the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Archive for July, 2007

The Autograph and the Allograph: Forgeries and Re-enactments

Posted by gninja on July 30, 2007


(Going to the Masked Ball, John Anster Fitzgerald [or a forgery by Robert Thwaites].)


(Max Bunzel reenacting Paul Potter’s 1965 antiwar speech in Washington.)

Two unrelated items in the news today caught my eye.

The NY Time’s Art Section reports on the Port Huron Project as Giving New Life to Protests of Yore:

Mark Tribe, an artist and assistant professor of modern culture and media studies at Brown University, has organized a series of such re-enactments at sites where important speeches of the New Left originally took place, and he says his intention was precisely to create such a strange cultural and political straddle. The goal was to use the speeches not just as historical ready-mades or conceptual-art explorations of context, he said, but also maybe as a genuine form of protest, to point out with the help of art how much has changed, yet how much remains the same.

(As an aside, I’m pretty regretful that, as an undergrad, I stayed at least 10 feet away at all times from the MCM department. What a fool I was not to take advantage of that opportunity.)

From the Guardian, we read today that the notorious art forger, Robert Thwaites, is back to work, but on legitimate pieces this time:

After exposure and conviction, Thwaites, 55, went down in disgrace although even the judge hailed his “remarkably talented” work. Released on licence but under strict supervision, he is painting once more in the style of Fitzgerald. But, older, thinner and greyer, he said he now hoped to use his skills and the additional notoriety to create a legitimate career.

While the first instance is allowed the title of a work of art because it proclaims its source (which is where its status as a work of art derives– in its very repetition and recontextualization); the second incident is a crime. And rightly so, considering Thwaites willingly deceived others by passing off his own work as that of another (dead) artist. Obvious enough.

But the two unrelated items intersect at Nelson Goodman‘s distinction between the allograph and the autograph (online sources on this seem to be scare, but if you follow this link and scroll down to the highlighted bits, you’ll find a brief discussion of the allograph and the autograph). While one “piece” is allographic– that is, the piece itself can be replicated and doesn’t lose any aspect of its ‘identity’ through repetition. Goodman’s example is a piece of sheet music– Beethoven’s 9th does not require its author to play it for it to still be Beethoven’s 9th. On the other hand, painted works are autographic, valued for their uniqueness and for being the production of a particular individual (or individuals) from a distinct moment in time. Repetition (or forgeries in the case of Thwaites) negates the value of the work, no matter how utterly indistinguishable it is from the original.

Juxtaposing these two “pieces” is a neat demonstration is this distinction, but more than that I think it demonstrates how little we actually mind repetition. In fact, and I’m sure we learned this long ago from Warhol, pointed (and frank) repetition actually imbues the original with value– heaping meaning onto the piece both to serve the interests of the present as well as retroactively.

It just makes me think how much money Thwaits can make now creating”forgeries” that proclaim themselves as such.

Posted in art, semiotics | 1 Comment »

Sanitizing Our News(Racks)

Posted by gninja on July 27, 2007

(This is not a photo of a street in NY, but I like the photo):


Over at Gothamist, they’re reporting a new competition organized to ameliorate a supposed blight on the city’s landscape. The competition is being held by the Municipal Art Society of New York, a society about which I’m rather ambivalent.

According to their website:

The streets of New York City are littered with filthy, poorly maintained and decrepit newsracks that are both eyesores and potentially hazardous to New Yorkers.

Paris, London, Berlin and Amsterdam don’t tolerate this scourge on their streets, and Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, Houston and San Francisco have cracked down on the newsrack blight too. But New York City continues to tolerate it, and we think this is outrageous!

Ridding our streets of these nasty newsracks is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and the Municipal Art Society needs your help. Submit your best photographs of the dirtiest, most unkempt, most repulsive newsracks in New York City to our OUTRAGE! contest and help persuade elected officials that filthy newsracks are rotting the Big Apple and that they must commit to regulating them.

I’d say you can learn a lot about this organization from the tone of this snippet alone. “Outrage”? I can think of far more outrageous things occurring on city streets. But I’ll leave the rest of the snippet-dissecting to you.

So what is this Municipal Art Society anyway? In their own words:

The Municipal Art Society of New York is a private, non-profit membership organization whose mission is to promote a more livable city. Since 1893, the MAS has worked to enrich the culture, neighborhoods and physical design of New York City. It advocates for excellence in urban design and planning, contemporary architecture, historic preservation and public art.

Their chairman is a lawyer, and their president, Kent L. Barwick, sounds more like a glorified realtor. It has its roots in the late 19th century as a group of architects and aesthetes championing the City Beautiful movement here in NY, but whose concerns broadened to include urban planning and historical preservation. (You can read a brief review of Gregory Gilmartin’s book about the MAS, Shaping the City, here.)

But for all their good works and good intentions, this current project/competition is an outright imposition of an elitist civic ideal upon the city’s topography, as well as a threat to free speech. For one, they seem to be targeting the free mags whose stand alone newsracks provide reading material and information at no cost to pedestrians. According to the contest rules:

Photos of newsrack eyesores that are also illegally placed (within 15 feet of a fire-hydrant, in a bus-stop, within 5 feet of a corner area, etc., will be given special consideration!)

I doubt any pay-per-read NY Times or NY Post racks fall under this purview.


(This photo, by the way, comes directly from the MAS site entry for the photo competition.)

Furthermore, the city has already made repeated attempts to rid the streets of such stand-alone newsracks, or at least regulate them so stringently that they are all but prohibited from remaining. Frankly, I think the lack of prudent prioritizing here is best summed up by The Villager:

Exacerbating the problem, are the ever-vigilant community group members, marching through the tony Uptown neighborhoods, clipboards in hand, documenting the offending news racks, creating lists of complaints to send to DOT. Their mission is to save New York by removing news racks from the sidewalks. Council members who could and should focus valuable time and resources on crumbling schools, lead paint, the homeless population, and the dismal Downtown economy, are instead, working feverishly on a mission to remove the horrible blight on the landscape created by news racks.
Which brings me back to the MAS and what this all has to do with art. By categorizing this mission under the rubric of “municipal art” this society is ironically giving a nod to the valuable aesthetic presence of New York’s news boxes. For a society so concerned with the image of our streets–including, primarily, landmarked buildings and neighborhoods designated as ‘historic’- their attention to the newsracks communicates to me that these racks are contributing to the aesthetic quality, the image of New York’s streets.


It’s just that they don’t like the image that they’re seeing.

But not only are these free mags providing an alternative view (generally) from the MSM, they’re adding color to our sidewalks, in addition to a forum for street artists.  The Village Voice news box even has a design which emulates graffiti.  These racks are just as valuable to the image of the NYC street as our bodegas, corner delis, and kiosks:




Posted in art, graffiti, new york, newspapers, street art, urban space | Leave a Comment »

Rudolf Stingel and Having to Be There: Participation

Posted by gninja on July 26, 2007


At the Whitney right now is an exhibition of works by Rudolf Stingel. (I have to admit–and I’m chalking this up to my being a medievalist–I’d never heard of Stingel before. But apparently, he [an import to the NY art scene from Italy] made a hit debut in 1991 with a great big orange carpet, and has been, as far as I can gather, a darling to the critics ever since.)

You can find reviews of his current Whitney exhibition here and here. In short, it’s the best exhibition I’ve been to in a long, long while. It epitomized for me why I go to a museum because it gave me what cannot be replicated elsewhere or in any other format.

From the Whitney website:

Employing such materials as rubber, carpet, painted aluminum, Styrofoam, and paint, Rudolf Stingel’s work questions and disrupts the viewer’s understanding and experience of an art object. Although Stingel’s work does not always involve paint on canvas, it continually reflects upon some of the fundamental questions concerning painting today, including authenticity, hierarchy, meaning, and context. While Stingel, who was shown in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, has created major installations for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and numerous other institutions, this is his first solo museum exhibition in the United States, surveying his career to date and including a new site-specific work.

Despite how much I was enamored of this show–and the experience of experiencing it– it has some shortcomings that are not so much a product of the exhibition as the result of its seductions.

The show includes several large rooms, each one devoted to between one and three works. But because of the relationship between the works and the gallery space, each room has the feeling of an installation, or I might even venture, a performance. The first room (pictured above) elicited some variation on “ooh” and “ah” from every person entering the room. It’s simply a large room with walls covered from floor to ceiling in aluminum foil panels, illuminated by a massive, somewhat low-hung chandelier glowing with soft warm light. Like entering the Tin Man’s ballroom. Unfortunately, I had approached from the stairwell, but I can imagine the effect of entering the room unaware of what would be in there would have been all the more exciting had I taken the elevator. Very theatrical.

I soon learned that the aluminum foil was actually a medium on which the museum-goers were invited to draw, place stickers and buttons or whatever else they had on hand. Some of the panels were transports from the same exhibition at the MCA, thus retaining a local flavor outside of its locale. It was a bit strange to see some shout-outs to Chicago in a museum in NY.

Clearly, this DIY aspect of the show went down well with the critics, though I thought it was the weakest part of the exhibition. Aside from the obvious criticism–that the invitation for musuem-goers to participate is gimicky– it detracted from what would otherwise have been an overwhelming experience of dislocation. Not only was the opulent and sumptuous effect of the room unexpected in the context of the Whitney museum, but it was also achieved through the use of an everyday item (aluminum foil) juxtaposed with a luxuriant lighting piece (the chandelier). The marks made by visitors, while fun, lessened the extravagant impression created by the use of these two strikingly different materials.

At the same time, Profiling, the other current exhibition at the Whitney which I discussed in a previous post reveals the shortcomings of the use of audience participation in Stingel’s show. Whereas the pieces in Profiling required the participation of museum-goers in order to communicate a very pointed and topical message (the simultaneous allurement and threat of omnipresent surveillance), the participation requested in Stingel’s exhibition lacked any sort of direction or, to be blunt about it, point. It seemed more an appeal to the increasing self-absorption of us these days, due to which it’s presumed we lack the attention span for anything not directly related to us. And rightly so. For chrissakes, each of the three headlining exhibitions at the Whitney now allow some form of participation (the Summer of Love one includes a kind of carpeted love cave in which people are allowed to cavort; picture the adult version of waiting in line for a carnival moon walk / bouncy castle, and you’ve got the right idea).

In any case, sometimes participation works and sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Stingel’s aluminum walls, I’d say it merely amounts to a questioning of the author of a work of art.  Something which is neither new nor underdiscussed (if you’ve got access to JSTOR, just search in the art history journals for collaborative art or audience participation and art, and you’ll see what I mean).

Posted in art, exhibitions, exhibits, galleries, graffiti, museums, new york, photography, portrait | 1 Comment »

Photo Op: White House Unveils New Press Room

Posted by gninja on July 11, 2007

I realize this is more of a BAGnewsNotes kind of post, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get my NY Times rant on.  This was their web page over-the-fold image for the unveiling of the new press room (polishing brass on the Titanic, aren’t they over there at the White House, eh?):

The photo selected by a NY Times staffer is of some lady vacuuming, while an aide (or whatever kind of be-suited guy looks on, latte in hand).  I can’t decide whether this is sheer brilliance or just stupid.  If it’s the former, it portrays the current administration as a wealthy white man’s club, where African-American ladies keep things tidy.  Fair’s fair: since W wants to liken himself to our founding fathers, then this is an apt image for the role he so wants to play.  It also begs the question: where is the guy (or Snow) anyway?  Is there now, along with the new door that obstructs reporters’ view of people coming into the room, a policy against photographs while Bush is present?  I don’t know.

In any case, I’m not so sure that the individual who chose to put up this photo had these things in mind.  Or if s/he did whether the messages I think it conveys would be read by most people checking in over at the website.  People rarely linger too much over news photos, much less pick out things they communicate.  Which is why I think every kid should be taught art history in school.  Shame there’re no multiple choice tests for it, otherwise No Child Left Behind would definitely make sure it was standard curriculum material.

Did I mention BAGnewsNotes?  Go see BAGnewsNotes.

Posted in journalism, photography, politics | 1 Comment »

Profiling the Profilers: Update

Posted by gninja on July 9, 2007

Apropos yesterday’s post about the Whitney exhibition, “Profiling,” I woke up this morning to read this item in the NY Times.

By the end of this year, police officials say, more than 100 cameras will have begun monitoring cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States.

The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, as the plan is called, will resemble London’s so-called Ring of Steel, an extensive web of cameras and roadblocks designed to detect, track and deter terrorists. British officials said images captured by the cameras helped track suspects after the London subway bombings in 2005 and the car bomb plots last month.

If the program is fully financed, it will include not only license plate readers but also 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers, and movable roadblocks.

Exciting stuff, eh? So, while I’m out on Wall Street, giving guided tours (a little plug for myself), I could hundreds of cameras on me! Tracking my every move! I’ll be a star!


Hi mom!

Posted in art, exhibitions, exhibits, galleries, museums, new york | Leave a Comment »

Profiling the Profilers

Posted by gninja on July 8, 2007


I saw some great stuff at the Whitney today. Not a bad way to cool off in this 95 degree heat.

The first (small) exhibition I saw was Profiling, well-placed on the museum’s first floor. According to the curators:

Profiling features two artworks that present a dialogue on issues surrounding surveillance, protection, privacy, and identity by exploring the use of automated systems for tracking and “profling” people in public spaces. The connection between surveillance and entertainment is at the core of SVEN-Surveillance Video Entertainment Network by artists Amy Alexander, Jesse Gilbert, Wojciech Kosma, Vincent Rabaud, and Nikhil Rasiwasia. SVEN uses a computer application to track visitors’ movements through space and to analyze their “rock star potential.” A video-processing application uses the live camera feed to generate music video-like visuals. In David Rokeby’s surveillance installation Taken, two side-by-side projections provide different readings of the activities in the gallery space. A continuously accumulating history of the movements of people in the gallery is juxtaposed with a “catalog” of gallery visitors’ headshots that have classifying adjectives, such as “unsuspecting” or “hungry,” randomly attached to them. The projects brought together in Profiling expose the absurdities and subvert the effects of surveillance technologies.

People entering were clearly drawn to the digital images, either for its rarity in a museum or for the chance to see themselves projected on the wall of museum. Immediately past the attendant taking tickets, to the left, is a dark room with a split screen showing images of museum-goers walking about the room. On the left side was a screen containing a series of still-frames, each one an image of an museum visitor. The tiles were constantly shifting around, and periodically, one would be blown up to fit the entire space of the screen, and would be accompanied by a title, such as “unthreatened.”


On the right side of the screen, shifting, ghost-like images of the same people floated about as looped sequences.


I recall my entrance into the room and move toward the far corner being shown several times. A roving white-lined square honed in on people, heightening the experience of subjection to surveillance– as opposed to voyeurism. It felt menacing to see the back of my head focused in on and highlighted for everyone’s eyes.

For all its smallness, the exhibition was a good one for several reasons. For one, it accentuated the lurking sense of vulnerability I already feel when I visit a museum or other public space under surveillance. I am never just looking at works of art. I’m also feeling the lens of the camera on me, as well as the eyes of guards and perhaps even other museum visitors. So the exhibition was relevant to the museum-going experience itself.

It was also good because of its relevance to current concerns with privacy and governmental infringements of those rights. While on this side of the Atlantic we have illegal wiretapping (so, an audio invasion) on the other side there are concerns with omnipresent–though legal–CCTV. These works, while entertaining, effectively achieve the threatening nature of ubiquitous surveillance. The titles I mentioned above, in particular, portray the the perils of innacuracy in public profiling. They produced in me a sense of helplessness and futility at the specter of being misrepresented by the titles appended to my recorded image.

It’s a thoughtful exhibition, carried out really well.

Posted in art, exhibitions, exhibits, galleries, museums, new york | Leave a Comment »

Art in Motion

Posted by gninja on July 8, 2007

This one always makes me sad:


The MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” program is a good thing. I’ll let them tell you about it:

London’s Poems on the Underground program began in subway cars in 1986. In 1992, New York City Transit followed London’s lead and Poetry in Motion was born. Representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Poetry Society of America collaborate on the selection of poems. A complete poem or excerpt by an established poet must be short enough to be readable on one of our subway or bus cards. The PSA secures rights to reprint the poems and arranges poetry readings to promote the program.

For the most part I’m amazed that some precious ad space is reserved instead for stuff that isn’t trying to sell me anything, much as I appreciate the fantasies of perfect skin provided by Dr. Zizmor. The program is underwritten by Barnes and Noble, and their logo appears on the poetry placards, so that’d explain it.

Which got me thinking this morning that it’d be nice to have some artwork do the same duty. I don’t know who would underwrite it, considering that very few of the major museums in NY have free admission. (If not for my Columbia University ID, I’d go to museums pretty rarely for just that reason.) I’d like to see some paintings or photographs represented in subway cars, particularly in those cases flanking the doors– usually only two per car are reserved for MTA maps, while the rest tell me I can get a degree in 18 months from BMCC.

They can be subway-themed, if you like. The guys over at Magnum have a ton of those:


(The subway platform always makes for a great film strip.)

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Detourism: Exhibition at Orchard47

Posted by gninja on July 8, 2007

This isn’t a photo from the exhibition. This was etched in the sidewalk concrete in front of the gallery space. It was far more interesting than the exhibition:


Husband and I went to the oh-so-cleverly-titled Detourism exhibition at Orchard47 today. I was very eager to see the exhibition, lured by the description, promising works that would subvert the constraints and restraints of traditional tourism and the guided (by whom?) ways in which we engage with space:

Spectators and agents, tourists routinely vacate their habitual surroundings to occupy alternative subject positions, if not a geographical location. Yet, with pressure to ensure each vacation is well spent, the voluntary activity of tourism supports a guide industry. Barthes considered the guidebook an “objectified form of ‘immaterial labor’ […] essentially serving as a ‘labor saving device,’” —objective fact relegating efficient, guided, disorientation.

If tourism seeks a reliably mapped alterity, the exhibit detourism can only offer an itinerary of shifting curatorial endpoints. detourism takes topology as an impetus to highlight the interstices in the urban field constitutive of subject relations. The spatial practices exhibited underscore the line of demarcation between the subject and its dematerialization within the built environment.

Unfortunately I was provided with none of the “propose[d] psychogeographical engagements and deviant tourisms to offer alternate routes of circulation.

Frankly I don’t know what I got. The 12 works on the walls and in cases were an assortment of photographs and typed pages having possible something to do with space, but very little to do with the overworked pretensions of the exhibition description.

The only work worth discussing after we left was the audio piece looping in the background, A New York Minute by Alan Licht, recorded in 2001. The piece was a 15 minute, 17 second long loop of a NY weather report recorded probably in February– I’m assuming since there was a Groundhog Day “Eve” announcement, if I recall correctly. When we first entered the gallery, I assumed the broadcast was just a radio left on by the gallery’s attendant, and, surprised by the report of a “high temperature of 26”, I remarked that the announcer was reporting the temperature in Celsius. It took a minute for me to realize that the recording was actually a part of the exhibition.

I thought it was the only piece included that got at the proposed intent of the show. It sounded, at first, like a piece of my daily life I’m accustomed to hearing in indoor spaces. I experienced a sense of abrupt dislocation when I realized that I was hearing a weather forecast for my city, but for the wrong time of year. The presentation was a mimetic one (can sound be considered mimetic?), and yet I had to remind myself that when I left the gallery I’d be stepping out into hot, sticky July weather and not a snow shower. Not exactly relevant to tourism, but definitely relevant to the decontextualization of our everyday experiences in space.

Posted in art, barthes, exhibitions, galleries | 1 Comment »

Dreaming of Paprika and Gustave Moreau: Anime and the Arts

Posted by gninja on July 7, 2007

Thanks to a very, very kind anonymous cyber-person, my husband and I were able to watch Paprika in the comfort of home last night– we saw it a couple of weeks ago in the theater and were very much enamored of it.  It’s a film I doubt I’m even qualified to categorize, bu, in short, it deals with the encroachments of dreams upon reality and reality upon dreams.  It’s a weird film.  A highly weird film.  The animation is gorgeous.  Superlatively gorgeous.


In the movie, I spotted at least two allusions to the art of Gustave Moreau, a mid-to-late 19th century Symbolist.  One of which is below:

Oedipus and the Sphynx, 1864


This is not the first time I’ve caught masterpieces and (fairly) well-known paintings tucked away in anime.  I believe there are a ton in Sky Blue.  I’m not entirely sure why certain artworks are selected for display–although I can guess, with the dreamlike, proto-surrealist images by Moreau–but if there’s been a systematic study done of it, I’d like to know.  Anime (and manga) strike me as media in which emulation or allusion are significant components, a way of staking out for the sake of the audience the major influences on the work they’re viewing, as well as claiming a particular artistic heritage /lineage.  For all I know, for every Western masterpiece shown in a given film, there could be numerous allusions to Japanese artists and artworks that my Occidentalist education has deprived me of noticing.

Posted in anime, art, film | 2 Comments »

Sarkozy and Le Jogging: What Would Barthes Do?

Posted by gninja on July 6, 2007


I love, love, love this story. It’s been around in the French media for a while now, but the IHT brought it to my attention. Apparently, in France, “le jogging” is associated with right wing politics, a sense of egomaniacal self-interest and individualism, characteristics associated with Americanism. (Hey, don’t blame the French– just ask Adam Smith.) Sarkozy has made a show of his ritual jogs, inviting the media to analogize his exercise regimen with his prescription for French reform.

What I love, love, love about the treatment of le jogging du Sarkozy is that it throws into high relief the very French treatment of images. France is, after all, the country of Roland Barthes. Barthes is among my favorite semioticians because he — in an extraordinarily (and I do mean that) accessible way– took the quotidian, things we take for granted, and attempted to explain the messages they plugged into our heads. The images we see, for example, in ads are not hidden symbols that are difficult to decipher, but rather components of our culturally informed experience that retain numerous associations we’d have a hard time ignoring. One of Barthes’ most famous essays, “Wine and Milk” gets at that. Cultural semiotics is different from standard visual analysis with with a socio-cultural bent because it understands that certain things (e.g. milk) have associations that, while certainly not a priori, get carried along with it into no-matter-which context.


The image of the jogging politician has received much comment among French journalists and cultural commentators. Pretty incisive comment getting at all the messages this one, seemingly (at least to an American audience) innocuous and unremarkable act conveys. It’s not just a president running for his health, or even to promote good health– it has a host of associations.

Which, of course, can be weighted one way or another, depending upon which image gets used.


It’s not too far off from what our own president does, no? There’s been no shortage of news items on our ersatz cowboy at work. I’m not so sure the commentary on this side’s been all that insightful, though. Mostly just mentioning it as something he does while on his record long vacations.

Posted in barthes, politics, semiotics | 1 Comment »