Market Monday: On the Media
This week, thoughts on three stories where the coverage itself revealed more than the events it addressed...
We're Not Worthy: Just ahead of this past weekend's Art Los Angeles Contemporary, arguably Southern California's premier art fair, artnet News compiled a telling list of "Who to Network With" during the event. The nine featured names included LACMA director Michael Govan, word-art icon Ed Ruscha, and Regen Projects founder Shaun Caley Regen. But although the feature allegedly existed to spotlight LA's ascendant contemporary-art scene from afar, the reality is that the choices and their corresponding write-ups do much more to demonstrate just how little interest in, and respect for, the west-coast art world New York still has.
First, the big picture: Think for a moment how preposterous it would be if a respected art-media vertical ran an equivalent list ahead of, say, The Armory Show––one that suggested that you, the random reader, might want to consider hobnobbing with Met director Thomas Campbell, pioneering post-painterly abstractionist Frank Stella, and high-end single-location gallerist Sean Kelly while you're in town for the fair. Readers and industry figures would laugh the publisher out of the blogosphere. In an art-business context, the only way to out yourself as more of an amateur than not already knowing these leading figures' bios and significance would be to expect that you could actually get close to them during a whirlwind weekend visit.
Not so when it comes to the City of Angels, apparently! The disregard is no less evident in the piece's details. The write-up for number seven on the list, David Kordansky, describes his gallery as being based in Culver City. But Kordansky's neighborhood is Mid-Wilshire, literally across the street from where I work. Here's how far away that is from Culver City. Meanwhile, the painter Laura Owens (number nine), gets even less attention vis-à-vis the finer points. She's credited as the co-founder, with Gavin Brown, of "365 S. Mission." The problem? That's the wrong address. Owens and Brown's complex is actually 356 S. Mission, about a block north of whatever random building stands at the street's inverted set of numerals. Even worse, the copyeditor let this error slide twice between the headline and the end of the first sentence.
From the macro to the micro, then, "Who to Network With During ALAC" condescends to the Los Angeles art community in print the same way many New York-based industry figures condescend to it in practice nearly every day. If this piece is any indication, the west coast doesn't even deserve basic fact-checking, let alone a more nuanced or progressive analysis of who matters. Those judgments may not be fair, but they're a great reminder of one more way that the art business hasn't meaningfully evolved since the last century––and probably won't anytime soon. [artnet News]
The Kennedy Assassination: On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a much-discussed piece by Randy Kennedy about Best Wrapper Alive Christo's allegedly political decision to kill "Over the River," a public project he and his late wife Jeanne-Claude had been developing since 1985. Titled "Christo, Trump and the Art World's Biggest Protest Yet," the feature relayed that the artist would drop his long-running court battle to erect a temporary installation along a stretch of Colorado's Arkansas River. Why? In his telling, strictly to extend a symbolic middle finger to new President Donald J. Trump. The terrain chosen for the piece is owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, and Christo, who told Kennedy that he always "[uses his] own money" for his projects so he "can be totally free," declared that he doesn't want to have DJT as his "landlord."
But on Thursday, Hyperallergic's Benjamin Sutton delivered a scathing editorial rebuke to Christo for his self-mythologizing and Kennedy for his willingness to "[swallow] the Trump angle hook, line, and sinker." Sutton chronicles Christo's repeated willingness to accept major patronage from sources that would enrage many liberals around the globe. Consider the artist's 2014-16 installation "The Floating Piers," created on the private island owned by first family of firearms the Berettas, who also gave the artist "logistical assistance" to execute the project. Or how about "The Mastaba," a monumental work-in-progress being developed in conjunction with the royal family of human/civil-rights netherworld Abu Dhabi?
Now, unlike Sutton, I'm not totally comfortable implying that Christo's kibosh of "Over the River" is merely a smokescreen to score PR points for "abandoning a project he'd been struggling to execute for over two decades." As Kennedy points out, the artist has never before lost a court battle to install one of his public works, many of which routinely require years, if not decades, to realize. (Like "Over the River," "Wrapped Reichstag" also took more than 20 years.) I think it's entirely plausible that Christo could, in his own mind, find a way to justify banking material support from weapons magnates and Emirati royalty while simultaneously deciding that working with the Trump administration in even a tacit way represents a bridge too far. It's not internally consistent, but we humans seldom are.
What makes Kennedy's and Sutton's respective pieces important is the way they embody the two increasingly dominant ways that we tend to discuss ideas about contemporary art in the social-media age. On one hand, Kennedy––like many of us––desperately wants to believe that aesthetic statements can meaningfully influence the world at large in these turbulent times. As a result, he paves over the moral potholes in Christo's record and exaggerates the impact of the artist's alleged protest. On the other hand, Sutton––like many others in our steadily building culture war––seems unwilling to tolerate even one iota of ideological impurity in his analysis, regardless of whether or not the dissonance really affects anyone other than the person in question. As a result, he fires a rhetorical rifle shot meant to send Christo and Kennedy's heads flopping "back, and to the left" like they were the guests of honor in an ill-fated Dallas motorcade.
We're going to see many more examples of these two extreme, diametrically opposed types of coverage over the next several years––not just in the art media, but everywhere else too. When we encounter them, the only way to get to the full, messy truth will be to try to root out the idiosyncrasies and the agendas at work beneath the surface. And depending on the topic at hand, doing so might just accomplish more than making you sound smart at the next opening reception you hit. [The New York Times | Hyperallergic]
That’s all for this edition. Til next time, remember: Always, always, always consider the source.