Sunday, September 29, 2013

Call for Papers: TRAC2014

Preferential scheduling Deadline: November 31, 2013

Focus on the Aesthetic Principles and Values

TRAC2014 will focus on the aesthetic principles and values implicit in the representational art of the 21st Century. Having established at TRAC2012 that the representational art community has an important voice, it is timely to explore and articulate its distinctive aesthetic values, vision and philosophical outlook. Our purpose is not to establish a single monolithic aesthetic for representational art, but to identify commonalities, understand the unique possibilities of representational art, and perhaps provide some illumination about future directions.

One of the features of representational art, for example, is attentiveness to the data revealed to our visual sense. The goal of contemporary representational art is not merely to replicate visual data: cameras can do this much more effectively. On the other hand, visuality is important to the representational aesthetic.

What relationship to the world is the artist striving for?
What values guide the hand?
What is the place of the beautiful and the sublime in the process?
Are political, moral, or metaphysical goals at work?
What is the relationship of the artist to reality?

The conference is planned as a focused but non-doctrinaire event, of serious academic standards. Papers of high quality on a variety of topics in the aesthetics of contemporary representational art are invited and welcomed.

We are particularly interested in papers about:

  • The Impact of Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters” and “Beauty”.
  • The Life and Work of Odd Nerdrum.
  • How 21st Century representational art differs from earlier representational art.
  • The role of beauty and/or the sublime.
  • What might be the aesthetics of 21st Century representational art.
  • Are there common principles shared by representational artists?
  • Does the democratic popularity of representational art confer on it any unique value or potentiality?
  • The possibility of cross-cultural aesthetics in representational art.
  • Do globalization and rapid cultural change provide uniquely relevant material for representational artists?
  • The internet and contemporary representational art.
  • The 21st Century representational art movement as a renaissance.
  • The aesthetic contribution of the craft aspect of representational art.
  • Can representational art convey truth? If so, how, and of what kind?
  • Allegorical symbolism in the new millennium.
  • Idealism, imagination and representation.
  • Morality and politics in 21st century representational art.
  • What is the relation to reality of the authentic representational artist?
  • Aesthetic analyses (not autobiographical) of significant contemporary works of representational art.

More Information

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New-York Historical Society: The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution

Works by Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh will be on display in The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution, which revisits the famous 1913 New York Armory Show on its 100th anniversary. In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art came to New York. Organized by a small group of American artists and presented at the Lexington Avenue Armory (and thus nicknamed the Armory Show), it introduced the American public to European avant-garde painting and sculpture. This exhibition is an exploration of how the Armory Show inspired seismic shifts in American culture, politics, and society.

The Cleveland Museum of Art Wades into Global Controversy over Antiquities Collecting with Exhibition and Catalog on its Ancient Bronze Apollo

The Cleveland Museum of Art rarely publishes catalogs that try to stir broad public debate on politics, law, cultural identity and global diplomacy.
With the release of a new catalog on Friday, however, the museum is wading directly into the international controversy over collecting ancient works of art whose ownership histories, or provenances, remain partially or entirely unknown.

The book, “Praxiteles: The Cleveland Apollo,” authored by the museum’s curator of Greek and Roman art, Michael Bennett, accompanies a new exhibition opening Sunday that focuses on a controversial ancient bronze statue of Apollo purchased by the museum in 2004.
Using scientific evidence and art-historical analysis, Bennett builds the most forceful case yet that the life-size bronze is an ancient Greek original, not a later Roman copy, and that it is likely the work of Praxiteles, one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece.
 In a press conference at the museum Friday, Cleveland museum Director David Franklin called the Apollo "arguably the greatest antiquity in a North American collection."
The book is also an impassioned critique of international laws aimed at halting trade in looted antiquities.

Bennett states that such laws – while correctly focused on halting illegal activity - have also cast a stigma on “orphaned” works such as the museum’s Apollo, whose time and place of excavation and recent history are unknown.

Archaeologists familiar with the Apollo have said on numerous occasions that when museums collect such works, they encourage looting and trafficking of antiquities.

Bennett, however, states that the Apollo was one of thousands of antiquities in private hands whose ownership histories are not completely documented. Lack of such documentation, Bennett writes, is not evidence that an object was looted. It’s not a case of guilty until proven innocent.

“Illegality cannot be presumed, or we are heading toward a repeat of the Spanish Inquisition or the McCarthy hearings,” Bennett writes.
In an interview earlier this week, Franklin said that he considered Bennett’s catalog and the Apollo exhibition the opening salvo in a debate that will culminate with a symposium at the museum in about a year.

“It’s stating our position on many things people have talked about,” Franklin said of the Bennett catalog. “It’s a very dramatic moment for the museum.”

Franklin said the symposium would include archaeologists and other experts who may not agree with the museum’s position on the Apollo and on antiquities collecting in general.
But he said he wanted to hold the symposium after giving scholars a chance to absorb Bennett’s arguments.

The opening of the Apollo show and the release of the catalog coincide with the opening of a second antiquities exhibition opening on Sunday:   "Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome."
The exhibition stirred controversy over the summer when Sicilian authorities threatened to cancel the Cleveland run of the show, which opened earlier this year at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, if the museum didn't pay additional loan fees imposed at the last minute.

Last month, the Sicilians relented in exchange for the Cleveland museum's agreement to exhibit works from its collection in Sicily in 2015.

Bennett called the simultaneous opening of the two shows on Sunday "an ancient art double feature."
The exhibition Apollo exhibition includes two ancient Roman copies of the Apollo sculpture, which help prove that the ancient bronze purchased by the museum was the original on which the copies were based, Franklin said.

The loaned works are the marble “Apollo Sauroktonos,” or “Apollo the Lizard-Slayer,” from the Louvre Museum, a first-century ancient Roman work, and a second, first-century Roman marble version of the same motif from the World Museum in Liverpool.

The museum has dated its bronze to 350 B.C. and believes it may be the original referred to as a work of Praxiteles by the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder.

In the sculpture, Apollo is depicted as an adolescent god in the act of slaying a reptilian creature crawling on a tree branch.

According to ancient Greek myth, Apollo, the god of light, reason, poetry, music and prophecy, destroys chaos by killing the creature.

An ancient Roman sculpture of the Apollo Sauroktonos, or Apollo the Lizard Slayer, from the Louvre Museum in Paris. Comparisons between this Apollo and a bronze purchased by the Cleveland Museum of Art prove that the Cleveland version is the earlier ancient Greek original on which the Roman version is based.

Bennett’s catalog essay states that Pliny erroneously identified the reptile in the sculpture as a lizard. Instead, Bennett states, it's a mythical python - not to be confused with the enormous snakes of Africa and Asia.

The curator therefore retitled the work “Apollo the Python Slayer” and theorizes in the catalog that the sculpture may have been connected to the ancient Greek site of Delphi, where Apollo’s triumph over the python was regularly re-enacted in religious processions.

The museum reportedly paid $5 million for the sculpture, which it purchased in 2004 from Phoenix Ancient Art, based in New York and Geneva, Switzerland.

Ali Aboutaam, one of the firm’s two principals, was convicted in absentia in Egypt in 2003 on charges of smuggling and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The New York Times reported in 2007 that the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

Ali's brother and partner, Hicham Aboutaam, pleaded guilty in New York in 2004 to a misdemeanor federal charge that he falsified a customs document.

Before the museum bought the sculpture from Phoenix Ancient Art, it obtained a written statement from German lawyer Ernst-Ulrich Walter stating that he found the sculpture lying in pieces in a building on a family estate he reclaimed after the fall of East Germany.

Walter also reportedly said he remembered seeing the piece on the family estate in the 1930s.
The museum has never released Walter's statement and has no plans to do so, Bennett said Friday.
Based on the statement from Walter, and on scientific tests, Bennett states in the catalog that the sculpture was excavated and removed from its original site as long as a century ago, placing the work beyond the reach of modern laws aimed at halting the looting of ancient artworks.

In 2007, Agence France-Presse reported that unnamed Greek officials stated that the Apollo was fished out of the sea between Greece and Italy. Greece never presented evidence, but in response to the country’s claims that the work was stolen, the Louvre canceled plans to exhibit the Cleveland sculpture in an exhibition.

Franklin said Friday that research by the museum proves conclusively that the Apollo "was not recently pulled out of the ocean but has been on dry land for some time."

Art Market Shuts Out All but the Super Rich

El Greco’s ‘‘Saint Dominic in Prayer,’’  expected to sell for  £3 million to  £5 million, went for £9.15 million at Sotheby’s in July.

El Greco’s ‘‘Christ on the Cross’’  did not even make it to the lower end of its estimate at a Sotheby’s London auction in July.

When this column first appeared on March 29-30, 1969, thousands of objets d’art ranging from Antiquity to the 20th century turned up at auction every week.

A budget of £50 was ample to buy, say, eight cups and saucers in Chantilly or Worcester porcelain of the 18th century. Mahogany furniture of the 18th and 19th century, often deemed too plain and dismissed as “brown wood,” could routinely be had in London for less than £100, and its American versions, Georgian or Federal, were amazingly cheap.

In Paris, at the old Hôtel Drouot, which held the monopoly on auctions in the French capital, sales went on every day, many without any catalog. To know what was up for sale, you had to go to the viewing on the working day preceding the sale. The slim catalogs printed for the more ambitious auctions only provided basic information limited to two or three lines. Buyers needed to make their own judgement.

A similar situation prevailed in London. There, auctions were almost exclusively attended by dealers. Sitting at Sotheby’s around one of their time-honored U-shaped tables covered in green baize, where the objects were passed to those in the front row, potential buyers made up their minds after an ultimate verification. Tactile handling was deemed as essential as visual inspection. In contrast to Paris, sales were conducted by category (antiquities, medieval art, silver), but in London, too, it was up to the buyers to decide what they were looking at.

Paintings and sculpture were the two main areas that commanded large prices and yet, even there, the art hunt was not beyond the reach of those with little cash. In Paris, paintings could be bought at sessions where no expert had been brought in. Many coups were made by those blessed with a sharp eye. In a nutshell, collecting was a pastime affordable to all classes. Accordingly, the buyers’ social background was highly diversified.

 At Drouot sales in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a treat to watch well-dressed gentlemen from the expensive Paris neighborhoods standing next to seedy-looking characters from the Saint-Ouen flea market, all waiting for some rarity they had spotted to come up. In London, browsing around Portobello Road antique shops, you met characters straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, walking away, eyes gleaming, a coveted catch in hand.

Together, the auction scene and the many shops selling antiques were the training ground where connoisseurs were formed. The daily encounter with hosts of objects, paintings, drawings and the rest amounted to so many exercises at recognizing authenticity and aesthetic validity — away from the secure environment of museums, where everything is cut and dried.
Several factors contributed to the undoing of this environment.

he attention paid to art sales in the news media probably played a leading role. I plead guilty. In 1969, this column became the first to deal with the art market as a weekly news item. A few months later, a London broadsheet recruited a statistician to tackle the subject.
Actually, there cannot be meaningful statistics regarding art sales. The concept of statistics applied to any market implies the existence of identical units and no two works of art are identical. No one had informed whoever turned to a statistician that one Impressionist landscape by Monet does not equal another Impressionist landscape by Monet. Never mind: The column in the London daily drew attention to the subject.

Auctions became events and buying art a fashionable game played by ever-growing numbers. Countries previously barely involved in buying art in the Western market joined the fun. The sum total of the art of the past available for sale started dwindling, and prices shot up.

Auction houses strove hard to increase their part of the cake and only the fittest survived. The smaller companies gradually closed down, excepting those that had a niche market with a national base.
In the course of the past 30 years, the auction scene has been transformed beyond recognition. Nowhere is this as obvious as in their cataloging style. Those printed in connection with ambitious Old Masters auctions have entries running to several thousand words. Heavily footnoted, complete with bibliographical references that are not always indispensable, these read like excerpts from doctoral dissertations. Impressed, newcomers feel that rock-solid science is the foundation for the estimates. Few are ill-mannered enough to challenge the wisdom and ask, for example, why two paintings by the same artist that carry similar estimates can dramatically diverge.

This happened at a Sotheby’s London sale of Old Masters on July 3. El Greco’s “Saint Dominic in Prayer,” expected to sell between £3 million and £5 million plus the sale charge, cost £9.15 million. Within 30 minutes, a second El Greco, “Christ on the Cross,” also expected to sell within those limits, did not even make it to the lower end of the estimate when it realized £3.44 million. Amusingly, “Christ on the Cross,” which made slightly more than one third of the price paid for the first El Greco, is held by some to be the greater picture. The estimates had been given by highly qualified experts, but the regrettable fact is that wild variations have always characterized the art market.

There is, of course, one big difference with the past. Then, auctiongoers only ventured to buy expensive art if they felt competent to do so. Nowadays, the hard-nosed financiers who are so tough when making millions put a touching faith in the estimates printed in catalogs and in the advice they receive from auction houses. They curiously forget that it is in the auction houses’ commercial interests to sell the goods consigned to them. The higher the estimate is, the larger the charge to the bidder — and the more the auction house cashes in. Whoever heard of a departmental expert warning a client that his estimate was too high?

In areas other than painting and sculpture, where hype is most intense because these hold the strongest appeal to wealthy new players, many categories command lower prices. But even these are no longer within the reach of modest buyers.

Hardly anything worth a glance now sells below the $1,000 mark, whether it is Old Master prints, 18th- and 19th-century decorative art, or painted pots from Great Greece, in modern southern Italy. In New York, the two international auction houses will only process antiquities estimated to be worth at least $2,000, plus the sale charge and the city tax if the buyer is a city resident.

The evolution of the art market has been deeply anti-democratic. It takes a comfortable middle class budget to enter the field of antiquities, even at the lowest level. Old Master drawings that once were plentiful and cost very little, excepting those by the most famous masters, have become expensive rarities. In New York, only two or three yearly sales are held by each of the two leading auction houses. This leaves would-be collectors no chance of mustering the visual knowledge indispensable to turn into connoisseurs.

Academic knowledge can never be a substitute — gazing passively at works in museum exhibitions without the stimulus of the prospect of buying is a different experience. As their visual sense loses its acuity, buyers become unable to concentrate on what they see. Words alone matter and a strong punch is essential to titillate them.

The scene is now set for the exclusive triumph of contemporary art, where “estimates” keep rising. Spoofery is the order of the day. A “Balloon Dog (Orange)” under the Jeff Koons label — the artist does not personally fabricate the object — will appear at Christie’s New York in November. They call it a celebration of childhood and reckon the outsize toy will sell for $35 million to $55 million.

In May, at Christie’s New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Dustheads,” in the American painter’s naughty-10-year-old manner, established a world auction record for the artist at $48.8 million. With deadpan (or unintended?) humor, Christie’s special press release for the image commented: “One of Basquiat’s Most Accomplished Paintings.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The naked truth: A history of art censorship

Art is often understood as a comment upon, or a reflection upon our society. As observers, artists are capable of showing us a mirror of our own actions, beliefs, or political systems. Directly engaged with aesthetics, they are also capable of influencing the way we see our surroundings, or challenging the beliefs of their predecessors.
Placed on public display, art has a particularly potent ability to polarise and offend. Whilst the broad success of artists such as Tracey Emin or Marina Abramovic might suggest we are in a daring era of uncompromised free speech, artists continue to face censorship by political and religious authorities, protestors, and – occasionally – gallerists themselves.
The recent ban of works in countries including Syria and Russia highlight the ongoing difficulties faced by artist who – whether intentionally or not – produce works which provoke. Art Media Agency explored the history of censorship, and its continued impact upon our relationship with art.

Historical examples of censored works
Many works which today are regarded as exemplary or outstanding, were originally subject to censorship by political or religious figures who deemed their content inappropriate or offensive.
In fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, the strong influence of Catholicism saw a number of artists denounced as irresponsible proponents of the immoral or unholy. In 1565, under orders from Pope Daniele de Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo made revisions to the Sistine Chapel fresco, The Last Judgement, adding loin cloths to figures which Michelangelo had originally left unclothed. The act earned the promising young artist the nick name “Braghettone” (“the britches-maker”) – an unfortunate diminution of his broader capabilities which would follow him for the duration of his career.

To modern observers, the former Pope’s direction seems amusingly prudish – an admission of an uncomfortable awareness of nudity – and perhaps sexuality – which is far surpassed by the skill, colour, and indeed every other aspect of the work. It seems highly unlikely that contemporary visitors to the Sistine Chapel leave the ancient building with an overwhelming sense that they have been visually assaulted by a surfeit of nude bodies.

And yet, during the 1600s, Michelangelo’s frescoes received a barrage of outraged comments from visitors who saw not skill, but obscenity. Commenting on the work, poet and satirist Pietro Aretino wrote:

“Is it possible that you, so divine that you do not deign to consort with men, have done such a thing in the highest temple of God? Above the first altar of Jesus? Not even in the brothel are there such scenes as yours…”

Though the style of the satirist perhaps demanded Aretino exaggerate his outrage – and the last phrase appears to be an uncensored admission of his propensity for brothels – the writer’s voice was not  isolated. His criticism was echoed by Biagio Cardinal da Cesena, who described the fresco as “a stew of nudes, better suited to a bathhouse or roadside wine shop than the Pope’s chapel”.

The ongoing shock of the nude
Centuries after Michelangelo’s figures were forcibly clothed, nudity continued to shock the public, with new styles of production and differing approaches to the figure perpetuating the idea of the body as a battle ground.

Thought to have been commissioned by Turkish diplomat and collector Khalil-Bey, Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde (1866) has become one of the world’s most famous examples of censorship. Originally part of a collection dedicated to the female figure, the piece was not exhibited in a public institution until 1995, when it joined the permanent collection at Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, a flutter of excitement still following the controversial artwork.

Originally thought to have been displayed behind a curtain, the painting passed through several private collections, with its last individual owner being psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Representing the female body as no other “Salon” artist had dared to, The Origin of the World gained mythical status in the arts circles of 19th century Paris, with M. Du Camp, a contemporary of Courbet describing the work as “the final word in realism” – a comment to which he added, facetiously “the artist, who had copied his model in a naturalist manner, had forgotten to render the feet, the legs [...] and the head.”

In 1865 – a year before the creation of Courbet’s work – Edouard Manet’s Olympia similarly scandalised Paris, when it was exhibited at the city’s annual salon. The piece depicts a reclining female nude, draped across cushions in a pose which had previously been seen in Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538), Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (c. 1510), and Francisco de Goya’s La maja desnuda (circa 1797–1800), known in English as The Naked (or Nude) Maja.

For outraged observers – who described the work as “immoral” and “vulgar” – it was not the nudity of Manet’s subject which was offensive – perhaps because of the classical, conventional arrangement – but her arresting, unwavering gaze. Yet some commentators praised the artist for his honesty, with writer Zola stating:

“When our artists give us Venuses, they correct nature, they lie. Edouard Manet asked himself why lie, why not tell the truth; he introduced us to Olympia, this fille of our time, whom you meet on the sidewalks.”

Zola’s description of Manet’s work as the “the truth”, heard against voices which described the piece as immoral, encapsulates the complex relationship which observers of the period had with artistic representations of nudity. By this period, Michelangelo’s censored figures had comfortably entered art history tomes as classical – perhaps aspirational – figures. A “classical” understanding of painted nudity had developed, which Manet’s Olympia and Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde directly negated, offering depictions of the human body which acknowledged it’s reality with an offensive pragmatism.

Political censorship
Whilst works depicting nudity have sparked outrage for centuries, works of art which are stifled or destroyed because they offend those in power suggest a desire to control, not just representations of the human body, but of the ideas of a collective group.

Censorship often accompanies pieces which present an uncomfortable truth, responding to, or representing political injustice, conflict, or morality. In regions where political rule is accompanied by tightly-controlled propaganda, artists who seek to veer away from accepted forms of image production present a dangerous unknown, capable of undermining governing forces whilst acknowledging unspoken truths.

Perhaps one of the most prominent contemporary examples of an artist persecuted for political reasons, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei produces works which directly criticise his native government’s approach to democracy and human rights. In April 2011, he was detained for 3 months, with Chinese state media describing the artist as a “deviant and plagiarist” – description prompted by works such as ” 草泥马挡中央 – grass mud horse covering the middle”. Depicting the artist leaping into the air naked, the caption – perhaps abstract or non-sensical to the Western observer – gains a sudden meaning in Chinese, where it sounds dangerously like 肏你妈党中央 – or “Fuck your mother, the Communist party central committee”.

The China Daily subsidiary, The Global Times, released an editorial in response to the arrest on the 6 April 2011, acknowledging, rather than defending, the dangerous nature of Weiwei’s production:
Ai Weiwei likes to do something others dare not do. He has been close to the red line of Chinese law. Objectively speaking, Chinese society does not have much experience in dealing with such persons. However, as long as Ai Weiwei continuously marches forward, he will inevitably touch the red line one day.”

The artist’s detention sparked an international protest, with both The United States and the European Union condeming his detention. The international arts community began “1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei” – a series of petitions which called for artists to bring chairs to Chinese embassies and consulates across the world on 17 April 2011 to “sit peacefully in support of the artist’s immediate release”.

A street art campaign, incorporating slogans including “Free Ai Weiwei” and “Who’s afraid of Ai Weiwei” (the latter acknowledging art’s potential to intimidate and threaten) travelled across Hong Kong and further afield. One of the most prominent proponents of the campaign was London’s Tate Modern, which still has “Release Ai Weiwei” emblazoned across its glass tower in giant lettering.
The censorship of politically-motivated art works can paradoxically increase their visibility. Where work is censored, media bodies may initially respond with a broader focus on the implications for human rights and a right to freedom of expression. This initial investigation, however, will inevitably highlight what it is that censoring bodies originally wished to cover up – a desire to erase which often points towards a significant truth.

In 1982, Syrian doctor and artist Kamal Al-Labwani witnessed the Hama massacre, in which the country’s government crushed the uprising by the Muslim brotherhood – an event which led him to oppose the ruling Ba’ath party and establish the Syrian Liberal Democratic Union. He was arrested in September 2001, after attending a political seminar in the house of fellow activist Riad Seif, before being released in 2004 – a period which allowed him to briefly travel to the US and through the EU, before he was once again arrested upon his return to Damascus in 2005.

Al-Labwani’s paintings reflect upon his experiences in prison, and the Emergency Laws which have been in force in Syria for the past 40 years, focusing on the human rights abuses which affect citizens of the country. His paintings have been exported to the United Kingdom, and he has been supported by bodies such as “Freedom to Create”, which seeks to promote creativity as an essential component of human expression and “just and fair societies”.

Whilst the Syrian artist’s paintings initially sought to respond to the political situation in his country, Al-Labwani’s incarceration increased both the prominence of his works in international media, and the unjust sentence imposed by the Syrian government. His case came to the attention of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2009, the body concluding that Dr. Labwani “had been condemned for the peaceful expression of his political views and for having carried out political activities” that are protected under international law, also deeming his trial unfair.

In Russia, a spate of recent arrests and instances of censorship in the art world have paradoxically increased international awareness of the country’s intolerant laws, and the government’s attempts to control its citizens’s free speech. Earlier in September, the Saint Petersburg police were the target of criticism across international media when Vera Donskaya-Khilko’s painting Wrestling – which depicted Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama fighting to prove their manliness – was removed, and the director of the museum which held the work was detained for 24 hours.

This was recently followed by the arrest of performers from the group Pussy Riot, the Moscow-based collective, established in 2011, which seeks to promote women’s rights in Russia, and which has broadly opposed Putin’s leadership. In a period preceding the 5th Moscow Biennale – described as the “La semaine de la censure” (the week of censorship) by the Journal des Arts, t-shirts made by Pussy Riot members Artem Loskutov and Masha Kiselva depicting the group as religious icons were censored, and images of the works were banned online. In the same week, an exhibition at Marat Guelman’s Moscow gallery, featuring photographs of the city’s destroyed buildings, was threatened with closure by authorities who deemed the show’s content offensive.

Open-minded censorship
Whilst examples of censorship in Syria, Russia and China are the direct results of a political regime’s desire to stifle artistic expression, incidences of censorship continue to appear in regions ordinarily connoted with the active promotion of free speech.

In 2010, MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch, who became renowned for showing some of the most innovative and interesting contemporary art in his eponymous New York gallery for a period of around 15 years, attracted attention after the decision to censor a large-scale work – which he himself had commissioned – by Italian street artist Blu. The latter was asked to produce a large-scale mural at the museum’s entrance, and presented his initial idea in a preliminary sketch: a huge painting of the coffins of war casualties draped, not with American flags, but with dollar bills.

The artist began work whilst Deitch attended Art Basel, though rapidly grew unpopular with the director, who requested Blu paint a different mural over the coffins – an emblem which would be more likely to invite people to come into the museum. The artist refused to compromise his practice, responding to Deitch by stating that he had simply chosen the wrong man for the job. The work was whitewashed shortly after its completion, with LA MoCA justifying its action by stating:

“The Geffen Contemporary building is located on a special, historic site. Directly in front of the north wall is the Go For Broke monument, which commemorates the heroic roles of Japanese American soldiers, who served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and opposite the wall is the LA Veterans’ Affairs Hospital”.

Directly engaged with the link between Capitalism and warfare, however, and coinciding with the controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the piece was more prominently a critique of approaches to contemporary conflict, rather than a trivialisation of the actions of war veterans. The work, however, was covered before debate, or critique, could begin.

Nor have we quite overcome the ability to be shocked by the naked form – even in an age which has seen works by Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville. In 2011, experts who carried out the restoration of a mural depicting a 13th century “Tree of Fertility” were accused of attempting to sanitise the piece by scrubbing out the 25 phalluses which had happily hung from the tree’s branches. Restorers denied accusations, stating that the affected areas had been removed due to compromising deposits of salt and calcium. Others, however, were more sceptical, with town councillor Gabriele Galeotti commenting “Many parts of the work seem to have been arbitrarily repainted”.

For those who feel that art should be a forum dedicated to the freedom of expression, censorship is nothing other than problematic. In cases of political censorship, artists are revealed to be socially responsible figures, whose practice seeks to highlight and change the society it comments upon. For others, censorship might represent a means of correcting works which outrage, or which show a purposeful disregard for accepted cultural practice. This was the argument against Blu’s piece from LA’s MoCA, and is often the reaction to controversial pieces by artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman.

The controversy which censorship attracts ultimately raises the question of the artist’s role in society, and the idea that they might have social responsibility. Censorship opens up much broader questions about the role of art as truth, and the problematic implications of forcibly constrained expression. Commenting on the complex nature of the issue at a May conference on censorship, Tate director Nicholas Serota stated:

“We can probably all agree on many of the principles that we seek to uphold. What’s actually much more difficult is to recognise that there are no easy paths, that there are no guarantees by which, and through which, we can preserve this hard fought-for right for the freedom of free expression.”
That art is still capable of provoking political unrest, violent debate, and protest is an attestation of its value and power. It is also an admission of its complexity; inextricably linked to notions of liberty, truth and justice, art seems set to continue to attract the attention of those who would prefer it to be silenced.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Epistemological Realism: The Major Distinction Between Photography and Painting

The Distinction between Photography and Painting

Photography and paintings can bring various kinds of strengths and weaknesses. Typically in photography, it is commonly considered as a realistic expression. As Andre Bazin claims, photographs are the unique way to be extraordinarily or realistic. It can realistically show the objects beyond the reach of paintings, drawings, and even other handmade pictures.

Consider how the judge in court uses the pictures. Photographs of a crime are more likely as evidence in court for judges than paintings or drawings. Without a doubt, photographs are more useful than a sketch of Person X intentionally doing something to Person Y. However, a full-color oil painting or a painting can look 90% realistic of the crime sense, but it unfortunately cannot be the same as photographs.

So, why this happens?

We can see Andre Bazin having fun with a cat. Can our feeling be the same as we see this as a painting? (Picture Credit:

Andre Bazin’s Epistemological Realism explanation

According to Andre Bazin, photography has a special nature that separates itself from paintings or drawings. He believes that photography is one kind of comparison of the cinema to mirrors. It has the similar function as mirrors because it aids to vision, which allows us to see things in the way that we are otherwise unable to see. In other words, photography can be mirror-like reflection of reality. As the photographs can only depict real things, they have only few possibilities to misrepresent them. Consequently, the photographers have the epistemological function of informing us about the visual appearance of photographed things.

Such epistemological realist’s view agrees that photographs have an intimate relation with reality. It defines the relation as an adequate reflection. It can arguably say that epistemological realism depends on ontological realism. We believe that the photograph is reliable not because it has some visible feature, but it is because the casual origin of its visible features. The features, accordingly, relate to intimation.

Consider the following situation: My friend Angel, Hong Kong Portrait Photographer, takes a picture of a person, and this person’s friend also paints a portrait of him. Although the portrait painting is highly detailed picture, it still cannot be considered as a portrait photograph. In other words, it can be only an extremely realistic looking painting, as we can perceive the same person from both of the photograph and the painting.

According to epistemological realism, it is because our knowledge that features the portrait painting lacks the intimate relation with reality. That leads to the difference our experience of seeing the portrait photographs and portrait painting. Since the contents are different, the paintings are produced by intentional subject who can choose to portray reality and fictional characters. Photographs can represent reality.

Close Up: Capture vs Follow the Actual Objects

In short, epistemological realism holds the explanation to distinct the difference between photograph and painting. Clearly, a photograph is always an image of something which actually exists. The photograph can capture the actual things, such as actors, objects, or even the background setting. Paintings cannot have exact same function. It is because we get the photographs’ intimate relation with reality, whereas the paintings do not have. Without such intimate relation with reality, the painters can only closely follow the objects but they cannot exactly capture everything from the objects in the paintings, which makes the paintings less realistic than the photographs.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Contemporary Art Frenzy

"Dustheads" by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

New heights were attained in the historic sale of postwar and contemporary art conducted Wednesday evening at Christie’s.

In just under two hours of gavel-wielding, Jussi Pylkkanen, the president of Christie’s Europe, sold 66 works of the 70 offered for $495 million.

Perhaps even more striking than the global figure was the pace at which the session proceeded. Mr. Pylkkanen never allowed the tempo to diminish.

Christie’s triumphed thanks to a high concentration of pictures set in the concrete of post-World War II art history. The auction house was offering the antiquities of contemporary art — most of the phenomenal prices went to works done before 1960. Five world auction records were set above $10 million. Of those, four were established for pictures painted between 1948 and 1963.

Jackson Pollock’s abstract composition “Number 19, 1948,” painted in oil and enamel on paper mounted on canvas soared to an unimaginable $58.63 million. The painting exceeded the upper end of the estimate by half, an extraordinary occurrence at these stratospheric heights. When offered 20 years ago at Christie’s the Pollock sold for $2.4 million.

“Number 19” is part of a group that induced Life Magazine, in August 1949, to ask: “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” In retrospect, the answer is yes.

The second-highest record price, $56.12 million, was commanded by Roy Lichtenstein, a leader of the Pop Art movement that caused a big commotion on the New York art scene. Even though its roots were in Britain, where the style based on the aesthetics of cartoons appeared in the 1950s, it was in America that it was cultivated in huge monumental formats by Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and others.

The price achieved by Lichtenstein’s “Woman With Flowered Hat” painted in 1963 is doubly astonishing. The picture is a spoof of Picasso’s late portraits that break up and distort the human face in a style derived from the Cubism of his youth. Christie’s boldly reproduced Picasso’s picture, “Woman With Flowered Hat,” which dates from 1939 or 1940. Usually, interpretations of another artist’s work are not easy to sell. The furious competition that sent Lichtenstein’s climbing so high underlines the abyss that separates the buyers of contemporary art from traditional collectors.

A third New York school artist of the 1960s also prompted bidders to set a world auction record. Philip Guston’s huge canvas titled “To Fellini” sold for $25.88 million, nearly doubling expectations. 
The price is the more extraordinary because the paint is applied in thick, seemingly disconnected impastos, despite the claim made in the catalog that the picture “possesses an architectural quality to its composition.” It is as if Guston had set out to smear his canvas without a purpose other than to create color contrasts.

But Guston, like Pollock and Lichtenstein, is perceived as a central figure of American cultural history. And history, or the perception of it, rather than art, is what mattered.

The focus on the rebellious artistic movements of the 1950s did not stop at American borders.
One of Piero Manzoni’s canvases crumpled into horizontal folds and coated in white kaolin under the generic title “Achrome” brought a world record $14.12 million. Visually, the white canvas has nothing in common with the New York school pictures. But like the Americans, the Italian painter expressed the abrupt rejection of the past. “Achrome” dates from 1958, like Guston’s “To Fellini.”

Tellingly enough, the one painter who rose to an extraordinary record level at Christie’s and who belongs to a later generation is Jean-Michel Basquiat, a rebel if ever there was one.

“Dustheads” was the 10th lot of the session. Signed and dated 1982, the picture went up to $48.84 million.

The monumental picture of two characters is painted in the manner of very young schoolboys giving vent to their pent-up rage at the blackboard in the teacher’s absence. Basquiat was 22 when he painted it. He died six years later. As Basquiat once put it himself when referring to his art, “it’s about 80 percent anger.”

This week, a young man who once passed for the buffoon of the American art scene was posthumously elevated to the level of the most serious contenders for the attention of multimillionaire buyers of contemporary art. Indeed, Basquiat was arguably the great winner in Christie’s sale. From the very beginning, his grimacing characters triggered protracted bidding contests. “Furious Man,” which came in the sixth position, expected to sell for $1 million to $1.5 million, plus the sale charge, shot up to $5.72 million. For a work on paper, that is a huge price.

In May 1990, “Furious Man,” then relegated to a day sale reserved for low value art, had managed a modest $37,400. When it came back on the block at Sotheby’s in 2001, the price rose to $307,500. 

That was multiplied more than 18 times on Wednesday.

Basquiat never dreamed of such prices. Nor did anyone else.

Debating the Art Market as the Best Judge of Quality

On May 24 at China's Hong Kong Convention Center an outfit called Intelligence Squared will host a formal debate during the debut of the newest spinoff of the Art Basel franchise of international art fairs. The motion under consideration will be: "The Market Is the Best Judge of Art's Quality."

Honest. That's the topic for debate. I figure the program harbors two, maybe three minutes of chat -- tops.

The panel is a retread of a 2011 program held at London's Saatchi Gallery. (You can watch that one on YouTube.)

But the short retort to the market-based judgment is: Nope. The longer answer is: Bernard Buffet.

You've never heard of him? In the 1950s the savior of the School of Paris rocketed to fame and fortune and became the Next Big Thing -- until he wasn't. Since then plenty of superstar market-darlings were once hot, then not -- and vice versa. Make your own list. The cultural landscape is littered with painters and sculptors seduced, abandoned or just plain ignored by the profit-driven markets, regardless of artistic depth.

Never mind the ordinary vagaries of supply and demand, which transform market prices -- whether for Picasso, pork bellies or Cabbage Patch dolls -- into the distorted reflections of a fun-house mirror. The market is just a shopping mall; it judges what's best for the market -- what sells. Which is fine by me.

A cynic might even wonder why decisions on cultural values would be entrusted to the faceless financial elites responsible for the recent crashing of the economy, throwing millions into turmoil. And then there's the matter of young artists coming out of burgeoning art schools with massive debt, just like their non-artist peers: They need to pay back loans somehow, which creates enormous pressure on their work, which feeds into the market maw, which ... you get the idea.

So the art market is a judge of quality, just like Mom and cousin Fred are, but hardly the best judge.

There's a simpler explanation as to why collectors and dealers aren't the ones deciding who, finally, are the important artists. (Nor, for that matter, do curators, critics or the general public.) It's because artists do. Artists decide who is worth paying attention to among their cohorts.

They do it by picking up indirectly from modern culture's unconscious -- or flat-out stealing from the best. What we call quality is largely a factor of the breadth, depth and longevity of excitement artists harbor for other artists' work. Art comes from art. It doesn't come from Goldman Sachs.

Scheduled to speak in favor of the debate's market motion at the new Hong Kong art fair are Amy Cappellazzo of Christie's auction house and longtime art investment advisor and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, current director of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Speaking against the market as arbiter of the best are Matthew Collings and Rirkrit Tiravanija -- both artists.

Pick your vested interests. Debate over.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fresh Proof Found for the Other, 'Original' 'Mona Lisa'

The "Mona Lisa" in Paris' Louvre Museum for more than three centuries has long been regarded as the only one painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Now there's new proof a Swiss-held version is also by the master's hand.

New tests on a painting billed as the original version of the "Mona Lisa," Leonardo da Vinci's 15th-century portrait, have produced fresh proof that it is the work of the Italian master, a Swiss-based art foundation said Wednesday.

The tests, one by a specialist in "sacred geometry" and the other by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, were carried out in the wake of the Geneva unveiling of the painting, the "Isleworth Mona Lisa," last September.

"When we add these new findings to the wealth of scientific and physical studies we already had, I believe anyone will find the evidence of a Leonardo attribution overwhelming," said David Feldman, vice president of the foundation.

The "Mona Lisa," in Paris' Louvre Museum for more than three centuries, has long been regarded as the only one painted by Leonardo — although there have been copies — and claims for the Swiss-held one were dismissed by some experts last year.

But it also won support in the art world, encouraging the Zurich-based Mona Lisa Foundation, an international group that says it has no financial interest in the work, to pursue efforts to demonstrate its authenticity.

Feldman, an Irish-born international art and stamp dealer, said he was contacted after the public unveiling of the portrait — which shows a much younger woman than the Louvre's painting — by Italian geometrist Alfonso Rubino.

"He has made extended studies of the geometry of Leonardo's 'Vitruvian Man'" — a sketch of a youth with arms and legs extended — "and offered to look at our painting to see if it conformed," Feldman told Reuters.

The conclusion by the Padua-based Rubino was that the "Isleworth" portrait, named for a London suburb where it was kept by British art connoisseur Hugh Blaker 80 to 90 years ago, matched Leonardo's geometry and must be his.

The Zurich institute, the foundation said, carried out a carbon-dating test on the canvas of its painting and found that it was almost certainly manufactured between 1410 and 1455, refuting claims that it was a late 16th-century copy.

Earlier brush-stroke studies presented last September by U.S. physicist and art lover John Asmus concluded that both the "original" version and the Louvre crowd-puller were painted by the same artist.

The authenticity of the foundation's painting, discovered by Blaker in an English country house in 1913, has been fiercely challenged by British Leonardo authority Martin Kemp, who argued last year that "so much is wrong with it."

Feldman and foundation colleagues retort that Kemp has never followed up on invitations to come to see it.

Documents show Florentine nobleman Francesco del Giocondo commissioned a painting of his wife Lisa around the turn of the 16th century. In French, the Louvre's version is known as "La Joconde" and as "La Gioconda" in Italian.

Supporters of the "younger" version say it was almost certainly delivered unfinished to del Giocondo before Leonardo left Italy in 1506 and took up residence in France, where he died in 1519 in a small Loire chateau.

From the Giocondo house, it probably eventually found its way to England after being bought by a traveling English aristocrat, this account runs, while the Paris version was probably painted by Leonardo around 1516 in France.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Blake Gopnik: Pop Goes the Art Bubble

The rich keep spending millions and driving up prices. But what happens when the bubble bursts?

What sound does a bubble make just before it bursts? We heard it last week at the Art Basel fair in Miami, where the rich flock to stock up on art each December. A Richard Prince “nurse,” hung amid Picassos and Miros, selling for $6.5 million; a Damien Hirst “medicine cabinet” priced at $4 million; Julie Mehretu squiggles, barely a decade old, for $2.6 million—all for sale at Art Basel, and all with prices so high they are bound to crash-land.

Julie Mehretu's untitled 2001 painting at John Berggruen
The Bubble: Julie Mehretu squiggles, barely a decade old priced at $2.6 million (Emiliano Granado for Newsweek)

But there were surer, subtler signs of the bubble than those: paintings by Raymond Parker—that were nowhere in sight; carvings by Mary Frank, also not for sale anywhere; bronzes by David Slivka, unrepresented in any dealer’s booth. Fifty years ago, in the pages of Art News magazine, these were billed as figures “of unusual promise and achievement.” Today a huge Parker canvas sets his auction record at $60,000 (compared to $34 million for Jeff Koons), while works by Frank barely break $10,000, and a lone Slivka sculpture on the market goes for a 10th of that.

“Ernie Trova was the most famous artist in the world,” says New York dealer Marc Glimcher, “and Ernie Trova was us”—“us” being the influential Pace Gallery founded by his parents, and Trova being an utterly forgotten 1960s sculptor whose sales were once so brisk they paid for Glimcher’s education. “Those bubbles burst—they’re bursting now,” says the dealer. He points out that there’s not a soul who’d say we’re at a high point in artistic creation, even as the market for art does better than ever.

Maybe we should expect obscene price tags when it comes to the proven icons of art history: who can say if The Scream by Munch was overpriced or not when it sold for $120 million last May, or whether it made sense when The Card Players by Cézanne sold for twice that in 2011? But when prices go nuts for artists whose reputations are still in play, trouble is sure to be looming.

The reason I’m certain that today’s contemporary market is due to deflate is because people like me will make it happen. We won’t do it on purpose, tempting as that might be. We’ll make the bubble pop in the normal course of things, as all of us—critics, curators, and art lovers of all kinds—decide that today’s market darlings are tomorrow’s 
also-rans. We’ll prick the market’s bubble by deciding that a Richard Prince nurse is about as central to our culture as Ernie Trova’s sculptures turned out to be. And when we burst reputations, we deflate prices, too. History proves that most judgments about art will be shown to be wrong, as the roster of noteworthy talents gets whittled down. (I’m utterly sure of the importance of the living artists I admire—including Koons and Hirst, as it happens. I’m equally sure that I’ll turn out to be mistaken about many of them.)

The scholar Michael Moses, now retired from the NYU business school, has spent years building an index that tracks the prices of artworks sold at major auctions—of the art, that is, already on top of the heap. (Auction houses won’t even accept lesser works, which include most art that gets made.) And Moses points out that, over the long run and on average, even this high-end art tends be a worse investment than equities, however well some of it has done over the past year or two. His index tracks single works that have come up for auction a second time, and of those “sale pairs,” about one third actually represent a drop. In the long run, Moses says, the fancy, flashy treasures whose sales the auctioneers trumpet most loudly don’t yield the best returns. 
Moses points out that to match a normal 10-year stock-market return, today’s $80 million Rothko would have to soar to an unlikely $160 million.

In New York this November, the auctions of deluxe modern and contemporary art set tons of artists’ records, with about $800 million in total sales. (Older works, meanwhile, didn’t do very well, and the market was soft for mid-range contemporary pieces.) But the success of those auctions doesn’t mean we were witnessing smart investors at work, or anyone’s great nose for future art history. The high prices were probably a sign of overheating and “trophy purchasing,” says Moses—
they were about people spending tons of money, because they wanted to.

The investor Vikram Mansharamani recently wrote a book called Boombustology, and he’s now teaching a Yale course on bubbles and crashes. He says that what Moses has spotted is hardly a sign of any market’s health. When people are attracted to high prices, rather than put off by them, that’s one indicator of a swelling bubble. “My antennae go up,” Mansharamani says, at such news. The art market’s concentration on a few, overpriced trophies may be a symptom that hubris has taken over from sense, across the board.

Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'
Munch’s The Scream sold at auction for $120 million last May. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Thanks to what psychologists call an “anchoring bias,” once a dollar figure— any figure—gets linked to an object, that’s seen as its natural price. Collectors and dealers regularly bid up one work by an artist they hold in depth, so they can get more when it comes time to sell the artist’s other works, use them as collateral or give them to charity for a tax deduction.

Mansharamani says another common marker of a boom that’s bust-ready is when there are “new people coming to the party”—when all the insiders have already bought, so the market has to look to foreigners or amateurs to fuel its epidemic-like growth. This is what happened in 17th-century Holland with tulipomania, that most iconic of all market follies. In today’s art world, money is pouring in from countries that never used to field buyers, and we’re seeing ventures such as the new Liquid Rarity Exchange, which says it aims “to get the public involved in ownership of rarities.” Mansharamani is reminded of 1998, when prime-time TV was full of ads selling tech stocks to average Joes.

The Yale bubbleologist gets especially spooked when he hears people claiming that a market’s fundamental structure has changed, so it will let uncontrolled growth go unpunished—as in June 2008 when the auctioneer Tobias Meyer said that “for the first time since 1914, we are in a noncyclical market,” and then witnessed a huge drop in art prices less than a year later. (That particular boom-and-bust cycle was nicely dissected in The Great Contemporary Art Bubble, a film by the British documentarian Ben Lewis. What he didn’t predict is that the art ­prices would soon take off again.)

As one New York art adviser warns, “The market has to come down—because it has to. They don’t call it a market because it only goes up. You call that ‘magic.’”

Or maybe art really does follow its own market rules. Dealer after dealer told me that, despite significant doubts, they were still plenty optimistic. A British dealer named Andrew Renton recently launched a new London division for the blue-chip Marlborough Gallery, and it is dedicated only to contemporary art. He cites the 5 million visitors who crowded into Tate Modern last year as a sign of the room that his client base still has to grow. “There are so many more people who speak the language of contemporary art—
and by definition so many more people who will want to become collectors.”

Like many of his colleagues, he also believes that the softness of the rest of the economy positions contemporary art as “the most exciting investment you can make at this time.” (Although one very recent survey of millionaires, conducted by Barclays bank, showed that they still only hold about 10 percent of their assets in “treasure”—and mostly in jewels—and that only around one in 20 of them buy art as an investment.) Weirdly, art is seen as especially attractive since it’s a market that is built on “real” art-historical values that are not subject to the purely economic forces that have messed things up elsewhere—never mind all the Ernie Trovas out there.

“Art history is the weapon of choice—it is the means of justifying the object in question,” Renton says. And yet, with contemporary art, the market most often gets its art history wrong. “You couldn’t get a better Warhol,” says our New York art adviser, than the master’s 1962 picture of Troy Donahue—which was withdrawn from one of last month’s auctions for lack of interest. “The market wouldn’t pay for a painting of a closeted gay icon” is the adviser’s conclusion. That market prefers to sell its product to collectors using bromides about “beauty” and “self-expression” instead of the contrarian ideas that really seem to explain today’s best art. The hundreds of polka-dotted paintings turned out by Damien Hirst’s assistants are likely to be important, in the long run, because they undermine the clichéd values of uniqueness and “authenticity” that the market feeds on. The less Hirst’s spots turn out to be worth on the market—and they seem to be dropping like stones—the more they may matter as art.

“The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart,” a top man at Sotheby’s said, but in fact its bubble gets blown up with the wrong works, bought according to the wrong measures. Or even that may be too generous a view. The newfound popularity of art fairs, which are more like souks than salons, may signal that the boom is being fueled by the pleasure found in buying art rather than in contemplating it. That’s the kind of faddish pleasure that could pass as quickly as the hula hoop.

Hirst's "New York" medicine cabinet
Damien Hirst's “medicine cabinet” was priced at $4 million. (Emiliano Granado for Newsweek)

Yet the veteran New York dealer Mary Boone still doesn’t think the current bubble is set to burst—because she doesn’t think it exists at all. She suffered through the art crash of the early 1990s, when a soaring market suddenly lost 30 percent of its value, and doesn’t see quite the same setup now. Prices are only soaring at the very top of the market, she says, while the vast rest of it is in a “holding pattern,” at best. She’s sanguine that the market will continue to support her, but she also lists all sorts of novel problems in it: speculators who buy just to sell; collectors who stop buying once their walls are full; people who only buy because their friends do; the “spectator sport” that art buying has now become; all the shallow, “sellable” art being churned out; the exclusive search for the new and the hot—so that an unproven artist such as Wade Guyton, now showing at the Whitney Museum in New York, can fetch more than a legend of pop art like Richard Artschwager, on view downstairs from Guyton’s work.

Sean Kelly, a colleague of Boone’s who’s recently moved into the major leagues, acknowledges that some people are making foolish art buys, especially where things are overheated. “You can buy 10 or 20 Marcel Duchamps for the price of one Jeff Koons ... But has Jeff Koons changed the way we think, the way Marcel Duchamp did? I rather doubt it.” But he doesn’t think that telltale signs of a bubble ever tell us what will come next. “Every time you thought the world was ending,” he says, “this market has confounded that prediction.” After 9/11, Kelly asked himself, “Who’s ever going to buy art again?” only to discover that his clients were more eager than ever to nest at home with precious things.

A crash of the market’s biggest players might still bring everyone down, but Kelly feels that today’s art world has probably—probably—become such a broad river, as he puts it, that a whirlpool in one place might not disturb currents elsewhere. (Every gallerist I spoke to insisted that the market for their particular, singularly talented artists was bound to be stable, even if their colleagues were clearly at risk—precisely the kind of bulletproof thinking that’s typical of boom times.) This fall, Kelly almost quadrupled the size of his gallery; our interview ended so he could vet yet another applicant to his growing staff.

There’s one final factor that weighs against a coming bust: the fact that the ultrarich now buying art won’t bother selling if the market starts to soften. That Barclays survey showed that once millionaires own a precious object, they will only sell it at a vast profit. (Market psychologists call this the “endowment effect.”) Just because you think the value of your collection is falling, “you’re not going to take your paintings off the wall,” says Adam Lindemann, a financier, collector, and gallery owner in New York.

Of course, the fact that collectors choose not to sell now, or in 2013, or even in a decade doesn’t change the underlying drop in worth of any bad art they own. If a work doesn’t end up mattering in the culture at large, someone, someday, will be left holding the bag. Most of the stock being sold in Miami this year may not even be fit to auction in 50. Some bubbles may not burst with a bang, but instead lose their loft with a quiet hiss.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gottfried Helnwein

The Murmur of the Innocent 22
2011, oil and acrylic on canvas

It can be argued that we are living in the true golden age of painting. Artists like Gottfried Helnwein and many others display a skill and emotional depth that has rarely been achieved throughout human history.

2005, oil and acrylic on canvas

More of Helnwein's work can be found at:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Banksy Spoofed By Street Artist Hanksy

New York graffiti artist replicates Banksy artworks but with key addition – the face of Tom Hanks 

The tables have been turned on street artist Banksy, as the graffiti satirist gets spoofed by one of his own. A rival street artist, calling himself ‘Hanksy’, has been recreating Banksy artworks across New York’s Lower East Side but with one addition – the face of Tom Hanks!  

And so, Banksy's famous stencil of a rioter preparing to throw a bunch of flowers becomes Tom Hanks preparing to throw Wilson, the volleyball he befriends in the 2000 film Castaway etc etc. Just take a look at the images below.

What’s more, Hanksy is now receiving recognition as an artist in their own right, with his/her ever first gallery exhibition, opening today at New York’s Krause Gallery. Tom Hanks masks and a box of chocolates are reportedly to be handed out to the first 200 attendees. But this, of course, is no street art feud of the type that Banksy is currently waging with King Robbo over the Camden canals. As the purveyor of wry humour, one would hope that he can appreciate the joke, conceptualising it more as a homage rather than a threat.


Has Banksy’s fame made him establishment? Perhaps, as this is the second time in quick succession that he has been mimicked by younger artists. A couple of weeks ago, a Polish art student copied Banksy in hanging one of his own works in the National Museum of Poland, mirroring the street artist’s 2005 stunt at several galleries in New York.

Banksy is a UK-based graffiti artist who is famed internationally for his signature stencil street art style, and the mystery surrounding his true identity. He began in Bristol, his home city, and now his art can be seen on buildings all around the world. Banksy's works are often humorous and based on current issues. Some of his works have sold for tens of thousands of pounds. And his artwork sales have attracted Hollywood celebrities too – Christina Aguilera, for example, bought an original of Queen Victoria as a lesbian and two prints for £25,000.