MBG Issue #197: Clues By The Thousands

Issue # 197

Clues By The Thousands

September 28, 2012

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“I Have Seen the Future” button, 1940. Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation / Harry Ransom Center. The pin is currently on display in the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.

from the editor

Before you get to the meat of this issue I would like to take a moment and remind you of our ongoing plea for funds. We are seeking a partner and major funder who is willing to support us with a significant donation for the coming years and are asking for your help. Please contact our publisher Laurence Miller at: lmiller@fluentcollab.org to discuss the possibilities of partnering with us here at ...might be good. As always, thank you for your consideration, support and readership.

This past weekend took me to Austin, as much to escape Houston, as to make the openings at The University of Texas’ Visual Arts Center and Okay Mountain. Neither space’s exhibition offerings disappointed. On tap for this weekend AMOA-Arthouse is opening an exhibition of Nick Cave’s sound suits (familiar to those who saw Cave’s New York exhibitions last year) and a retrospective of sorts from Andy Coolquitt who will recombine some 60 sculptures made between 2006-2011 into a new site-specific installation. (If you’re in Houston and need a Coolquitt fix he’s showing at Devin Borden Gallery until October 27.) Momentum seems to be building for the Austin institution that looks to welcome its new director, Louis Grachos, come November.

The Blanton Museum of Art will be celebrating its 50th birthday this coming year and is currently host to Paul Pfeiffer’s exhibition The Rules of Basketball. Austin-based artist and writer Jessica Matthews gives us her thoughts on the show which combines Pfeiffer’s work with James Naismith’s original rules for the game—on loan from local Austin collectors Suzanne and David Booth. Guest curated by Regine Basha, it's good to see The Blanton dipping their toes back into the contemporary art water. Due to health reasons Basha recently relinquished her leadership role at San Antonio’s Artpace and the veritable international residency program now finds itself under the direction of Amada Cruz. Over the course of her interview with Cruz writer Claire Ruud discovers how the new Executive Director might lead and guide the program into the future.

A busy summer of international exhibitions is almost behind us and was most assuredly highlighted by documenta (13). Berlin-based critic and curator Cathy Byrd singles out three works that utilized the storied Karlsaue Park as exhibition site in her review of this iteration of Kassel’s show. Closer to home writer Tanja Baudoin pays a visit to SITE Sante Fe for a look at More Real? Art In The Age Of Truthiness. Our relationship to what is truth and what is fiction has become increasing ambiguous, especially during this, a campaign season, and Baudoin skillfully teases out how these issues are at work in the exhibition. Politics, this time the perceived leftward lean of artists and academia, is the subject of Chicago based artist and writer Patrick Bobilin whose engrossing Long Read plots a course from the G.I. Bill to contemporary art and where the left may have gone wrong along the way.

Pull up your ottoman, pour yourself a second cup of coffee and jump right in—great things await. When you’ve finished up, or are somewhere in between, let us know how we’re doing and what you’re thinking about by sending us an email to: askus@fluentcollab.org or posting a comment on the site.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.


Of plants and trees, dogs and bees
Kassel, Germany
Closed September 16

By Cathy Byrd

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Millerfor a thousand years, 2012, Speakers, wires, amplifiers, computers, c. 25 min., loop. Courtesy Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin; Luhring Augustine, New York; Galerie Koyanagi, Tokyo. Commissioned and produced by dOCUMENTA (13) with the support of The Banff Centre, Alberta, through contributions by Laura Rapp and Jay Smith, Toronto; the Canada Council for the Arts; Galerie Koyanagi, Tokyo; with further support by Sennheiser (Canada) Inc. Photo: Rosa Maria Rühling.

For me, documenta (13) was most remarkable for what took place in the Karlsaue, Kassel’s queen of parks. The Karlsaue Park dates from 1586, originating as a formal pleasure garden filled with herbs and exotic plants. Around 1700, when the Orangerie (a documenta venue) was built, the park was extended in the Baroque style—a strict symmetric layout with artificial ditches, geometric gardens and sculpted woods. In 1785, the park was reshaped into the hugely popular English-style parkscape that remains. The green space at the park’s East end has been used for documenta sculpture displays and a few installations since documenta II (1959). This year, documenta fully activates the Karlsaue as its topography becomes a space for contemporary art. Artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s move to make the Karlsaue a real venue has completely transformed the documenta(13) experience for thousands of locals and visitors. The park not only offers specially constructed and existing space for stand-alone video and sculptural installations, but also becomes a resonant setting for experiential projects that merge art with plants and trees, dogs and bees.

To create the surreal and controversial biotope that is Untilled, French artist Pierre Huyghe turned to an overgrown area at the far end of the park. Visitors follow a muddy path around a fallen, rotting tree and skirt puddles sprouting algae to look down upon a small clearing. At the edge of that raw stage is a statue of a reclining woman on a cement block. A swarming beehive sits where her head might be. Her kingdom is contained within the subject of the bees’ attention—a seemingly wild, though, in fact, carefully cultivated, growth of specially selected plants. The bees, we realize, are there to pollinate: toxic foxglove, mind-altering cannabis, deadly nightshade, poisonous jimsonweed and a species of rye that tends to catch a fungus with the effects of LSD. Just beyond, a puppy with one pink foot lies sleeping in the sun amongst piles of unused stepping stones, black gravel, stacks of cut wood and cement blocks. I didn’t meet his companion, an elegant white greyhound with one pink leg who was out roaming the park during my visit. Since 2005, when Huyghe’s A Journey That Wasn’t took him to Antarctica on a search for the rare Albino penguin, he has increasingly given his power over to the art that he sets in motion. The artist seems less interested in controlling his media than he is in freeing himself from its constraints. In Untilled, by working with an unkempt environment that negates the surrounding manicured landscape, he manifests his permissive philosophy.

In contrast to the sprawling assemblage of Untilled, Forest (for a thousand years), by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, is practically invisible. On their site, 18 small speakers and 4 subwoofers are hidden in the underbrush and perched high in the trees. A dirt path, a small wooden walkway and a few tree stumps for seating are all that marks the spot. Cardiff and Bures Miller employed Ambisonics, a 1970s technology that creates a three-dimensional sound-field from their recordings of noises, vibrations and explosions. Immersing visitors in a transcendent 25-minute experience Forest evokes the land’s imagined memory through a suite of sound movements— birds cawing, wind hissing, radio static, laughter, gunfire and a sublime choral piece sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Gathering silently beneath the trees, visitors stand or sit motionless until the final explosion shakes them back to the present. The artists have effectively channeled a temporal passage through the woods.

With Swiss Chard Ferry, artist Christian Philipp Müller demonstrates perhaps the greatest vision for what documenta might cultivate. The Swiss artist known for his conceptual garden projects, worked with the local university’s agriculture department to grow sixty different organic chard varieties. Planted in crates on three barges from the cold war in one of the Karlsaue canals, the humble greens became central to a narrative that weaves together history, environment and culture. The barges tied together create an eco-sensitive bridge for visitors to cross from the exhibition to Kassel’s Kunsthochschule where Müller is now director. Along with five hundred other curious people, I showed up at the ferry one day to taste the harvest: 20 varietals and ten gourmet entrees prepared by local chefs. The artist’s research-based eco-practice was beautifully realized in this communal project.

Müller, Huyghe, Cardiff and Bures Miller—mine the park’s potential to play an active role within their projects. At the edge of the overwhelming and often dense display of art in museums, exhibition halls, train stations, and other built spaces at the heart of Kassel, the Karlsaue—with paths that separate and connect the creative spaces that occupy its green expanse—alters our experience of this iteration of documenta.

Cathy Byrd is an independent critic and curator currently based in Berlin. She directs and produces the Fresh Talk audio podcast series for FreshArtInternational.com.

Paul Pfeifer
The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin
January 13, 2013

By Jessica Mathews

Paul Pfeiffer, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (07), 2002, Digital duraflex print, 48 x 60 inches. Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY. Courtesy The FLAG Art Foundation. ©Paul Pfeiffer. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

1) The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands (Naismith).

Similar to any childhood gym class, visitors to the Blanton’s The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball have to know the rules of the game before they are allowed to participate. A sacred text, James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball sits in the center of the entrance gallery, nearly severed from the spectacle of Paul Pfeiffer’s photographs and projections. It is a humble starting point, freed from celebrity, fans, and the consumerist nature of present day sport. Two works from Paul Pfeiffer share the presence of Naismith’s document, almost as an initiation into the world of basketball today. They are the muffled cries of fans you hear just before you step into the thrill of the stadium.

4) The ball must be held by the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it (Naismith).

Mirroring Naismith’s rules of the game is Paul Pfeiffer’s projection John 3:16, a video loop closely following the movement of a basketball in play. The video’s central composition transforms the object of the ball into some sort of icon. The athletes become secondary, simply a means to achieving the ball’s destiny. Many of Pfeiffer’s works allude to religious themes, often through the title. In the context of sport, religious references call into examination the similarities in the behaviors found in both religion and sport.

6) A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of rule 3 and 4 and such described in rule 5 (Naismith).

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a series of photographs throughout the exhibition, present basketball players idolized in moments of glory. The players are robbed of personal identity; Pfeiffer meticulously removes the numbers on the jerseys and faces are often out of sight. The images are not about personal fame. The role of the athlete is the monument and the individual players, themselves, come and go. The fans too are mostly faceless; distinctions are cast away to form a unified fan identity, a following.

8) A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal (Naismith).

Pfeiffer’s video projections dwarf in scale compared to the heroic sizes of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are intimate, however brief, recollections of significant moments in sports history. A short video is played on loop, creating a slightly awkward sequence of imagery that immediately prompts speculation. Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon) replays an instant of intense emotion. A player is caught screaming, out of joy or frustration, while camera flashes throughout the stadium rush to capture the moment.

Guard is a video projection that takes a different stance. No idols are framed, simply the ordinariness of a guard. Although the environment surrounding the figure is almost identical, the video is lackluster. The crowd seems unanimated in contrast to the epic moments of athletic stardom.

10) The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5 (Naismith).

The gallery of The Rules of Basketball gives the sense of a sacred space. This is in part Pfeiffer’s approach to the game, but also due to the installation of the work. The space is unobtrusive; each photograph and video is bestowed room to reflect, worship or meditate on the glory of the sport. Perhaps a slightly less intentional success to the aura of the gallery is the subtle Tibetan Buddhist chanting permeating the space from the neighboring exhibition. Upon exiting the space an excerpt from Paul Pfeiffer’s appearance in season two of Art:21 also plays on loop, providing further explanation of the themes and processes surrounding his imagery.

13) The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner (Naismith).

Whether a Basketball fan or not, The Rules of Basketball, on view through January 13th, is worth your while. More than a review of epic sport moments, the exhibition is a complex investigation of new media, human behavior and the role of sport in contemporary culture.

Jessica Mathews is an artist and writer located in East Austin.


Naismith, James. Original Rules of Basketball. 1891.

More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness 
SITE Santa Fe
January 6, 2013

By Tanja Baudoin

Iñigo Manglano-OvallePhantom Truck, 2007. Installation View, Documenta 12. Photo: Barbara Sax/AFP/Getty Images.

As I walked into the exhibition More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness, I wondered whether we are indeed living in a time in which our relation to what is truth and what is fiction has become more problematic. According to the exhibitions curators, what we wish to be true has become more appealing to us than what is actually true. Naturally our wishes are more appealing than the truth, and I would say this has been a constant characteristic of the human condition throughout the ages, the cause of countless deceits and forgeries as well as a source for innovation in artistic practice. Hasn't art always presented itself as something it isn't?

Much of the work in the exhibition demonstrates art's penchant for trickery. A few of the works incite a momentary jolt of surprise, but most of them are exciting and intelligent explorations of the thin line between truth and fiction. More Real? includes excellent work by established contemporary artists such as Omer Fast, Walid Raad, Cao Fei, Sharon Lockhart, Mark Dion and Ai Weiwei.

The exhibition brings an urgency to its subject matter by connecting the art to a political context through the utilization of the term 'truthiness.' This notion signifies an eagerness to accept what's plausible rather than what's factual, and was coined on the satirical T.V. show The Colbert Report in 2005. Several works in More Real? reflect on this episode in U.S. history, such as Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's Phantom Truck (2007). Presented in a dark room, the life-size truck is a clever if rather literal comment on the fabricated imagery that validated the necessity of war. The Yes Men's 2008 special edition of the New York Times presents a more optimistic approach with a fictional issue of the paper reporting the end of the war in Iraq. It includes news about peace spreading to conflict zones worldwide and president Bush's indictment for high treason. Though these works connect to a specific moment in political history, in this period leading up to presidential election they are also timely reminders of the false promises that may infest our current political reality.

Taken together, the work in this exhibition imposes a demand on the viewer due to both the physical scale of many of them and the intensity of their content. One work that exemplifies this is Zoe Beloff's Dreamland: the Coney Island Psychoanalytical Society and Its Circle. I've encountered Beloff's elaborate installation before, in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the work was, on both occasions, presented as an exhibition itself. Looking at Dreamland in the context of More Real? doesn't do justice to the finer details of the work, that involve a slide projection, a series of home movies, built models, photographs and intricate drawings packed with Freudian symbolism. It is a challenge to muster up the attention needed to fully engage with this within the density of the exhibition.

As a result, the work in this show that is unassuming at first sight was the most enjoyable. John Herschend’s video, placed at the entrance, masquerades as an informational video about the exhibition, but unravels into a tale of personal crisis involving the narrator. Another subtle work is Vik Muniz' series of three framed paintings that lean against the wall with their backs facing us, dotted with labels. The labels on the back of paintings typically trace where they have traveled and are a sign of their authenticity. They also communicate the identity of the work, in this case Grant Wood's American Gothic, van Gogh's Starry Night and Fernand Leger's The Smokers. What is most absorbing isn't whether these are the originals, but the stretch of imagination required to visualize these famous works. Their titles immediately provoke familiar images, but what I think I know turns out to be fuzzy and fragmented as soon as I try to focus on specific features of the masterpieces.

Johan Grimonprez' three minute film I may have lost my umbrella forever (2011) layers materials by various authors who are separated from each other in space and time, but united by a common concern. It shows footage shot by witnesses of Japan's 2011 tsunami and earthquake posted on YouTube, that Grimonprez played on his computer screen and filmed with his iPhone. The pixelated scenes of a frightened deer and a shaking chandelier gain a poetic quality thanks to the voice of a girl reading an excerpt from Pessoa's Book of Disquiet in Portuguese. The film is an affective and straightforward contemplation on the distantiated experience of other people's tragedy through first-hand accounts. Its form encourages us to consider what it is that creates a sensation of realism and how images that surround us are complicit in this.

While high definition photos and videos are slick and life-like, it is the low quality image in Grimonprez' film that we generally associate with a documentary first-person perspective and therefore with authenticity—think amateur porn and reality television. Videos of war and revolution reach us via cell phone and show events that media or governments may withhold. The democratic potential of the 'poor' documentary image is only one aspect of the complicated ways in which images are determined by, as well as determining of social conditions and power structures, something that artist and theorist Hito Steyerl has written about extensively. The role of the image in the production of truth and its relation to politics is so much more complex than the notion of 'truthiness' can point at, and it is a shame that the exhibition doesn't create a broader conceptual framework for thought. This is pertinent considering the scope and content of the works presented here.

Tanja Baudoin is a researcher-in-residence at Fieldwork: Marfa, and works at If I Can't Dance, I Don't Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Amada Cruz

By Claire Ruud

Amada Cruz, recently appointed Executive Director of Artpace, is about to make the move from Los Angeles to San Antonio. In LA, she’s been the Program Director with United States Artists since its founding in 2005. But she’s done the small city thing before, too, as Director of Bard College’s Hessel Museum of Art. Now, Cruz will assume the reigns of an organization that has gone for nearly two years without a permanent director. Her appointment is the board’s second attempt to secure a leader for Artpace. Regine Basha resigned after only two months on the job due to health issues. Cruz is circumspect about Artpace’s future; she wants to be on the ground there before forming a vision for the organization. Still, our conversation provides a window into her leadership style: thoughtful, systematic and driven by a tremendous appreciation for the artist.

Claire Ruud [CR]: You’ve been with United States Artists from the very beginning. Tell me what you were tasked with when you got the job.

Amada Cruz [AC]: I was charged with starting the grant program, and the core of the program is the grants we give to individual artists. Every year, 50 artists get $50,000 a piece. I was interested in the cross disciplinary nature of the granting program. We decided to go for a nomination-based process, so instead of getting slammed with two million applications from around the country we actually have a big database of experts in all fields who may nominate artists. Setting up the whole process was a challenge because we didn’t have much time. Let’s see, I was hired in February and we wanted to send checks out to artists by the end of the year. We held eight discipline-specific selection panels during that summer, essentially one every week, just because we had such a compressed schedule that first year. It was pretty insane, but it was also really inspiring. I just finished the last panel for this summer yesterday—it was media—and witnessing five experts in a room talking about artists is just incredible. It’s like being in graduate school. I’ve learned so much.

[CR]: How will the multidisciplinarity of USA’s granting program affect the way you think about Artpace’s programming?

[AC]: I’ve been wondering about that myself. I think it’s inevitable just because I don’t think about creativity across the country in such a discipline-specific way anymore. Yesterday, for instance, at the dinner with our five media panelists, mostly film people and radio producers, my move to Artpace came up. I was struck by how much film people knew about the visual arts and how excited they were about artists like Christian Marclay and Isaac Julien, who have both shown at Artpace and cross these disciplinary boundaries. I don’t know exactly how this will affect my work at Artpace yet, but it’s definitely broadened my perspective about art across the country.

[CR]: You’ve worked in such a wide variety of arts organizations in such a variety of functions. You’ve been program director at USA, you’ve been a curator and director at Bard’s Hessel Museum, you were the director at Artadia. What about this job at Artpace is going to be really new and different for you?

[AC]: I have a really sentimental attachment to Artpace. I got familiar with it way back when Linda Pace first started the organization with Laurence Miller and asked me to come and be on one of the early juries. In those days it was a group of curators who selected the artists to be invited for the year. This is before the one curator three artists model. It was a really wonderful experience.

[CR]: The early Artpace model sounds a lot like USA’s model.

[AC]: Yes, and USA is based on the model from the NEA so it’s a fairly traditional grant selection model. So Artpace had a lot of impact on me because I was younger, just starting out, and I was captivated by this idea of what you could do just by extending an invitation to an artist and giving them funds, freedom to do what they wanted and time. So as a curator I did a lot of what you might call commissioning, which was getting some funds into the hands of an artist to make new work for an exhibition. So I’ve had this attachment to Artpace and I’ve gone back many times. I was on the board of visitors early on, and then joined the board again about a year ago, so I know the organization and I know the history.

A few things interest me about Artpace. I’ve moved around a bit, as you mentioned, and one of the things that has always been difficult to reconcile in any city, even New York, is the local practices and community with a global practice and community. How do you honor what’s happening locally and still make that relevant to what’s happening internationally? How do you bring in what’s happening internationally to local context in a way that makes sense? It’s not easy. But I think the model at Artpace is actually quite successful. Three artists: one’s from Texas, one works nationally, and the other one is from abroad. It’s a very simple premise, but it’s been quite successful.

[CR]: Do you think there’s room for improvement on that core model?

[AC]: There’s always improvements for everything, but I’m not there yet.

[CR]: One of the things that Regine had pointed out when I spoke with her after she took the position was that Artpace is one of the few very production-oriented residencies.

[AC]: That is very true, and that’s always exciting. It’s also a risk because you don’t know what you’re going to get. But that’s the fun part. You get to observe the process in a very intimate way. I don’t know how many opportunities the audience has to appreciate that. I’ll have to get there and see. Is there a way to communicate to an audience what that process is like? And how do you do it without imposing a great burden on the artists who are working there? How do you demystify the artistic process.

[CR]: What are the first three questions that you’ll be asking when you get to Artpace?

[AC]: I’m wondering about the Hudson Show Room. I want to evaluate how that is working right now and see how that can be improved upon, and again I don’t have an answer, just questions. Should the Hudson Show Room even have exhibitions? If they do should they relate more to the residents who are coming in? Do you do a show that gives a taste of the work of the residents who will be coming in so it functions almost as an introduction to what’s coming? Is it an event space? Do you bring people in for readings or lectures when Artpace is “down” when the residents are working privately?

[CR]: I agree. The core residency program at Artpace is so strong. How do you build supporting programs that are augmenting that rather than sapping energy from it?

[AC]: Exactly. In general, another question I’ll be asking—and this is a big one—is how to expand the base of support for Artpace. And then a third question, is Artpace truly integrated in the cultural community of San Antonio? It might be, I just don’t know. That’s a question for me. Is it? And if not, can we integrate it more. Are there people out there who need to be welcomed into the Artpace family?

[CR]: Are you thinking about primarily expanding support for Artpace regionally or nationally?

[AC]: I think it can probably be expanded within the actual city, but there’s definitely an opportunity for increased national support of Artpace. When I first started going to Artpace, there were a bunch of us who used to go maybe three times a year. That’s pretty often when you’re living far away outside Texas, or even outside the US. I’m hoping we can increase that.

[CR]: It has to be a destination. I lived in Austin for five years, and I went to almost every show, but it required most of a day. It was a pilgrimage. You’ve worked in a more remote place before, when you were up at Bard.

[AC]: Yes, it was an hour and a half from New York City, but people came. I think that if your programming is strong enough, people will come. I positioned Bard as an alternative to what was happening in the city. It was close enough to New York that I thought that I might be able to draw an audience, but I knew it had to be for things that weren’t happening in New York. So I did things like Takashi Murakami’s first major show in the US. I knew that he had this really strong following among artists and a big enough show would be so unusual that people would come up. And they did. The other show that was really successful in drawing large audiences from New York was Christian Marclay. Again, no museum in New York City took the show so I jumped on it. It’s all about really strong programming. Artpace can do that, but I need to understand what exactly strong programming means in this context. And if we are an alternative in San Antonio, what are we an alternative to?

[CR]: Right now you’re in a much, much bigger city out in LA. What do you think are the advantages of the smaller scene?

[AC]: I think there are lots of advantages actually. The challenge of living in LA is to feel like a part of any community. The geography works against that. Everybody is so dispersed. I’m assuming that in a place like San Antonio you really do see people all the time. I’m really looking forward to just bumping into people, and I’m really looking forward to feeling a part of a community in a more intense way than I feel in LA.

[CR]: A danger in a small scene is that people treat each other too delicately, I think.

[AC]: I was thinking that it would be the opposite – like family. You know how you can get so contentious with your own family and people you’re close to? I was thinking it would be more of a situation where you’re close enough to someone that they can actually criticize what you do.

[CR]: Now that you say that I can think of the handful of people for whom it was that way, among one another.

[AC]: Maybe it’s a little bit of both. You have these intense friendships because you’re with each other essentially all the time, so it makes for more candid conversations. But I think you’re right. If you’re dealing with a smaller ecosystem, maybe people do feel a little more cautious about putting ripples into the system.

[CR]: It’s occurred to me that even New York and LA can feel the same way—no matter the size, any scene can feel a little solipsistic.

[AC]: Every city has its own provincialism. It doesn’t matter how big or small.

[CR]: The difference, though, is that in New York and LA, you really do have the people coming to you from the outside. In San Antonio and Austin, you have to work a little bit harder to make sure that those people are coming through, to make sure you’re reaching out.

[AC]: I would say that you have to work a lot harder in LA than in New York.

[CR]: So when you were at Bard did you live out in Rhinebeck?

[AC]: I lived close by in a town called Clinton Corners.

[CR]: So being a little bit off the grid doesn’t scare you?

[AC]: No. I mean that’s a good question, I’ve been asked that for months by other people, and I’m not worried about that. There are cities that I would not want to live in, but I’m looking forward to living in San Antonio. It’sactually one of my favorite cities in the country.

[CR]: What makes it one of your favorite cities?

[AC]: I think it’s because my introduction to San Antonio was through Artpace and through art. I think of it as this incredibly strong visual arts city where people are liberal, they embrace the arts, and have this wonderful curiosity about what’s going on in the world. And they’re fun,! I always have such a good time when I go. That’s my experience of Texas as a whole.

[CR]: When I was at Fluent~Collaborative, I noticed that artists from New York and other larger cities really appreciated the close-knitness of the community, the slightly slower pace that allows reflection and conversation, and the eagerness with which the community embraces outsiders because we’re so hungry for fresh energy and perspective.

[AC]: I totally understand what you’re saying because that’s the way I feel about San Antonio.

[CR]: What are the dangers that you’re worried about?

[AC]: I’m not that worried honestly (laughs). I am really looking forward to this.

[CR]: Okay, well I’ll tell you one of my worries. I’m worried that the core supporters of the arts in Austin and San Antonio are tired. There are a handful of people who have been dealing with a lot of crises and changes at the Artpace, Arthouse, Austin Museum of Art, and the Blanton over the past few years. I’m worried about—I’m guessing there’s some fatigue.

[AC]: That occurs everywhere. There’s always a reason for fatigue in any organization. There’s always donor fatigue because you’re constantly being asked for money. That’s the way these organizations are, they need money to keep them going. That’s sort of a given, and I’m not worried about it because I’m used to it.

[CR]: So how do you manage that fatigue?

[AC]: You have to create excitement. You have to create it pretty quickly, because everybody has their honeymoon period. When you have someone new coming in, there’s a lot of excitement. It’s a great thing, I’m excited, hopefully people in San Antonio are excited, and you really need to capitalize on that energy by doing some bold things from the very beginning. Excitement makes people do wonderful things.

In fundraising, the motto is that money follows vision. You have to create a really exciting vision for an organization, and people will support it.

[CR]: Pre-financial crisis, “money follows vision” often meant “money follows expansion.” Is there a way to get away from that model?

[AC]: There are different kinds of expansion. There’s building expansion, and there are certain collectors and foundations and city organizations that like to fund buildings. It’s wonderful to have a beautiful building by a great architect, don’t get me wrong. Part of the reason everybody goes to the Menil is because they have an incredible building. But that is not at the essence of most art organizations. The essence is really the content that you’re creating through your programming. And I think that people are actually thinking more in those terms now. But these things are challenging. Fundraising is always challenging. Always.

[CR]: So on a lighter note than fundraising, although that’s always important, I want to get a sense of your creative sensibility—can you talk about an artist who’s excited you recently, or a book that has really changed the way you’ve thought?

[AC]: I’m a huge reader of fiction. One of my favorite grant panels I run here is the literature panel. Not that this is anything too original because this book won the Pulitzer Prize, but Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad I thought was amazing. Have you read it?

[CR]: No I haven’t, so I’m not sure what question to ask.

[AC]: It’s so brilliant. It’s these interwoven stories of this group of people who are in New York during the 80’s, and it delves into the music scene. Part of the reason I liked it so much is that I was in New York, I went to NYU during that time period, went to some of those clubs, so it really spoke to me. It’s written in a really interesting way, and she experiments with the language as well. That book really affected me this year.

The other book that I was really surprised by how much I liked and have been thinking about a lot is Steve Jobs’ biography. I’ve been telling everyone to read it. What I love about the things Jobs made is their design. Even the plugs for these things are so beautifully designed. The way that he worked was so much like an artist; this level of obsession with things like rounded corners. His favorite form was a rectangle with rounded corners. So when you text your friend, the little text bubble is not round, it’s a rectangle with rounded corners. He would blow the bank to make sure his tech people could get that shape into the machine. It’s this level of attention to detail that so many artists also have. That I found completely fascinating.

[CR]: What about films?

[AC]: I see so many movies, and not just because I’m in LA. Again, not so original, but Beasts of the Southern Wild, have you seen that?

[CR]: Yes, I have.

[AC]: I thought it was extraordinarily moving, and I saw images that I haven’t seen before—that’s really rare in filmmaking. Melancholia, I thought that was the best of last year. I’ve actually walked out of Lars von Trier’s films before because he’s so misogynistic, but I thought this was visually extraordinary. I’m kind of omnivorous when it comes to art. Part of it is my work, but I like to have a broader sense of what culture is.

[CR]: And when are you starting at Artpace?

[AC]: I start November 5th, that Monday.

[CR]: Are you going to take some time off to drive across?

[AC]: Nine days. The last day I’m working is October 25th and the plan is to get in the car and drive through Tucson and then go to Marfa for a couple days because I haven’t been there in a really long time. We spend a couple nights in Marfa and then on to San Antonio.

[CR]: My partner and I just did that drive in the opposite direction. The southwest is really something else. I hope you have time to really soak it in and enjoy it.

Claire Ruud has an M.A. in art history from The University of Texas at Austin and an M.B.A. at The Yale University School of Management. She thinks a lot about feminism, queer theory and financing contemporary art production.

long read

#artworldproblems: Conscripted On The Body

By Patrick Bobilin

Richard Casper

Generalizations around artists often characterize them as leaning toward the socio-political left, against militarization and the abuse of citizens and their civil rights. The examination of concepts ranging from ethical to trivial, with equal rigor, is one of art’s defining and paradoxical characteristics, one which gives contemporary art its profound emotional and intellectual appeal. As work (both in the sense of an artwork and of labor itself) has become more abstract, even conceptual artists require training in understanding what art does, rather than what it shows1. Through this institutionalization and the spreading of class divisions, voices have gone missing from the conversation around the intellectual territory denoted as “the political.” It is no coincidence that the privatization of healthcare and education took place concurrently with the transformation from technical to theoretical instruction in art schools, with both sides claiming the change as emancipatory—offering a freedom that resulted in a dispersal of oppression and eventually a reflexive impotence.2

Artists and academics struggle to uncover “the political” even as the United States is engaged in military combat on multiple fronts; domestically, with counterterrorism efforts limiting freedoms long assumed inalienable, and internationally as the country attempts to justify its role in global economic and ecological crises. One might argue that the political is all around us, when something as mundane as buying a cup of coffee is communicated as having socio-political ramifications and denoting a political and ethical affectation.3 Mark Fisher, has argued that stimulation, cycles of production and consumption, requires a maintenance that transforms stimulants into mere anhedonic distractions where citizens, artists and even politicians find their roles prescribed long in advance.4

What is clear is that contemporary artists hold only a precarious relationship to the political field. While there is a broadly perceived leftism in academic art institutions, it is traceable to little current protest activity from within them.5 The left of contemporary art is in most cases, an inert left, or one that is left in facade alone. Artists, like most citizens, are now profoundly disconnected from on-the-ground military politics and policies, the day-to-day horrors of war and issues pertinent to soldiers and veterans. In an effort to protect their field, artists, curators and theorists have barricaded themselves in a bunker filled with the cultural and financial intelligentsia, only to be relegated to an eternal ping-ponging of rhetorical leftovers from their professors who were instructed by members of a generation more attuned to political protest, or who actually participated in the last few gasps of it in the 1980s.

I write of a very specific post-millenial moment that looks for cues from the protest politics of ACT UP, the Guerrilla Art Action Group, the Guerrilla Girls and even the broad claims of Fluxus artists and modernists, which have faded from view and perhaps relevance. A powerful connection threading together Fluxus artists, modernists and ab-ex painters was their experience of military service. After serving in WWII and the Korean War, many artists and future teaching-artists studied for an MFA, a recently restructured degree no longer for teachers but now for professional artists.6

Momentum for the politics of modern and contemporary art in America began before the first World War, continued through World War II and entered academia through veterans returning to school on the GI Bill. Critical of the military politics they were forced to partake in, veterans entered universities as older students not looking for an extension of youthful abandon, as most of the student population was, but instead were highly inquisitive and serious about the consequences of economics, political theory and cultural practices.

Before the meteoric rise in enrollment following the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, colleges and universities were by and large male-dominated institutions populated by the children of the wealthy financial elite. Prior to the early 1930s, the primary function of the MFA was to train artists in technical instruction7, as a teaching degree, with three-quarters of recipients being women and over 50% of graduates going on to become teachers8. Following debates amongst members of the College Art Association, a shift was made, serving to align studio practice with scientific laboratory work and leading to the MFA’s consideration as a professional degree. These changes to the MFA led to a separation in admissions departments and in professional development, along gender lines, between the consideration of artist-teachers and historians as feminine and studio art as more appropriate for men.9

Universities were offered benefits for enrolling more student-veterans and with the increase in federal funding and tuition collected, most schools gladly accommodated the new students with adequate staff, faculty and facilities, with the increased federal funding10. Student-veterans, who were 90% male11 and whose average age hovered around 25 years old, were comparably older and more professionally driven than the average student population.12 This maturity had the effect of generating discourse between artist-teachers and student-artists and produced the foundation for conceptual art of the mid-20th century, as a natural extension of the exploration of art mediums by artists who privileged inquiry beyond technique.13 Veteran enrollment from 1946-1952 at a handful of California schools comprised between 40 and 69 percent.14 In a broader demographic view, GIs who took advantage of benefits offered by the bill earned an average of $10,000-$15,000 more annually than GIs who did not. This investment by the government in its veterans generated tax revenues 8-10 times greater than the cost of the program.15

GIs entering art programs found themselves in contact not only with a collection of early conceptualists and modernists but other students who were as eagerly laying the foundation of contemporary conceptual art. These student-artists were taught by faculty who had studied under the precursor to the GI Bill, The Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. The WPA program assisted 5,000 artists, including canonical names like Arshile Gorky, Alice Neel, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Diego Rivera and Mark Rothko—many of whom taught in some capacity between the 1930s and 1950s.

While European Dadaists were forced into exile after WWII, the training provided by the GI Bill laid the foundation for American anti-modernism and the start of conceptual revolts against the teachers trained through WPA grants. Fluxus was perhaps the last movement that moved vehemently away from the luxury commodity in order to create a discursive platform for performance, free and DIY culture. Fluxus founder Al Hansen, is one of many examples, having studied at Brooklyn College and Pratt following his service as a paratrooper in the US Airforce.

As the current cost of academic programs rises to levels that require the artists formerly known as the middle class to apply for loans, schools struggle to meet the rising costs of maintaining facilities for bloated enrollments. A meritocratic system, where students are admitted under need-blind policies under the belief that the best and most-talented will be the most successful (without accounting for the cultural and actual capital provided by families before, during and following their studies)16 has created an unprecedented debt crisis of 1 Trillion dollars.17

Unfortunately, military service has become synonymous with blissfully ignorant nationalism. This has led a certain thread within academia to embrace the decentered cosmopolitanism of biennial curating, to remove the filth of patriotism unfairly marring the depiction of Americans throughout many of the democratic states of Western Europe. Unfortunately, what this cosmopolitanism denies is the fact that it moves concurrently with Neoliberal economics in the “freedom” one has to create luxury goods for a ruling elite whose socio-economic status keeps their politics typically to the center right.

There is no place amongst the cultural elite for the poor, let alone the poor and young who were convinced (by low self-esteem, low grades and the experiential reality of poverty) that they needed to participate in military service in order to attend college. Returning veterans are greeted by the young left with the same disdain exhibited by protestors of the Vietnam war. Uninvited and often alienated18, they often either hide in the back of classrooms, quietly performing better than their civilian counterparts19 or actively engaging an unfortunately ignorant student body in a discussion of military politics. While it is commonly said that the personal is political, when someone’s personal reflects global conflict, it can seem impossibly abstract and monolithic. How does one explain the horrors of war to someone walking around with shrapnel in their leg? One would think of social practice as a field ripe for the mediation of soldiers coping with the readjustment to the quietude of civilian life. Perhaps it is the reality offered by veterans in the classrooms where contemporary art is discussed that can offset the cloud of “left melancholy” pervading discourse at seemingly every art institution.

An inert political institution is corrosive—a homogenous and inert politic is dangerous. It can lead to an ignorance that slowly drives college campuses, the very same institutions responsible for spearheading and revolutionizing past anti-war and social justice movements, to the margins of insignificance, ignorance and irrelevance. A reinvigorated and politically heterogenous student population (whether through their experience, socio-economic background or political persuasion) can generate a discourse around contemporary art and politics that no longer abandons academia in favor of rote political action.

Among other possibilities, the participation of veterans in contemporary art could bring together the kind of mixed local modernity and specific cosmopolitan experience vital to the political discourse always already orbiting cultural production. The connection to one’s specific place and its socio-political relevance, in a tactile and palpable sense, to the international, combined with the regional art dialect of local art criticism would fortify the diversity of contemporary art, generating local modernisms all in relation to the larger institutional globalization of cosmopolitan biennial curating.20

A collective left unified by disgust, but without the hopeful patriotism necessary for a better life is one without a future. Politically aware artists seek to abandon this sinking ship, choosing not to vote, despite our better judgment, and are either looking toward or living in the cosmopolitanism of contemporary art, parachuting our work into international venues without assessing the dialect in our own home.

A politically homogenous student body, even one built around a socially responsible utopic left, becomes polemically atrophied. It forms a left that cannot generate a mobile, flexible ideological opposition to an ever-changing right, whether intellectually or creatively. It will be doomed to rely on instruction from past forms of protest, action and dissent, which one can easily conjecture as being insufficient or even inappropriate for serving contemporary issues and the cracking of political orientations. As with biological evolution, a heterogeneous mutation of student bodies in art institutions can strengthen the political discourse for several creative generations to come. A concerted effort by admissions committees, students and faculty to court and encourage this generation of nearly 3 million returning veterans to again study the arts will allow our future cultural movements to employ ethics rather than offer hollow representations of purported but inert morals.

Such a renewed administrative and political focus on courting veteran students would do more than increase the diversity and strength of art, music, social justice and law programs, as evidenced by the success of the GI Bill; it would also help to secure the financial future of those programs. By taking advantage of support similar to the post-9/11 Yellow Ribbon amendment to the GI Bill, liberal arts colleges can claim a more visible role in the national political discourse rather than being generalized as part of the disconnected leftist intelligentsia. Additionally, the discourse within contemporary art departments would inevitably change–broadening beyond the myopic melancholy of an incapacitated left.

It could generate the type of institutional criticism sought after in contemporary art, a broad institutional criticism discussing market politics, educational policy and sources of funding. The ouroboros of institutional critique would be saved from eating its own tail, refocusing criticism not against individual artists or artworks, but at the legislative structure surrounding, supporting and disrupting the creation of contemporary art. A more powerful criticism of government and military policies could be lodged from voices now currently missing from the art critical conversation.

Patrick Bobilin is a Chicago-based artist, educator and director of Noble & Superior Projects.


1. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/politics-of-art-contemporary-art-and-the-transition-to-post-democracy/
2. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism. Pg 17. O Books. 2009.
3. Zizek, Slavoj. Catastrophic But Not Serious. http://fora.tv/2011/04/04/Slavoj_Zizek_Catastrophic_But_Not_Serious
4. Fisher, Capitalist Realism. Pg 21-22 (Anhedonism, “an inability to do anything except pursue pleasure” creates an informed but impotent citizenship, as the same tools and skills that lead to enlightenment also create a void of stimulation that changes from extraneous to necessity)
5. Despite a brief recent flirtation with Occupy/Arts and Labor and the odd spike in discourse propelled recently by issues raised by the work of David Wojnarowicz and Pussy Riot
6. Singerman, Howard. Art Subjects. Pg 19. University of California Press. 1999.
7. Smith, Peter K. The History of American Art Education. Pg 89. Greenwood Press. 1996.
8. Singerman, Art Subjects, 55
9. Singerman, Art Subjects, 58
10. This change occurred while segregation was still a formal and administrative practice in university admissions. As the 15 million WWII veteran population was 10% black, returning black veterans crowded admissions in the few HBCUs available for them to study in. This overcrowding is documented in Hilary Herbold’s Never a Level Playing Field: Blacks and the GI Bill
11. Following service, many woman veterans returned home to fulfill a traditional role as men studied and/or were not made aware of their eligibility for benefits. For an engaging history of the relationship of women to the GI Bill (and its masculizing effect on the modernist narrative) see Peter K. Smith’s The History of American Art Education. Pgs 123-139 and John Warren Oakes’ How The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 Impacted Women Artists’ Career Opportunities. Visual Cuture & Gender. Vol 1. 1996.
12. Singerman, 210
13. Singerman, 129
14. Solnit and Schwartzenberger, Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism. Pg 96. Verso. 2002.
15. Herbold, Hilary. Never a Level Playing Field: Blacks and the GI Bill. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. No 6. Winter, 1994-1995.
16. Malik, Suhail. Lecture: “The Ruling Elite Have Feelings Too” Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies. February 2012.
17. Higher Education: The College-Cost Calamity. The Economist. August 4, 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/21559936
18. Elliott, Et al. U.S. Military Veterans Transition to College: Combat, PTSD, and Alienation on Campus. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. Vol 48, Issue 3. 2011.
19. Murphy, Elizabeth. Operation Graduation. Inside Higher Ed. 2011. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/11/11/student-veterans-do-better-peers-when-given-support-services
20. “Local modernities can be used by humans placed in specific geographic situations to their own ends – and these singularities can then speak and exchange with each other about their own understandings of modernity. Those exchanges are probably agonistic and approach something we could start to imagine as a planetary public sphere that does not seek consensus but non-destructive recognition. So I would suggest that we need to see ourselves as all fundamentally provincial that could be interesting as a resistant mode to current form of globalization.” –Charles Esche, Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies, November 2011.

Announcements: ...MBG Recommends

I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America
The Harry Ransom Center, Austin
September 11, 2012 – January 6, 2013

Rendering, signed only “Lutz” of Colonial Hotel Nassau, aerial view, 1954—56. Gouache on board.
Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation / Harry Ransom Center.

Renaissance man, polymath, whatever moniker you want to give him Norman Bel Geddes (1893 - 1958) lives up to it. Over the course of his life and career he designed costumes and lighting, stage sets, theater buildings, houses, nightclubs, and offices; while writing numerous books and articles. A Utopian thinker Geddes held fast to the belief that cultural production embodied by art, architecture and design could make peoples lives better; psychologically and emotionally. A nice idea in light of contemporary political polarization and economic hardship.The Harry Ransom Center continues its rigorous and exemplary exhibition program by delving deeply into Geddes life and career. Organized by Donald Albrecht, an independent curator and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of the City of New York, five thematic sections make up I Have Seen The Future, spanning from 1916 - 1958, with each tackling a specific period of his output. Geddes most impressive project was the immense visionary model of 1960’s America made for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Some 27,500 daily visitors viewed the model and emerged with a pin bearing the phrase that makes the exhibitions title. I Have Seen the Future promises, like all Ransom Center exhibitions, to be immersive in its rigor. Give over your afternoon to it and you won’t be sorry. Through the lens of the past you might just catch a glimpse of the future.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.

The New Children’s Museum, San Diego
October 8, 2011 – September 3, 2013

The New Children’s Museum in San Diego is an inspiring model for engaging kids with contemporary art. A non-profit housed in an environmentally sustainable building and dedicated to creating meaningful art experiences for children and their families, the NCM is currently host to TRASH, an expansive exhibition consisting of twelve artists—including names like Vik Muniz and Ed Ruscha—whose work explores our relationship with the rubbish we produce. Installations like Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s San Diego Midden and Chris Sollars’ Play-Fill seem particularly fitting in this exhibition, creating pieces that not only prick at your curiosity, but also create an interaction between the work and the viewer in a way that does not feel like an addendum. In San Diego Midden, the Wertheim sisters collaborate with museum-goers to create a plastic midden—an idea first conceptualized when two artists collected all their domestic plastic debris over time in order to create a visual statistic of how much material one uses. In line with the humor of most of Sollars’ work, he has created a refuse playscape in which he asks viewers to take on the point of view of trash itself, complete with climb-in dumpster and a video of walking trash bags journeying through downtown San Diego. If you haven’t already, get in the mood by watching the award winning Waste Land, a documentary that follows artist Vik Muniz to the largest landfill in the world to create his Pictures of Garbage series, then go see the work for yourself. Whether you view it as indoor playground or important artistic exposure to young minds, TRASH is fun and inviting exhibition, and it’s difficult to believe that anyone could walk away without some satisfied playtime alongside some serious meditation on our growing global trash problem.

Emily Ng is an artist and Production Associate at Fluent~Collaborative.

Added on 2012-09-25 21:47:42

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