Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why did you become an artist?

Here’s what I asked artists:  
Last Saturday the New Museum organized a panel discussion titled YTJ: Then and Now: Redefining Generations. On the panel were Carroll Dunham, Joan Jonas, and Mira Schor -- all mature, established artists. They said (and I've since confirmed it with with many friends that teach) that kids coming out of art schools today expect to exhibit right away and make money as artists. It got me thinking that their motivation for becoming an artist must be very different in some ways than mine and my generation of artists. So, to do a very unscientific sampling: why did you become an artist? 
I got back about 40 responses to this query. The great majority said they felt they had no choice. They made things since they were little and sort of fell into it; or they felt compelled to (some actually used the word “addiction,”); and many came to it by default -- because they were good at art but weren’t good at anything else. Of course there were other reasons -- a very few said they chose art because it was a noble thing to do, and a few said they always were artists. Chance probably plays a big part in decisions all young people make about what occupation to pursue -- but I think artists may be unique in that so many believe they had no choice. And, in spite of the rosy expectations young people have about art as a career, I suspect most of them also feel they have no choice. Here are some insightful and articulate responses:  

From Marianne Fourie:
Call me artist I've been reading some of the replies you got and must say I find a couple of them puzzling, especially those from artists who say that they have 'always been' artists. You also think that young artists who are fresh out of art school and who expect to exhibit and earn money from their art have different motivations for becoming artists than you and your generation had. I don't think their motivations necessarily have anything to do with their expectations.

So here's what I do think: To me, ‘artist’ describes what you do in life rather than some inherent, innate quality you have as a person. You can be born creative, but I don't think you are an artist from birth. I think the visceral nature of what for want of a better term I will call the 'career choice' of art confuses the issue for a lot of people.

The term ‘artist’ has become complex and it has a lot to do with the rapid changes in the visual arts over the past century and a quarter. The world of visual art today is completely open-ended. There exists no intellectually decent normative description of what art is. The art world has generally rejected any limitations to what can be labeled 'art'. This is an excellent thing for all artists because it opens up infinite creative possibilities. If I call something 'art', then it is art; if I say 'I'm an artist', then I am one.

Ironically, this has made it more difficult for many artists to appropriate the term for themselves. Because of a perception of the open-endedness of the art world as being a policy of ‘anything goes’, of complete relativity, a kind of resistance has grown to the appropriation of the term. Because anyone can call themselves an artist, the term 'artist' has become laden with all kinds of profound meaning to give it value in the eyes of others.

I have met several artists - and one of the comments written to you by an artist illustrates this - who say they had trouble calling themselves 'artist', probably because calling oneself an artist is seen as the attribution of some kind of hallowed status. I’ve experienced this myself. When I started off as an artist and told one young person that that was what I was, she said to me "You shouldn't say you're an 'artist', you should say 'I make art'". Now this is not because she believed that nobody had the right to call themselves an artist; she just decided that me calling myself so was pretentious on my part. I found it strange considering that nobody had ever corrected me before when I said that I was a journalist or a teacher, two professions I've been in. It would be silly to say 'I do journalism' or 'I do teaching' because one is too coy to say 'I'm a journalist' or 'I'm a teacher'. It should be the same for artists.

When we decide to become artists, and we do decide to do so, we shouldn't be afraid to name what we are. I don't know of any other profession outside of the arts where saying you are something, makes you it. When you call yourself a banker, it is most certainly because you completed a degree in Finance and are employed and paid a salary by a bank. I don't have a university degree in art and I certainly don't draw a salary from any institution which names me as an employee 'artist'. And yet I feel it safe to say I am one. This makes me both very lucky and very unlucky, as I'll explain.

As I've pointed out, the term 'artist' carries a value judgment, which, of course, is not unusual. All words have connotations, whether positive or negative, and a specific connotation can be held by a very few individuals or have a broad social hold. It can be deeply ingrained or based on an ephemeral impression. When you say ‘doctor’, people, depending on their experiences and cultural and social backgrounds, will have different pictures come to mind. But I don’t think that any doctor will say of another doctor, as I’ve heard artists say of other artists, “X is not a doctor.” They might say “X is not a good doctor” but unless the doctor has forged her/his diplomas, the question of legitimacy isn’t raised.

It would be useful for all of us artists to use the term ‘artist’ as neutrally as possible and this means coming to terms with the issue of money. I think we should look at artists in the same way as we look at, say, bankers. No, seriously. The word ‘artist’ should be accorded to all who claim it but nothing stops us from evaluating the worth of what an artist does, just as the work people do in other professions is judged. There are good bankers and there are bad bankers. Anybody who calls themselves an artist is one, and that is where we are unique. But there are good artists and mediocre artists and bad artists. We can all have many different criteria for deciding what makes an artist 'good', 'bad' or ‘mediocre’ and some will probably say that deciding what makes an artist good relies far more on subjective judgment than what makes a banker good.

And the question of ‘worth’ becomes a very thorny issue for artists when it refers to material worth. Unfortunately, society in general tends to measure success in earned wealth. Rich equals good in many minds. Money as a measure of value is an issue in all professions, not only in the arts. Possibly, there is more subtlety in a value judgment of 'good art' than of 'good banking' and certainly, far more factors come into play in such a judgment, but it isn’t true when money is the measure. Does reaching the highest position in a financial institution and drawing an astronomical salary make one a ‘good’ banker. Considering the role of some of these bankers in the fall of the economy, it would be silly to say ‘yes’. Can all the bankers who made wise investment decisions which took long term results into account please raise their hands? They probably never made the Forbes billionaires list but their choices could qualify them as ‘good’ bankers.

Perhaps because of the speculative nature of the art world in financial terms and the impossibility of having objective measures by which to qualify art as ‘good’, ‘rich artist = good artist’ is also an equation that artists are confronted with. I have often been asked how much money I make or how many pieces I’ve sold by people who are not involved in art in any way. It's one way for them to determine whether I’m a ‘good’ artist, or even a 'real' artist, in the absence of any objective proof.

Much as I dislike this attitude and find it offensive, I feel it is less dangerous than the one that posits that to be an artist you have to accept poverty as the price to pay for your choice in the sense that the sacrifice is a moral necessity rather than an acceptance of the real state of the art market. I find that voluntary poverty smacks too much of asceticism. And asceticism comes with the notion of sacrifice for some higher good or some moralistic purpose.

That art school graduates expect to exhibit straightaway and make money as artists seems to me to be sweetly unrealistic but does not make me question their motivations for becoming artists. There may be a few deluded people who decide to become artists because they think they will become rich, but they can only be few and far between and possibly clinically insane. However, I see nothing wrong morally with hoping to make a living out of a career choice, even if that career choice is art. And there are a few people who actually do make good money out of their art, though they are aberrations in the world of art where even artists who have achieved critical acclaim, are represented by well-known galleries and whose work is in museum collections still have day jobs.

In what way can the motivations of young artists be called into doubt because they feel they are entitled to earn money like anybody else who chooses and starts a profession? Only if one sees art as a calling, much like the one a missionary receives from some higher being, to give up all material pretensions and march off into the wilderness to convert the unbelieving. I understand that many artists feel that they were answering some kind of call to become an artist, that they felt they were ‘different’ or ‘outsiders’ and that they didn’t fit in with mainstream expectations of what they should be. But we are doing ourselves a disservice by setting ourselves up as beings who should be entirely unmaterialistic. It means that the term ‘artist’ takes on either quasi-religious undertones or the vision of the artist as mad-and-solitary-genius which makes it a heavy one to attribute to oneself.

We can’t stop other people seeing artists a certain way, but I certainly think we can stop making it more difficult for each other to call ourselves artists. We can use all kinds of adjectives to categorize artists: professional, amateur, hobby, graphic, part-time, full-time, etc. We can make art that is mystical and transcendental without having to set ourselves up as mystics or gurus. Let’s leave the value judgment for the work itself, whatever we choose those criteria for judgment to be.  

From Kenneth Garber:
Wow, what a question. There are so many possible answers. The one that comes first to mind is that I was young and innocent enough to believe I could pursue an activity that gave me more pleasure and emotional/intellectual engagement than anything else I had ever come across, and that I could actually support myself doing so. I was also lucky enough to come of age at a time when there was enough general societal affluence to encourage such a belief.

I'm not sure that I ever thought I could support myself simply by making art. I always assumed that I would have to teach in order to have the financial security that was very important to me. Having grown up in a working class family in which financial concerns were often an issue, the idea of being a "starving artist" held no particular appeal. I guess it would be fair to say that my love of making art was counter-balanced by my perceived security needs.

It's also true that working as an artist was a kind of play for me. I can't say that I ever had any grand ideas to express, or had any major artistic ambitions. I simply loved to watch and respond as an idea for some object emerged in my imagination and then became flesh, so to speak, as I worked with my media. I think that when I gave myself permission to become an artist rather than an art historian, I was also giving myself permission to be more authentically who I am. In Joseph Campbell's terminology, I was giving myself permission to "follow my own bliss." That's what I thought I was doing at the time anyway.

So the short answer to your question is that I was following my bliss. The fact that I could in no way describe the past 40 years as unmitigated bliss does not make me regret the choice I made. I have had more moments of meaningful engagement as an artist than I can imagine ever having had doing anything else. It turns out that bliss is a moving target.

I hope that this answer hasn't been too long. I'm more used to surveys with little bubbles set in columns labeled "strongly agree", "somewhat agree", "strongly disagree", etc. This has been a kind of free verse survey.  

From Meredith Lippman:
I wanted to create something magnificent and uniquely me visually. I also felt that art meshed both my mind and my hands and gave me a sense of individuality, independence and challenge.

By the way if you had just paid out over $160,000 for undergrad and another $60K + for grad school, you also would want to hit it big and exhibit quickly. That might have something to do with it. Then there's always the discussion about Saatchi and what he has done to the "art market" and youthful star making.

Actually, I think these are exciting times for art - fast and furious.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Some Useful Resources

I added some links to the "Resources" sidebar:

The Artists Foundation is based in Boston, but it has practical information for all artists on such topics as writing a resume or grant application, and information on copyrights, studio spaces and gallery relations.

Edward Winkleman offers the best advice on getting a gallery I ever came across; and it's written by an experienced art dealer, and one of the best art bloggers out there.

The Foundation Center is an enormous (too big) resource for grants. It has everything!

New York Artists Equity is a way to get group health insurance and other services.

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts provides legal services to artists and information about such things as intellectual property rights and contracts with galleries.

Please comment if you have other suggestions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Younger Than Jesus" Panel Discussion

Last Saturday the New Museum organized a panel discussion titled YTJ: Then and Now: Redefining Generations. On the panel were Carroll Dunham, Joan Jonas, and Mira Schor -- all mature, established artists. It was moderated by 28-year old Brian Sholis, a free-lance critic the New Museum hired to put together a resource center for the YTJ show.

The panel, including Brian Sholis, all teach, and they unanimously agreed that their students have extensive “horizontal knowledge” -- knowledge about what's happening now, but little “vertical” knowledge. They are indifferent to the past (including past art), even the fairly recent past.

I really doubt if it’s a cause for concern, and I expect that these young artists, like we did, will become more interested in learning about the past as they get older and as their art evolves. I remember the disdain my generation (sixties hippiedom) had for anyone older than thirty and for any music beside Rock and Roll. We grew out of it and so will they.

I think a more important observation the panel made is that today’s art students and young artists generally expect to exhibit right away and make money as artists. True or not, this indicates a radical change in the perception of art world economics. These kids, if I may call them that (after all, 33 is old enough to have teenage children or even start a religion) use the term “art practice” a lot -- a phrase I find jarring -- and most colleges and art schools now offer “professional development” courses, and dealers recruit artists right out of graduate school. This would have been completely unheard of in my generation. We never expected to make money or even exhibit all that much, and the few artists that did make money were somehow suspect.

I’m not saying that the old attitude was a good thing -- it wasn’t, and it screwed up the lives of many artists, including the Abstract Expressionists. Nevertheless, as Carroll Dunham pointed out, lack of exposure allowed him to spend 6 or 7 years working things out in private. He didn’t think it would have been possible for him to grow as an artist without that.

But that was back then. What I think is most interesting is these kids don’t seem to need private time to find themselves or to work things out. They are so used to revealing themselves in their websites, Facebook, text-ing, etc., that public presentation is natural to them. They have the confidence (I’m tempted to say arrogance) to just throw it all out there for everyone to see, with no inhibition. Good for them!

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Younger Than Jesus" at the New Museum

Jerry Saltz, in his New York Magazine review of “Younger Than Jesus,” the encyclopedic survey of art made by artists younger than 33-years old now at the New Museum, says: "None of these artists is trying to advance the teleological ball or invent new forms."

I’m not so sure. That is, I haven’t yet decided if what I’m seeing (and hearing) is merely a mishmash cacophony of disparate ideas typical of young artist overstatement, or if this is a new aesthetic. Probably both.

Pop Art in the sixties dealt with the onslaught of advertising and other mass media -- a uniquely 20th century phenomenon. The 21st century has expanded the onslaught to video, computer games, omnipresent music and networking, and all kinds of interactive media.

Perhaps more significant, the tools (Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, GarageBand, etc.) to engage in the constant interactivity and sensory overload that are the lives these YTJ artists now live, are readily available and are second nature to them.

Typical of this possibly new aesthetic, and getting a lot of attention, are Ryan Trecatin’s installations. They include the obligatory videos, in his case of frantic, fast-talking, gender ambiguous kids (many played by himself). A part of me wants to put the work down as narcissistic, childish fantasy, but it has a chaotic energy and confidence bordering on arrogance that needs to be taken seriously.

Ryan Trecartin, Re’Search Wait’S (Edit 1: Missing Re’Search Corruption Budget), 2009 Courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee, New York

About a third of the works in the exhibition don’t fit this model. One in particular that I liked is Cyprien Gaillard's mesmerizing and disturbing video in three parts, Desniansky Raion, 2007. In one “scene,” large gangs of Russian youths gather and charge each other, viciously fighting until one of the gangs runs away; another is a dizzying flight over a bleak, snowy Russian housing complex (the source of the gang’s brutality?); and a hauntingly beautiful scene entailing a light show projected on another large apartment building with fireworks thrown in. The grand finale is the sudden imploding of the building -- horrifyingly reminiscent of 9/11.

Cyprien Gaillard, Desniansky Raion, 2007. Digital video, color, sound, 30 min, Courtesy Cosmic Galerie, Paris

Several videos of the exhibition can be found on YouTube. Here’s one by James Kalm that gives a good overview with little editorializing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvXbCmxknyI

Friday, April 17, 2009

DUMBO

I was going to do a guide for DUMBO but there really isn't a heck of a lot there now. There's Smack Mellon, 92 Plymouth Street, and the DUMBO Arts Center around the corner at 30 Washington Street -- both great -- and about nine or ten so-so galleries on the second floor of 111 Front Street. That's pretty much it. Many galleries closed. (I heard about one that closed because they were robbed too many times -- and they were on the ELEVENTH FLOOR!) Many others are really design or clothing stores.

Of course, aside from Smack Mellon and the DUMBO arts Center, it's worth going to DUMBO for some of the most dramatic urban views you'll ever see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jersey Journal cuts out Art (and sports)

It looks like the Jersey Journal is sticking around: limping on to see another day--minus a few staff members--including arts editor Jeff Theodore and sports reporter Leon Banks. I'm curious how many writers the paper can actually cut until it reverts to only carrying syndicated news (AP anyone?). I suppose we'll see.

Though I didn't always appreciate the type of coverage given to the arts in the Journal--the *aww, feel good, let's be pc!* kind that negates creativity to the level of goopy precious moments-- now that Jeff has gone the way of the passenger pigeon...what's next?

A quick call to the Journal later and it seems the Independent knew what was up before the receptionist. The writers accepting the buyout leave at the end of this week, and after that, there isn't yet an official plan for who will be accepting story submissions, or writing content.

Tough times for journalism, tough times for art. The Journal editorial director will be calling back once he gets a handle on where local arts coverage will go from here--hopefully we'll still have a place in print.

Friday, April 3, 2009

WILLIAMSBURG ART GALLERIES - A Self-guided Walking Tour


NOTE: You can download a PDF of the entire tour by clicking on the link in Downloads on the sidebar to the right.

Williamsburg, like the Lower East Side, and unlike Chelsea, is an interesting place to walk around just for its own sake. There are some seedy or dilapidated areas, but it’s relatively safe. Also, like the Lower East Side, the gallery dealers are friendly and like to talk about the work.

Most galleries are open Wednesday - Saturday, 12 - 6, and many are also open Sundays -- but it’s a good idea to call ahead if you’re going for a particular show. Galleries often install new shows on Thursdays, especially the first Thursday of the month. Links to the gallery websites are provided here, and WAGMAG is a great source of current listings for not only Williamsburg but
for the rest of Brooklyn; and they also have good
maps.


I did my best to be accurate, but please post comments about changes you think might be necessary. I'll try to update this guide on a regular basis.

_________________


From the Bedford Ave. stop on the L train, exit Driggs Ave. (toward the front of the train if you’re coming from Manhattan) and exit to the right. You’ll come up at Driggs Av. and N. 7th Street. Walk straight ahead on N. 7th St. 1 block to Roebling Street and turn right. Walk 2 1/2 blocks on Roebling to:

A. McCaig-Welles Gallery 129 Roebling St

Continue on Roebling, cross Metropolitan Ave., on the left side of Roebling to:

B. The Front Room, 147 Roebling St, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (up a few stairs)

Continue on Roebling St 1/2 block, Turn left at Hope St for 1 block and right at Havemeyer St, it’ll be right there on the left:

C. Cinders Gallery, 103 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Go back to Hope Street and continue down the block. At the corner of Marcy Ave. on Hope Street is:

D. C.C.C.P. Gallery; and around the corner, to the left is:
Dam, Stuhltrager, 38 Marcy Ave.

The next gallery is a little out of the way, but it’s a good gallery in an interesting neighborhood. Continue on Marcy to Metropolitan and turn right, walk under the BQE and take your first right on Union, the gallery will be on the left.

E. Klaus von Nichtssagend, 438 Union Ave.

Go back to the Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery by reversing direction on Union Ave and turning left on Metropolitan and left again at Marcy. Continue on Marcy past the gallery to Grand Street and turn right. On the left side will be:

F. The Hogar Collection, 362 Grand St

Continuing on Grand St about half a block after Havemeyer St on the right is:

G. Ch’i Contemporary Fine Art, 293 Grand St

Continue on Grand St to Roebling St, go left for about 2 1/2 blocks, on the right is:

H. Like the Spice Gallery, 224 Roebling St

Reverse direction on Roebling St to go back on Grand, turn left on Grand about half a block on the left is:

I. HQ, 236 Grand St (ring the bell)

Continue on Grand St past Driggs Ave on the right is:

J. Parkers Box, 193 Grand St

Continue on Grand St to the first right on Bedford Ave and turn right again on N 1st St. Just on the right is:

K. Journal Gallery, 168 N 1st St

Go back to Bedford but in the opposite direction (south) a few blocks on the left is:

L. Sideshow, 319 Bedford Ave

A couple of blocks further south on Bedford, on the left is:

M. Momenta Art, 359 Bedford Ave

Continuing on Bedford under the Williamsburg Bridge to Broadway, turn right to:

N. Capricious Space, 103 Broadway

Continue on Broadway to first right, Berry Street, walk about 7 blocks back to Grand Street and turn left on Grand, on the right, to:

O. Art 101, 101 Grand St

Continue on Grand to the first right, Wythe Ave. Walk 3 blocks on Wythe to N 3rd and go right to:

P. Stripeman Gallery, 97 N 3rd St

Return to Wythe, go right and walk to N. 6th and turn left. On the left is:

Q. SouthFirst, 60 N 6th St (Take a long hallway to the back)

LMAK projects, at the same address, occasionally has special exhibitions

N. 6th is an interesting street; you may want to walk up to Bedford and back.
Return to and continue north on Wythe a few blocks on the left to:


R. Slate Gallery, 136 Wythe Ave

Continue 5 more blocks on Wythe and turn right on 14th. (It’s out of the way but well worth it). On the left is:

S. Boiler - Pierogi, 191 N 14th St

Continue on N 14th St, go right on Berry St and left on N. 12th, along McCarren Park and turn right on Driggs for a couple of blocks. On the left will be:

T. Black & White Gallery, 483 Driggs Ave

And

U. Jack the Pelican Presents, 487 Driggs Ave

Continue on Driggs to the first right, N. 9th St. On the right is:

V. Pierogi 2000, 177 N 9th St

From here it’s close to the Bedford Ave. entrance to the L train. Continue walking on N. 9th to Bedford and turn left 2 blocks. It’ll be on N. 7th and Bedford.

JUST AN OBSERVATION



Picasso, Harlequin, 1915, MoMA

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Wandering German:Kippenberger at MoMA 2009




The Wandering German : Kippenberger at MoMA, 2009
by Tom McGlynn

But my soul wanders; I demand it back
To meditate amongst decay, and stand
A ruin amidst ruins; there to track
Fall'n states and buried greatness, o'er a land
Which was the mightiest in its old command

Byron, from Childe Harolds Pilgrimage

Martin Kippenberger, we hardly knew ye. The 2009 retrospective at MoMA attempts to change that. He was born in 1953 in Dortmund, Germany and was dead by 1997 in Vienna of liver cancer apparently brought on by his heavy drinking. The man-child had a wild ride in between, but not so much in the promised land.
Any narration of the post- Nazi era German art generation speaks of a political and aesthetic reaction formation that somehow morphs into contemporary art. Kiefer unfurls his leaden wings of desire over fallow fields of Brandenburg and keeps a flame in elegiac mead halls. Baselitz paints upside- down eagles and agonistics. Immendorf cruises the Reeperbahn for Café Deutschland. These older artists set the model for Kippenberger, that of the artist exiled within the ruins of his own culture.
In my own wandering youth there used to be a common clichĂ© that no matter how remote a place you would up in the world, there also would appear a German tourist. I myself have encountered them on tops of out of the way Mexican pyramids and in the middle of the woods in British Columbia. While not so unusual given these are tourist destinations, it always struck me how often it was Germans I would run into. One of Kippenberger’s much younger fellow alumni from the Hamburg Hochschule Fur Kunst, Franz Ackermann, established his painting career as a peripatetic field correspondent of world psycho geography. The restless urge to leave home pervades much of the Kippenberger show. It’s also evident that no matter how far he ran from Germany, he didn’t hide from its residual cultural influence.
One of the most content rich walls in the exhibition is composed of the artist’s diaristic drawings on hotel stationary gleaned from his rambling ways. Arranged in a rough grid, the drawings graphically capture stream of consciousness reportage, moments of psychic lucidity in spurts of activity and languor. One memorable work has the artist depicting himself pulling on jackboots in a purple Santa suit as if drawn by Tom of Finland! Another, seemingly more personal sketch has the artist sobbing in the arms of a comforting woman friend wearing a Russian fur hat in the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo. These two drawings typify the artist’s swing between hyperbolic ironic self- caricature and his exposure of the real and vulnerable artist’s self. Kippenberger’s obsessive self - depiction never fully falls into the maudlin or solipsistic because of this range of styles and perspectives. He leaves Germany behind and with it to some degree his fundamental self. But like Joyce in self- exile in Trieste, he channeled himself into one of the most eloquent interlocutors of his inherited culture.
There is a large dollop of self -promoting and self mythification in Kippenberger’s work, the lessons of Beuys not being lost on him. What prevents this from taking over the conceptual and formal aspects of his work is that he makes it so obvious as to let the viewer participate in his parody of the auteur. He’s like the friend that we all have or have had who is a major fuck up but you can’t help but love him because of his crazy self- deflating humor.
One of my favorite paintings in the show is entitled “Down with Inflation”. It depicts a man in a suit (the artist?) in a suit and tie, from his waist down in white boxer shorts, with his pants around his legs. This image is juxtaposed with a generic looking exercise machine. Kippenberger simultaneously invokes business economics, slapstick comedy, feminist critique and Duchamp in a painting held together with his idiosyncratic color that is reminiscent of pop streetscapes I have seen in Hamburg and Berlin. A faded purple and a chromate yellow offset a deep blue and red orange. The painting could also be read as an artistic in -joke referring to the mercurial rise in contemporary art prices in the mid eighties.
During that time, in 1985, I recall meeting the artist at a party at Max Hetzler’s apartment in Cologne, Jeff Koons was also there, having recently shown some of his stainless steel kitsch sculptures at Hetzler’s gallery. Their stylistic contrasts were interesting. Koons was in a business suit without a tie and Kippenberger in a denim jacket with a tie. You might call it an aesthetic contest between a stealth bomber and a Stuka. Both artists had a relationship to kitsch that defined them as artifacts of their own culture. One could generalize and say that the (then) West German relationship to the jumble shop of Modernism was more dowdy and fuzzy, more gemutlicht than cold and streamlined American pop. This was just before the world homogenization of pop subcultures via the Internet so there was still an intriguing frisson between the two.
In a lot of his paintings and sculptures Kippenberger revels in this cozy corner of post war design mostly gathered from second hand shops in Europe but also in California where he touched down briefly later in his career. The American West would draw him to pose in one photo included in the show, on an incongruously small pony in Monument Valley, his feet almost touching the ground Buster Keaton-like. His main style, though, might be called West German Post Modern, in the sense of the postmodern being a critique of the Modern, but not actually after. This is a large reason why his work looks so good in MoMA. It is as if the prodigal son had posthumously returned home. Mondrian’s grid, or the scaffolding of classic Modernism, underpins much of his work. The curators seem to have a sense of this since the entrance to the exhibit is taken up with a pseudo artist’s garret a la the reconstruction of Modrian’s studio in that artist’s MoMA retrospective. Along these lines also was Kippenberger’s reference to Picasso (another of MoMA’s boys) in his late paintings entitled The Paintings that Picasso Couldn’t Paint Anymore.
The gesamtwerk of the artist’s sense of ragged modernist glory is the sprawling piece in the atrium gallery entitled, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika. It is a recreation of an installation he did in Rotterdam in 1994. In Diedrich Diedrichsen’s catalogue essay, The Poor Man’s Sports Car Descending a Staircase, the author makes some interesting points about Kippenberger’s unique relationship to sculpture. He likens its realization to casual and causal conversations between the artist, his assistants who often fabricated the works (often through miscommunication with the artist), and ultimately the audience who would have to deal with this “tremendous quantity of signs and stimuli, all of which have to be processed simultaneously.” Kafka’s work offers a great template for Kippenberger in the writer’s famous habit of making figurative metaphor literal. The viewer of this work perceives an archive of specific situational dialectics played out in the repeated motif of two chairs facing each other over a table. The quotidian aspect of the junk store furniture is interspersed with exotically transformed and manipulated sculptural fabrications that include (but are not limited to) sidewalk- sold African sculptures, a life sized Barbie bathtub and two prison guard towers diametrically matched with two lifeguard towers. This piece contains the kind of catholic ambition one would like to see more in younger artists of the same DIY ilk such as Thomas Hirschorn.
When one reflects upon the influence of Kippenberger and his like minded partners in art crime Werner Beuttner and the brothers Oehlen, one senses that their bemused reaction to the impending mopping up of the last entrails of modern romanticism by international yuppiedom offers an important lesson in the facility of being at the wrong place at the right time, and that perhaps the wandering German is best left afield.

Not-for-profit not so good?

Firings at Parsons and the New School, layoffs at the Met, the visual arts are definitely in the throws of a funding crisis. But as I made my way back to Jersey after an interview with Robert Elmes, the founder of Galapagos Artspace in Brooklyn, I couldn't help but feel that it is how we think about arts funding that has gotten us, as cultural producers, into trouble.

Most arts organizations, community performing arts venues, and museums are not-for-profit. There are a few out there who choose to buck the system and actually try to make money, but, for the most part, we're a low-budget enterprise whose main concern is the quality and content of artistic programming- not the pursuit of the ever illusive $. Or, at least, we are in theory.

According to Robert, non-profits spend 30% of their time trying to find funding sources, and having had experience working in museums and arts non-profits, I'd say the percentage is even higher. Especially when you include the time spent planning donor galas, member newsletters, the myriad of "support" materials that are supposed to help your bottom line, and the hours clocked by the interns who normally take the brunt of all this grunt work but never seem to make it into statistics.

The problem is twofold: that, even in the best of times, organizations are still spending at least 30% of their time looking for money, and that--in the worst of times--when this support suddenly vanishes, *poof*, so too does your main source of income followed by most of your programming.

Robert's idea in starting Galapagos was not a radical one: create a performing art space open to all that showed content people in the community cared enough about to come and see. Having lived through three "mini-recessions", one attempt to starve the NEA of all funding, and the failure of his first art venue due to a lack of calamity planning (a couch caught on fire and burned out the roof), he didn't want to rely on external organizations for funds. He decided rather, to pursue the radical notion of creating a by-the-people-for-the-people art space that would actually make money.

The idea is that if an organization (or dare I say business?) spends 30% of its time on marketing instead of searching for cash, they will be able to develop a way to ride out the uneven waves of foundation funding through solid income. Makes sense. And you'd have the added incentive to keep producing new and different content (as opposed to resting on your laurels because a grant came through and now you just have to spend it in accordance with your proposal) because if you don't, you're out of business.

This does assume that the individuals involved really care about producing upright, quality work, that people will recognize good content paired with excellent branding, and that the business model is solid enough to be sustainable, but it's an interesting alternative to the ubiquitously struggling arts non-profit.

And Galapagos is working. Established, wiser, and (according to Robert) riding out this big R in good shape. They now have seven resident artists, a way-cool floor with water pools, a new building in the heart of DUMBO, and ever-evolving content. Plus a fabulous aerial dance troupe booked for an upcoming show (I caught the end of their rehearsal).

Maybe being not-for-profit isn't all it's cracked up to be.