Reign Room

November 23rd, 2014

Thomas Houseago’s Moun Room is up now at Hauser & Wirth.  Low-grade in materials, the work is crafted in plaster, yet it is a navigable structure that organizes space.  Thus, Moun Room teeters between sculpture and architecture.

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Thomas Houseago, “Moun Room” at Hauser & Wirth, 2014

Comprising concentric rectangles, Moun Room is 37 feet by 45 feet wide and 12 feet tall at the center. Erected on plywood substrate and joined by rebar, the walls of Moun Room combine TUF-CAL plaster mixed with hemp. The interior surfaces appear to be sanded down, and in many places, they crack and crumple as a result of the plaster process. When considering these surfaces over the ribbed exteriors, a visitor might think of skin and bones. Pausing to gaze through its portholes and oculi could evoke eyes – or any other holes of the body. But the presence of any literal “figure” ends when Moun Room is empty of viewers.

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Thomas Houseago, “Moun Room” at Hauser & Wirth, 2014

 

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Thomas Houseago, “Moun Room” at Hauser & Wirth, 2014

And to leave behind his mythical figures is a major departure for Houseago. His grotesque, hulking figures brought him a lot of attention, including several shows at the other Hauser & Wirth locations. What stands in place of these figures looks like a provisional temple. The holes cut into the walls look like moon diagrams, and it’s tempting to imagine this temple outdoors, where sunbeams would pipe through the space. It feels pagan. This is another aspect that dangles Moun Room between sculpture and architecture.

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Thomas Houseago, “Moun Room” at Hauser & Wirth, 2014

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Thomas Houseago, “Moun Room” at Hauser & Wirth, 2014

1900 years ago, Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city. He installed cultic statues on the Temple Mount and built there a temple to the Roman god Jupiter. His pagan sites in Jerusalem survived, despite the tidal shifts of Constantine and Julian. But over the centuries, the cultic and pagan shrines on the Temple Mount crumbled. The Temple Mount changed hands from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim control. Fast forward to today: it’s a lethally contested powder keg for both prayer and violence, at which worship and policing are mutually exclusive.

Regarding Jerusalam: “When you bring the religious dimension, it absolutizes the conflict — you can divide land, you can divide security, but the sacred is indivisible,” says a philosophy scholar in a recent New York Times article. In the absolutist context of religion, the existential “either-or” joins the formal (and facile) binaries of “negative and positive, solid and void” evident in Moun Room.

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Thomas Houseago, “Moun Room” at Hauser & Wirth, 2014

Moun Room is not explicitly religious, or really even sacred, but it is a high-value structure in a rarefied commercial space – a space that less than a decade ago was a gay roller disco nightclub. Whether sculpture or architecture, full of visitors or empty, Moun Room reminds us of the high stakes and changing faces of The Sacred.

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Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2014

Happy Halloween! Here are some spooky pics from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How many can you identify?

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The Wage is Too Damn Low

October 23rd, 2014

“Artists rarely make a decent wage, even when they manage to practice art and have it be their main source of income,” says a recent Washington Post blog post.  How much should artists get paid? Working Artists and the Greater Economy (aka W.A.G.E.) has a few answers.

This month, W.A.G.E. introduced its W.A.G.E. Certification program. W.A.G.E. Certification is a unique “self-regulatory model” meant to resist the “exploitation of cultural labor” within arts organizations. The W.A.G.E. program will establish payment standards for artists and publicly acknowledge the non-profit arts organizations that uphold those standards.

Reaching this breakthrough took three innovative ideas.  First, W.A.G.E. classifies artists as “cultural producers” who provide content, just like vendors and contractors provide services and products.  Second, W.A.G.E. identifies the problematic symbiosis between the art market and the non-profit realms: non-profits don’t have to pay artists for shows, because those shows might increase market demand for those artists.  However: “The promise of exposure is a liability in a system that denies the value of our labor.” Third, W.A.G.E. offers clarity in place of ambiguity and ambivalence, which includes a handy fee calculator.  In that sense, W.A.G.E. Certification is the first model for artist compensation in the U.S.

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The W.A.G.E. participating institutions could include 501(c)3 museums, advocacy organizations, professional societies, and more, with emphasis on those organizations with exhibition schedules.  These include MoMA, with annual revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars, and a vast range of smaller institutions, such as the The Center for Book Arts, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Performa, and even The Society of Illustrators.  The participation of institutions like The Studio Museum in Harlem could help remedy deep-seated inequities in the art world.

W.A.G.E. Certification categorizes artist fees as “units of content or services commonly supplied by artists in a visual arts context.” Thus, solo exhibitions warrant a different artist fee than group exhibitions, commissions, and performances.  The amount of each fee is also based on the Total Annual Operating Expenses of the institution.  This model is split into a three-tiered calculator with a simple logic: the greater the TAOE, the greater the artist fee.

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Detail from the W.A.G.E. fee calculator

However, W.A.G.E. also sets a maximum fee. From the W.A.G.E. website:

“Institutions with TAOE of approximately $15,000,000 and over must not exceed a specified maximum rate of compensation. …’Maximum W.A.G.E.’ compensation…is capped at the average salary of the institution’s full-time employees. An average salary varies from institution to institution, but has been estimated at $30,000; W.A.G.E. will use an institution’s actual average salary when working with it during the process of certification.”

So far, Artists Space is the only W.A.G.E. Certified institution for 2014. What forces will be needed to expand the influence of W.A.G.E.?  In the meantime, W.A.G.E. is accepting donations here.  Read more about the greater, organized struggle for artists’ income here.

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