Sunday, February 27, 2022

Covid and the Art World (Recap)

As we slowly but surely seem to be moving toward the new normal after the worst of the Covid Pandemic, we can look back at what effect it has had on the artworld over the last three years.

Of course, at the end of 2019 in the United States there were rumors of a new virus coming out of China, but it always seemed to be played down. Together with most of the artworld I first came face to face with it after TEFAF, The European Fine Arts Fair, in Maastricht in early 2020, where 300 exhibitors had 28,000 plus visitors. A number of these came down with the virus. Some were hospitalized and in intensive care. Exact figures could not be ascertained but, after the fact, TEFAF was criticized because European governments had made the organizers aware that this virus would soon be a global pandemic.

TEFAF 2020 (Artforum)

I have already covered all the closings of art institutions both large and small. Many, though not all, came out whole or better off than they had ever dreamed because of government subsidies and supporters who knew that their favorite institutions were in trouble and gave even more than in normal times.

For better or for worse, there is always progress, life goes on. In earlier Missives I mentioned how I had one of the first art dealer websites (1996) even though I am something of a luddite. It took a while until almost every art dealer had a website of one kind or another.

The virtual art world got a major digital boost with Covid. Institutions found that if they went online, not just with their collections but with virtual programs, they could build their constituencies. A small cultural center that used to offer lectures to their local members in person started to present their lectures online. The bonus, of course, was that the lecture could be heard and seen worldwide, allowing a broader audience to become involved. An online talk or tour might make viewers curious enough to follow a museum’s programs, make a financial contribution, and travel to see the institution when it reopened.

Among the many innovations forced by Covid was the possibility of the public being able to come in contact with artists in their own studio environments. To see the artist at work, you no longer needed an introduction and have an invitation to visit. Besides virtual gallery hopping there were virtual studio tours where you could be up close and personal with the artist. Here you can see Paris art dealer and specialist in French 18th century art , Eric Coatalem, talk about a painting in his gallery, subtitles in English.

Institutions needed to stay relevant or risk extinction. More museums started to put their collections on-line or have exhibitions one could go through just using your computer mouse. Just as you can take a virtual tour of a house you are interested in buying, you could do the same in a private art gallery. Auction houses made their sales accessible for viewing and bidding online. Even as they returned to in person sales, they continued the virtual features making participation easier.

Lest we forget new forms of art also came to the fore. Today, everyone is aware of the NFT and the art emersion experience the best known of these being the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibition that has been making its global rounds and even coming to Albuquerque, New Mexico soon.

Credit: San Antonio Current

All we hear about lately is how terrible social media is, but when it comes to the arts it has been a huge plus. In effect, Covid democratized the art world. From the comfort of their home, and dressed in pajamas, people could still take tours of the museum, galleries, or artists’ studios. Just because they thought they could not afford what they liked they did not need to be non-participants in the art market. Potential collectors from the new wealth of the technology sector could learn without the embarrassment of asking what they thought might be stupid questions because they could remain essentially anonymous.

Be it the performing arts or the fine arts we wish to attract a wider audience. What better introduction than the virtual world where there is no fear of judgement.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Another Museum!

When I saw there was another museum coming to New York, I thought to myself, does New York City need another museum? So, I looked up online, how many museums were there already and found a heading, “The Best 37 Museums in New York City”. Then I thought how many can you see in a day? If it is only 3 be sure to book at your hotel for at least 2 weeks!

Of course, many of the favorites are not art museums, like the Museum of Natural History or the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, and that set me to wondering what art attractions that are not museums would visitors want to see? As a matter of fact, I am curious about this one: like other institutions that wish to get away from that stodgy designation of Museum, it calls itself the “First Permanent Immersive Experience Venue”. It may be the cross between the museum where you go only to view and a modern-day amusement park such as Meow Wolf. It sounds to me like the pre-curser to the Metaverse where you experience the art not just look at it. Meow Wolf calls itself a “Multiverse”.

What intrigues me even more is the fact that the first of its exhibitions, which are scheduled to change every 10 to 12 months, will be devoted to Gustav Klimt (Austrian Symbolist, 1862-1918). As Klimt is one of my favorite artists, I have mentioned him in a number of Missives.

This “immersive” show represents an undertaking of the French production company, “Culturespaces”, which claims responsibility for originating the current wave of immersive digital art experiences. Their hugely popular home institution, the “Atelier des Lumières”, is even featured in “Emily in Paris”. They are also the owners of the well-known Frieze Art Fairs which take place in London, New York and Los Angeles and are in the vanguard of the contemporary art market. Bruno Monnier, who earlier in his career was in charge of special projects within France’s Ministry of Culture, founded “Culturespaces” in 1990 and it manages cultural sites such as the Musée Jaquemart-André.

To create a permanent New York venue, called the “Hall des Lumieres”, they are renovating the landmarked 1912 Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank building in Tribeca, opposite City Hall. Here is a preview of “Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion” their innagural iinstallation which is scheduled to open this summer.

“Immersive” exhibitions seem to be one of the most popular novelties in an ever-changing art world. For some of us old fogies it seems very strange that we must immerse ourselves in anything other than the original work of art, but think of it as an expansion of the experience and an introduction that might take a new audience from the Klimt “immersion” uptown to the Neue Galerie to see its collection of Vienna Succession originals that include one of the greatest Klimts anywhere.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1907

Personally, I love the idea of the new and innovative as long as we do not destroy what came before, because, in my opinion, you can’t have the one without the other.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

There is Nothing New under the Sun but in strange ways life and the arts recycle! My mother used to say, “if I live long enough what wasn’t good for me is now good for me again”.

50-60-70 years ago, Graffiti was literally a dirty word. We considered those who did it were defacing our public spaces. It was considered quite simply vandalism.

At that time, it was primarily writing on walls or tagging, ie just putting your name on an outdoor wall, albeit some of it was done in an artistic manner.  Unauthorized and anonymous the graffiti artists used to work primarily at night where there are few people, and the cops won’t bother them. It was also used to send messages. Here is a 1950’s warning from one New York City gang to another.

There is, however, a long history here. The Italian word “graffiato” or scratched, came originally from the Greek where the word means, “to write”. In ancient times messages scratched on rocks on walls took the form of political statements or declarations of love or even advertising for prostitutes. In the vocabulary of fine arts “sgraffito” is scratching through one layer of pigment to reveal another beneath and in ceramics the sgraffito itself creates the image.

Today graffiti has become a major form of artistic expression with the canvases of young urban spray painters being commercial buildings and the public spaces around them. The first to achieve art world recognition was Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). In the early 80’s he brought his colorful mural work inside in large format canvas paintings which began to sell in galleries. Today Basquiat paintings go at auction for phenomenal prices but, alas, he is not here to enjoy them as he died of a Heroin overdose at age 27. Here is an image from 1982 Obnoxious Acrylic, crayon on canvas, 172.7 x 259 cm slightly cropped at the top.

In one way or the other, it should not surprise us that now there is a museum home for graffiti art in “The Museum of Graffiti” in Miami, Florida. According to their website it is the first museum exclusively dedicated to the evolution of graffiti as an art form. “The museum was founded in order to preserve graffiti’s history and celebrate its emergence in design, fashion, advertising and galleries. There are eleven exterior murals, a fine art gallery and a world-class gift shop stocked with limited edition merchandise …”

Of course, mural painting goes back 30,000 years to the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave and I wrote about this form of art a few years ago. The main difference between the mural artist and the graffiti artist as pointed out by the Graffiti Museum’s co-founder, Allison Freidin, in an Art Net News interview, is that the latter’s art is based on the formation of the letter. She says that many street artists, some well-known, such as Keithy Haring, Banksy and Shepard Frarey art is inseparable from activism. Graffiti artists intentionally put their work where the greatest number of people will see it such as on buildings, highways and bridges. Here is one example pertinent for today.

The fact that the Graffiti Museum has a gallery of canvas size images seems a contradiction to large scale street art. Ms. Feidlin says, “In black book drawings from the early 1970s, artists were using pens and markers that were not made for creating art-they were more for commercial purposes than anything. Yet these incredible works on paper came out of that time period, showing the sheer talent of the artist, who demonstrates immense technical capabilities in such a small form. Those same artists can then go on and paint the same tiny rendering on an 80 foot train using spray paint, an entirely different medium. I think that’s one of the main things that set graffiti artists apart.”

It is always interesting to see something we have looked at for decades, get looked at in a new way.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Book Burning Again?

My father was thrown out of University in Munich in 1933 and left Germany the following year. Recent events have brought this rushing back to me as have so many other events in recent years.

While book burning wasn’t new, in May of 1933 Nazi-dominated student groups carried out public book burnings around Germany. Works by Jewish, liberal and leftist writers were the primary targets including Helen Keller, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud to name a few of the authors. The students made a spectacle of the events by creating bonfires for all to see. It prompted Time magazine to coin the word “bibliocaust.” Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) already warned in the 19th century, “where one burns books, one soon burns people”!

Now symbolic book burnings have already started in the United States. This time, however, it is the adults who are scared of the truth who have started them.

Conservative Texas State Representative, Matt Krause, has published a list of 850 books that he wishes to see banned in Texas schools and he is running for the post of Tarrant County District Attorney! The list focuses on Racism, Sex Education, Pregnancy, Abortion and LGBTQ+ topics. He posits that these would be disturbing to the psychological well-being of the students.

I started writing this Missive when I read that that Art Speigelman, the cartoonist, had denounced the Tennessee School district’s ban on his Graphic Novel “Maus” regarding the Holocaust. It might have been some consolation that it boosted the publication to the top of the bestseller’s list, but that obviously is not the point. Then last week the New York Times headlined a story “Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.”.

My daughter, Cathy Fiebach has an independent bookstore, Main Point Books, in Wayne, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. She told me she was horrified to have seen another indepent bookstore owner burn a book written from a right-wing perspective. She pointed out to me that her shop carries 8,000 titles and over half a million books are published yearly in the U.S. and that is a conservative estimate. So every independent bookshop owner curates their shop’s collection. They may decide not to carry a book, but she believes banning and certainly burning books is never right.

A corner of Main Point Books

The books that are the target of recent censorship are objected to by right-wing parents, school boards and legislators. On the opposite side of the political spectrum is the current movement to remove statues of historic figures. The result is that we will learn nothing of these l leaders, neither their contributions nor their failings. I grew up thinking that Robert E. Lee as well as Abraham Lincoln were heroic figures. Being the son of German refugees, 100 years after the civil war I was happy that the Union won. If you want to teach me why Robert E. Lee should not be considered a hero, let me know with a text next to the statue so I can learn. That goes double for young people. How are you going to explain the Civil War if the statue is no longer there? You could write the history in a book but then the objectors would do away with the book and again no one would learn about our nation’s past. To repeat that old saw “He who forgets history is bound to repeat it”… and who does that help?

As to LBGTQ+ subjects, we all feel better when we know that we are not alone. If you feel more attracted to the same sex than the other, knowing there are others like you gives one confidence. On the other hand, believing you have to hide allows the doubters and haters to think they have succeeded in stamping out what they are scared of, but in reality, they have achieved nothing. Reducing fear, makes one a more productive person, benefiting all.

From the Irish Sunday Times

With all the books published world-wide yearly, and one estimate pegs that at 2.2 million, Mr. Krause’s list of literature that can be found to cause “discomfort” is anything but complete. By at least one analysis it is faulty as well. Banning any books, however, is harming education and allowing a dumber society to prevail. Will we ultimately find that leaders in sciences, medicine, technology, and the arts increasingly be from other countries?

My daughter ended our conversation by quoting Viet Thanh Nguyen a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

“If we oppose banning some books, we should oppose banning any book”.