Friday, April 20, 2007

Circular Criticism

Seattle is the center of the fine arts glass universe, and it is appropriate that an intellectual battle of words involving the world's most famous glass artist has been going on around the blogs and newspapers of that beautiful city, so dear and near to my heart.

Circular criticism, or as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's eloquent art critic Regina Hackett calls it "Prizes in Hypocrisy," is a very good story on two newspapers first trashing an artist on a particular point and then later taking the other viewpoint.

First she recalls (through the writing of Trevor Fairbrother's 1996 essay about the collaborative paintings of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat) the New York Times critical drubbing of the Basquiat and Warhol art collaborations. Hackett writes:

Writing there in 1984, Vivian Raynor observed that Basquiat might turn into a substantial artist if he doesn't become an "art-world mascot." (A year later, reviewing the Basquiat-Warhol collaboration, she repeated the mascot charge and added that the jointly produced paintings were Warhol manipulations with Basquiat as the "all too willing accessory."

Wounded, Basquiat distanced himself from Warhol, who had functioned as an anchor for the younger artist. After Basquiat's death at age 27 in 1988, the same New York Times called him a "genius" who unfortunately had cooled his relationship with his mentor "partly out of fear that he was being viewed as Mr. Warhol's mascot."
Then Hackett brings to national attention the fact that the Seattle Times in 2006 wrote a three part series focused on Dale Chihuly by Sheila Farr (the Times art critic) and Susan Kelleher (in which Chihuly's work process is compared to Thomas Kinkade's) which starts like this:
If we measure an artist's importance by the number of museum exhibitions, books, articles and television appearances he has, Seattle glass guru Dale Chihuly is right up there with the greats.

His work is in the collection of most every U.S. art museum you can think of, as well as many abroad. Museum exhibitions of his work circulate continually and stacks of hefty coffee-table books praise his talents. And who hasn't seen one of those often-aired documentaries about him on PBS?

But what many don't know is that Chihuly — a Northwest icon who has built a multimillion-dollar business — generates the bulk of that exposure himself.

Most of those hugely popular exhibitions weren't organized and distributed by art museums, but by Chihuly Inc. And those books and television shows? Most of them were produced by Chihuly's publishing company, Portland Press.

All that publicity has inflated the public notion of Chihuly's status in the art world.
Kinda tips your hand as to where these articles are heading, uh?

And yet, the more you think and see the articles as a purely investigative series of articles, the less they appear to be "bloated and inconsequential," as Hackett describes them. Generally Farr and Kelleher do a pretty good job of describing and somewhat exposing an amazing business and propaganda machine, which -- other than the fact that the business empire happens to be that of an artist -- is much like any other article that investigative reporters write, and like many of those, we know from the beginning words what the conclusions will be, or in this case, what flavor they want to leave the readers with once they are finished reading the series.

If we began to read an investigative article in the Washington Times about the finances of, or in the Washington Post about the finances of the Republican National Committee, we'd all know from the beginning what the conclusions or findings will be, right?

And although Farr and Kelleher tip their hand early on, and generally leave a somewhat negative taste at the end of the series, nearly all of what they write appears to be fact, I think.

It is fact reporting from a negative, and perhaps somewhat unfair viewpoint, but facts nonetheless, and their negativity is probably because the artworld is not used to famous artists who are also astounding business wizards. And when the big, famous artist who is the most famous artist in your city sues lesser-known artists, then we have victims and victimizers.

Artists are supposed to be always the victims, not also the victimizers.

The articles are also a little naive in the sense that the writers approach Chihuly's success from that sort of ivory tower view of the artworld that so many art critics have that leads them to assume and believe that mixing business and publicity with artmaking is a bad thing. And if you're as good as the Chihulian Empire is at all those three, then you're Darth Dale as far as some art writers are concerned.

And Hackett righly points out that then the Seattle Times seems to be contradicting some of their own nuances in the Chihuly series by noting later on that this artist's work is indeed quite similar to Chihuly's.

This is sort of what happens when a WaPo movie critic trashes a film on Friday, and then a second WaPo film critic loves it on Saturday. Kinda...

Hackett has written her own excellent piece on Chihuly, not necessarily "defending" him, but presenting him from a more positive viewpoint. This piece by Hackett is the counterpoint to the articles by Farr and Kelleher.

And she does a pretty good job of presenting Chihuly in a good light, even delivering a very convincing argument why it is OK for us all to accept the fact that Chihuly actually doesn't make any of his artwork himself. And in her blog, Hackett goes a little more out on a limb when she writes:
After six months of digging, the Seattle Times produced a bloated and inconsequential three-part Chihuly series, suggesting grave wrongs were being uncovered at Chihuly Inc., maybe just over the hill of the next paragraph.

As written by Seattle Times investigative reporter Susan Kelleher and Seattle Times art critic Sheila Farr, there was nothing but smoke over that hill. My favorite headline in the tell-all wannabe series was "Chihuly Benefits from his own Philanthropy." Who doesn't?
Mmmm... I think that this is perhaps an easy pass by Hackett, for the million dollar profit reported by the Times article.

Then Hackett apparently went on a war of words with the Stranger's (a Seattle alternative newspaper) art critic Jen Graves over this interview. It all led in turn to Graves responding with this article.

It would be fair to conclude then that the art critics from Seattle's three main newspapers are now somewhat arctic to each other over the issues, allegations, facts, opinions and printed words brought forth by that walking publicity machine that is Dale Chihuly, who -- along with the savvy art aficionados of the Seattle area who are lucky enough to have art critics and newspapers who care about stuff like this -- is the only winner from this glass skirmish.

Wanna go to a Silver Spring, MD opening tonight?

Gateway’s Heliport Gallery opens "20901, 20902, 20903, 20904, 20906, 20910" tonight with a reception from 6 – 8pm.

The exhibition features over 20 Silver Spring artists and was curated by Nevin Kelly Gallery Deputy Director Julia Morelli and Gateway’s Project Manager David Fogel. The selection process was predominantly done through online submissions via

The exhibition includes work by Kanchan Balse, John Brodkin, Laurie Breen, George Carr, Andrew Cronan, Mary D. Ott, Clara Graves, Sy Gresser, Steven Hanks, Brian Hewitt, Susan Holland, Yoshiko Jaeggi, Pauline Jakobsberg, Dana Jeri Maier, Jaclyn Martin, Julie Miller, Cristina Montejo, Steven Robinson, Ellen X. Silverberg, Berta Stegmeier, Alfreda Gourdine-Southerland, Bernie Van Leer, and Michael Winger.

Wanna go to a VA opening this afternoon?

You better hurry, because the DC area's newest art gallery, Habatat Gallery, which is located in Tyson's Corner is having an opening for ceramic artist Bennett Bean this afternoon from 12-3PM. The exhibition runs through May 22, 2007.

Bean's work can be found in many museum collections including the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA.

Shannon Chester

Last Wednesday I posted my thoughts on my initial visit to Artomatic and one of the artists that I highlighted was the photography of Shannon Chester.

And now Bailey has an interesting story to tell about Chester and her work. Read it here.

Center City Gallery Night

Tonight is Center City Gallery Night in Philly from 5-8PM. The Philly City Paper will be hosting an after-party at Loie Brasserie from 8-10PM (RSVP here).

Maps, participating galleries and other associated events here.

New DC working studio

Studio 4903 is a recently-opened working studio dedicated to creating art and community, with a focus on cutting-edge contemporary jewelry and design. The Studio is located at 4903 Wisconsin Avenue, between Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, and consists of 5 jewelry artists, an architect and a clothing designer. The light-filled, open space facilitates regular shows and events.

The Studio is proud to present the first in a series of slide shows and lectures featuring contemporary jewelry artists. Anya Pinchuk and Natalya Pinchuk will discuss and present images of their work on Thursday, May 10, at 7:00pm. This free lecture is presented in conjunction with their two-person show at Jewelerswerk Galerie, opening May 11, 2007.

Katie Tuss' AOM Top 10

The fair Katie Tuss discovers what an exhausting task it is to walk through Artomatic attempting to see the whole show and at the same time pick her Top 10 choices:

1. Michael Janis -- Smart, investigative glass and found object assemblage.

2. Ming-Yi Zaleski -- I love Zaleski's yarn creations. At AOM, we see a wall-sized blond bombshell.

3. Laurel Lukaszewski -- Her stoneware and porcelain extensions are elegant on the wall and on the floor.

4. Andrew Wodzianski -- Wodzianski brings us more blonds with his illustrations of stylish female androids set against decorative backgrounds.

5. Sondra Arkin -- I love the color and texture of Arkin's encaustic paintings.

6. Dana Ellyn -- Her pint-sized graphite portraits on recycled catalogue cards work as a type of blueprint for the menagerie of people depicted in the larger, colorful character studies that fill her wall space.

7. Daniel Lobo -- A year's collection of photographs taken while following DC commuters.

8. Jenny Walton -- This AU MFA student's renderings of scars are delicate in graphite; fleshy and tactile when painted.

9. Erwin Timmer -- Timmer's thick, recycled glass protrudes, grows, morphs and even shows up as a lamp.

10. Gregory Ferrand -- Everyone is in distress in Ferrand's acrylic narratives, except that woman holding the sloth.

Wanna go to a Baltimore Opening tomorrow night?

With a reception full of artists, good wines and sushi on Saturday, April 21, 2007 from 5-9 PM, Light Street Gallery in Baltimore opens their "American Icons" exhibit, which includes images of Americana by the artists Mark Schiff, Robert McClintock, Rob Rudick, Barbara Simpson, Mark Lovett, Anna Kuczynski, Diane Knaus, Nicole Wittelsberger, Ed Towles, Irene Sylvester, Jerry Prettyman, Robert Cadwalader, R.A. Propper, Gwen Lewis, Nancy Nesvet, Dave Montgomery, Jim Condron, Stephen Hay, Patrick O'Brien, and Chip Cecil.