Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pipe Dreams or Just Good Dreams?

Sean over at Paint & Plaster checks in with some interesting ideas for kindling the arts in the Greater DC region.

I particularly like his idea for turning the Martin Luther King,Jr. Library into a public arts center.

Read and discuss his ideas here.

New DC galleries

Honfleur Gallery opens next month in SE Washington, DC. According to the press release:

Based on a long standing vision for one of Washington DC’ most controversial neighborhoods, ARCH Development Corporation is pleased to begin the construction of the gallery, “Honfleur.” Much as Honfleur, a port in Normandy, France, contributed to the appearance of the impressionist movement and inspired painters such as Monet and Courbet, ARCH envisions its gallery as a creativity hub for this historic sector of our Nation’s Capitol.

The Honfleur Gallery plans to house an array of artistic mediums and styles and intends to incorporate exhibitions that reach all ages, genders and economic groups. Diversity is an essential part of the Anacostia neighborhood, where the gallery is housed, and it’s with that very principle in mind that the Honfleur Gallery plans to produce a spectrum of shows from community arts based events to figurative & abstract individual exhibitions.

The gallery will showcase Washington D.C., Metropolitan area artists as well as present new artists from both the United States and Europe. This gallery will be a cooperative art space that includes a 1400 sq. foot exhibition room with another 500 sq. foot space above it, which is adjoined by four affordable artist work spaces equipped with skylights . The exhibition space is available to rent for master classes, private functions or one on one instruction.

The Honfleur Gallery will be located at 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE Washington DC. It is within walking distance of the Anacostia waterfront and the Anacostia metro (green line), just minutes from downtown, Washington DC.
Their grand opening exhibition is titled "No Scratchers," and it is scheduled for Saturday January 20th, 2007 with a reception at 7pm. The show itself is an informal exhibition highlighting works of art created by D.C. Tattoo Artists. The exhibition curated by Imani Brown.

I also hear that a major commercial fine arts gallery which focuses mainly on fine art glass is scouting the Northern Virginia area for a Greater DC location, which I think will be their fourth US location. More on that later...

The end of art fairs is nigh

"In contemporary art, this is the decade of the fair, as the nineties were the decade of the biennial. Collectors, with piles of money, have displaced curators, with institutional clout, as arbiters of how new art becomes known and rated, and therefore of what it can mean: less and less, after qualifying as the platonic consumer good."
The above is from Peter Schjeldahl's excellent piece on Art Basel Miami Beach in the current New Yorker magazine.

Schjeldahl starts by making the above, by now worn-out, point that the legion of art fairs that have popped up in the last few years have become the centralized, easy way to go see and buy art.

But then he begins to go somewhere "new," or perhaps just ahead of everyone else. He sets it up by relating that:
"Mutual intoxications of art and money come and go. I’ve witnessed two previous booms and their respective busts: the Pop nineteen-sixties, which collapsed in the long recession of the seventies, and the neo-expressionist eighties, whose prosperity plummeted, anvil fashion, in 1989."
Once this historical ground has been planted, he then gives us an insight on the financial importance of fairs to art galleries:
Fairism (if you will) is inexorable, given today’s proliferation of galleries (hundreds in New York’s Chelsea alone). No one with anything else to do can more than sample the panoply. “Fairs are important for big galleries,” the gallerist Marian Goodman said to me. “For small galleries, they’re vital.” I asked many dealers how much of their annual income comes through fairs. Answers varied from ten per cent to “well over half,” spiking in the range of a third. Beyond that, nonparticipation may be suicidal, risking losses not only of revenue but of artists whose loyalty depends on how gamely they are promoted. The dealer Brooke Alexander said, “The art world is so event-driven these days that if you don’t take part in the major fairs you almost don’t exist in the public mind.”
And then the disection of fairism truly begins with:
The typical contemporary-art object, judging from Miami Basel, is well crafted, attractive, interesting enough, and portable...These impressions might fade if you focussed on any particular work, but fairs destroy focus. Thousands of works coexisted cozily in Miami, sharing a pluralism of the salable. Talent counts; ideas are immaterial... A decade ago, much new art was eyebrow-deep in critical theory. Now it seems as carefree as a summertime school-boy, while far better dressed. I found relief from the convention center’s crushing elegance at the alternative fairs — with names like NADA, Pulse, and Aqua — where galleries featured the scrappily zestful ingenuity of kids who haven’t had time to forget why they became artists: for joy, revenge, and camaraderie.
And then he begins to introduce the historical bubble:
It seemed that almost everyone was selling out of almost everything. “It’s incredible. No one questions price. They pay whatever is asked,” said a dealer friend who, with a discretion that used to be common in the art dodge, requested anonymity. Who are the collectors? Hedge-fund wizards are routinely mentioned. So are cohorts of Europeans, Russians, Asians, and Latin Americans. The startling costliness of recent art from China, much of it pretty bad, proves that the market is international as never before. People who were eager to deny the obvious — that the runup in art prices is a bubble headed for a spectacular correction — all cited this factor to me.
The fact that the art market is headed for a correction is pretty much a certainty, as it has happened many times before, just like any other "goods" market and anything that fits the Kondratiev wave theory. But the idea that the coming art market correction may deal a harsh and potential death blow to the art fairs extravaganza may be a new one and a fun idea to discuss and speculate.

Schjeldahl finishes with a funny visualization:
One day, perhaps soon, someone in a convivial group of money guys at a bar will say, “I just got back from [name of art fair]. It was fantastic!” Another will drawl, “You still into that?” In the ensuing embarrassed silence, the bubble won’t burst; it will vanish.
Read the New Yorker piece here.

New Arts Blog

Washington City Paper visual arts critic (and also a musician, teacher and painter - and sometimes radio personality and always a good friend) Jeffry Cudlin has started a new blog titled Hatchets and Skewers.

Cudlin writes that he's calling his new blog hatchets and skewers "precisely because I have a reputation for not liking anything -- for being a little mean. For always insisting on writing a mixed review, rather than a simple approving nod."

While Jeffry and I are friends, we often disagree on a wide variety of subjects and issues related to art, and particularly art criticism and what makes good and bad art.

And I think that writing a "good review" is a helluva lot harder than making it a "simple approving nod." And when a writer, much less a critic, approaches a subject with the already cemented idea and intent of finding something wrong, or negative, no matter what, and before actually seeing the works, then the well is poisoned and to a certain extent, so is the pen.

But unlike any other regularly published art critic in the DC area, Cudlin is also an artist (and a very good painter at that) and also teaches at the University of Maryland, so he comes "armed" with a good set of skills that most other art critics lack: hands on experience on both the technical and applied skills needed to be able to distinguish what makes an artist a good professional or a hack, and also the set of intellectual skills to be able to apply the unfortunate test of history and theory and tactics to an exhibition. So often what he finds "wrong" or "negative" in an exhibition, is actually based on some well-cemented facts and a strong reasoning, making the reading of his always mixed reviews a challenging (and award winning) exercise.

And because (in my experience) artists almost always tend to view their own works as failures, they are often the worst ones in recognizing their own successes. And I think that Cudlin brings this generalized sense of disappointment outside of his studio and into his writing, which is sometimes unfortunate, because he is a much better painter and a much better writer, than he allows himself to be.

Make sure that you read his blog every day!

Eakins' Gross Clinic to stay in Philly

Philadelphia's Mayor Street announced a few days ago that Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic had been purchased by local institutions and would remain in Philadelphia.

At a packed City Hall news conference, officials said that the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts would share ownership of the 1875 masterpiece.

The two museums, which have led a frantic six-week fund-raising campaign to buy the huge canvas from Thomas Jefferson University, have agreed to take on a still-undetermined amount of debt and pay a record $68 million for what is widely viewed as an embodiment of the city's intellectual and creative life.

Officials highlighted four large contributions to the fund-raising effort: $10 million from the Annenberg Foundation, chaired by Leonore Annenberg; $3 million from H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest; $3 million from Joseph Neubauer; and $3 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In total, over the last several weeks, about $30 million has been raised and more than 2,000 contributions have been received from about 30 states, officials said.
Read the Inquirer story here.

National Museum of the American Indian looking for new director

Sheila Burke, Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Smithsonian, has announced the formation of a 10-member committee to lead and help in the search for a new Director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Once selected, the new Director will succeed W. Richard West Jr. (Southern Cheyenne), who will step down in November 2007.

The members of the search committee are:

- Nina Archabal, Director, Minnesota Historical Society
- Lonnie Bunch, Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian
- Sheila Burke, Chair, Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, Smithsonian
- Virginia Clark, Director, Office of External Affairs, Smithsonian
- Doug Evelyn, former Deputy Director, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian
- Dwight Gourneau, Chairman of the Board, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian
- George Horse Capture, former Senior Counselor to the Director and former Special Assistant for Cultural Resources, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian
- Richard Kurin, Director, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Acting Director, Office of National Programs, Smithsonian
- Henrietta Mann, Member of the Board, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian
- Cristián Samper, Director, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian.