Transgression for transgression’s sake?

Art controversies

From left to right: A student at ACAD who killed a chicken as part of an art project. A work by Carl Michael von Hausswolff purportedly made from cremated material stolen from the Majdanek concentration camp. One of Charles Krafft’s nazi inspired porcelain works.

One of the enduring myths of contemporary art is that it ought to push boundaries, titillate, and shock.  Whether left, right, or center, most of the artworld subscribes to this belief, and for the most part, I do too. It’s an expectation set by the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, one that seems timorous to leave unfulfilled. We’ve become desensitized to art that shocks, precisely because it has become expected. To shock has become banal. Pornographic imagery? Bodily fluids? Whatever. And yet, as much as we’d like to imagine that all boundaries have been crossed, they haven’t. When art encroaches upon ethical issues, sparks fly.  Continue reading

Frieze NYC 2013

Paul McCarthy's 'Balloon Dog' (2013) by the north entrance of Frieze New York (image: John Berens/ Frieze)

Paul McCarthy’s ‘Balloon Dog’ (2013) by the north entrance of Frieze New York (image: John Berens/ Frieze)

Art fair coverage, it’s almost always the same. The collective malaise of journalists and bloggers is palpable. This year, Blouinartinfo.com is offering an iPad mini to whoever can “contribute their craziest, most experimental ideas for covering an art fair”. Initially, fair malaise is countered with hype – and everyone swallows it up. It begins with the mad scramble for free fair tickets as the pressure and expectation mounts on art worlders to go. As the hype dies down, one accepts that all the excitement is over a glorified shopping mall. There’s the spectacle of fashionistas squinting at artworks, and the rich men who ogle at them from behind. Then there is the banal analysis that follows. What were the estimated sale figures, who did well, who didn’t, which gallerists dropped out and why? Almost all of this analysis is useless because it is purely speculative.  Continue reading

‘Art as an Investment’ by Richard H. Rush

Richard H. Rush, 'Art as an Investment', 1961, published by Prentice-Hall

Richard H. Rush, ‘Art as an Investment’, 1961, published by Prentice-Hall (image: amazon.com)

One of life’s great pleasures is the serendipitous discovery of a book. I especially love finding non-fiction and how-to guides. Such guides, though they appear obsolete, can be rich with historic revelation and insight. Imagine discovering your parent’s school textbooks. The content remains accessible and yet completely alien at the same time.

The coffee table at my office has a neatly stacked pile of books for visitors. These include the exhibition catalogue for the Postmodernism show at the V&A, a Gerhard Richter monograph, and the Tate’s catalogue for their 2011 Barry Flanagan exhibition. Hidden at the very bottom of the stack, I found a dusty, hard cover copy of Richard H. Rush’s Art as an Investment, published in 1961. None of my colleagues had any idea as to how it got there or who brought it in.  Continue reading

Art Bollocks & International Art English

Installation shot, BANK, ‘Press Releases (London)’, 8th-10th January 1999 (image: john-russell.org). In the late 90s the British art collective BANK staged two exhibitions of press releases, the first in London and then New York. Annotated with BANK’s criticisms, the releases were faxed back to the galleries that authored them. New York gallerists were particularly offended, many leaving agressive voice mails for the group.

Last week, my girlfriend and I went to the Sean Kelly gallery in Midtown to view an exhibition of work by Anthony McCall. I haven’t seen McCall’s work in the flesh since his solo exhibition many years ago at the Serpentine Gallery. Trying to recall exactly when this was, I scanned the gallery’s press release (which doesn’t mention it) only to discover something far more interesting. I found myself stupefied by the opening sentence of the release. I actually re-read it out of sheer disbelief:

‘Sean Kelly announces Face to Face, featuring new and historic work by Anthony McCall’.

‘Sean Kelly announces’. Not ‘Sean Kelly is pleased to announce’, or ‘Sean Kelly is thrilled to’. Just ‘Sean Kelly announces’.

The cynic in me rejoiced. The use of ‘pleased to announce’ in press releases is an irritating non sequitur. Why wouldn’t the gallery be bloody pleased?  Continue reading

Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom

Front cover of 'Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom', 2013, The Feminist Press

Front cover of ‘Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom’, 2013, The Feminist Press

For those who are or aren’t familiar with the plight of punk band Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom, published by The Feminist Press, is an excellent introduction. A trim 150 pages, the book includes key excerpts from the band’s trial, selected song lyrics, letters and poems, and tributes from individuals such as Yoko Ono, Bianca Jagger, and Justin Vivian Bond.  Continue reading