The Yes Men’s New York Times Edition: Iraq War Ends

November 12, 2008

yesmen_nytThe Yes Men deliver another fake! BBC reports that the interventionist art/activist group distributed 1.2 million free copies of a fake New York Times edition in New York and Los Angeles. The headlines: Iraq War Ends. The date: July 4, 2009. Replacing the NYT’s venerable “All The News That’s Fit To Print”: All The News We Hope To Print.

70 years ago, Orson Welles’ radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” sparked mayhem because listeners mistook scripted fiction for real-time fact. Today, The Yes Men are taking this a step further by simply turning the dates forward.

Is this a fake NYTimes, as the BBC describes the action? Or is it prophetic? Is this a fake-real paper or a real-fake paper?

Certainly, my fingers are crossed that come July 4th, 2009, the NYTimes WILL, in fact, read: Iraq War Ends.

Ah… art. One small step for The Yes Men, a big leap for humankind. Nothing like putting something out into the universe I’m told.


Disappointing Sale of Freud Painting Signals Deepening Crisis

October 19, 2008

Lucian Freud’s unfinished portrait (1956-7) of his friend Francis Bacon had many in the global art market holding their breaths. Up for auction tonight at Christie’s in London, the painting was expected to fetch £7 million. Bloomberg reports that it sold for much less: £5.4 million.

After lower-than-expected contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s, Frieze, and now Christie’s, dealers consider the Freud sale to be a sign of a stalling global market and a deepening financial crisis.

The Independent on Sunday reports great apprehension:

The global art market is all but dead already, except for buyers of ‘trophy art’ whose fortunes have previously seemed unassailable. If they stop bidding, prices will plummet.

Freud’s portrait was considered a harbinger for super-rich spending. The fact that it sold for less than expected (although still above the presale low estimate of £5 million) indicates that even trophy buyers are cutting back.

Fasten your seatbelts. Turbulence ahead.


Two Artworks Use People as Primary Material

July 7, 2008

Regular People: it’s the art material of the moment.

Last week, Turner Prize winner Antony Gormley won a turn at creating a temporary public artwork for London’s Trafalgar Square. The site is the square’s empty fourth plinth, which has become both a stage for contemporary art experiments and a critical platform from which to question what constitutes a “public”.

The piece is called “The One and The Other”. 2,400 volunteers will occupy the plinth one at a time, for an hour each, 24/7 for a hundred days. These human subjects individually and collectively become the art objects.

In the Independent, Gormley describes:

It’s an opportunity to perform an act of collective creativity, people contributing one hour of their lives that represents Britain now… the exercise will present a national portrait of this time.

…it will be a moment of theatre, someone lifted from common ground and made into an image when they are on top of the plinth … It will be a spectacle, but I’m also concerned about the subjects, what they learn about themselves, exposed in a public arena.

Over at the Tate, another Turner prize winner Martin Creed is exhibiting his new piece “Work No 850”. It consists of a runner sprinting the entire length of the Tate’s neoclassical sculpture galleries. The 86-metre sprints will be “performed” every 30 seconds, from 10am to 6pm, for four months.

In the Telegraph, Creed explains:

Running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So running fast is like the exact opposite of death – it’s an example of aliveness.

While both artists are saying that they are celebrating human-ness, these projects (and similar others) make me uncomfortable. I can’t help thinking that regular people are being turned into material objects intended for display and commodification.

There’s a deep, underlying violence to these creative acts. And neither artist seems to have a clue.

In 1904, a 22-year old pygmy named Ota Benga was taken from his home in the Congo, exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then put on display as a caged animal in the Bronx Zoo. 40,000 visitors came each day. (He was “rescued” but eventually killed himself.)

It’s 2008. I’m not sure how these artists differ from Ota Benga’s zookeepers a hundred years ago. As they say, the more things change…


Australian Authorities Drop Sex Crime Charges Against Artist… and Bust 42 Queenslanders

June 6, 2008

On Cafe Philos this morning: Australian police have decided NOT to prosecute artist Bill Henson and his gallery Roslyn Oxley9 on charges of pornography. They were following the advice of Nicholas Cowdery, NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, who felt there was no reasonable prospect of conviction, particularly in this complex and “notoriously difficult” area involving law and art.

In smh, Assistant Commissioner Catherine Burn said the police jumped into action after receiving THREE complaints, adding that they “would respond if there was one complaint from the public… It is the role of the police to respond to community concerns and investigate complaints.” Burn did not explain how or why one complaint constitutes a public. Three complaints must have felt like a national movement.

Playing politics, Social Conservative Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has both backed down and not backed down from his condemnation of Henson’s work (previously described as “revolting”). In the same smh report:

I said what my views are as a parent, I don’t budge from that. But I’m not about to go around and start dictating to the legal authorities what they should or should not do… Organisations like that are at arm’s length from politicians…

Meanwhile, in northeastern Australia, police have arrested 42 Queenslanders in one the nation’s biggest pedophile busts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson expects to charge 70 to 80 more people over the next fortnight as part of state and federal efforts to bust a global child pornography network.

A 59-year-old teacher charged over the bust has committed suicide. A second teacher, 48, is recovering after a failed suicide attempt. A parliamentarian declared that society would be better off if pedophiles committed suicide before they abused children.

These two near-simultaneous events in Australia (Henson’s liberation and the Queensland arrests) are fueling the fires of highly-combustible debates about rights and responsibilities in an increasingly technological, globalized, and some say (sadly) post-human, civilization.

Our societies are collective works in progress. And our individual humanities are all we have. It is absolutely crucial that we continue to negotiate both — without wishing death or violence on anyone. Life is not a zero-sum game.

See blixity’s previous post on Bill Henson’s case.


Public Art In New York City: The Big Money Behind Waterfalls

June 3, 2008

NYT art critic Carol Vogel wrote yesterday about an ambitious public art project going up in New York waters this summer: 4 humanmade waterfalls by Berlin-based Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

eliasson waterOrganized by the Public Art Fund and the City of New York, the waterfall constructions range from 90-120 feet in height and will be on from June 26 to October 13, from 7am to 10pm. Locations: (1) Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge, (2) eastern foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, (3) between Piers 4 and 5 near Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and (4) north shore of Governors Island.

According to Vogel, the project is

…the city’s biggest public art project since “The Gates”, the $20 million effort by the artists Christo and Jean-Claude in which 7,500 gates festooned with saffron-colored fabric panels were positioned along Central Park’s pathways for 16 days in 2005.

The Christos certainly proved that public art = mass entertainment = big money. Vogel reports that “The Gates” generated an estimated $254 million in economic activity for the city. Return on investment? A whopping 1,270%.

Eliasson’s waterfalls will cost $15 million (all reportedly from private sources). Using the same rate of return, that could bring in over $190 million to New York City. Even half of that would certainly help budget officials deal with sluggish revenues in a recessionary climate. No wonder Mayor Bloomberg’s office is “eager to be involved”. Projects like these turn the city itself into a commodity that can be marketed and consumed.

Already, hotels and tourist agencies are hawking special waterfall packages. The Circle Line Downtown is selling excursions, some with audio by the artist himself. And in a brilliant stroke of pre-event marketing: MoMA and P.S. 1 are currently exhibiting surveys of Eliasson’s work thru June 30. Art is big money.

So, support New York this summer. Go chase some waterfalls! (Did anyone say environmental impact report? Maybe we’ll see that in a few years…)


Censoring Bill Henson: Government, God, and Gallery

June 2, 2008

Australian authorities took down Bill Henson’s purportedly pornographic photographs from his gallery, Roslyn Oxley9, on May 22, and the battle between public good and private expression continues.

On the right: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd leading the charge with: “I think [the photographs] are revolting… kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected.” On the left: the arts community, led by playwright Michael Gow and writer Alison Croggon, armed with an open letter asking politicians to rethink their positions. (Apparently novelist John Coetzee and actress Cate Blanchett are now among the signatories.)

Taking a broader perspective, Richard Phillips wrote in wsws last Friday about the scapegoating of Bill Henson and the ensuing witch hunt:

Rudd and the rest of the Labor leadership have seized on the Henson issue as a diversion from mounting social tensions resulting from the rapid rise in the cost of living and growing hostility—just six months after its election—to the Labor government… Rudd Labor is trying to develop a political constituency among the extreme right, Christian fundamentalists and other disoriented layers to use as a means of intimidating and suppressing critical thought…

Another perspective to consider is the gallery’s role in supporting their artists. The owners, Roslyn and Tony Oxley, have largely complied with authorities. Following the police raid, this “Media Statement” went up on their website, essentially acknowledging self-censorship.

rosoxleyweb

I cannot claim to know their full position on this. And I understand they are facing death threats and criminal charges — sincerely, who can blame them for compliance.

But I am disappointed and confused about Roslyn Oxley9’s silence. As of this writing, their website’s “NEWS” section still has NOTHING about the debates unfolding around Henson — a story that could become the Australian counterpart to the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy (to name just one) in American art.

Ironically, this is in their website’s “About The Gallery” section:

Since 1982, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been committed to the advancement of the most serious and innovative forms of contemporary art.

Through its exhibition program the gallery has supported work that is challenging and at the forefront of contemporary art practice.

The gallery’s silence suggests there are limits to such commitment and support. The obvious gap between what they say and what they do is troubling. This is NOT an attempt to prescribe. This is an attempt to raise a broader question: What role should a private gallery (i.e., no public funding) play in advocating for critical thought and expression — particularly in an increasingly conservative sociopolitical climate?

(See blixity’s previous post on this.)


Oil-Rich Abu Dhabi Hosts First Picasso Exhibition in the Arab World

May 27, 2008

emiratesMajor works by Pablo Picasso are now on view for the first time in the Arab world. The retrospective, “Picasso Abu Dhabi: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris”, will be at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi from May 27 to September 4, 2008. It is the only Middle Eastern venue on the show’s 9-city tour.

The exhibition was originally curated by Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, where it went on display in February with 400 of the artist’s works. Abu Dhabi’s version has only 186, but includes a special exhibition of “40 drawings, prints and illuminated manuscripts reminiscent of the Arab influences Picasso absorbed during his youth in Málaga, La Cocina and Barcelona.” It was curated by Anne Baldassari of the Musée National Picasso (who I suppose knows why more than 50% of the original group is NOT on view in the emirates’ capital.)

While major U.S. news sites have done little more than run a generic AP article about the opening, this represents a significant public relations move for the UAE and the Middle East in general, and for Abu Dhabi in particular. The richest of the seven emirates, oil-rich Abu Dhabi is rapidly transforming itself into a sophisticated cross-cultural destination (unlike its flashier neighbor, Dubai). Already, it is the future site of a Guggenheim, a Louvre, a New York University campus, as well as a performing arts center, maritime museum and a national museum named after Sheikh Zayed, the main driving force behind the UAE’s formation.

Remarkable growth for a nation that paved its first road in 1961. As Americans face a summer (or more) of skyrocketing gas prices, art openings like this hint at who’s at the other end of the pump. Culture flows in the direction of capital.

Photo: Emirates Palace at dusk, by Jake Brewer on flickr