Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Without Space, They Can't Hear Us Scream

Model of the Nostromo, Alien (1979); Model of proposal for Tiananmen Square Extrusion (2012)

For those in Hong Kong, I have a series of architectural models at the Saamlung Gallery, in a group show there called "No One Can Hear You Scream." The show takes it's title from the tagline of the original 1979 film Alien"a primal scene in its graceful collapse of science fiction and a broader spatial concern, and it is this possibility--space as something generated by a cultural object." My contribution for the show is a series of modest proposals, three of which I originally made as large scale foam core models for a show about public space in March of 2001. The fourth proposal (shown above right), of nine Freedom Towers transplanted from New York's WTC site to Beijing's Tiananmen Square, I've never shown before. With the help of my friend and fellow scifi geek, the architect Otto Ruano I was able to recreate the original models (long ago destroyed) as well as realize the fourth, all as 3D printouts based on CAD models (the future is indeed awesome).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

Tory author Lewis Carroll and, presumably, a more progressive Occupier.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

My father, who made his living as a psychologist, warned me to beware anyone who speaks nonsense words. "They're up to something" he'd say. "Their up to something that they are ashamed of." His example was always the conservative author, and likely pederast, Lewis Caroll: "All that cutsy shit is cover for what he really wanted, but was ashamed to say clearly." He told me. "Straight shooters shoot straight." Occupy Wall Street has to start talking strait or they are going to be mistaken for perverts and are not going to get what they want.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Georges Seurat 19th century anarchist pointillism; Damien Hirst's 21st century nihilist Spots
(Return to Part IV)
"Bourgeoisie" and "proletariat" are terms that may still have a certain amount of currency among a set of cultural theorist and political activists, but for most of us they are badly dated terms, especially in the case of proletariat, which few people use except in boldly debarked air-quotes. "Bourgeoisie" has a little more currency left because it still gets thrown around as an insult. The Parisians call hipsters BoBos (Bohemian Bourgeoisie). We all can picture someone, some place, or some event as being "bourgie" - even if we don't know exactly what it means, we know contempt is being expressed and that it has something to do with material wealth and comfort. But even if most of us no longer think of ourselves primarily in terms of class, these remain powerful frames, that shape the ways we think. At exactly the same time as workers and capitalist differentiated themselves from peasants below an aristocrats, artists came into their own as a highly regarded group outside of class, producing objects that were understood to be separate from the market forces that defined the classes art was understood to be outside of.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Biographical Extraterritoriality

Junkets: Gabriel-Julien Ouvrard (ca 1815); Damien Hirst 
(return to Part III)
When we use the word "art" in its modern sense, we are speaking back and forth through time. We mean the inherited traditions of European aristocracy, but we also mean other traditions from around the world that French King's would have dismissed as savagery, as well as all the things we do today that no savage or French King would have hoped to have understood as art. But because so much of what we have in mind when we conjure "art" to mind are things that belong to the past it is easy to forget how alien a territory we are crossing when we enter that state of mind. an important element of the contemporary art-game is to ignore that the past is the most exotic of all foreign countries, and that even our immediate past is a place we can no longer call home.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Buying The Art Game

Hasbro's Twister (1966); Damien Hirst's Spot Challenge (2012)
(Return to Part II)
Like "commodity", "consumerism" is not a word usually associated with art in any positive ways, but unlike commodity, that is exactly what contemporary art is: it is the art of consumerism. It is the product of consumerist societies; art made by consumers, for consumers. Because consumerism is a term that evokes alienation, complacency, passivity, obesity, malls, parking lots, sweat shops, big block stores, and wastelands of ocean-born plastic effluvia twice the size of Texas, its not surprising that artists and their supporters are shy to make any such connection. Its not a pretty mental picture - but it is also a false one. Every indicator of U.S. social dysfunction can be (and is) marched out as evidence of consumerism's failings, but this ignores the robust health of Japanese and Norwegian consumer society, and looks right past the bizar non-consumerist society the North Koreans have made for themselves.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spot Shops

 Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent. (1999); $30 Damien Hirst spot themed coffee mugs
(Return to Part I)
"Laundry detergent is a commodity," the art blogger Greg Allen reminded me over twitter recently. Allen, who like Felix Salmon is an art collector with a background in finance, pressed me to explain my assertion that art is not a commodity in any way-shape-or-form. Allen pointed out that companies like Dow "invest heavily to differentiate [these products] as brands, so as to get a premium price." He's right, but as my economist friend Guan Yang was careful to make clear to me when he and I discussed the matter, "there are various degrees of commodity-ness. Oil and gold are more commodified than pork bellies and orange juice." Art is a commodity-ness outlier, a black swan out at the far edge of the consumer economy's left field.

Spot Markets

Of vitrine and vitriol; the cynical mariage of art and commerce: 
Jeff Koons, Total Equilibrium Tank (1985), New Wet/Dry Tripledecker (1981); 
Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years (1990)
(Return to Introduction)
"Art is bought and sold, but it is more than a commodity." I plucked this quote from the comment thread below a Ben Davis post about the economics of being an artist (or lack-there-of). This sort of hand wringing reached it's hight within art world critical theory circles during the 1990s when A-list art theorists like Hal Foster and Benjamin Buchloh made their careers casting doubt on the cynical "commodity aesthetics" of the late 1980s. By then the anxiety was already a century in the making and it while it has waxed and waned, it has remained a central concern. But right now there is new urgency to the question of "art's commodity status" in the wake of the circus surrounding Damien Hirst's Complete Spot Paintings. And with that new urgency there is a renewed desire to stake some special ground for art. A territory outside of, or above the vulgar and banal market floor. I believe this is an understandable, but short-sighted strategy. Art isn't more than a commodity. Art is a commodity. To see a thing for what it is, now, and not what it should be, isn't defeatist, it is the only way to anticipate what a thing can possibly become. And because art can and does function according to market forces, is not a victory for the cynics. Art behaves differently than all other commodities and all other markets.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Cap'n Crunch promotion; Larry Gagosian promotion

When I am asked to give an 'artist talk' for students, something I very much enjoy, I like to derail the me-train ("...and then I said...and then I was like... and then I thought... me,me,me MEEEE MEEE") - and instead of talking about myself, take the opportunity to discuss a topic or idea that I've been worrying. Recently I've been thinking a great deal about consumerism as an ideology - and have been trying to imagine how I would explain myself to a classroom full of art students. On this blog I have explored what consumerism means in terms of smartphonesriots, and Star Trek, but haven't touched the ring of hell I am most intimately acquainted with: art. I've put off discussing consumerism in terms of art, because of the anxiety over the "commodification of art" is so central to art criticism and theory. It is a given embedded so deep within the flesh of contemporary art, questioning it in any way, shape, or form is almost impossible, but the contemptmockery, and even pity Damien Hirst's "The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011" presented itself and I can no longer resist the urge to explain myself to my own people in terms they most understand and are best equipped to appreciate (and least inclined to).