Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Modest Proposal: Title IX MoMA's 501(c)3

Bill Bartman with Elizabeth Murray [image by Bill Zules]; Women of the 2010 Whitney Biennial

In 1999, Bill Bartman, the founder of Art Resources Transfer, told me an idea of his that I still believe is one of the best I have ever heard: art museums are 501(c)3 nonprofits, by merit of the exact same quality that makes universities eligible: they are educational institutions. Bill's idea was to sue art museums under Title IX; to force them to give female artists an equal portion of resources spent on men, in the same way universities have been forced to give women and minority students an equal share of scholarship money and then latter transformed college athletics by requiring parity in spending for women's sports. It is a dangerous idea, one that, if carried out, would transform the artworld more than any avant-garde provocateur could ever hope to.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Modernist Hangover: The Masterpiece

Robert Smithson, Arial Map Proposal for Dallas -Fort Worth Reginal Airport (1967); Spiral Jetty (1970)

For the past two days a number of people I follow on Twitter are wrapped up making lists of Post War masterpieces (check out what is going on at Two Coats of Paint). The challenge seems to be to produce a list with more than 3 female artists - which is laudable. I've looked over a couple lists that have been emailed to me and I can't help but grind my teeth over this weirdly Modernist exercise. A masterpiece assumes timeless quality, universal appreciation. I imagine Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty will make almost every list, but it shouldn't. No Post War American art should. There is no such thing  a Post War American masterpiece because there is no such thing as a masterpiece. It is a totally bogus category.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Middle Modernism

Jane Jacobs is the Mother of all Jedi (and yes Gladwell is one of the Skywalker twins)

The medieval European doctrine, "City air makes free," is quoted by Jane Jacobs in her book Economy of Cities, more recently in Stewart Brand's Whole earth Discipline, and in Steven Johnson's latest book Where Good Ideas Come From. This isn't just a coincidence. Jacobs is the mother of New Urbanism; Brand and Johnson are both diehard urbanists and admirers of Jacobs. But Jacobs is also the God mother of a new strain of Modernism that Brand and Johnson are examples of. Jacobs cites Brand in her last book, Dark Ages Ahead. (Not her best book, but still how cool would that be?) Jacobs was writing in response to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (even cooler), where he made his case for a "genuine science of human history." Kevin Kelly who co-curates the Long Now seminars with Brand and did a Book tour with Johnson late last Year is another new Modernist, I would add to the list Gail Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, David Bell, Helen Fisher... the list goes on. These are not the sorts of writers that are cited in academic papers, these are the sorts of thinkers one finds searching airport book stores or giving TED talks.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Star Wars and Postmodernism

Boys and their toys, Then, and Now

Like most boys, I spent a lot of time playing war. But unlike American boys of the 50s and 60s, who grew up imagining themselves as patriotic GI Joes, my friends and I didn't play with army men. We were born into the rain shadow that followed the Vietnam War, during which, Hasbro stopped making soldier toys. We still played war, but instead of American soldiers,  played with Star Wars. Unlike boys just a few years older than us, we were no longer fantasizing about being grunts of the Greatest Generation defending American freedom from Fascism; our imaginary enemies wielded weapon of mass destruction and were fascists with a lowercase "f' (I spell out the difference I see between Fascism and fascism HERE). The story we were all reenacting was an upside-down fantasy of North Vietnamese-like space guerrillas battling American Modernism in Nazi drag. We were replacing the story of one kind of authority, with a new, very different story of authority. It looked like a childish fad, but, in the context of that particular moment, it was subversive.