Monday, May 09, 2005

Bailey on Gopnik's Corcoran Idea (and on Levy's response)

Ask and ye shall receive; From J.W. Bailey:

Memo to: Blake Gopnik

Re: I'm a local photographer and I don't do prints!

Blake Gopnik's wickedly cynical and sarcastic memo to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in which he boldly goes where no man has gone before and outlines its science fiction titanium-clad Frank O. Gehry-future as a tourist-friendly blue-collar-fanfare-for-the-common-man low-art-literate repository of the questionable high art practices of "accessible" photography, almost rises to the level of a comedic masterpiece.

But Gopnik’s clear distaste for throw away representational photography as a legitimate form of high art is glaringly transparent and he’s no doubt very serious; Therefore, the understory of his mildly insulting views about the saccharine appeal of Kodak-moment photos to the non-MFA card carrying uneducated masses are enough to compel a local photographer to respond.

Gopnik says "Because most photographs exist in multiple prints, getting the images you need doesn’t put you at the mercy of a single collection that happens not to lend."


Perhaps if Gopnik spent more time with his eyes and ears attuned to local photographers (as well as their collectors) he would know that many of us aren’t into the mass-production multiple print aesthetic that he seems to loathe and actually do create one of a kind photographic works of art. But where Gopnik really gets going in his subtle ploy in support of the exhausted arguments declaring the weaknesses of photography as a legitimate art form is having Sarah Greenough, Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, confirm that "casual visitors seem to find photography more ‘approachable’ than more esoteric, and explicitly artistic, media."

From the grassy knoll Gopnik attempts to triangulate the assassination of the legitimacy of photography as a high art form by having Malcolm Daniel of the Met echo that "People don’t feel they need to take an art history course to appreciate photography."

Translation of the above curatorial/art critic conspiratorial drivel: Although the American masses are intellectually incapable of understanding and appreciating the serious challenges of critically celebrated postmodern fine art painting, even the most uneducated illiterate backwoods hard core anti-postmodern-art-hating hillbilly tourist from the most culturally deprived area of the most remote coal mining country of West Virginia can at least enjoy and appreciate looking at a nicely framed photograph of a rock in Yosemite National Park shot by Ansel Adams Рin fact, these d̩class̩ trash de blanc Disney World-Florida-vacation-dreaming fools may even be willing to pull cash out of their Wal-Mart purchased Harley-Davidson motorcycle chain wallets to pay for an admittance ticket for the privilege of stepping inside a chrome plated Gehry building so they can drool all over easily accessible patriotic representational photographs of American flags flapping in the breeze over Arlington Cemetery, snap-shot panoramic impressions of purple mountains majesty, and digitally enhanced scenes of mallard ducks floating on a pond in which the polluted waters have been scrubbed blue through the magic of Abode Photoshop, as well as old photographs of just about anything remotely Americana.

This is priceless!

Here we are several years into the 21st Century and the Chief Art Critic from the Washington Post is still questioning the place of photography in the pantheon of great art. It makes me mad enough to want to burn my camera, as well as my film and prints!

But the real joke with Gopnik’s silly proposition is that his opinion is not the one that counts. Frank O. Gehry is the one who signed on to design a new addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, not Gopnik. And you can bet the last worthless multiple print in your museum-worthy donor-friendly photographic collection culled from the discount bins of Salvation Army Thrift Stores that Gehry did not sign on to design a tourist-friendly holding area for low brow photographs.

All one has to do is take a very close look at Gehry’s body of architectural work, as well as his definition of art – save yourself a lot of research and understand that Gehry and Gopnik worship at the same high-tech high art painting church - to see whether or not he would ever agree to this photographic scheme.

To Gopnik’s credit, he opens his ridiculously funny piece by informing all what is common knowledge to everyone in the art world, and especially in Washington, D.C.: that being that the Corcoran Gallery of Art has deep problems at every level.

What a shame Gopnik wasted so much space on his trivial vision for the rehabilitation of the prestige of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, rather than detailing the true extent of the Corcoran’s problems and suggesting real solutions.

Gopnik is a creative art critic/writer and can no doubt produce multiple print solutions for the Corcoran all day long – perhaps when he gets serious, he’ll come up with a creative one of a kind photographic image of a solution that everybody will agree is a work of art.


James W. Bailey

Memo to: Dr. David Levy

RE: Corcoran BS Detector – Would You Care to Tell Us What Frank Really Thinks about Blake’s Idea?

Dr. David Levy, President and Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, has weighed in with his polite corporate art speak Letter to the Editor to the Washington Post responding to Gopnik’s idea. I’ll weigh in with my Corcoran BS detector and offer the following translation of Levy’s letter, paragraph by paragraph:

We are grateful to Blake Gopnik for his interesting May 1 think piece, "Memo to: The Corcoran; Re: Sharpening Your Focus." His timing is apposite. Over the past few months, task forces composed of our Trustees, Boards of Overseers and staff have been assigned to think creatively about our institution's future.

Translation: We appreciate you attempting to embarrass us with your lame proposal, but as powerful a member of the DC art elite that you are, much more powerful powers (and certainly much bigger donors than you) are calling future programmatic shots right now in order to secure the needed additional funding to get this Gehry thing to the ground breaking stage.

We find Gopnik's suggestion to focus more sharply on a single programmatic area -- in this case, photography -- to be a provocative and interesting idea. And we agree that such an approach could help us strengthen our identity in a city that sometimes seems to have more museums than residents. After all, the Corcoran has a long history of distinguished photography exhibitions and a pioneering tradition of photographic education at its College of Art + Design.

Translation: Some members of the Corcoran’s staff have children; and just like most kids, we also think photographs can be fun, enjoyable and accessible and wouldn’t necessarily object to having more child-like residents of DC walk into our museum to see more accessible photographs, as long as these children can afford to live in the area of the city where museums do indeed out number residents. It might be problematic for us to have certain problematic residents from certain problematic areas of the city that have no museums to flock en mass to the Corcoran to see overly accessible photographs; so, for security reasons we, would naturally under your proposal have to temper that potential problem by keeping the photographic exhibitions accessible, but not too accessible – for example, we probably would not entertain a photography exhibit titled, "The Massacre," that examines a day in the thug life of 50 Cent. We strive to be ‘bout it ‘bout it, as much as possible in a predominately African-American city such as Washington, D.C., but please give us a break and let’s get our board more diversified first. Once we have a board that truly reflects the demographics of Washington, D.C., then we’ll see what we can do increase visitation to the museum among the young DC resident African-American youth members of 50 Cent’s posse and fan club. Although we briefly flirted with the OPTIONS 05 concept of providing a credible exhibition opportunity for area minority and marginalized artists whose works touch on radical, provocative and disturbing themes, concepts and philosophies through the curatorial direction of Philip Barlow, fortunately cooler heads prevailed in the interests of not rocking the DC government approved TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district for the Gehry project (I think we fired his ass), and, although we know it’s a cop out, we’ll all now look forward to the new OPTIONS 05 curator Libby Lumpkin’s safe choices of predominately white MFA graduate students who are recycling ad infinitum non-confrontational imagery served up by the more easily digestible forms of minimalism that are perfectly suited for display in museums like the Corcoran, but also in the marble foyers of McMansions in Northern Virginia.

In fact, there was an effort some five years ago to establish a National Museum of Photography on the old convention center site, based on the great photography collection amassed by Howard Gilman. When this plan did not materialize, we proposed that the Gilman Foundation join us in the creation of a National Photography Center at the Corcoran, housed in our new Frank Gehry building. Although ultimately this idea did not work out, it would have built on the strength of our important photographic holdings and would have been very much in keeping with the spirit of Gopnik's ideas. Faced with another such opportunity, we would enthusiastically explore it.

Translation: Oh know you didn’t, dog! Props up, bro! You ain’t the first, Blake, to suggest this wonderful idea so don’t go gettin’ all high and mighty and actin’ a fool up in here like you did – uh, actually, I tried and, yes, I do admit that I failed. If somebody wants to pick up the ball and kick it around this time, I might be interested, but I would have to vet the idea, again, with Frank…and I think we all know where that will go, again.

Taken in its entirety, Gopnik's proposal might be hard to reconcile with our continuing mission to present the Corcoran's choice collection of American art (of particular resonance in this capital city) or with its very strong educational and community orientation. Still, he suggests a promising direction, not just for this museum but for our city and our national patrimony.

Translation: Look, man, all of us at the Corcoran know we have problems (and, by the way, I would like to personally thank you and the editorial staff of the Washington Post very much for not going into too much detail about all that history), but, as you know, we’re really all about real high art at the Corcoran, not exhibiting multiple prints or scavenging around in abandoned attics looking for old historic photographic stuff to display. Although there’s no chance in hell we (Frank) will every go along with your scheme, we do appreciate you taking the time to devote a full page to your ego and its idea, rather than excoriating us in painful detail over other serious matters. The potential commercial success of your brilliant concept would probably be much better realized through a for profit corporate enterprise like that which built the International Spy Museum. I personally know the folks over there and would be happy to set you up for a lunch date with them. You can reach me anytime on my Blackberry.

J.W. Bailey

A BLOG Revolution?

"The hype comes from unemployed or partially employed marketing professionals and people who never made it as journalists wanting to believe," he said. "They want to believe there's going to be this new revolution and their lives are going to be changed."
Read the New York Times story here.