter put it: "However, there is one name that is a complete embarrassment to the list. I won’t name him/her, but the work is a bad, bad imitation of perhaps the greatest US artist of the 20th century."
That artist, of course, is me. The artist I'm imitating: Thomas Kinkade. The part of his oeuvre I'm ripping off: Peeing on Winnie-the-Pooh satues; driving drunk; being an egomaniacal opportunistic cuss. The code has been cracked!
What do I think of all of this? Well, I'm on the list, so my opinion may not be worth much. There's no printed book to read at this point, anyway, so all I could hope to address are the author's stated intentions, the list of names, and maybe the author’s professional relationship to some of those names—which by now has been done, and of which you can make as little or as much of as you like.
I've looked at that list. I have no idea why this Jeffry Cudlin guy is even on there...but beyond that, what strikes me is the fact that many of these artists might not consider other folks on the list to be in their peer group.
I ruminated a bit last week on this idea that there is not one art world, but several overlapping ones--and that imagining that people who do traditional portraiture, kinetic metal sculpture, and web-based art projects are all engaged in the same practice, courting the same audience, or looking for approval from the same authorities and institutions is simply not useful.
So, if this were my book, how would I do it? I don't want to diminish for a second the hours, organization, and mental energy that Lenny has put into his book…but it seems to me that to really put this concept to bed, one needs not just to identify a pool of notable working artists, but to sort them according to the various disciplines in which they work.
This imaginary book, then, would survey and classify the various strains of DC gallery culture, with brief intros to each section, and offer a little history, a little criticism, and bios of key players in galleries and museums as well.
Right out of the gate it seems to me that this book would need to account for the division between traditional gallery culture ("new realism", landscape painting, black-and-white street photography, etc.) and avante-garde gallery culture (new media, installation, cross-disciplinary project work, and traditional consumable media oriented toward contemporary art museums/Artforum/Chelsea). I'll let Olav Velthius unpack this a little, with help from Pierre Bourdieu:
Okay, so Velthius seems pretty firmly aligned with the avante-garde camp, since he’s suggesting that folks collecting in the traditional circuit have plenty of money, but not much savvy. Ouch. Still, his point is an important one: There are two different markets here, not one.
He goes on to describe what a traditional gallery looks like vs. an avante garde one; where one might expect to find each type of gallery in a given city; how the stable of artists for each would be arranged, what shows would look like, pricing, etc.
Like I said, I think we can go on to identify other strains worth isolating within these two larger markets: from artists doing practices that are more academic or less aligned with gallery spaces or sales per se; to artists working in design or fashion and art; to folks operating in something we might call fine craft (which can remain steadfastly traditional or migrate into something contemporary/avante-garde); to graffiti or street artists; to even artists we might classify as fringe-y outliers--doing "pop surrealism" or related genres.
For any of this to make sense, we would need a chapter highlighting a few different models for DC galleries—non-profits, high-end contemporary, plucky independent contemporary or project spaces, design galleries, co-ops—and perhaps outlining the movement of gallery districts within the city over the past 25 years or 50 years, with attention to the way that the movement of galleries has influenced or been influenced by the socioeconomic development of the city.
And then it might be good to offer a chapter detailing the circulation of ideas and influence between DC and other mid-Atlantic cities—Baltimore, Philly, Pittsburgh—as well as the relationship of DC art to national and international art capitals.
And even some history on the relationship of the area’s artists to D.C. museums, with bios of key personalities.
So, anyway, that’s my fantasy all-context-accounted-for DC art book, where ultimately, the list of artists is broken down so that you have X number of representative figures for any given discipline--and the trajectories of each discipline over time and in relation to developments nationally are thoroughly mapped out.
Mind you, I’m not ever going to write this beast—unless you want to find me a $50,000 grant to do research and interviews full time for at least a year. Are you going to go find that for me? No? Quelle surprise.
Ladies and gents, it is the final week of BY REQUEST. Make sure you get that last parting peek before this one's consigned to the art history books (or not).
Also: Make sure to rate the show! How am I supposed to know whether or not BY REQUEST was a success or a failure? You have to tell me. Follow this link to my little surveymonkey survey (that's how the professional pollsters do it, right?) and praise me like crazy...or excoriate me...or make meaningless dot patterns to pass the time. I really don't care how you do it; I just need your numbers.
After the show wraps on Sunday, I will post the final scores, and everyone will know whether this show was genius, folly, or unremarkable exercise in whatever. Me, I'm rooting for "folly".
The Pink Panel was held last Tuesday July 20. A fair crowd was on hand to sample the cookie bar (not enough vegan treats, but cookies are always a good idea) and ask a lot of questions. Video for that panel ought to be available soon, assuming that one of Philippa's interns didn't die of heatstroke over the weekend (possible), or that I wasn't mumbling incoherently into my sleeve the entire time (also possible).
Also, I talked to Danielle O'Steen from The Express last week; barring anything unforeseen (heatstroke, mumbling), some portion of that interview ought to run this Thursday, I think? I think.
So that's that. The little BY REQUEST train is pulling out of the station and receding into the distance. But fear not! I've got a couple of new performances and collaborations in the works for this Fall...
Other things I ought to tell you about:
1) Pink Line and AAC did this speed dating thing at Poste. Twenty artists and many more patrons braved the 160 degree evening (anecdotally established temp) to talk for three minutes at a stretch about anything at all art-related.
3) Awhile back Sharon Butler talked to Art Scout Maggie Michael about her gallery in the current AAC show. Maggie really did a wonderful job of highlighting artists who create opportunities to exhibit the work of their peers, thereby revealing a self-organizing, self-sustaining, collaborative side of the art world that I don't think gets emphasized enough. Read it here.
Pictured: Photos by Jackie Steven (of the Pink Panel) and Philippa Hughes (of Speed Dating w/Artists).
While dead bodies appearing in my neighborhood is not an ordinary occurrence, it's definitely happened before--once even in the alley behind my house--so this news didn't make a big impact on me at first.
But then, Tuesday night, after I returned from the panel discussion for my show over at Flashpoint, the TV news announced that the woman had been identified--and that she was an art dealer. In fact, they said art dealer twice, in back-to-back sentences.
Holy crap! I thought. Somebody murdered Leigh Conner! (Process of elimination: I had just talked to Andrea Pollan...and, really, who would kill Annie Gawlak and throw her in an alley? Yes, there are other women who work as art dealers/gallerists in town, but, hey, it's my brain.) And they left her in my neighborhood! Is this some bizarre, twisted message for my benefit? Because, of course, everything has to be about me somehow.
But, no, it wasn't anyone I knew: The victim, Azin Naimi, worked in restoration and art consulting. I'd never heard of her, but then again, I know next to nothing about the circles she would've traveled in. (Further, the murder didn't actually happen in Petworth, but in Montgomery County; her body was then driven to DC.)
I know, this was an awful, tragic thing, and the stuff I'm thinking about here has no bearing on that fact whatsoever. Apologies for that.
But the sudden investment and implication I felt on hearing those two words--art dealer--got me thinking: What is the art world, exactly?
Well, for starters, it's not whatever the news anchor reading the story thought it might be (nor was art dealer an apt way to describe Ms. Naimi's profession.) Many different art worlds exist, and only intersect and overlap here and there. Certainly there are exchanges between, say, folks who show in design galleries...and traditional or realist or fine craft producers...and people engaged in a practice that is considered contemporary or avante garde. But those exchanges are limited. (Imagine referring to someone as an occupant of the sports world as though a long distance runner and an NFL player were constantly having professional lunch dates).
Each of these circles of possible audiences, collectors, and dealers generates its own unwritten always changing standards for membership and participation. This is not unlike any professional discipline anywhere--just more receptive, perhaps, to posturing, hucksterism, and improvisation than most.
Re: posturing. At my panel discussion, the related question of how one determines who is or is not really an artist came up. I told the audience what I used to tell my students: If you want to be an artist, keep telling people you're an artist. The art world (whichever one you're talking about) is full of self-fulfilling prophecies.
The other question that came up (and this is where I was going all along, honest) was: What's the value of institutional critique in general at this point? Can a project about gallery culture honestly expect to change anything or anyone outside of the gallery itself?
My response during the panel was to say that the art world is an extension of the rest of the world--the creative economy is a part of the larger economy; having a job in art isn't entirely unlike having a job anywhere else and involves the same sorts of relationships with authority; avante garde gallery culture both steers and is influenced by popular culture, etc., etc.
But as I thought about the fact that even within art, there are whole groups of professionals about whose practice I know very little...well, it made me wonder how anything that happens within the confines of any definite social setting or professional discipline anywhere can affect anything anywhere else.
It seems that when an art project captures the public's imagination, there's either an incredible aligning of the planets--something in the zeitgeist has been pinpointed, and everyone responds accordingly--or something tacky, opportunistic, or awful has been perpetrated in the name of art, and the art world and general public alike have to search for the right note of disapproval to sound.
(Actually, that second scenario sounds pretty good to me.)
I'm not entirely sure how to deal with this question, but I do know that I'm not ready at this point to join the ranks of social practice types whose art consists of throwing dinner parties with locally sourced food, or planning and building some alternative public space/park, or encouraging people to use bicycles, or, well, you see where I'm going with this.
Don't get me wrong. I'm actually very interested in those types of projects, particularly from a curatorial or a critical standpoint. I'm just not entirely convinced that just because you do something outside of the gallery means that a general audience is more ready to accept what you do, or comes to any better understanding of contemporary art as a result.
Because, hey, we're all pretty isolated, and a little fuzzy on the particulars of anyone else's life and livelihood, inside the art world or out.
Sure, everyone's been talking week to week about who gets voted off of Work of Art, Bravo's reality TV show about contemporary gallery culture...but what about MARICAR, the performance artist who got voted off of America's Got Talent on NBC last night?
From her references to performance art's roots in action painting and happenings a la Alan Kaprow; to her self-objectification in performances referring to both popular culture and fetish...um...okay, I give up: This is just completely fucking terrible, and doesn't have anything to do with anything.
I wonder what Jerry Saltz would say. Or what Howie Mandel would say to Jerry. Anyway, see below.
Mixology II; Doctors without Borders benefit at Curator’s Office. Featuring a limited edition cocktail by the ever-indispensable Kathryn Cornelius—titled Earth Worms Are Easy—and photos by Kathryn, Nick and Sheila Pye, Victoria F. Gaitan, Max Cook, Frank Day, Jason Horowitz, Cliff Evans—hey, those are all good folks! Sounds like there’s barely room for the art, much less the artists, so be prepared for an intimate experience.
Pictured at top: Nicholas & Sheila Pye, "Semi-Erotic II", 2007, digital C-print
Conner Contemporary’s 10th anniversary ACADEMY show. Featuring Calder Brannock, Kate Demong, Michael Dotson, Philip Hinge, Mindy Hirt, Timothy Horjus, Chie Iwasaki, Benjamin Kelley, Joyce Lee, Christina Martinelli, Katie Miller, Jenny Yang, Michelle Yo, and Ting Zhang.
I might be at CO tonight, but I doubt I’ll see you—will be super-early and brief.
I will not be at Conner, as much as I would like to be. Why? I’ll be busy revisiting my youth at The Black Cat. Unrest! Versus! 26 years of Teenbeat records! Why, yes, I do have a babysitter for the night, thank you very much. (When you condemn certain bands as "dad rock", you know you're talking about me, right?) See below, in case you're not of a certain age.
I know, I said I was done posting about BY REQUEST...but the review is in, so how could I shut up?
I've been practicing wincing and recoiling all week as I knew Jessica was preparing a lengthy piece for BY REQUEST. I mean, I've gotten beaten up by her before—for shows that I was trying to make seem respectable. BY REQUEST, by contrast, is designed to be tacky, outlandish, and kind of unlovable. How could that possibly work out in my favor? I felt doomed.
Well, color me surprised: Jessica turned in a thoughtful, more or less balanced piece of criticism. Sure, there are barbs and jabs, but why would I expect different?
Jessica's main issues: The show is insider-y, possibly incomprehensible to those not in the know.
Well, I'd like to think that the pieces in the show work regardless of whether or not you have all of the relationships straight—that these artists delivered the goods despite my meddling, and that the frame of the show simply adds another layer—but I'll accept that this can be a barrier to entry for some folks.
Also: She concludes that the show is art-historically insignificant, likely to not even be a footnote.
Okay, I realize that the WaPo Style section is where all issues re: the canon are traditionally sorted out—right there between Cul de Sac and Carolyn Hax—but, aside from that: Hey, Jessica, we both live in Washington, DC. I didn't know art history even happened here!
So, yeah, I'm pretty happy with the piece. No, it ain't a rave, nor is it necessarily favorable overall. But it takes the show seriously, and takes the time to unpack it all a bit. Jessica Dawson, I owe you a thank-you note.
Jeffry Cudlin is an artist, curator, art critic, and musician living and working in Washington, D.C. He currently serves as Professor of Curatorial Studies and Practice at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He formerly served as the Director of Exhibitions for the Arlington Arts Center. His reviews have appeared in the Washington City Paper, Sculpture Magazine, and the Washington Post.