As part of the Mode of Operation class at CalArts, we've been meeting with various curators in the Los Angeles area and discussing their practice. Today we met with Russell Ferguson, who was Chief Curator at the Hammer and now chairs UCLA's Art Department after the last one scattered from the sound of a gunshot.* Russell asked that his words remain private, so I will carry them with me to the grave.
The topics of conversation however, are those discussed by at length by aspiring MFAs at the various and sundry art schools scattered about Los Angeles, so I do feel free to riff on those subjects. If anyone--namely the deans and chairs of the above mentioned art schools--feel that my comments are out of line, they may click the comment button to clarify a point, disagree, or request that a particular word or passage be redacted.
That being said, I'd like to type about power, or rather two concepts that relate to power: money and knowledge.
Yet the ability for recent MFA graduates to support themselves in their métier--by teaching or making objects that rich people buy--is not as rosy as some media purport. So any push or pull by those who have the ear of collectors and the ability to put work on the wall of an institutional cube have a modicum of power. When I was at Art Basel this year I couldn't help but see the occasional museum curator--with their benefactors and trustees in tow--say things like, "Her work is interesting," or, "He's saturated the market with those pieces," and see folks whip out their checkbooks or move on to the next booth.
Being a successful artist by any measure may seem as simple as producing unique and engaging work, but I suspect that other forces at play make the process more complex. I may be naïve, idealistic, or a little of both, but like the separation of church and state, I hope for the appearance of more autonomy by the institutions that hang work from those that buy and sell it.
Celebrated pop artists including Larry Poons, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol created these images by nicking the work of others, without permission, and transforming it to make statements and evoke emotions never countenanced by the original creators.So what's the rub? The freedom to re-present an image:
It seems every square centimetre of the National Portrait Gallery is under some form of copyright. I wasn't even allowed to photograph the "No Photographs" sign. A member of staff explained that the typography and layout of the signs was itself copyrighted.While there are attempts of greater and greater control of ideas and images in this great corporate world of ours, the free exchange of ideas and images on the internet shakes at the foundations of control. If knowledge is power, then the ability to control information can be a source of power. To cite an example from another business model, General Electric--which makes everything from military jet engines to light bulbs--profits from our war on terror. It would make sense that the media companies that they also own: NBC, Telemundo, and MSNBC would support the occupation of Iraq. Unfortunately for the institutions that disseminate information, the internet greatly flattens the hierarchy of information sources and confounds corporations' thuggish attempts to control the information that people have access to.
Getting back to art, as someone much wiser than me pointed out, today we have a much greater access to color reproductions of work than existed twenty years ago. I can personally remember looking at old art books where the color reproductions were tipped in. They were a rare and beautiful thing, the antithesis of today's Google image search. Yet in the push to promote a show or artist, there is found the pull of the private.
I've felt that the internet was like a public space. You have the opportunity to run into random individuals and they have the opportunity to come across you. And everyone else has the potential to find out about it. Of course some folks (Larry Craig for example) are willing to have sex in a public space, so one's electronic actions need to be mindful of one's public persona.
Like any public space, one doesn't have control over other people's actions. I remember a bunch of frat boys yelling, "Faggot!" from their car when I walked out of a gay bar recently. I didn't hold their actions against the public space: crossing paths with another individual's unfettered id comes with the territory. I hope for, but don't expect civil discourse in cyberspace.
At the same time I think that the internet provides a great place to set out one's qualia. Last week I heard that Miriam Schapiro's husband died. I Googled his name and found nothing--not even his gallery (where he has a show opening Dec. 6)--made mention of the fact. Since he was the founding dean of our art school, I typed a short post. Since then someone has created a bio page for Paul Brach on Wikipedia, and links to my blog to support their entry. It just shows what a silly place the internet is, without any hierarchy or value placed on rigor: I could post my writings or Einstein's, and if you accessed them through Google's secret algorithm, they would have the same level of accessibility and claim to authority on the results page.
In past posts I've reported on the Google searches that have led folks here. Woe unto the person that would take my musings as the definitive word on Paul Brach, curatorial practice, or even 2girls1cup.