Archive for January, 2011

Homily Post

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Why should anybody in the art world(s) care about etiquette? Artists should be busy pursuing their visions and mystic truths. Dealers should have their hands full scoring their artists money and premier placement. Should we expect any serious participant to patiently learn a constructed code of behaviors designed and imposed by people in power who just want another way to alienate the uninitiated? A creative genius should be immune to etiquette, free to carry his or her generative capacity out of the studio and into the real world, free to transform and transcend interpersonal relations as he or she will do Painting.

Bad etiquette

Etiquette might be for squares, but social codes are inevitable when people come together, just like language and babies. If you want to join in, then you have to surrender and learn these codes. Otherwise, just try to approach Larry Gagosian to tell him about your work, show up at Gladstone with slides, or add Robert Storr to your newsletter mailing list without asking first. Try handing out postcards for your group show while at someone else’s opening. You’d fare better with bad breath or an NRA hunter’s cap. Self-preservation compels you to study and trace the invisible mechanics between people; this improves your chances of survival. (It’s a lot like the awesome spy who can spot enemy, incognito spies mingled in the crowds: the man at the payphone, the woman with a stroller, the bike messenger riding around the block over and over.)

For your survival alone, it’s worth spending your last $8 on I like your work: art and etiquette, edited by Paper Monument.  This month brought the third reprinting of the pamphlet, which originally debuted in August 2009.  Paper Monument includes Naomi Fry, I-Huei Go, Prem Krishnamurthy, Dushko Petrovich, Jessica Slaven, and Roger White. For this pamphlet, Paper Monument sought from art professionals of varied stature their thoughts on art world etiquette. The contributors include artists, critics, curators, bloggers, dealers, and publishers. Most of them respond to a scripted list of questions, others write essays or produce do-and-don’t lists for art world navigation.

Read the book

The book offers valuable tips. On chatting, Anonymous adivses, “When conversation flags, introduce new topics in alphabetical order.” On studio visits, Jay Batlle: “Try to be on time/ Don’t cancel at the last minute.” On restraint, Ethan Greenbaum: “You can’t act like you want anything too bad” and Anonymous: “Don’t let on that you want something from someone- this makes the person who is wanted from uncomfortable – better to let them suggest it.”

Some recurring concerns arise. For example, three writers prescribe ways to handle your own negative opinions. Andrew Berardini; “If the dealer or artist(s) ask how you like the show during the opening, try to find something polite to say. If they insist on a real opinion, they’ve got whatever you have to say coming.” For Anonymous: “Wait until you are at least six blocks away from a show before expressing a negative opinion about the show – this is known as the ‘six block rule.'” Ryan Steadman: “Negative comments about the artist’s work at their opening is the equivalent of taking a shit on someone’s birthday cake at their fortieth birthday party.”

Image from flickr user Christopher DeCaro

Ripping a show at the opening is proof that you shouldn’t be there in the first place. (Bob Nickas: “Only go to openings if you’re invited.”) If you really belonged, you would have had a studio visit with the artist well before the show opened, and there voiced your concerns about his or her work. If you actually did that, then you’d probably care enough about the person to hush up, or at least find a satisfying compromise, such as, “Not the choice I would have made, but I know so-and-so thought lots about it/ had a good reason/ made a difficult choice.”

On the other hand, phony compliments and endorsements can be just as bad. (Again, Nickas: “The only reason to tell someone you liked his or her show is if you did.”) Insincerity can be surprisingly apparent , and anyway, devaluing genuine compliments is like counterfeiting money. For me, I try to share something – anything – I like: “One really cool thing was the glistening patina on that bronze/ the pasty texture on that big painting/ the spongy tongue on the Gene Simmons sculpture.”

One touchy issue is surprisingly absent: comparing an artist’s work to another artist. Artists generally dislike hearing that their work is similar to another artist, especially when that other artist is a living artist. What the artist hears is: “Your work isn’t original.” You should never say, “Your work looks like so-and-so artist,” even if you mean it as a compliment.  On this topic, Artist and SVA alum Delia Gable Facebook’d me the following candid, yet moderate view: “It’s one thing when a person says, ‘Oh, have you ever seen (so-and-so)’s work? I think you would really like it,’ because I love learning about new works to look at. But I get SO pissed when someone says that my stuff ‘looks just like’ some random dude who, say, also does line drawings, or uses ink, or drew a woman once. It IS lazy, to say the very least!!!”

It doesn’t matter if that “other artist” is indisputably great. “Your work looks like Tintoretto” would never occur, because nobody actually makes work like that, and if they did, you probably wouldn’t get to talk to them, anyway. One thing that is permissible is to cross media. Tell a painter that his sense of light reminds you of Antonioni, or a photographer that there’s something Borges about the way she handles time. (On the other hand, this could make you sound pretentious.)

"Nice, but let's see something original!"

Ultimately, the book is more of a time capsule or survey than authoritative guide. The dynamic art worlds are small and unregulated, and can be hideously nepotistic, fickle, and inscrutable. The paradigm always shifts, so no rule can be absolute. Amanda Trager nails it, observing that etiquette is “Impossible to sum up because the art world is a place “where worlds collide” kind of place – people from different social strata, of different generations and countries, etcetera, make etiquette a constantly shifting and constantly negotiated thing. Which is good.”

2 close for com4t

And no infraction has to be your last. The art world is filled with so many insecure and troubled adults that it ends up being merciful on the etiquette deficient. Even well established artists can be uncouth or tactless. It isn’t necessarily malicious or even unschooled; it’s just that everybody is nervous. Or as David Levine writes, “Everyone is totally freaked out all the time.”

Cover Version (LP)

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Above, signage at BAM; below: Eddie Martinez, Rolling Stones Flowers, 2011

“BAMart is pleased to invite you to the opening of Cover Version (LP), an exhibition in which diverse artists reimagine the cover art of albums they find influential. These unique reinterpretations of the iconic LP bring new life to the art that covers vinyl, highlighting the intersections of art and music.”

Cover Version (LP) Curator Timothy Hull

On the eve of yet another blizzard – anticipated blizzard – scores of artists assembled at BAM for the opening of Cover Version (LP), curated by artist Timothy Hull.

For an artist, the mission of the show is really the best assignment imaginable.  Pick your favorite album and customize its cover.  Cover the cover.  But that’s also a difficult challenge.  Pick something too simple, and you look like a philistine.  Too obscure, and you look pretentious.  Your art object will be evaluated for its referent, and not just its inherent qualities.

Keegan McHargue, Uncarved Block, 2011

(l) Scott Hug, Deep, deep, deep in my eyes there's a round, round, round circle of lives, 2010; (r) TM Davy, I do not want what I haven't got, 2010 , TM Davy (r)

And aside from your selection, can you really top the original album cover?  Taking on an iconic cover – one instantly recognized by the masses, replicated into posters and apparel, hunted in a jukebox – could be so intimidating that you move on to something else.  Can you really improve on Dark Side of the Moon?  Another Green World?  Nevermind?  Abbey Road? Nightclubbing? Anything by Iron Maiden?  And finally, the project seems quaint in its focus on an industry almost obsolete.  Record-store point of sale is a thing of the past, except for specialists more likely seeking an imported 12″ than a popular LP.  Music is increasingly purchased in the text-based ether of a search engine.  The cover seems only remotely relevant if you know the name of the band or track you want.

Elizabeth Huey, Neutral Milk Hotel/Aeroplane Over the Sea, 2010

Luckily, in a tight scene of Brooklyn artists, your peers are supportive and really just happy to see what you came up with.  Curator Timothy Hull manages to attract circles of earnest, bright, and clever artists working in all media and performing in all continents of the art world.  Many of the artist in the show have sterling curating resumes, too: Scott Hug (K48), Denise Kupferschmidt (The Apartment Show), Josh Kline (EAI),  Glen Baldridge (Forth Estate), and Michael Mahalchick (lots), for example.  So relax, iTunes artist; you are among friends.

Butt Johnson, Persuasive Percussion 2, 2010

Featured Artists: Glen Baldridge, Kadar Brock, Colby Bird, Jessica Cannon, Mathew Cerletty, Devon Costello, Justin Craun, TM Davy, Langdon Graves, Joseph Hart;

(l-r) Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Brian Droitcour, Jim Gaylord

Elizabeth Huey, Scott Hug, Butt Johnson, Faten Kanaan, Denise Kupferschmidt, Josh Kline, Erica Magrey, Michael Mahalchick, Eddie Martinez, Dave McDermott;

Artist Keegan McHargue

Keegan McHargue, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Nolan Simon, Colin Snapp, Jennifer Sullivan, Nick Van Woert, Ryan Wallace and Will Yackulic.


UPDATE: Flaunt magazine has an interview with Timothy Hull!