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Archive for the ‘new york’ Category

The Robber Baron’s Age of Rembrandts

Posted by gninja on November 8, 2007

Good commentary from the Guardian. According to Richard B Woodward:

What is unseemly about The Age of Rembrandt is the jingling sound of money audible throughout and the subliminal appeals for more of it to replenish the museum’s coffers. The title of the show is a misnomer and a ruse. The curators aren’t examining the Dutch society that allowed Rembrandt and his contemporaries to flourish but rather celebrating the New York society that could afford to buy their work.


(A portrait of JP Morgan. Not done by Rembrandt. That would be impossible. Or prescient.)

By and large I had the same response when I saw the exhibition. But, unlike Woodward, I took not so much issue with the title of the show (though I do agree with him), but instead with the lack of curatorial presence in the show. Rather than just group the paintings on the walls according to their donors, why not make some kind of effort at addressing what their art-purchases (and donations) say about these prominent families? It would do a great service to the public to strive less towards curatorial transparency–at least in this case. Include photographs of these families next to their works, and show what else they collected. Even if only through photographs. Juxtapose a formal portrait of Morgan with one done by Rembrandt. How were these families modeling themselves. There really a whole slew of ways this show could have been handled that could have satisfied both the museum’s desire to honor (and solicit more) donors, as well as the museum-goer’s desire for a an exhibition that is intellectually engaging.

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Review of “Newsroom 1986 – 2000”: What Is Roberta Smith Going on About?

Posted by gninja on October 20, 2007

At the Mary Boone Gallery now is an exhibition that sounds, well, very good.  In Newsroom: 1986 – 2000, artist Aleksandra Mir turns the gallery into her own newsdesk, churning out on a daily basis repurposed headlines and spreads that showed up in local papers from the above-mentioned years.


In the words of Mir herself:

News becomes history as soon as it is reported. What fascinates me in talking about history is the paradoxical movement backwards while obviously propelling ahead with a story into the future. The 15-year time period covered in this show is of a recent past, a past that still unites many New Yorkers in recognition of a city at once familiar and long gone.

The NYC tabloids New York Daily News and New York Post serve as practical tools that unite the population around shared joys and fears; they help spread the city’s gossip and form its identity. Whether one buys them or not, a glance at the headlines while passing by a deli or waiting for a bus is enough to be connected to the diverse masses that make up their readership. Never mind if what is reported is mostly disaster or scandal. In retrospect, news before 9/11/2001 makes this megalopolis look like a quaint town full of petty crooks, with this accident or that occasional murder resulting in the loss of a single life. A rape in Central Park and a love triangle on Long Island were the two longest running news stories of New York in the 15 years leading up to the end of the millennium.  

By remediating these printed works as hand-crafted images, Mir imbues the original with the heavily (and heavily-apparent) subjective that is often so ignored by readers of the original.  Everything about the process and product of Mir’s work serves to accentuate what is the true method of newsmaking, allowing its hypermediation here to serve as the primary commentary on it and indictment against it.

And, yet, this all seems to be beyond critic Roberta Smith’s point of tolerance:

I’m all for artistic license, but this may be may be taking a few too many liberties with our memories, or, failing that, the front-page form. After “Money,” Ms. Mir hopes to show series on food poisoning and on AIDS and then end the exhibition next Saturday on a high note: sports triumphs.

Oh, good, I’m glad to see that the leading art critic for the NY Times is “all for artistic license.”  So pleased she fulfilled that prerequisite.  And it doesn’t seem to be a mite unusual at all that a woman writing for a newspaper might feel threatened by a critique on the medium through which she speaks.

Horror!  Gasp!  Scandal!


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New York’s Subways as (Forum for) Artvertising

Posted by gninja on August 4, 2007

I’m so sorry for the title of this post.  I can’t help myself.


(The Shuttle train from Grand Central to Times Square, recently done up by the Westin Hotel.)

At the New York Transit Museum right now  is an exhibition on “Squire Vickers and the Subway’s Modern Age“.  I’ve not yet been to the exhibition, but it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to talk about art and the subways again— especially since husband recommended we take the S to Times Square yesterday to see its new duds.  Very, very cool.


Not exactly the sort of work Vickers might have commissioned, or done himself:


Throughout the 103-year history of NYC’s subway system, though, there’s been a constant effort to beautify what gets millions of us from point A to B.  Whether its come from subway designers and architects themselves, like Vickers, or from street artists, as in the ’70s and ’80s, or from advertisers, as in this case, people don’t seem to want to have to stare at blankness for their commutes.  The embellishment certainly helps us avert our eyes from others, an unlimited source of tension on these streets.

Nevertheless, though, I still felt bad about taking so well to the Westin’s ad campaign.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding in a subway carriage all dressed up as an Alpine Scene, but knowing that it was just another tactic to sell me something made me feel bad about it.  And yet, it’s not that far from Rudolf Stingel’s ‘Plan B‘, an installation of carpeting in Grand Central’s main terminal, in 2004:


Both the ad campaign and Stingel’s art have the same effect of alienating the daily commute from its natural character, either through domesticating it (imagine yourself walking through Grand Central with carpeted floors– just the absence of clicking heels alone would be eerie) or through likening it to a form of tourism or vacationing.

And yet, and yet the whole thing is changed when I know one of those installations’ primary purpose is to sell me something.

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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:




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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).

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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!

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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.

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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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Well Come (on in)

Posted by gninja on June 29, 2007

To the arrivees via Welcome.


I love NY’s (not so newly installed) LED traffic lights. They’re so much more of a pleasure to obey (or not, depending on whether traffic’s in my way) than those terribly bossy injunctions of yore.


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