Author Archive

Reign Room

Sunday, 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.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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.

Pros and Con

Friday, October 10th, 2014

New York Comic Con is the mega-spectacle now under way at the Javits Center.  It’s the biggest pop culture convention in the East Coast and second biggest nationwide. Last year, it attracted more than 133,000 fans (Armory Show: 65,000; People’s Climate March: 300,000).

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New York Comic Con at the Javits Center

Visitors pay $65 for a three-day ticket or $35-50 dollars for one day, making admission comparable to the Frieze Art Fair.  (Unlike Frieze, NYCC issues high-tech Radio Frequency Identification Badges containing unique microchips. By “activating” this badge, badge holders permit NYCC to track them – or with the flip of a switch, incinerate them.)

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The Dark Horse Comics stable

Most NYCC exhibitors come from the worlds of comics, animation, gaming, toys, movies, TV, and publishing.  A tight schedule of daily panels, autograph sessions, portfolio reviews, and sneak preview screenings can bring fans closer to their favorite creators and projects.  On top of all that, NYCC has its own beer, a DJ spinning all weekend long, and speed dating gatherings all weekend long, and that doesn’t even count the afterparties. So if you can’t get lucky at Comic Con, then maybe Sailor Moon is not the look for you.  NYCC is also part of New York Super Week, a weeklong pop culture festival that will turn NYC into “a playground for super heroes, villains, vampires, zombies, geeks and passionate fans of all sizes.”

NYCC is a great place to be an artist, and emerging illustrators can set up shop in Artist Alley, alongside the legends who inspired them.  Artists sell drawings on the spot, alongside limited edition prints and copies of their comics.

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SVA’s own Nathan Fox with colleague at Artist Alley

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(l-r) Artist Matt Kindt, writer Hunter Fine

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Young artists at Artist Alley

But NYCC is also a branding blowout.  Some brands feel relevant, such as Wacom or Simon and Schuster, who occupy vital positions in the production and distribution of a project, but why do we need Chevy, Sprint, and Geico?  And isn’t the cross-marketing of 50-Cent and Star Wars a bit of a burden on a pair of headphones? Last year’s Frieze Art Fair partnership with Gap looks quaint, comparatively.

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(l-r) Fans line up for Chevy, Azog urges you to watch his movies

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(l-r) Pioneers of digital and print

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Fans line up to be marketed

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From Death Star to rap star

For owners of small businesses, NYCC looks like a great a place to expand their audience.  Conversely, it’s a way for aspiring creators and makers to learn more about making.  For example, there were several booths offering 3D printing machines, or animation software.

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(l-r) Making prints on a 95-year-old printer at Sidekick Lab; a USS Enterprise “docking” ring at RockLove Jewelry

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“This one says it’s ‘amazing.’”

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“You’ll poke your eye out, kid!”

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3D printing with Solidoodle

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But not everyone is here to do business.  Some are here for pleasure and play.  The costume scene is incredible, setting a very high standard for Halloween ambitions, among other things.

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(l-r) A very convincing Gambit; villains on vacation

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“We just saved a bunch of money on our car insurance by switching to GEICO!”

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Available for children’s birthday parties and bar/bat mitzvahs!

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Heartbreakers taking a breather

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Cuddly continuum

As seen in our original video above, some costumes are so sexy that you might reassess your childhood interest in certain heroes (or villains). But lest we forget…

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Then again, some people aren’t interested in those attractions. They get their kicks on joysticks.

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Having some “me” time

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These couch exhibitionists played games in front of a semi-interested audience.

And despite all the radical self-expression, there are some dominant modes and styles. For example…

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Go goth or go home!

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NYCC feels bustling with creativity and entrepreneurial drive, and it’s full of clever wit and hilarity…

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…though it’s not a laughing matter to everyone, like this “Death Dealer” sculpture:

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Amidst the crowds and overstimulation, Comic Con can be overwhelming. It makes you feel crazy, or exhausted.

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But the Guardians of the Comic Con are always one step ahead of you.

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Even the toughest heroes need extra maintenance.

Powerful Portrait

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Visit the district office of State Senator Brad Hoylman and you’ll find a painting by SVA Residencies alum George Towne of former Congressman Barney Frank!  Barney Frank was the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out as gay; Brad Hoylman married filmmaker David Sigal in 2013.  

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(l-r) State Sen. Brad Hoylman with Leslie Lohman Director Hunter O’Hanian (Images courtesy of George Towne)

The loan was facilitated by the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, of which the painting is a part of the permanent collection.  George shares some background on the portrait.  He writes:

“Back in 2002, I was getting ready for for my first one-person show, which was in New York at the The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. It had several portraits of gay men who were ‘out’ in varying professions. Some were ‘heroes’ like 9-11 responders, and James Dale, the Eagle Scout who went to the Supreme Court over the Boy Scouts of America’s policies. I went to Provincetown the summer before the show and just happened to meet Barney Frank. I asked him if he’d pose for photos for a painting and over time, through his secretaries in Boston, then DC, he agreed. He came to the opening and after-party back in Fall 2002, which was the first time he had ever visited the NY Gay Center.”

I also asked Senator Hoylman to share some thoughts about the painting.  His answers are in quotes below:

How did you first discover the painting of Barney Frank?
“I learned of it during a tour of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art and was subsequently offered it on a six-month loan. The benefactor apparently wanted it displayed in the office of a public official and I’m glad I fit the bill.”

For you, does the portrait capture particular qualities of Congressman Frank?
“Yes, I think it captures his irascibility. Congressman Frank was an aggressive street-fighter of sorts and that comes through, too. It appears almost as if he’s returning from a hard day’s battle from Capitol Hill.”

What does it mean to you to exhibit art in your office, as opposed to your home?
“I’m excited for constituents to view it. We recently gave out free flu shots to over 100 people in my office and the portrait really engaged them and raised a lot of interesting questions and comments. It’s also inspiring for my staff and me to work in the presence of such an historic LGBT public figure.”

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It’s already rare for a painting to get exhibited in public spaces.  It’s more rare for a painting to arrive in a place where public policy is shaped.  Hopefully, George’s painting will feel right at home.

Congratulations, George!