Monday, January 16, 2017

So Now You Care Where Your Money Comes From: Art, Hypocrisy and Politics

On Friday President-Elect Trump will become President Trump and that is tragic and insane. Even though this all seems like some horrible dream it is going to happen and in the coming days, weeks, months, years it will be the obligation for all those that want to make sure he doesn’t usher in an age of authoritarian despotism to do whatever we can, as much as we can for as long as we can.

This is a time for gloom as it feels like doom and because of this there is a frustration, and a debilitating, seething anger and desire to do something, anything, to take a stand and make it clear how one feels. This has also been taking place in the arts, which would seem obvious because art is mostly made up of creatives who veer heavily to the Left. This makes sense as when you are in the arts you are choosing to be expansive, curious, open, and different. All those are qualities that work against things like bigotry, sexism, fear of the unknown, and fear of what is different. When those on the Right want to classify those who are in the arts as idealists or snobs, then fine, we are but we work hard at being curious and excited about the beauty and possibilities art can do for oneself, human nature and culture.

So there’s how I feel about the big idea of arts importance to society but I do have a bone to pick with some of these creatives and more specifically those in the visual art world. Recently there has been an influx of artists and arts related ‘groups’ that have been taking announced stands against Trump and his ilk. One in an Instagram account called dear_ivanka, which features mostly Ivanka Trump and has open letters/statements directed to her and the fam in general. Second there are all these big name artists denouncing Trump publically such as Richard Prince and his recent unselling of his work featuring Ivanka Trump. All of these have been posted online by various art news and social media sites but I have yet to see critical discourse on what that means so hear goes my ‘populist’ take.

The dear_ivankainstagram account is just the worst. It feels completely self-indulgent and is remedial. It feels like some sort of proposed spin-off for a not actually funny humor/irony web series. Saying things like, “Dear Ivanka, I’ve been raped and need to have an abortion” or “Dear Ivanka, I’m black and I’m afraid of Jeff Sessions” is so so so so cringe, I can’t even. I hate to gossip but I have been told from numerous sources that do know the creator that they are actually quite privileged, aka rich. Okay so what’s the big deal? Who cares if some rich arty people want to do an irony laden social media account? Why, because it’s missing the point and its merits are flawed. To me, this account feels like just another appropriation tool to relativize oneself and thus to capitalize via cultural/social gain. Also, it is EXACTLY what THEY want you to do. Being obnoxious, insipid, and inciting a pandering call to arms is fueling the ‘them vs. us’ feud. Yes, I get it, it is a them vs. us situation in many ways but doing this account is just showing how reductive and lazy we (Lefty art-worlders) are in thinking, talking and changing the real things that matter. Plus, this isn’t diminishing the brand that is Ivanka Trump. It’s just a mirroring back and also a strengthening of her brand. I guess the thing that really bothers me about this is that it is trying so hard to be so many things: flippant, funny, invested. If it were any of those things actually, I would high five its efforts but it isn’t. It just really really isn’t.

Next, let’s talk about how artists are denouncing Trump and its relationship to buying art. Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner are both socialites and they buy contemporary art because that is what socialites do. Artists such as Alex Da Corte, Cindy Sherman, Joan Jonas, etc. have de-cried and denounced Trump and said that they would not sell to that family and in the case of Da Corte has said that he was embarrassed to be seen with her when there was an image of her with one of his works. The most recent vocal artist to be added to this list is Richard Prince who says that the work Ivanka bought from his recent show of Instagram accounts is a “fake” now because he has given the money back and he no longer considers it one of his works.

Richard Prince. Stop. Well besides the fact that that series of works was just horrendous and grossly misogynistic, him doing this pseudo-punk-esq gesture of reversal of sale actually makes this work the most interesting thing he has done in decades. If anything him doing this makes the work more a work of ‘art’ then the sellable revenue vehicle that it originally functioned as. Also, ha! Returning ~$30k for the work and calling it a fake does not remedy the larger problem here and that’s what I want to call out to artists who want to link in their art, bank accounts and politics.

Everyone, everyone, let’s be fucking real here! We know that if you are in the art world and if you make money, and especially if you make A LOT of money, which most of these higher tier artists and galleries do, you are definitely, 100%, selling works to people who make their money from impolitic to very bad things. As most know who read this thing I was in the art game hustle for years and only finally stepped out in a commercial way and I thank the stars for that because this issue of ‘who buys the art’ was one of the biggest moral quandaries I had while working in the gallery system.

The exchanges are clear in this industry art for money.  There are literally hundreds of art fairs a year that the super rich attend like they used to take the Grand Tour across Europe. It is a social status right of passage and being a collector is necessary to that lifestyle and it is the literal oil in the art world machine. Who are the super rich? Well they can be in a variety of industries but the collector is no longer the simple doctor, lawyer type. No, the very rich work in industries that thrive on monopoly and supremacy. Oil, Weapons, Tech (to do god knows what and to whom), Pharmaceuticals, Conglomerated Brands, Real Estate, Manufactures, etc. This list can be translated to all the conflicts, all the damage, all the suffering, all the things that make it so billions of people have nearly nothing while a sliver of one percent have everything. These are the people and their children, their minions, their enablers, and their enforcers these are the people that buy the art.

So, Trump and his socialite daughter are in power now and now you want to say no. No, I will not sell to you because of what you represent. No, I will not be displayed in your house. No, you can’t have that even if you have all the money and power in the world. No? No?! Now you are saying No? If Trump lost the election I doubt any of these artists would have taken a sale back or publically denounced their association with Ivanka Trump. But now that this is the new reality, it is required for artists who have made it such a point to be morally superior and culturally evolved to make this grand stand.

I’m sorry but it just reeks of hypocrisy. And it’s not the artists alone that I am talking about. It’s everyone in the art world who does, wants, desires to make money in this system but also wants to asterisk inclusions to take dirty money even if it compromises their outer politics. The art world has been having their cake and eating it too when it comes to politics and money. They can be holier then thou and do panels and make statements and gather with their compatriots but are they stopping to think and exposing who bought what to pay for all this lifestyle they are living?

Is it any one person’s fault? Yes and no. The art world is notoriously opaque. Like it is the KGB of opacity. Because of this there isn’t a system of checks and balances and the concept of transparency would unravel the very fabric of the smoke and mirrors that is the core of the art world brand. How many times, how many years have I railed against this?! But it’s not about me and my feelings about it. All I am saying is that in a strange way, maybe this new reality, this new administration, is bringing these hidden things to the fore.

Because Trump and his family are now in power there isn’t a place to hide and divert what is really going on in everything. This is a time when facts, transparency, consistency, and truth are all at stake. This encroachment is making many of us feel powerless and desperate. In the face of this, instead of sniggering, complaining and preaching to the choir, do something. If that something is denouncing Trump and not selling works, good first step. But as the world is watching Trump and his ilk, so to should we be watching ourselves and practicing what we are preaching. Don’t want to sell art to him or his family. Fine. But whom else are you selling it to? Frustrated and pissed that someone like Ivanka will be in the White House? Fine. But where does your privilege stem from as well?

Be the change you want to see.  It’s a simple decree but one that I think will help us all get through this and make actual change.

The very first step in all of this is being honest about what is happening in the arts, what is happening in our hearts and minds and then to do something about it. Really actually do something.

Monday, January 9, 2017

But Where Does All My Money Go?

I’ve been complaining about money on this thing for some weeks now and although I’m trying to be a frugal bug, it is just not working. So to publically shame myself and to put words on a page (god why do I still do this stupid blog!?!) I will tally up the last month or so of what the hell I purchased.

Thanks. Venmo me.

$132.50 – Soviet wrist watch from Etsy – I want a watch so I don’t have to look at my phone every 2 mins because I am a freak about time.

$14.83 – Student Debt – Haha, this is going to take a while. Suckers.

$18.68 – Face wash – It takes a lot of effort to not have acne.

$400 – ATM withdrawal – Trying to only use cash so I stop spending so much damn money!

$7.94 – Eye makeup remover – Not wearing eye make up makes me feel more naked then not wearing a shirt.

$121.15 – Groceries Park Slope Food Coop – For a dinner party.

$3.81 – Spinach – Greens

$19.81 – Cat food – Eating me out of house and home.

$37.50 – Donald Judd House – FINALLY made reservations!

$23.65 – Thai Food – Pho. I love you.

$32 – NJ Transit – Train for Xmas

$92.39 – La Mela Restaurant – I got drunk and somehow paid for this whole bill. Stupid.

$60 – Paypal transfer – For all those late night Uber rides. :/

$25 – Paypal donation – For a friend’s friend in Poland who has a paralyzing disease that has a cure.

$30.02 – M2M – Korean food groceries.

$60 – ATM withdrawal – Have no idea what this was for.

$45 – Pearl’s Bar – Drinks with friend who just broke up with BF.

$9.73 – Cat Food – Greedies

$15 – Gottsheer Hall – Beer for a bday party.

$7.99 – Uber – Not sure from/to or where.

$60.71 – Coned – Electricity. Moop

$13.54 – Uber – IDK

$142.99 – Park Slope Food Coop – I luv organic stuff ya’ll

$38.70 – Dear Bushwick Restaurant – I have no recollection of being here.

$21.78 – Vape liquid – Yes, I’m one of those assholes.

$49.95 – LL Bean – X-mas Gift.

$5.16 – Bodega

$120 – Ikebana Flowers – I have expensive hobbies.

$460 – ATM withdrawal – Where? Why? How?

$50.33 – Optimum – Internetssssss

$39.99 – H&M – I needed work pants, don’t judge.

$23.49 – Esty – Xmas gift for niece.

$778.46 – Leesa – New mattress. Worth every penny.

$52.48 – Lidds – Xmas gift for nephews

$21.78 – Vape – Someone shoot me.

$14 – Restaurant – IDK

$2.50 – ATM Fee – Die

$61.70 – ATM withdrawal – Prob for drinks

$22 – Paradise Bar – dranks

$47.04 – Cat Food – I should just release them in the woods.

$77.30 – Tony’s Pizza – To feed people at the after party.

$5.99 – M2M – Korean Udon

$68.62 – King Noodle – Bday Dinner Treat

$146.25 – NYU Bookstore – Xmas gifts for the fam.

$24.25 – Josie Woods – Co-worker dranks

$2.50 – ATM fee – DIE

$101.99 – ATM withdrawal – Where do these nights go?

$3.99 – Westside market – IDK food I guess.

$6.52 – M2M – Prob Udon again.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Me

I don’t like that phrase, ‘new year, new me.’ What does that even mean? It’s what basics say and decal all over their whatevers at the end of a year. Got it, thanks. It is the New Year though and although we don’t want to act like the basics it does have meaning, or at least roots. It’s pagan and gravity and sunrays and the stars. The big stuff that is sometimes ridiculous but also has an undeniable sense of truth and constancy.

So what does a new year mean? It’s a time to reflect, measure and to set ‘goals’ or something along those lines for the coming year. Even though that seems contagiously regular, it still feels necessary. This time of year creates a setting that enables this sort of behavior. While it is busy with familial formalities, it also suspends obligations and expectations; leaving room for these future/past wishes to break free or take root.

I’m not sure what I really want to change about me at the moment. I’m happy and unhappy about a lot things in my life but I also think that is utterly besides the point so what’s the fuss and bother? Still, I can’t help but be thinking about this today, so here we go.

Below are some things that I want to change or pursue or whatever you want to call it for myself and the larger scope of things. None of it really matters that much to me but hey, I’m being basic and it sort of feels good.

Here’s to a healthy and prosperous new year. May you get every damn thing you wish for.

Be nicer to men – Really, I am just the worst! (ha!) But really, I am the least fun person to date these last few months because I have zero patience for mediocrity. This can be seen as an asset but trust me, I’m so mean to the men I date that it really is a touch cruel. I’m going to be nicer and if that doesn’t work then I’ll be asexual until I can be.

Save money – I’ve always been really good with my finances until this summer. There was a numbers fluke that I never recovered from and for the first time since I was twelve, I am in the red with money. It’s okay though. Having to change your life financially is interesting and challenging. I weirdly look forward to being frugal.

Exercise – Me and this flesh bag have some time to go still so yeah, got to get on that fitness regime.

Politics blah blah – This coming year is going to be shit re: actualities of politics and though I am not a certified ‘wonk’ I will be following things very closely. I look forward to talking to people about these things in the coming months but I also am NOT looking forward to talking about it as well. Having a good conversation about politics is like having a good conversation about art. It seems easy but it’s not and when it is bad it’s mortifying for everyone.

Go to church – Not for religion but for the architecture, organ music and chorus.

Explore graveyards – I have decided that the graveyards in NYC are better then any of its parks.

Drinks and Drugs – Too old for this shit.

Write More – I’m going to write more poetry, critical papers, aphorisms and not show them to anyone ever.

Sensitive – For those that don’t know me very well (most everyone) I can be a real tough cookie sometimes. I’m going to try to be not so tough this year. (unless you are an idiot asshole.)

Books! – Not sure why I don’t read as much as I want to. (damn internet TV) Please send recommendations!

Help strangers – Little things everyday.

Bye-bye baggage – It’s the time of Capricorn and that supposedly means that there is some heavy baggage life shit weighing us all down and that now is the time to release ourselves from this. It is so creepy true. I have been shedding bad weight in all areas of my mind and life and it’s amazing! Goodbye shitty people I don’t care about! Goodbye crappy lovers! Goodbye guilt filled obligations! Goodbye polite, dull conversations! Goodbye bad habits! Goodbye bad memories! Goodbye!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Assassin Photo

On December the 19th at a gallery in Ankara Turkey, Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov was attending an exhibition entitled, From Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, from the eyes of travelers that featured photos from Russia's Baltic region to the Kamchatka Peninsula. He was giving a speech about his love of country when a young man, dressed in a suit and tie shot him from behind, killing him.

The image above was taken at this event and it popped onto my computer screen when I went on The New York Times website and when I saw it, it made me gasp aloud. The image shows the true horror of this event but the image itself startled me more then just that reason alone. It made me think about ‘art’, not only because the setting is in a gallery but because of its composition and the affect that images have on art and within larger dialectic and philosophic thought.

The image is not a reproduction, it is a photograph of an actual event. It is an actual body on the floor and the gunman is a real person, not a simulacrum. So why then does this image feel like ‘art’ in such a bizarre and knowing way? Some people have written poorly crafted responses to this image in relationship to art and art history but I think that there should be deeper evaluation. This image is evocative not just as a tool for comparing old masters or corporate Americana within art historic contexts in relationship to current events. Rather it can be used as an example of a larger meaning of how an ‘image’ functions and how that infers a larger condition within art and culture.

An obvious starting point is to think about Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936). This is still a cornerstone in how we think about art and the dissemination of the images. There is an unpublished second introduction to this book from 1935-36 that holds compelling overlaps to his larger concepts within that book and I will use it as a beginners text to talk about this image further.

What makes this image so startling? One, the composition, two, the pristine clarity of focus and setting, three, the position of the viewer via the photographer. These three factors can be dissected excessively but for the sake of this format I will condense them. Essentially this image has all the elements of the postmodern image. It is a perfect sort of image in that it looks directed but it is not. It is everything that we expect of an image that is replaying this sort of scene but the fact that it is not a staged act but the actual makes the uncanny feel surreal. 

Surreal – this is the word of the year as declared by Mariam Webster Dictionary and this image gives another notch onto why that is so. Looking at this image is like an echo chamber of all the visual keys and knowledge that you have been trained to decipher. For people who are especially tuned into the act of critically looking and dissecting art, this image is even more unsettling because it is beyond cliché, it is real. That reality is unsettling because it both undermines yet confirms how overlapping farce and reality truly are. Without the lack of clear irony, the conditioned responses we are familiar with employing when faced with such an image dissipates, leaving us nothing to grasp firmly onto.

Let's think about this in regards to Benjamin. He speaks about the idea of the authentic, “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in a particular place.” (21) He goes on to discuss how through the idea of reproduction the veracity of what is “authentic” is displaced as it is detached from the real aka place and time. This also links to his idea of the art object having an “aura” as he describes it, “What, then, is the aura? A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be.” (23) So, let’s think back to this image. This is set in real time and space and the dissemination of this image and the facts and the events surrounding it are located not in a distanced time or space but in a near immediacy. Yes, there are perhaps minutes to hours delays in the transmission of the facts surround the event/image but as soon as the image is shared it is concrete.

The image acts as a fact in a deeper way and it flips the way Benjamin, in some ways, posits the idea of a reproduction. This image is not a reproduction but a form of evidence. But this image does not stay attached only to the contextualizing details of words. As soon as the words overcomes the image, the evidence that is the image can detach itself and have a second life as a form of a reproduction. “By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence.” (22) This is why this image resonates with us because it is so familiar. It reminds us of other things we have seen reproduced in the form of art and images. This replication is collectively recognized and becomes a script for behavior for the fictional (movies, TV, art) and the actual.

The young man who shot Karlov had a name, Meulut Mert Altintas. This hasn't been discussed much in the news because what mattered more were his image and his words. He was an off duty Turkish police officer and the quoted words he is said to have said were, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” These are the words that explain motivation. Before he shoots Karlov, there is a video showing Mert Altintas pensively standing behind Karlov in the gallery space. He is trim, young, clean-shaven, handsome and wearing a well fitting black suit, white shirt and slim black tie. He looks like he belongs there. Perhaps he is a bodyguard, perhaps he works for the gallery. He looks official yet unthreatening because he looks modern, calm, patient. There are other photographs and videos that reveal what happens but throughout, and this image as well, there is a sense of embodiment of character. He is an assassin. He knows he is going to shoot this man. He knows that he will have some time right after he does this to say words he means to say. He knows that he will die because of this.

I am not implying that this act was done for the sake of performativity. Mert Altintas wanted to enact a form of justice that had impact and meaning for him. He killed a life and lost his own in exchange. These are real people. Real bodies. Real lives. But even in this violent act there is the requirement for the audience, the news, the photographer ready for the shot.

Here is another name not being discussed much in the news, Burhan Ozbilici. He was the photographer that took this image and others surrounding this event. He is interviewed here and he talks about why he took these images. What is also unsettling to think about is the nature of the photographer’s role. In many reprints of this image the caption does not even mention his name but rather it simply says “AP” meaning Associated Press.

This idea of authorship being owned not by the person photographing but property of a larger organization is also bizarre. This speaks back to the idea of the collective and how image, reproduction and the narratives of culture and history are constructed. “Just as the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception.”(23) Is taking images of assassinations, war, trauma, and death a monopoly of image hording and luck? Was Mert Altintas’ objectives made more potent and more ‘successful’ in his intentions because ‘AP’ photographer Ozbilici happened to pop into the gallery because it was on his way home? “The cameraman’s performance with the lens no more creates an artwork than a conductor’s with the baton; at most, it creates an artistic performance.” (29) Again, this is not saying both held these intentions but our understanding of these strategies makes the even unintended feel prescriptive.

So, let’s look at this image again. It is fascinating because it is morbid. It is fascinating because it feels so fake but is so real. It is fascinating because we know it is reality but it feels surreal. Looking at this image makes the act of looking and the ways of thinking about how one perceives reality and perception via images feel like a mirrored upside-down world. We keep looping, looping, looping back into ourselves and we no longer know what began it all and where it will end. This very feeling of the gyroscopic is forcing us to freeze. Freeze from shock, freeze from nausea, but freeze nonetheless and hopefully it will make us who look and think about the meaning of art, images, violence and culture with even more criticality and analysis.

I will leave you with some unsettling words by Marinetti in his Futurist manifesto about war:

For twenty-seven years, we Futurists have rebelled against the idea that war is anti-aesthetic…We therefore state…War is beautiful because- thanks to its gas masks, its terrifying megaphones, its flame throwers, and light tanks- it established man’s dominion over the subjugated machine. War is beautiful because it inaugurates the dreamed-of metallization of the human body. War is beautiful because it combines gunfire, barrages, cease-fires, scents, and the fragrance of petrification into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like those armored tanks, geometric squadrons of aircraft, spirals of smoke from burning villages, and much more… Poets and artists of Futurism, remember these principles of an aesthetic of war, that they may illuminate…your struggles for a new poetry and a new sculpture!

Think clearly and deeply my friends. The image is a powerful thing and so is art. The things we inherit are the things we become and repeat.

Benjamin, Walter, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, second version, in The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings, trans. Jephcott, Edmund, Livingston, Rodney, Eailand, Howard, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2008.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Yeah, I Want Presents

Even though I act like I don’t care about the holidays, I’m no Scrooge. I love giving presents and tapping along to holiday music and going to holiday parties and being ‘festive’ and all that. I’m literally wearing flannel right now. Flannel. Yuck usually but today it makes me feel like a winter hiker even if it’s being accessorized with heeled boots and a fuzzy faux fur vest. The holidays make socializing even denser then usual but it also puts into stark light the coupled hole that is my dating life. Yup, still single and actually sort of into it but it would be really convenient to get some more gifts if I had a romantic plus one. Materialistic, possibly, but who doesn’t like getting gifts? No one.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they require exchanges of time. Time to think about them, time to get them, time to do them etc. Labor, time, and affection are inextricably linked. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of doing this but in the end it does have meaning and value. 

With that in mind I’m going to share with you my wish list. These aren’t only gifts that a lover would give but everyone around me, myself included, are poor lil’ babies at the moment so these are wishes for when times get more swish and monies more disposable. Enjoy the act if giving and of receiving and whatever you do, try to wrap it with love.

Cleaver – A cleaver knife is the most underrated knife in the knife box. They are versatile and you look extra unhinged when yielding it while you pretend to be a psycho.

Perfume – Wearing perfume is an art in a way. When you find a scent that you love, and loves you back, it’s like putting on fancy underwear. Scent and memory are animalistically linked and this is one tool that we can literally be a walking triggers for. Currently looking for a winter scent. Recommendations welcome.

Sheets – Fancy, white, insane thread count.

Food Jars – I buy from bulk bins at the food co-op and I like glass jars. I’m a secret crunchy hippy, always.

Diamond Ring – I have never had a diamond anything and I’m like so not getting married so I just want one to confuse people and to go ‘ohhhhh, ahhhh’ to while I type.

Radio – Vintage one that will perpetually be on WNYC or a new-fangled digital one that can stream music and WNYC.

Pans – Notice a kitchen theme here? Having really good, solid pans is life. Cooper ones are amazing but down for whatever.

Winter Hat – I want a big fuzzy, furry (not real fur) hat that makes me look like a snow princess who has magical powers and a really warm head.

Earrings – I can only wear 14k gold in my ears and I lose them all the time via romping in bed and it’s expensive and most 14k earrings are ugly and why is life so hard.

Cat Tower – Loving my cats = loving me.

Ikebana Vases – Can everyone I know who can make vessels/vases of any sort make me an ikebana vessel/vase? I’ll make you an arrangement and cook you food in exchange.

Winter Jaunt – Someone take me anywhere for a few days. Just arrange it all and let me caboose mindlessly and create adventures.

Michelin Meal – Still have not eaten at a Michelin star restaurant. :,,(

Lamps – Over the last few years I have realized how important lighting is to domestic interiors. So so important.

Watch – I haven’t worn a watch in ages but I think it would be nice. Dainty and efficient.

Money – So I can give to NGOs, non-profits, and friends in need.

Socks – So basic but how is it possible that you have a drawer of socks but feel like you have zero clean socks all the damn time?