Tuesday, July 30, 2013

DIA's Museum Director Chastises the NY Times

After two months of hectic coverage, I call upon journalists to resist the temptation to jump to disaster scenarios or to make the D.I.A.’s singular and highly complicated situation part of a broader story about the structural challenges faced by museums in general.
Graham W. J. Beal, Director, Detroit Institue of Art, in his letter to the NY Times.

Does the DIA's "trust doctrine" Trump the Rights of Creditors?

The Connecticut Law Tribune on whether the Detroit Institute of Art's "trust doctrine" will trump the rights of the creditors and whether Detroit's predicament will influence the generosity of potential donors of art to museums.

Good read. 


Monday, July 29, 2013

Some Good News: Museum Buys Art Work

Among all the latest chatter, gossip, opining, and opinionated meanderings, we have some good news from the museum world. The Cincinnati Art Museum has just bought its first Georgia O'Keeffe. Yes, bought, not deaccessioned.
The museum paid more than $1.8 million for its first O’Keeffe. It will go on exhibit in time for Labor Day Weekend, in a small, second-floor gallery.


Art Intelligentsia Not Too Happy with Christie's

The Detroit Free Press opines. Not too happy at the sight of vultures flying in.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Schjeldahl Flip-Flops, Says DIA Art Should Stay

I wonder what made Mr. Schjeldahl change course? Or rather, I wonder how much time he actually spent thinking through his first opinion where he championed selling the Detroit Institute of Art's collection to help save moribund pensions. What changed?

Mr. Schjeldahl claims to now have a "sounder grasp" of the issues involved. No offense to Mr. Schjeldahl, but these issues don't seem that complex to me. Mr. Schjeldahl claims that selling the art would not bring "dollar-for-dollar" relief to Detroit's pensioners, but that was evident from the start. He also claims sentimentality when he gives a vivid description--from his friend--of countless individuals who no longer would be able to view their favorite artworks; presumably individuals in no need of an ambulance, police car or fire truck.

I respect a person's decision to switch sides; I do it all the time. What's of import, however, are the reasons for the flip-flopping or, rather, the sound reasons. Mr. Schjeldahl argument that selling of DIA's collection would "stagger even today's inflated [art] market" serves only to uphold my initial argument that those arguing, sentimentally, against the sale of the artworks are "those who read the New Yorker and those who blog about art simply to create cultural capital." In other words, those that have an investment in the so-called art market and its ideologies.

I'm friends with Hrag Vartanian, who I believe accused Mr. Schjeldahl of suggesting that Greece sell the Parthenon to pay its crippling national debt. Apples to oranges? Perhaps. But more interestingly it's how "culture" is pre-defined as "Culture." Where is the cultural-elite's cry when a sports team decamps from one city to a more profitable metropolis (see the Los Angeles Raiders and the St. Louis Rams, to name only two)? What aggravates me most about this position is that it completely obliterates Detroit's existing culture(s). It's as if Detroit would be left cultureless should the DIA sell off its collection. In the words of theorist, Raymond Williams, culture is ordinary.

Lastly, I'm getting very tired of hearing cultural elites cry demand that someone--usually a writer--be fired every time that writers pens an opinion contrary to the politically correct ideologies of the leftist intelligentsia. I say this not as a lawyer in favor of the First Amendment; I say this as an artist invested in free speech and robust debate. Let's end the calls and petitions for the firing of writers and artist, for we all very well know where that road leads. As Mr. Vartanian aptly showed with his Hyperallergic article, the laptop is mightier than the sword.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Should Detroit Sell Its Musty Art?

It's rare when a respected art critic takes a position "against" art. I put "against" in quotes because in this case Peter Schjeldahl isn't really taking a position against art per se, but rather a position that I have endorsed before: why do we continue to romanticize art and its function? Why do we continue to inject an aura into the art object?

In Schjeldahl's view, art-is-art, or better yet, the Detroit Institute of Art's collection is plop art--art whose meaning remains the same regardless of context.
At any rate, they are hardly altered by inhabiting one building rather than another. The relationship of art to the institutions that house and display it is a marriage of convenience, with self-interest on both sides, and not an ineluctable romance.
In other words the DIA collection isn't site-specific art. We're not talking about the Spiral Jetty or Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument. In fact, Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument is a perfect example of why the DIA should sell its collection: there's a difference between having access to art making and culture and having an art collection that attracts tourists (if that) yet ignores the local citizenry.

Hirschhorn's monument takes place on the grounds of Forest Houses, a New York City Housing Authority development in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx, New York. Here's an edited description of the project via The DIA Art Foundation website.
Constructed by residents of Forest Houses, the artwork takes the form of an outdoor structure comprised of numerous pavilions. Gramsci Monument will offer a daily program of lectures by philosopher Marcus Steinweg, a children's workshop run by artist Lex Brown, a radio station, happy hour, and a daily newspaper. Weekly programs include a play titled Gramsci Theater, Gramsci Seminars led by international scholars, Poetry Lectures and Workshops led by poets and writers, Art Workshops led by Hirschhorn, open microphone events coordinated by the community, and field trips organized by the project’s “ambassador[.]”
Similar to Hirschhorn's project, I believe that what the city of Detroit needs is hands-on culture-making; not hand wringing. No, not every person should have the chance to see art or to live down the street from it. Rather, they should have the chance to create their own version of art and culture and not one dictated by those who read the New Yorker or those who blog about art simply to create cultural capital.

However, I do part ways with Schjeldahl in his belief that museums bestow a sense of identity and self-esteem "even on people who never visit them." In this regard, Schjeldahl continues to romanticize and idealize the so-called "power" of art institutions while perpetuating archaic and pernicious ideologies of Western culture.

In the end, not everyone "gets"museum art, art criticism or art history. As Mike Kelley once said, you can't foist art on people. If the people of Detroit don't care about art, don't want access to it, don't want to live down the street from it, or simply don't get it, then what's the loss?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Breaking: Detroit bankruptcy valid, judge rules

Via Bloomberg News. NBC has an update here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Detroit, Should We Keep Art "that the well to do like to oooh and aaah at?"

Forbes contributor Tim Worstall says..."What is it that we’re supposed to care about? A few pieces of canvas or real lives as they are actually lived?"

Who Will Benefit From Detroit's Demise? Lawyers.

Above the Law's Elie Mystal explains
Don’t worry, as usual there will be people making money in Detroit. It just won’t be the people who actually live there… 
So, there you have it. The Detroit Institute of Art's art collection may not end up paying for lights, police cars or pensions. It may, as sick as this may sound, end up lining the pockets of some firms that represent some of the corporations that helped to cause Detroit's mess. Who said Biglaw was dead?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

To Save Detroit, What Goes First, Pensions or Art?

I just read this article on The Telegraph concerning Detroit's bankruptcy issue and politics. One thing it makes clear is that capital "P" politics is now in play. Should Detroit get a federal bailout? It was a matter of time before the dreaded "B" word was lobbed around.

Before I opine, my immediate reaction would be "hell no." The last thing we need in this country is to incentivize irresponsible spending by municipalities all while guaranteeing that although local residents of a bankrupt city may not have streetlights, ambulances, and police cars they'll have pensions and access to Jackson Pollock's drip paintings.

One aspect I have been thinking about regarding Detroit's bankruptcy (regardless of how we spin it, let's call it what it is, it's a bankruptcy), is that it does call for us to reconfigure and redefine our notion of culture and, in relation to it, our definition of "value." What kind of culture do we value in this day and age? Does a contemporary city really need a museum and art collection that pretty much reiterates and replicates what other major museums in the U.S. already do? Does Detroit's mess not call for us to rethink what a city actually needs after the 2008 economic apocalypse? Are there not other forms of culture that a city like Detroit could use and, more importantly, may already have? If so, could these forms of culture not be funded--or partially funded--with a sale of the DIA collection?

Tied to this question is the thought of subsidies funding. I'm wondering how much of the revenue earned by local Detroit sports teams--the Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons--actually goes to the city of Detroit (and I'm not talking simply about employment of locals). If anyone knows, please feel free to opine or e-mail me.

More on this as I parcel out my thoughts.

In case you haven't read it yet, here's NY Times journalist Randy Kennedy's thoughts on Detroit.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Detroit, Resilience or Resignation?

Detroit, the one-time city giant, has filed for bankruptcy. As many of you know, the Detroit Institute of Art was reluctant, actually, aggressively adamant that they would not hold a fire sale to help Detroit out of its financial woes. They still hold this position.

Having just returned from a short stint in Detroit, I can honestly say that there are no words to describe the landscape of the city and of the people. Resilience or resignation? That's the question a friend of mine asked regarding the people of Detroit. I think it's both (or at least it's hard to tell). It's similar to being a Chicago Cubs fan on the one hand or being a sports writer and being assigned to cover the NY Mets. Resilience or resignation?

I loved my stay in Detroit, and I loved the people I met while I was there. I was given a "tour" of homes that were purchased for $100 and $500; both needing repairs but nonetheless, what does $500 get you in New York city, or any other city in the US? These homes were next to abandoned and empty lots; adjacent to armatures of homes charred to a crisp.

Detroit is decimated. As I drove around the city I could not help but feel that I was in the TV show, The Walking Dead. The city looked empty; abandoned. Streets need repair. I noticed one, yes, one police car the three days I was there (and that police car was in front of Comerica Park the night that the Detroit Tigers played the Texas Rangers).

A current question on the minds of artists, curators, and museums concerns the role that art and public museums play in relation to the public. Relating to the public generally means providing a wide array of culture and making it affordable and accessible. There comes a time, however, when an institution must reassess--on its own--its own duty to the city that it inhabits. It calls for us to reassess our notion of art and of culture. Where are our artists in this time of need?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Criticism Over Dia Foundation’s Plan to Sell Some Artworks

Not everyone is happy that the Dia Foundation is planning on selling a few notable works to raise funds for...more works. Now imagine if they were selling these works to pay the electric bill, or to fund the new Jay-Z video.

UPDATE: July 15, 2013

Donn Zaretsky wonders what would happen if the sales proceeds were used for something other than new art acquisitions.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not Even Art Can Save This City

Regarding the NY Times' latest article on the demise of the Motor City and the controversy over the potential fire sale of some art from the Detroit Institute of Art, Donn Zaretsky puts it quite bluntly, "sales of artwork won't make a lick of difference. The city's too far gone."

But hey, they do have the best hitter in baseball.