October 24, 2009

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 
first inaugural address, March 4, 1933

In separate speaking appearances this past week, ex-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney resorted to fear mongering and divisive words yet once again to skillfully drive home their points. Please gentlemen, we're smarter now...we're tired...and we need more than that. The American public needs their government's help and inspiration.

Perhaps Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Cheney could learn more about the art of effective speaking from classic speeches such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address from March 4, 1933. Following is a powerful excerpt:

"...Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried. But their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men."

. . . . . . . . 


October 19, 2009

Laughing All The Way To The Bank

Execution, 1995 by Yue Minjun

While attending the 2007 CIGE Art Fair (China International Gallery Exposition) in Beijing, China, I remarked to my colleague Margit how lukewarm I felt about the paintings on the walls. Many of the canvases were repetitively Mao-centric or concerned only with self in subject matter and exhibited the thinnest layers of surface paint possible. Almost all had the appearance of having been slapped together quickly with only commerce in mind.

Since those heady days, the art world has learned that the words bubble and market correction don't just simply apply to the great housing and real estate debacle. Following are several informative articles from the New York Times published in recent years (serving both as a timeline and as a commentary on the times we live in) regarding the highs and lows of the Chinese contemporary art market.

. . . . . . . . 

From David Barboza's article Schooling the Artist's Republic of China, published March 30, 2008:

"On a recent lazy afternoon Wang Haiyang, a student at China's top art school, was quietly packing away some of his new oil paintings in the campus's printmaking department. He is 23, and he just had his first major art exhibition at a big Beijing gallery.

Many of his works sold for more than $3,000 each, he said. And he hasn't even graduated.

"This is one of my new works," he said proudly, gesturing toward a sexually provocative painting of a couple embracing. "I'll be having another show in Singapore in March."

For better or worse - depending on whom you talk to - Beijing's state-run Central Academy of Fine Arts has been transformed into a breeding ground for hot young artists and designers who are quickly snapped up by dealers in Beijing and Shanghai.

The school is so selective that it turns away more than 90 percent of its applicants each year. Many of its faculty members are millionaires and its alumni include some of China's most successful new artists, including Liu Wei, Fang Lijun and Zhang Huan. And with the booming market for contemporary Chinese art, its students are suddenly so popular that collectors frequently show up on campus in search of the next art superstar. At the annual student exhibition the students no longer label their works only with their name and a title. They leave an e-mail address and cellphone number.

..."The buyers are also going to the school to look for the next Zhang Xiaogang," said Cheng Xindong, a dealer in Beijing, referring to an art star, one of whose paintings sold for $3.3 million at a Sotheby's sale in London in February. "And immediately they make contact with them, even before they graduate from school, saying, 'I will buy everything from you' " (A similar phenomenon has been observed in recent years at hot art schools in New York and Los Angeles.)

"This can be a dangerous thing," he said. "These young artists need time to develop."

. . . . . . . .

From Carol Vogel's article Amid Asian Art Boom, Manhattan Gallery to Open Branch in Beijing, published April 29, 2008:

"With works by Chinese contemporary artists fetching millions of dollars at auction and the number of Asian collectors multiplying, it was only a matter of time before a major Manhattan art gallery announced plans to put down roots in Beijing.

The first to do so is PaceWildenstein, which this summer will open Pace Beijing, a 22,000-square-foot space in a former munitions factory. The site is in the heart of the city's gallery neighborhood, the Factory 798 District.

... Pace Beijing will be in a neighborhood that is the equivalent of New York's Chelsea. "Factory 798 District is the third-biggest sightseeing attraction in Beijing," said Mr. Glimcher (after the Great Wall and the Forbidden City).

"There are already about 200 galleries there," he added. "It has 10 times the attendance of Chelsea."

. . . . . . . .

From David Barboza's article An Auction of New Chinese Art Leaves Disjointed Noses in Its Wake, published May 7, 2008:

"Sotheby's auction house called it the "most important collection of contemporary Chinese art to ever come to market" - some 200 works by some of China's hottest names.

And when the first half of the trove, called the Estella Collection, went on the block in April in Hong Kong, it brought in $18 million and set some record prices for artists, like $6 million for a canvas by the Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang.

But the sale of the works has stirred indignation among many of the artists and their dealers and some curators.

Those artists and curators say that as the collection was being formed, they were duped into thinking that a rich Westerner was putting together a permanent collection and would eventually donate some of the works to leading museums.

Instead, they say, the buyers were a group of investors who quickly cashed in by selling the works last August to the Manhattan dealer William Acquavella, who is in turn selling them through Sotheby's. (The second half of the collection is to be auctioned this fall in New York.)

... The conflict suggests the tensions that have arisen between artists, curators, galleries and museums around the world since the booming art market became global. The challenges are particularly acute when it comes to China, which has become a magnet for some of the world's biggest galleries, museums, collectors and art market speculators, but is relatively new to the game.

Chinese artists who a few years ago were selling works for just $10,000 each are suddenly signing deals with international galleries and seeing their works fetch $500,000 or more at auction. Indeed, Art Market Trends 2007 reported that last year, 5 of the 10 best-selling living artists at auction were born in China, led by Mr. Zhang, 50, whose works sold for a total of $56.8 million at auction last year.

"It's amazing," said Fabien Fryns, a founder of F2 Gallery in Beijing. "I think there'll be a $20 million painting some time soon."

. . . . . . . . 

From Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop's article Chinese contemporary art bubble goes flat, published December 5, 2008:

"The enigmatic self-portraits of Yue Minjun with their jaw-breaking grin are one of the most recognizable images of Chinese contemporary art and, when the going was good, those dealing in Yue's smiling men also laughed all the way to the bank.

... But collectors are no longer snapping up Yue's work. After four years of unprecedented boom, some sense is returning to the market.

"The market for Chinese contemporary art had long been overheated. Many artworks and artists are overpriced and overrated, notwithstanding the fact that they are good artworks by good artists. Needless to say, there is a lot of junk being traded as "meaningful artwork," said Daniel Komala, the president of Larasati Auctioneers in Singapore.

"For good artworks, the bubble has deflated significantly; for meaningless artworks, the bubble simply burst," Komala said. "The market is looking for a new equilibrium, which is somewhere between 30 to 40 percent below its peak."

... Nicole Schoeni, director of the Hong Kong-based Schoeni Art Gallery, said recent auction results would "humble a lot of people."

"I'm in a sense quite relieved to see this happening," she added. "A lot of the speculators are also not getting involved anymore."

. . . . . . . . 

From David Barboza's article China's Art Market: Cold or Maybe Hibernating, published March 10, 2009:

"But just as he (artist Zeng Fanzhi) and dozens of other artists in Beijing and Shanghai put the finishing touches on lavish studios that proclaim their success, the market for Chinese contemporary art has entered a downward spiral.

A global financial crisis has wiped out vast amounts of personal wealth, prompting a plunge in art prices. Suddenly bereft of visitors, galleries are laying off staff members, and the collectors who patronized them now worry that their art investments may prove a colossal folly.

"It's been a long, cold winter," said Zoe Butt, director of international programs at Long March Space, which is closing two of its three Beijing galleries. "The era of Chinese contemporary art commanding such high prices is over."

... Experts say the contracting market is also putting the squeeze on major collectors, many of whom had been hoping to unload high-priced works in 2009."

... Many collectors were seduced by the numbers. "For people who got into the market three years ago, I feel sorry for them," said Fabien Fryns, who runs F2 Gallery in Beijing.

Artists who have benefited most from this country's rising profile as an arts center are still living in luxury residences and driving BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. But recently, they've been getting fewer visitors.

"Before, every day visitors would come and knock on the door, and I had to spend the morning taking them around," Mr. Zeng said, sitting on a leather sofa in his studio. "Now it's about half as much."

He seems somewhat relieved, however. And experts say the market drop may be salubrious in some ways for Chinese art. Soaring prices had created a circuslike atmosphere, with some artists turning their studios into assembly lines that mass-produced their most popular works."

. . . . . . . . 

From Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop's article Chinese Art Prices Show Signs of Stabilizing, published June 9, 2009:
"In May 2007, "The Sisters (Grand Family No. 7)," an oil painting by Zhang Xiaogang, sold for $1.16 million at Christie's New York. Last month, it went under the hammer there again - this time for $722,500.

That sale sent mixed signals. The 27 percent price fall mirrored the overall state of the contemporary art market; still, bidding was active, and the painting came through as the top lot of the afternoon's offering of postwar and contemporary art, beating works by Damien Hirst, Keith Haring and Richard Prince. After its initial collapse, as the economic crisis struck, the Chinese contemporary market may be bottoming out.

... Still, two of three paintings by Yue Minjun - who was red-hot recently - failed to sell at Christie's day sale; and at Phillips Contemporary Art auction in New York in May, Yue's "Backyard Garden," a 2005 painting with his signature laughing men, estimated at $500,000 to $600,000, also went unsold.

"People are being selective about what's worth it and what's not," Ms. Dudek said. "Collectors are taking a more piece-by-piece approach. His most recent pieces have not sold as well as the older ones. The critical consensus on some of his recent pieces is not 100 percent established, but his earlier pieces come through with much higher prices because they remain fairly established in term of quality and value."

. . . . . . . .

Lesson learned (if any): Buy art you love, buy quality, and support those artists whose work and ideas you believe in for the long-term. It is not advisable to speculate. Unfortunately as they say, there is indeed "a sucker born every minute."

October 12, 2009

Richard Diebenkorn

Yellow Porch, 1961, oil on canvas

American painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) is known for several important periods of work during his lifetime - from his early Abstract Expressionist explorations, to working in a bold figurative manner associated with the Bay Area Figurative School, and finally to an incredible series of geometric abstractions titled the Ocean Park series.   

Seated Figure with Hat, 1967, oil on canvas

From Richard Diebenkorn by Gerald Nordland, published by Rizzoli International, 1987:

"His concept of a painter is one who doesn't know when to stop and who wears himself out painting. This approach is obvious in the scope of his work which reflects the nervous, dynamic energy of our time. The dribbles of paint that are often evident on his canvases are accidental and are not there deliberately as they might be in a painting of Jackson Pollock. Diebenkorn's methods of painting prohibit this kind of technique. In one moment he is working feverishly, up and down, side to side and the whole painting changes rapidly. As a result it is impossible for him to revise around an area of a painting that has pleased him. One form he sees only in relationship to another form and these relationships to him are in constant flux. The result is a singular quality of movement, of action in his work, and the dribbling, the scraping of some of his lines, merely underscore the individuality of his vision. It is this sharp, crude, dramatic division of space that has given many viewers an impression of the loneliness, the jagged opposition and distances, of western landscapes." - an early description of the artist's painting process by the playwright James Schevill 

Ocean Park No. 24, 1969, oil on canvas

"There seems to be no reason to doubt that Diebenkorn's Berkeley series of abstract expressionist paintings could have continued as long as have the New York style abstract works of de Kooning and Motherwell. A rising tide of approval greeted abstract expressionist painting, and second-generation artists were receiving serious recognition. It was to be more than five years before the pop art and minimalist counter insurgencies were felt, and, in fact, abstract expressionism was far from its peak of gallery, magazine, and museum enthusiasm in 1955, when Diebenkorn began to suffer some disturbing second thoughts about his work. While his respect for the first-generation leaders of abstract expressionism never flagged, he began to see only "some pretty poor contemporary work" among second-generation followers. He sensed a problem in abstract expressionist painting and he was testing his own work against the tradition of modernism he had encountered.

I came to mistrust my desire to explode the picture and supercharge it in some way. At one time the common device of using the super emotional to get "in gear" with a painting used to serve me for access to painting, but I mistrust that now. I think what is more important is a feeling of strength in reserve - tensions beneath calm."
Ocean Park No. 45, 1971, oil on canvas

"For Diebenkorn "a premeditated scheme or system is out of the question" in the development of a painting. A drawing cannot be translated into a painting. The artist must begin anew with each painting, feeling out the size of the canvas and the rhythms that seem right to the particular proportions chosen on a particular day. Diebenkorn cannot "design" a painting in his head, but must try out his thoughts, adjusting as necessary. Early stages often appear to be very promising as they emerge in graphite, charcoal, and color. The artist may distrust the ease with which these stages develop at the same time that he pursues the possibilities they allow. The graphite and charcoal give him flexibility to erase and correct easily, but once the painting has taken over he feels less able to change and he finds himself slower to make changes. Each decision relates to every successive one and it is necessary at every stage of the painting's development to work with the conviction that this is the final stage and nearing completion. If adjustments and corrections are required, they must be handled consistently. At the next studio session he may find a weakness and he will enter the work through that weakness and reconceive the whole. The painting becomes fluid again and the whole can be changed in appearance while the feeling may remain very much the same. At the final stage, the painter finds himself freed and his emotion exists complete and separate from him and his effort." 

Ocean Park No. 123, 1980, oil on canvas

October 7, 2009

80 Dollars for an Innocent Underdog

As written by Mr. Kahn and Mr. Yardley: 

"He wanted to attend college. But to do so meant taking the annual college entrance examination. On the humid morning of June 4, three days before the exam, Qingming's teacher repeated a common refrain: he had to pay his last $80 in fees or he would not be allowed to take the test. Qingming stood before his classmates, his shame overtaken by anger.

"I do not have the money," he said slowly, according to several teachers who described the events that morning. But his teacher and the system would not budge.

A few hours later, Qingming, 18 years old, stepped in front of an approaching locomotive. The train, like China's roaring economy, was an express."

. . . . . . . .

"The matter came to a climax on June 4, three days before the college entrance exam, teachers and classmates said.

Mr. Zhang called Qingming to his desk. As classmates listened, Mr. Zhang insisted, again, that Qingming must pay his $80 debt. Otherwise, the school would withhold his license to take the exam, effectively ending his hopes of attending college.

Qingming said flatly that he had no money. One classmate stood up and volunteered to sell blood to help Qingming.

"I don't care if you sell a life," Mr. Zhang responded, according to teachers who looked into the incident later. "He pays the fees or he doesn't take the test." ...

... Just after 9:30 that night, he (Qingming) came back (to the railroad depot) and stood his ground. The train that crushed him was No. 1006, the Chongqing-to-Beijing express. His jacket, containing one arm and his identification card, was found 30 yards from his body."

. . . . . . . . 

"All he (Mr. Zheng, the grandfather) has left now to remember the grandson he once carried on his back is a stack of workbooks - trigonometry, politics, history. Mr. Zheng does not recognize enough Chinese characters to read them. But he keeps the books as memorials.

One is Qingming's scrapbook. Near the end, Qingming pasted in a magazine article about a retarded farm girl. She was raped, then abandoned by her relatives for the shame she inflicted on them. In the margins of the text, Qingming scribbled his thoughts: "We must extend our helping hand to any innocent underdog. Only by so doing can that person find a footing in society."

October 3, 2009

Stop The Violence

Self Destruction, 1989 by the Stop the Violence Movement
YouTube video posted by darquekyss

"The two factions, one that lived near the Altgeld Gardens housing development and one in an area known as "The Ville," began fighting after a shooting earlier that day that police called gang-related.

Albert was approached by Eric Carson and another unknown person, both members of "The Ville" faction ... Carson struck Albert in the head with a piece of a wooden railroad tie, and the second person punched him in the face ...

Albert was knocked unconscious by the blows for a short period ... but gained consciousness and quickly tried to move from the escalating street fight."

"He gained consciousness and moved a few feet away, but as he was trying to get up, he was attacked by a second group," spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said.

"That group, made up of five members from the opposing faction, then took their shots at Albert, Simonton said.

He was struck in the head by Riley with the piece of railroad tie, a rectangular piece of wood used as a base for railroad tracks, Simonton said.

Once Albert was on the ground again, (Silvanus) Shannon was seen "stomping on his head repeatedly," Simonton said.

An amateur videotape shot by a witness, which has been broadcast nationally, showed the attack unfolding. A local TV station that received the tape turned it over to police.

The video shows that, as the attackers ran away, the person with the camera and several others approached Albert and carried him into a nearby building.

"Derrion, get up!" a female voice pleads on the video."

October 1, 2009

The Cruise

My colleague Drew just told me he finally received The Cruise (1998) in the mail, a documentary movie I recommended a while back starring urban poet, intellect, and guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch.

Levitch's fast-flowing philosophy is dead-on in The Cruise. Please follow this link for a YouTube video as posted by speedssister. You'll hear Speed's take on the New York City Grid Plan and how it is "puritan" and "homogenizing". 

In describing his conversation with someone who is all for the grid plan, Levitch says "...She's really aligning herself with this civilization. It's like saying I can't imagine altering this civilization. I can't imagine altering this meek and lying morality that rules our lives."