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How to Make Twin Peaks Lynchian Without David Lynch
by Paul Hanford

Twin Peaks without David Lynch is like a girl without a secret.”

Sheryl Lee a.k.a Laura Palmer, begins the roll call of cast members from this most mythical of shows, voicing support for the return of their auteur. Lynch, who quit work on the returning show had this to say on Twitter:



And so we face the prospect of what is commonly known (by me anyway) as a "Doug Yule." Doug Yule was the hapless guitarist handed the reigns of the Velvet Underground upon Lou Reed’s departure. The band released one Yule-fronted album. Nobody remembers this. Because The Velvet Underground without Lou Reed is like Twin Peaks without David Lynch. And right now you can imagine the scene in the Showtime offices: clam-faced execs fast-forward watching The Machinist for the nineteenth time, pausing to ask an intern if they reckon Brad Anderson can genuinely cut those high Lynchian notes. Or how about maybe whoever did the Fargo series? Could they muster a bit of that old Log Lady magic? After all, it’s just backwards talking dwarfs and a few red curtains, isn’t it?



Lynch has been bestowed the highest of all cultural accolades. Bigger than a Pulitzer, a Turner, a Booker, and an Oscar all strapped together and spanked by the Dalai Llama. He has an Ian. Ians (that memorializing suffix) are the most important cultural achievement obtainable because they are only awarded by one thing: the collective cultural consciousness. Being awarded an Ian is the closest an artist can reach to guaranteed immortality. Lynch-ian is something we all understand. It is a feeling each one of us may have encountered at a sleep-deprived work meeting, or possibly in a garden center. We have seen other films and TV shows emulate Lynchian. But can Twin Peaks truly be Lynchian without the great man himself? 

Here are a few suggestions for the hack who handed the show to consider: 

Screengrab via YouTube

Pie (and Coffee)

Often an overlooked facet of many a director's repertoire: you will find no banqueting motif in the work of Michael Bay for instance. Lynch, however, loves a good meal: that roast chicken in Eraserhead, its leg moving like a baby... Lynch subverts the wholesome American obsession with diners, coffee, and pie and this crescendoed in Twin Peaks to the point that pie feels like an actual character in his script.



The Femme Fatale

Audrey Horne. Audrey Horne a.k.a Sherlyn Fenn. If you started growing pubes in the ‘50s you had Marilyn Monroe, but if you were born sometime between 1971 and 1981 the chances are, male or female, straight or gay, you had Audrey Horne. Horne was part Monroe, part member of The Bangles, she was devious and innocent simultaneously, a heroine and a siren, a victim and a victor. Lynch’s depiction of women, most of whom he dresses with '50s hair, seems to swing between the voyeuristic (the controversial sexual violence against Isabella Rossellini’s character in Blue Velvet is one thing film critics, including Roger Ebert, took particular issue with) and empathetic: think of his collaborative way of working with Laura Dern. 


Stuff Your Slightly Confused Stoner Mate Thinks "Means Something”

The soap opera populated by people dressed as rabbits in Inland Empire. The backwards talking dwarf. Who knows what it means? We’ve all been stuck at a party listening to the theories of some pseud convinced Lost Highway was a metaphor for the O.J. Simpson trial. To these people I say this: Analyzing Lynch is like analyzing a dream, because ultimately you can arrive at whatever conclusion you wish and whoever takes over Twin Peaks, I hope they are able to disengage their intellectual thought with the same clarity of vision.


Creative commons via amoebafinger 


Really, Really Scary Shit

That man in Mulholland Drive. Yeah, you know the one. I don’t even need to say any more than that because if you’ve seen Mullholand Drive, you definitely know who I mean. Well, even on repeat viewings, it’s not just the guy that sees him whose heart practically stops. Or the shaved eyebrow gentleman with the phone in the party scene in Lost Highway. Or Bob. Yes, Bob, we’ve all heard the anecdote about how he was just the electrician more times than we’ve heard someone call Twin Peaks “a bit weird.” But again, what makes these moments so terrifying, I feel, is this lack of definite meaning or clear answer. That Lynch sculpts purely from the imagination makes these moments scary, no matter how often you watch them.



The Jimmy Stewart Stuff

The Americanness at the heart of Lynch. Those lawns at the beginning of Blue Velvet. The diners. Nic Cage clad in snakeskin suit pulling Elvis moves. Mel Brook’s called Lynch Jimmy Stewart from Mars. With Lynch, I really feel the sense that no matter how dark he subverts these American staples, no matter how many severed ears he litters the peaceful green lawns of Americana with, he does it without scorn, with an absence of critique. He is not Oliver Stone. He is Jimmy Stewart. But from Mars.



The Stuff That Seems Pretty Normal For a While

Ok, ignoring the scary man and the scary smiling old couple in the taxi, the first half of Mulholland Drive is pretty linear, like you’re watching some post-Tarantino exercise in Hollywood Noir. Then there’s The Straight Story. The Elephant Man too. Not everything Lynch touches is out there. Sometimes the most affecting stuff he’s put on screen is when his subconscious is just letting something, well, regular happen. Who didn’t feel a moment of euphoric happiness at the girls just having a party at the end of Inland Empire? Lynch can do normal—it's his secret weapon.



Agent Cooper

And then there’s Cooper. Agent Cooper. Part zen master, part Sherlock Holmes. Like Bogart, like Lebowski, Agent Cooper is a Noir hero with the unmistakeable swing of a beat poet. Lynch’s longstanding devotion to meditation shines through in Cooper: the way of approaching problems by focusing elsewhere, the appreciation for the surrounding environment. It’s easy to view Kyle McLachlan’s Cooper as Lynch’s alter-ego. But like Jazz, those light notes take dedication to get right.

These are few of the staples in Lynch’s larder. Obviously, the magic isn’t in the ingredients but in the way the chef assembles them: I wonder if Lynch has compiled a handing-over document himself to give to whoever takes over the reigns. They will certainly need it.


Paul Hanford 


(Image at the top: Screengrab from Twin Peaks logo opening credits)

Posted by Paul Hanford on 4/9 | tags: Twin Peaks David Lynch coffee agent cooper audrey horne mullholland drive television film

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Made-Up with Danny Volk: S1E10 with Jessica Stockholder
by The ArtSlant Team

Danny Volk talks to artists in their studios about life and art—while they do his make-up. This concept was a new one for us, and, unsurprisingly, it produces some unique moments: see artists like Theaster Gates, Pope.L, and Jessica Stockholder working in their studios as you've never seen them before. 

Revisit Season 1 as we anticipate the all-new Made-Up Season 2, to be released this Spring on ArtSlant.

This week: Danny offers to edit Jessica Stockholder's Wikipedia page (which—ahem—is currently back to its original state) and we learn about the artist's pet lobster (who is conspicuously absent from said Wikipedia entry).



More About Made-Up With Danny Volk 

Made-Up is created and hosted by Danny Volk. Volk was born in 1979 in Akron, OH and currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. Volk got his MFA in Visual Art from the University of Chicago in 2014, and his BA in Theater Studies at Kent State University in 2006.

Produced by | Danny Volk and Stephanie Anne Harris Trevor

Cameras | Bryce Peppers, Valia O'Donnell

Technical consultant | Ben Chandler

"Comic Strip" by Serge Gainsbourg remixed by DJ Flashcookie

Posted by The ArtSlant Team on 4/10 | tags: video-art sculpture made-up w/danny volk made-up with danny volk Artist Interviews studio visits

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Typing Syria: Whatsapp as Performance Art or Awareness Campaign?
by Danna Lorch

Typing Syria is a social experiment and performance piece running in a Whatsapp group through the month of April. Subscribers are not allowed to engage with the characters, and are encouraged to eavesdrop but not act. This voyeuristic relationship echoes the international community’s attitude to the Syrian situation four years on, which can be likened to the screen saver that comes onto the iPhone after 30 seconds of inattention.

Throughout the performance, two old friends, fictional characters named Khalid and Sa’eed, separated by borders and time zones, type onto Whatsapp, trying to connect through limited words and an increasing divergence of daily lives. Just like any other young, unmarried guys, there is light discussion of beers and girls (perhaps in subtle reference to the largely secular nature of urban Syria before the conflict began). However, it becomes evident very quickly that Sa’eed is in Syria and Khalid is pursuing asylum in Holland. There are moments of universal relatable humanity, such as when Sa’eed’s female relatives bake pastries. These vignettes are interrupted by reality—the power goes out and the pastries cannot be cooked.

It’s oddly (and perhaps deliberately) unclear on which “side” of the conflict the characters sit. Khalid is rejected for an asylum visa in Holland. He wonders aloud, “its weird that weve come to this. Now I just wait. Syrians begging other countries for their rights.”  Sa’eed tries to connect Khalid with friends in Italy, but refuses to leave Syria because he is in love with a girl whose “brain is a real machine” who used to wear the veil but recently removed it but has a brother who is “2/3 ISIS.”


When Sa’eed types that he wants to secretly live with this woman—a scenario that is implausible for a Syrian context before or after the conflict—the “performance” began to feel like an awareness campaign geared towards a Western audience that should have been titled, “Syrians: They’re Just Like Us.” The reality is that Syrians are diverse in belief and culture, as well as stories of survival, and by trying too hard to demonstrate that the characters are educated, secular, and hip, the artists risk viewers generalizing about an entire population. At a time when many people inside (and even outside) Syria do not even have access to basic food, water, and power, it is dangerous to focus exclusively on two relatively affluent, English-speaking characters. Perhaps this will be un-packed in further texts throughout the month. Nonetheless, the performance does a decent job of weighing the tensions between disconnection and connection, exile and domesticity, while probing the ways that today’s conflicts are mediated by social media.

It is unclear why the artist or artists’ names associated with Typing Syria have not been mentioned, although a press release did mention support from NYU Abu Dhabi, and as the characters’ numbers are a +971 country code, it seems the project originates in the United Arab Emirates.  Unless screenshots go viral later this month, it is doubtful that this performance will change the international community’s lack of response to the situation in Syria in any significant way. Will we all continue to look on with passive interest before scrolling through our social media feeds?


Danna Lorch 


(All images: screenshots from Typing Syria)

Posted by Danna Lorch on 4/10 | tags: digital performance Whatsapp Syrian artists Typing Syria Social Media

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Artists' Desks
by Char Jansen

"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"
Albert Einstein


The art voyeur has often fawned over the luxury artist's studio, and even seen the artist's bed—but the superior furniture item to any working person is surely their desk.

Desks are a synechdoche for 9 to 5 imprisonment and paperwork drudgery, a statement of power and efficiency in the office regime, a dumping ground of daily deitritus—but what does a desk mean to an artist?

From toxic paint mixes to disordered pornographic clippings, the items on an artists' desk reveal the work in progress, the method in motion.  

We asked three emerging artists from very different disciplines to send us a picture of their personal working desk and tell us about its contents. 

Street Artist, Tehran 
This is my always messy studio. I use acrylic for basement and shading in my works by airgun. My studio is similar to my real life, it's getting more and more messy every day and will eventually explode someday. From the window in my studio you can see one of most crowded squares of Tehran—very different to the people who feature in my paintings. Sometimes when something is lost in my studio I prefer to buy new one instead of searching...
Digital Artist, New York

Thankfully, the social stigma about messy [digital] desktops is still significantly less than the incarnated version. My partner never scolds me for the mounds of files on my screen unlike the coffee mugs that pile up on my desk. And frankly, with no less than five programs open on my computer at any given time, I rarely have to look at its disaster-level status.

It is not impossible that the amount of screenshots I take is approaching the number of photographs I take. As a digital artist and freelance worker, my day every day is on the desktop. Screenshots are part of my practice; I am currently collecting cum shots from RedTube that I then cut out, color, and collage into what I'm calling an Ookie Canvas. Like painters before me, I screencap the canvas in progress, marking what has been accomplished as well as a breadcrumb trail should anything go wrong. Like photographs, screencaps are also personal and snaps of when my mother added me as her daughter on Facebook, a particularly delicious spam email, and so on add to my clutter.

Painter, London
I don't sit down much when I'm painting. My desk is an operating table. I have a fairly dysfunctional idea of order but my desk is a kind of visual thought process. The red figure on it was carefully transported from a market in China and immediately dropped as soon as he came out of my bag, decapitating him in the process. I have bags full of odd socks that I have used as a replacement head for him and that is also used for cleaning my brushes. I have my lucky plasters trowel that I use to apply paint onto the canvas that has been broken for about a year now. My desk is surrounded with images of cartoon stills that are my primary references for my paintings. I keep most of the old palettes I use as inspiration when searching for a color to use. A lot of the time the old paint will be scrapped off and reapplied on another painting unifying the paintings in a series. 

Posted by Char Jansen on 4/13 | tags: graffiti/street-art digital painting artists' desks collector's catalogue

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Hotel Juárez: Francis Alÿs Lights Up a Ghost Town
by Rodrigo Campuzano

It’s hard to describe a setting as disturbing as Ciudad Juárez, a city that lies on the border of Chihuahua and Texas that has gained notoriety for its alarming number of deaths and disappearances, linked to drug cartels and corrupt government officials. It goes without saying that Juárez is no place for the faint-hearted. Its streets are now deserted, while most of the historic landmarks that once attracted a tourist or two have been closed down for good. It is one of these landmarks—one of Ciudad Juárez's oldest and most popular hotels—that gives its name to Francis Alÿs’ latest Mexico City exhibition that takes as its subject the very core of this ghost town known as Juárez.

It is no surprise that Alÿs has developed a project in a setting of this nature. After all, most of his performative actions take place in locations that face severe sociopolitical issues. In this small but carefully thought out exhibition, Alÿs plays two prominent roles—which could be evoked by American novelist Edith Wharton: “There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” In this case, the artist acts as both light and mirror, reflecting on literal and metaphorical decay. 

Children's Game #15, Video still, In collaboration with Julien Devaux, Felix Blume and Alejandro Morales, Ciudad Juárez, 2013. Photo: Francis Alÿs


Duality is a prevailing element in Alÿs’ oeuvre; he is both the spectator and the performer of his actions as he lays out the rules and plays along to the sequence that unfolds unpredictably, thanks to his hidden ulterior motive(s). The opposing parts here are the light that he traces through his actions and the darkness that prevails in the forsaken city. 

The first thing that one notices upon arrival is a disconcerting “FOR SALE” sign that later on transpires as a satire questioning the context of the museum. Facing the ceiling of the eponymous venue, surrounded by Siqueiros’ sketches and murals, is the original light box sign belonging to the “HOTEL JUÁREZ”—a sort of city jewel, recently shut down and put up for sale. Hanging on the wall facing the entrance are cans of pink and blue paint, which leave trails dripped on the ground. In a gesture resembling the artist's well-known performative strolls in cities like São Paolo, Paris, and Jerusalem, the blue line leads out to the street, ending at the Tamayo Museum, where the Alÿs presents another exhibition (a further example of the artist’s proclivity for duality).

In the video work Children’s Game #15 Alÿs develops what he likes to call “strategies of resistance” by arming a group of children with broken shards of mirrors and sending them out to play a game of hide and seek using the reflecting light on each other to claim victory. The game takes place in an abandoned residential complex, presenting as child's play the daily fight for survival for the few remaining residents of Juárez. 

Children's Game #15, Video still, In collaboration with Julien Devaux, Felix Blume and Alejandro Morales, Ciudad Juárez, 2013. Photo:Francis Alys


In the adjacent space there is a set of postcards of Juárez’s tourist attractions; Alÿs has blacked out all of the content except for the traces of light in motion. Here too hangs an exquisitely detailed oil painting depicting a mob surrounding a burning car. 

Deeper in the exhibition, the audience walks into a pitch black room and is greeted by the audio “Sometimes we dream as we live, sometimes we live as we dream,” introducing a video in which the artist is captured kicking a football that has been set on fire through the streets of Juarez—once again leaving traces of light behind, as he continues to roam the lonely streets at night.

Francis Alÿs, Paradox of the Praxis 5, In collaboration with Alejandro Morales, Rafael Ortega, Julien Devaux and Felix Blume, Video documentation of an action, Ciudad Juárez, 2013 Photo: Alejandro Morales


The trace of light acquires many forms and meanings through the exhibited works, glimmering in the shadows as a distant ray of hope that not all is lost. But it is up to the viewer to follow the light within the exhibition and to trace their own reflection.

HOTEL JUÁREZ is open through July 26 at the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, México City 

(Photo at the top: Rodrigo Campuzano)

Posted by Rodrigo Campuzano on 4/13 | tags: francis alys Juarez Mexico political art video-art performance conceptual

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Innocence to Power: Shifting Depictions of Women over Five Centuries of Art
by Antonia Ward

The venerable New Orleans fine art and antiques specialists M.S. Rau Antiques have taken on a vast and complex subject for their latest exhibition. Innocence. Temptation. Power. The Evolution of Women in Art aims to chart the representation of women in art from the 15th century through the Modern era. The exhibition comprises over 50 works dating from c. 1420 to the 1960s, which we are invited to appraise as products of their time and place, and to peel back the layers of conditioning that attend each portrayal.

A year in the making, the exhibit showcases works from M.S. Rau Antiques’ own collection alongside handpicked loans from partner galleries and collectors. In approaching the extensive subject of the current exhibition, co-curator Amanda Wallich describes how “there were a lot of stories that we wanted to tell around the representation of women, and in each instance we had to find the very best work to do that.”

The Evolution of Women in Art is orchestrated in three movements, defined as “The Dawn of Discovery,” “The Age of Transformation.” and “Liberation and the Modern Era.” The narrative moves from the representation of women as allegories of religious virtue and as idealized symbols of perfection, through to dreamy, docile objects of desire and currencies of wealth, and culminates with powerful, nuanced representations of women as subjects in their own right.

Giovanni dal Ponte (di Marco), Madonna with Child EnthronedCirca 1420-1425, Tempera on gold ground panel, 41 1/4" high x 23 1/4" wide


“The Dawn of Discovery” opens with a representation of woman as mother and paragon of religious virtue at a time when the Church was the most powerful patron of the arts. Madonna and Child Enthroned by Giovanni dal Ponte (di Marco) (c. 1420-1425) is notable of its time for its humanism, featuring tender communication between mother and child, and is a blueprint for images of maternal virtue that have endured for centuries.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The AlchemistCirca 1600, Oil on oak panel, 27 x 37 3/4 inches


Other images are driven by story and allegory. The Feast of Esther (c. 1644) A recently rediscovered masterwork by Johannes Spilberg the Younger depicts Queen Esther as modest and unassuming at the dramatic moment when she accuses the king’s court favorite. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Alchemist (circa 1600) presents us with an allegory of godly virtue: a woman searches in vain for money before turning to the church for salvation, while her husband commits to a fruitless pursuit of alchemy.

Examples of 18th century society portraits render their subjects with a serene and beatific—yet inscrutable and characterless—beauty. The sitter of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Mary Townshend (c. 1757), for example, was born into a well-connected and politically influential family and this portrait reads more as a celebration of familial wealth and material opulence than as a representation of the individual in question.

Jean-Léon Gérome, Cleopatre et Cesar, Painted in 1866; Signed "J.L. Gérôme", Oil on canvas, Canvas: 73 1/8 x 50 3/4 inches


“The Age of Transformation” presents women playing historical and mythological roles—both powerful and vulnerable—in famed French academic painter Jean Léon Gérome’s Cleopatre et Cesar (1866) and Leda and the Swan (1895). We also see women reduced to the decorative by the British Neoclassicist Revivalist John William Godward. The seemingly inevitable theme of voyeurism, firmly characterizing women in the sexual frame, is represented here by Through the Keyhole (no date given) by Maurice Stiffer, and Peeping Roofers & the Woman’s Bath (1880) by Jehan Georges Vebert, where workers peer through the roof down into a harem.

George Morren, Le Renouveau, Signed and dated 1892 (lower right); signed, titled and dated en verso, Oil on canvas, Canvas: 31 7/8 x 36 1/4 inches


The work of an emergent group of radical young artists, such as Toulouse Lautrec, who were committed to a new ideal of modernity, here herald a turning point. George Morren’s Pointillist/Luminist piece Le Renouveau (1892) is a startling example of how the Impressionists captured the rapidly revolutionizing world around them, including the changing landscape for women and their roles within it. The subject, whom at first glance we may assume to be the mother of the child she feeds, is in fact a wet nurse. Her disengaged face implies impatience. This is a scene of a worker, not a nurturing mother.

Significantly, at this point onwards the work of female artists begin to feature, including Louise Abbema, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Claire Colinet. While the exhibition does not directly address the subject of women-as-artists, the question of who is viewing these women and who is crafting these representations is unavoidable. Undoubtedly the distinct majority of artists represented are male—in large part due to the comparatively low proportion of female artists practicing at the time, especially at a commercial level. Gratifyingly the balance begins to be redressed in the later selection of works.


(left) Louise Abbema, Sarah Bernhardt Hunting with Hounds, Circa 1897, Oil on canvas, Signed "Louise Abbema" (upper left), Canvas: 33 1/2 x 24 inches

(right) Berthe Morisot, Jeune fille au manteau vert (Girl in a Green Coat), 1894, Oil on canvas, Canvas 45 7/8 x 32 1/8 inches


Louise Abbema’s Belle Époque work Sarah Bernhardt Hunting with Hounds (circa 1897) depicts the legendary actress imagined in the role of Diana of the hunt, wearing stately hunting gear and commanding a group of dogs. Famed for her portraits of the leading ladies of the high society, we here see Abbema continue the tradition of mythological representation to empowering effect. Berthe Morisot's work from just a few years earlier provides an enriching contrast, allowing us access to the private domestic world of women. Executed on a grand in scale, Jeune fille au manteau vert (1894) depicts an anonymous young woman of the Parisian elite. The woman herself is beautifully and vividly rendered, while the background is only loosely finished. That an unidentified woman dressed in her own contemporary fashion should be the clear subject of the painting and allowed to command our attention without distraction or costume is a powerful statement and fitting point of departure for the next phase of the exhibition.

Martha Walter, Employment Station New York, Signed lower right; Circa 1915, Oil on canvas, Canvas: 32 x 40 inches


“Liberation and the Modern Era,” the final chapter, is triumphant and self-assertive, and characterized for the most part by images in which women are represented confidently and with character in the context of their own lives: women as subjects in their own right. Employment Station (1915) by Martha Walter is a remarkable work of social realism depicting a young woman waiting to be seen by an employment officer, that is imbued with of strength and confidence. Claire Colinet’s Joan of Arc, an exquisite bronze sculpture of the historical figure, conjures both dignity and honor. Norman Rockwell’s Excuse Me (no date given) depicts a young woman defiantly snubbing a wealthy beau in favor of an officer—a choice that might not have been celebrated or even hers to make even one generation earlier. In addition, self-assured portraits—both of named individuals and anonymous women—such as those of Mrs. C. Burton by Winold Reiss and La Danseuse du Lido (c.1950) by Jean Gabriel Domergue show women meeting the gaze of the viewer with pride and poise.

(left) Winold Reiss, Portrait of Mrs. C. Burton, Circa 1930, Pastel on Whitman board, Board: 39 x 26 inches
(right) Jean Gabriel Domergue, La Danseuse du Lido, Circa 1950, Oil on canvas, Canvas: 25 5/8 x 21 1/4 inches


The exhibition undoubtedly shines a spotlight on a wide range of works of outstanding quality, and although not all the contentious questions about evolving representations of women in art are openly articulated, it creates an interesting overview and framework for appreciation of the subject. In building the exhibition the time frame was fluid, and as such rationale for the launch point and conclusion date is not immediately evident. However, the three phases of the exhibition work well to relax the expectation of a clear linear chronological development and to allow for the thematic shifts to become evident. It is an ambitious and extremely interesting curatorial mission that Rau has set, which is enjoyable to view and prompts much consideration.


Antonia Ward


Innocence. Temptation. Power. The Evolution of Women in Art at M.S. Rau Antiques runs through May 4, 2015.


(Image at top: Norman Rockwell, Excuse MeThis painting was the cover of Judge magazine in July 1917, Oil on canvas, Canvas: 28 x 25 inches. All images courtesy of M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans)

Posted by Antonia Ward on 4/13 | tags: realism figurative painting the evolution of women in art Women in art m.s. rau antiques New Orleans

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20110615234602-artslant_profile Non-sequitur....
No, of course not. Now, that was a silly non sequitur you made, but I think you knew that. :)
20141217160355-eva Ashtoreth
You say, " Feminists do not define what is 'real' for women. Women are capable of doing that for themselves. " Does that mean feminists are NOT women?
20110615234602-artslant_profile Women Through the Looking Glass
Eva, that is a very interesting and well presented comment. And to a degree, I can see your point. I cannot agree completely however, because it denies women's capacity to see themselves in fantasy and to manifest this in their being. That is entirely real. Otherwise, what you are arguing is the tired 'feminist' idea of women being stripped down to a tired browned automaton 'who arouses no envy', because she expresses no power of fantasy, joy, that gives her power over men, access to socio-economic rewards beyond plainer, more dour, less imaginative women. I can assure you, that woman at the Lido was the artist, the sorcerer, and perhaps even the alchemist, possibly creating herself from base metals; the first en-joyer, and benefactor of her being as she presented. Women create themselves, or shall I pose, they can, especially now. As a woman artist, I paint the internal psyche and in one series, the journey through the underworld. You would enjoy the writings of art historian Whitney Chadwick. Women look without, but they also regard the internal muse and psyche, the muse in the mirror. Archetypes are very powerful. I have seen myself in Cleopatra, and lived the life of the women in the Lido, all real, so I know. What is not possible for 'every woman' does not make it less real. And even if one cannot be a 'woman at the Lido', one can tap into that archetype, to reclaim something that had been set down. The idea that 'beauty is a male construct' is an old feminist trope, that belies its Marxist stink, the whining politics of envy. Feminists do not define what is 'real' for women. Women are capable of doing that for themselves.
20141217160355-eva WOMEN PORTRAYED IN ART
What is unfortunate is that the women portrayed in art are generally painted by men, a man’s view of the woman's experience. Men tend to see women always in relation to themselves, a kind of aura women give off that they then relate to. And unfortunately women have tended to succumb to this view and play into it. A man's presence is dependant on the power he appears to have. It suggests what he is capable of doing to or for you. And it is this presence that defines men as men. A woman however gives off a sense of what can be done to or for her. Throughout western society women have been habituated to care how they appear to men. And that is how men portray women in art, as someone relating to them. However a woman artist portrays her own experience of the world as a woman, regardless of the men around is a true and real experience, whereas what the men paint when they paint women is often a clouded vision of their imagination... Statistics say that men artists are shown almost 90% more often than women artists still in museums and galleries, so therefore we can assume that the way women are seen in our society is still through the lenses of men and not how they really are… Eva Lewarne


Record Store Day Special: Top Album Sleeve Artwork
by Paul Hanford

Only in its eighth year, Record Store Day is already starting to feel as traditional as a Morris dancer at a folk festival. For me, the biggest attraction here is rooting through the limited edition vinyl released especially for the event. That sensory chemical nirvana triggered when thumbs flick through the racks, the way eyes dilate when they make contact with that sleeve... the one you’re going to take home with you. And as you lay on your bed, vinyl crackling away, you gaze across the design as if it were a new lover. Or is that just me?

I’ve been lucky enough to get a glimpse of all 466 limited edition sleeves. Whittling it down to my top designs wasn’t easy... 



Continuing the theme, there is a Bee Gees joke revolving around folk festivals being the only place you get to see Maurice dancing these days. But cruelty aside, here, promo-sleeve simplicity coupled with an atypical (for the band’s image) font conveys this: The Bee Gees are far more than the novelty pop-disco act history sometimes taints them as being. The Bee Gees were serious, credible artists making music aimed for the discerning dancefloor.



Soul and Jazz sleeves from around the period this record was first released (1967) were something else. Sexy, steely, and cool, the pinnacle was Miles Davis’ ESG. It’s the look and sound of a club the Mad Men have just been refused entry to for being a bunch of stiffs.



The four white male '70s bouffants coupled with cut-and-paste are classic Post Punk aesthetics. Think Wire. Think Led Zep’s foray into the angular with Presence. However, put the record on and you have an almighty slab of British Hip Hop that proudly displays its music-literate cultural prowess: “Yeyah, peace to Ivan Drago!”



This sleeve reminds you that rock music should be provocative. But, like Dwarves’ hardcore punk sound, the sexualized image has a patina of the post-modern. Unlike a million and one busty babes on old Van Halen sleeves, the girl’s head on stare is a direct challenge to any wandering gaze.




The key to understanding this sleeve is the release date: 1985. Yuppie boom. Mobiles the size of Wellington boots. Old footage of people shouting at the stock exchange. Dexys were fresh to making money. They had dressed like chimney sweeps during the previous couple of years. Here, for this radical reinvention, the portrait photographer quality, slick suits, and charcoal background is pretty damn satirical.



Collage has always been a great sleeve option. Think The Beatles’ Revolver. Its DIY fanzine aesthetic fits punk perfectly, and now more than ever, collage sleeves can denote a rejection of digital manipulation in favour of raw physicality.



There are a million Acid Folk records made post-1967 featuring sleeves involving pixie looking people looking amazing by a tree. And every single one of these sleeves is absolutely fantastic. Rebooted far from angry men in Newcastle pubs singing about Unions, Folk becomes about Britt Eckland scampering through trees and thin cheeked pre-Raphelites battling sad, noble dragons.



This says Charity shop like a cardigan smelling slightly of wee. In this world, your local Oxfam is a museum of exotica, where any number of releases like this hold their own next to tupperware cocktail shakers and old Green Lady prints.



I’ve always found something deeply soothing, and not just a little sad, about the childlike euphoria of psychedelic art. Collectively it becomes a monument to a great lost era, just on the cusp of where we are now. The hippies were like the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, except Luke joined the dark side and the Empire won.



That corner of kitsch, free of exotica, reserved for delicate young darlings, Farfisa Organ enthusiasts, library card montagists, Glaswegian pacifists, people who own Harmony Korine movies on VHS and only really eat because they have to. 


Paul Hanford 


(Image at the top: Dwarves. All images courtesy:

Posted by Paul Hanford on 4/15 | tags: Record Store Day album covers album sleeves limited edition records Illustration album cover art

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Made-Up with Danny Volk: S1E11 with Catherine Sullivan
by The ArtSlant Team

Danny Volk talks to artists in their studios about life and art—while they do his make-up. This concept was a new one for us, and, unsurprisingly, it produces some unique moments: see artists like Theaster Gates, Pope.L, and Jessica Stockholder working in their studios as you've never seen them before. 

Revisit Season 1 as we anticipate the all-new Made-Up Season 2, to be released this Spring on ArtSlant.

This week: Catherine Sullivan says something she shouldn't while turning Danny... orange.



More About Made-Up With Danny Volk 

Made-Up is created and hosted by Danny Volk. Volk was born in 1979 in Akron, OH and currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. Volk got his MFA in Visual Art from the University of Chicago in 2014, and his BA in Theater Studies at Kent State University in 2006.

Produced by | Danny Volk and Stephanie Anne Harris Trevor

Cameras | Bryce Peppers, Valia O'Donnell

Technical consultant | Ben Chandler

"Comic Strip" by Serge Gainsbourg remixed by DJ Flashcookie

Posted by The ArtSlant Team on 4/16 | tags: video-art Artist Interviews studio visit made-up with danny volk made-up w/danny volk

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Is "Selling Out" Still Relevant in a Post-Digital World?
by Paul Hanford

This week we're publishing a series of teaser articles on the theme of "Brand" leading up to our "Brand" themed second issue of Editions, our new inbox magazine—which will be sent to ArtSlant subscribers this Thursday. Today, Paul Hanford asks whether selling out is outdated.

Selling out. To some, it appears as a pious and fiery Martin Luther-style preacher, spitting out commandments into the bohemian mind, who, while scraping together enough bronze to buy milk and cigarettes, is comforted by the fact that although they may be starving, at least they haven’t sold out. For others, it’s more ambiguous: after all, Michelangelo put away his pride and accepted the Pope’s commission money to paint the Sistine Chapel. Fear of selling out taunts the artist, reminding them of compromises that begin the day you fill out a college application.

But in the post-digital age, what does "selling out" mean? Can we assume the same principles we would have accepted prior the arrival of the web? For example, is it unfair to snub the eBay artist just because they’re not prepared to wait for an elusive patron to hoister their work into the public sphere?

Anton Bielousov, Source: Flickr Creative Commons


I’m 41, and it is certain that an entirely new trajectory has arisen over my lifetime. I started out as a musician during the Brit Pop wars. A major label paid me to make up songs in a studio; they paid to release them and for a PR company to get us in NME and Mixmag; and we had a publishing house that got one of our songs on a deodorant advert. We had a live agent who planned big tours. It seems crazy now to think that we got paid at all when all we had to do was make up songs. And then bother to turn up to play them. That was it. We didn’t have to persuade our mates to share YouTube links or pull all-nighters initiating Facebook campaigns. We stayed in hotels on tour rather than on people’s floors, and yet, we sold less than 10,000 units. Just imagine all this support being given to a band these days with a mere 10,000 downloads/reposts/streams. We had total creative freedom and money—and weren’t expected to sell out.


1966 Famous Artist Schools with Norman Rockwell, Source: Flickr Creative Commons


Fast forward 15 years, and we are all now multi-taskers. Many of us operate as if we ourselves are entire micro-corporations, splitting our time between creativity, marketing, networking, and doing whatever else we have to do to make ends meet. We are having to learn how to quickly switch between entire different disciplines that would have previously been the roles of separate departments. Often, as a result, we may find ourselves stuck in loops of checking social media, checking, and rechecking. We are expected to behave in the social media world with savvy and grace—even though our training might have been in ceramics. With opportunists at every corner, Jeff Koons’ era of making art about business now seems as quaint and innocent as stock footage of a monorail at a 1950s world trade fair. For guidance for being this one person corporation and keeping your integrity, I suggest reading, if you’ve not already, Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist, and the follow up Show Your Work!

from Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, Source: Flickr Creative Commons


There are benefits to this new structure of selling out. We accept our involvement in the bigger picture. In the future, we could finally tear down, for example, the hierarchical structures of intrinsic in academic Fine Art that have dominated and controlled the artist for far too long. Being accepted as a Fine Artist is possibly the least rebellious of all creative disciplines: it begins, when you fill out your application for university and make a decision that is, at least partly, based on prestige. 

What the digital age offers the artist is a potential web of routes outside of these conventions. Although to some, methods of online commercial enterprise might elicit a sniff, these routes develop into a credible alternative for the artist. The digital age, for me, is about the opportunity to challenge the accepted hierarchies. Now that at least part of our role is to act as our own PR team, we have all taken a worthwhile step—and the prospect of agitating the occasional old school purist is of little consequence.


Paul Hanford


(Image at the top: from Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, Source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Posted by Paul Hanford on 4/17 | tags: digital art school selling out Sell Out post-digital brand Social Media Artist Branding

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Brand America
by Philippa Snow

In March, Artforum announced that both Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman would be creating new series of work for placement in various international American Embassies; in corporate terms, this is like being asked to make a contribution to the décor of the global headquarters of Brand America, and the announcement is of note to me personally because a) I genuinely enjoy the work of Cindy Sherman, b) I enjoy the aesthetics of Brand America from a largely kitsch perspective, and c) I am now committed to reading about and over-thinking everything Jeff Koons does, whenever and wherever he happens to be doing it, and whether it is actually interesting.  

Jeff Koons, via Page Six


My passion for Koons is a little like my passion for, say, Kim Kardashian, not least because I have seen both of their bare asses in the pages of a fashion glossy within the last financial year; his cachet as a representative of something-or-other—really, it depends upon who you ask, and how charitable they are feeling—allows the viewer to project a certain kind of postmodern symbolism onto everything he does. Like Kim, he can stand in for America's cultural ruin; for the celebration of the mass-made and oversold over the individual; for the bastardization of popular culture and the worship of the dumb and banal, but also for a further-than-Warholian merging of everyday life with the gallery—a new kind of ARTPOP, as his awful collaborator Lady Gaga might say. By the end of this month, both Koons and Kardashian will have published coffee-table books with Rizzoli. Both are also the manufacturers of lovely, curvaceous, prohibitively expensive and increasingly meaningless objet d'art, too, though Kim—in her wisdom—has chosen to work in an edition of only one. Koons may have sold a single balloon dog for $58 million, but the sum rather pales in comparison to Kim Kardashian's continued returns of $30 thirty million per year on her own bombastic sculpture.  

Via Instagram @kimkardashian


The New York Review of Books called Koon's retrospective at the Whitney “a succession of pop culture trophies so emotionally dead that museumgoers appear a little dazed as they dutifully take out their iPhones and produce their selfies.” Comparison with the Kardashian Clan here seems almost too easy (“pop culture trophies...emotionally dead...they dutifully take out their iPhones and produce their selfies”) but also too cruel. Kim, after all, has never shot for "conceptual."  Koons embodies the best and worst of Brand America effortlessly, and so his contribution to this project is more inevitable than merely logical. Beverley Hills' United Talent Agency—former and current clients: Miley Cyrus, Kirsten Dunst, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie—announced the launch of a UTA arts arm in February. Though their roster has not been formally announced, almost every item about the agency in the art world press came accompanied by a photo of Koons (“Guess Who?” asked ArtNet's headline, wryly). “With popular recognition of contemporary art at an all-time high,” said one of the agency's lawyers,  “a myriad of new opportunities—and new complexities—have materialized for studio artists.”  

Via Instagram @kimkardashian


Which is, of course, a fair observation, and also an indisputable truth. The artist as a popular figure is a fairly modern invention, but one whose development has accelerated considerably within the last few years: who can forget Marina Abramovic for Adidas, or Vanessa Beecroft for Kanye West? Who among us can say that they didn't at least catch a Vine video of Jay-Z at Pace? “ART IS FAMOUSNESS IS AMERICAN IS THE BRAND,” I had written here as a placeholder. But what more is there, really, to say? Branding is what makes Jeff Koons the ideal art ambassador for his country. Branding, too, is what makes him famous. Actually, in the midst of some fleeting attack of art-history amnesia, I had also considered writing something here about Spiritual America, the notorious underage nudie photograph of 13-year-old Brooke Shields which was withdrawn from the Tate Modern by the Obscene Publications Unit during a 2009 show, and which is, in fact, a work by the country's other great art titan, Richard Prince. 

A schoolgirl's error, but one with a certain logic—Spiritual America has the same cross-breeding of innocence and perversity which is present in, say, a number of Koons' earlier Banalities sculptures; his sexually-explicit but often candy-colored utopian pornography work with his ex-wife, La Cicciolina. It's easy to see why I thought of it: this is where the real sweet-spot for the corporate branding of America is—in this mixture of sting and sugar, where the puritanical and the corrupt converge—though I doubt it will be the direction of the artworks unveiled on April the 20th. “Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman are two of the most internationally renowned and influential American artists of our time,” says the press-release for the Embassy artworks. “Both artists have pushed the boundaries of their work. Their creativity embodies the innovative spirit of America.”  

Almost as a postscript: in my haste to talk about Jeff Koons, I admit that I've sorely neglected Cindy Sherman, whose work I am a fan of, and whose inclusion in this exercise in All-American interior décor is, I admit, a little more surprising to me. While certain factors make her a likely candidate for the project—the value of her work, historically and financially; the figurative style of her work; the fact that she is female, and that, if nothing else, we females are occasionally able to claw our way into institutions through tokenism—she does not, at first glance, wear her American-ness on her sleeve with the open alacrity of Koons. I'm not certain which Sherman to expect in these unknown works which she produces for the Embassy, either. A Guardian profile describes her as, variously, “a Hitchcock heroine, a busty Monroe, an abuse victim, a terrified centrefold, a corpse, a Caravaggio, a Botticelli, a mutilated hermaphrodite sex doll, a man in a balaclava, a surgically-enhanced Hamptons type, a cowgirl, [and] a desperate clown”—an ever-shifting mode of personal presentation which is entirely at odds with the very concept of “branding.” 

How, I wonder, would we know to buy Coke if they didn't always print the Coca Cola logo on the can? And how would we recognize the stars and stripes if they disguised themselves as quirkier shapes?


Philippa Snow


(Image at the top: Cindy Sherman, Woman in Sun Dress, 2003, Lambda C-Print. © Cindy Sherman 20015, Courtesy Spruth Magers) 

Posted by Philippa Snow on 4/17 | tags: Kim Kardashian photography American art Jeff Koons editions art in US embassies brand ArtSlant Editions cindy sherman

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You Can’t Ape It: Art Outsiders Can Tell the Difference Between Abstract Art and Finger Paintings
by Max Nesterak

This article was originally published on The Psych Report.

Anyone who’s stood before one of Cy Twombly’s gigantic scribbles or Jackson Pollock’s chaotic drip paintings knows it doesn’t take an expert to be a critic. One of the most common critiques, “my kid could have done that," is a claim that’s inspired books and editorials and more than a few threatening tweets from art aficionados defending the genius of abstract expressionism against the harsh judgements of the unconvinced. Despite some of their scoffing, new psychology research published this month in Cognition suggests the uncredentialed public can not only discern Twombly’s skill from a two-year-olds’ play, they tend to like the works of master artists better, too. 

In a series of experiments, psychologists Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner along with their colleagues at Boston College—Leslie Snapper, Cansu Oranç, and Jenny Nissel—asked hundreds of art outsiders to evaluate works by famous abstract expressionists such as Hans Hofmann and Willem de Kooning along with works by lesser-known children, chimpanzees, monkeys, gorillas, and elephants. They wanted to find out if people without much, or any, exposure to abstract art might still be able to detect the intentionality and skill in the abstract paintings of masters over those created by animals and children. While such a study might offer more fodder for skeptics than put a point in the win column for the art world, people did rate the works of professional artists better.

Sample pair used in Study 1. (left) Laburnum by Hans Hofmann, © 2015 The Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
(right) Painting by Jack Pezanosky, age 4, reprinted with permission of the parents of Jack Pezanosky


In their first experiment, they showed participants 30 pairs of images—one by a famous artist and the other by either a child or animal. The images were paired together with the help of art experts to be similar in color, line quality, brush stroke, and medium. After seeing each pair, participants were asked to choose which work they thought was done by the artist. The task isn’t easy. If you want to give it a try yourself there is a somewhat similar BuzzFeed test for that. On average, participants identified the professional artwork about 64 percent of the time. In other words, they got a D. While this would only barely count as a passing grade in an Art History class, their answers were not random. It shows most people were picking up on a more sophisticated style in the works of famous painters. 

Winner and her colleagues then ran a second experiment. In case seeing the two images side by side gave viewers an edge at picking out the artist’s work, they showed another group all 60 images, but this time one at a time. In this experiment, participants again identified the professional artwork at a rate better than chance. Not all works were equally easy to spot, however. While the majority—94 percent—of participants could identify Charles Seliger’s Forest Echoes (1961) as the work of a professional artist, the painterly touch of Joan Mitchell’s 1990 Pastel proved more difficult to discern. Only 12 percent of participants said they thought it was done by an artist, let alone the highest selling female artist—Mitchell broke auction sales records last year when one of her untitled pieces sold for more than $11.9 million.

Winner, an expert on child prodigies and gifted children, has also spent a good deal of time investigating how the general public experiences art. She’s run a number of studies on detecting forgeries (even laypeople can do it), what people like about art (it’s not just about beauty), and how what we think about an artist influences how we evaluate his or her work. Back in 2011, Hawley-Dolan and Winner conducted their first experiment testing if people could tell the difference between works by famous artists and those by children and animals. Then, they recruited a few dozen Boston College undergraduates, half of whom were art students, to evaluate each of these 30 pairs asking them two questions: Which image do you like more and why? and Which image do you think is the better work of art and why?

Image used in Study: Sam Francis, Untitled, 1989, © 2015 Sam Francis Foundation, California Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


Some of the images were correctly labeled artist, child, or animal. Others were mislabeled, and still others were not labeled at all. Across all conditions, both the art students and the non-art students thought the professional work of art was better about 65 percent of the time. In one condition, the non-art students even did a little better at spotting the real artwork. But what the art students lacked in judgement, they made up for in taste. According to their findings, the art students were more likely to like the professional work of art. 

Winner and her colleagues wanted to find out what people saw in the works by famous artists that helped them discern its artistic value. In a third experiment published in their present study, Winner and her colleagues asked yet another group of more than 150 participants to evaluate all 60 images across a range of dimensions such as intentionality, structure, inspiration, negative space, and metaphorical meaning. However, this time the participants had no idea they were looking at works by both famous artists as well as children and animals. Winner and her colleagues found two qualities stood out in particular that people ascribed to professional artworks: intentionality and visual structure. On the whole, participants described the works by famous artists as having a greater level of intentionality and more sophisticated structure. Similarly, participants said many of the works by children and animals appeared to be less intentional and structured.

Winner and her colleagues then looked at the participants’ responses for the easiest to identify artworks, like Seliger’s Forest Echoes. They found participants rated these paintings the highest in intentionality in comparison with the more difficult to identify works like Mitchell’s Pastel. This lead them to conclude that intentionality is one of the main criteria people use to judge the value of an artwork, a claim supported by other studies on how people ascribe value to artifacts.

While Winner and her colleagues’ studies suggest most people are able to discern skill in a variety of contexts, their findings are at odds with a number of other studies. As the authors note, previous studies have found that context does matter. For example, another group of researchers at University College London found that people liked an artwork more when they thought it came from a famous gallery rather than when they were told it was generated by a computer.

Even the art world’s taste doesn’t always (or even often) reflect a keen judgement of skill. Some might remember two-year-old Freddie Linksy, whose mediums included ketchup as well as acrylics. His work was sought after by one Berlin gallery who stumbled upon the misleading Saatchi Online profile his mom made for him as a joke. One collector purchased a painting for £20, saying he liked its “flow and energy.”

Image used in study: Untitled painting by Congo the chimpanzee 


Then there’s Congo, the chimpanzee, whose works outsold Renoir and Warhol at auction, fetching more than $25,000. He did most of his painting between the ages of two and four, way before most painters reach their artistic peak. Granted, his work is pretty good; Picasso reportedly hung one of the chimp’s works in his home. He was also an intentional painter. Congo reportedly threw tantrums if a painting was taken away before he was done working and refused to paint more on a piece once he decided it was finished.

But, for obvious reasons, such cases are exceptions. On the whole, Winner and her colleagues’ work suggest something important about non-representational art and the important role intentionality plays in how we ascribe value to artworks. For the parents of kids who could have done that, science suggests they can’t, at least not without a bit more practice.


Max Nesterak


(Image at top: Hans Hofmann, Laburnum,1954, Oil on linen, 40 x 50 inches (101.6 x 127 cm) © 2015 The Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Posted by Max Nesterak on 4/17 | tags: abstract painting my child could do that experimental psychology Art and Science Congo chimpanzee the psych report

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The World's Best-Branded Contemporary Artists
by Nadja Sayej

This week we're publishing a series of teaser articles on the theme of "Brand" leading up to our "Brand" themed second issue of Editions, our new inbox magazine—which will be sent to ArtSlant subscribers this Thursday. Here, Nadja Sayej considers the world's best-branded artists.

In a recent essay published by Berlin-based artist Constant Dullaart, the artist who shelled out 2.5 million free Instagram followers to art world accounts writes, “Audience is a commodity.” He continues: “Building a signature presence where the branding of the artist’s name is more important than an individual work or series. The more social relevance, the more expensive the art work… not the presence at local gallery openings, but international social presence online. It’s not who you know, but who follows you that will increase your chances in making it big.”

On the flipside, marketing lecturer at University of Tasmania, Kim Lehman, who has done extensive research on art world marketing, says, “Marketing involves selling your soul in some way, or at the very least, making compromises that can threaten the integrity of your art. My opinion is that marketing can offer artists certain tools that can be useful in furthering their practice. However, I also strongly believe that it is not ‘the answer’ handed down from a sacred mount.”

I've collected the current crop of artists whose names have become household brands (beyond the obvious self-promotes such as Andy Warhol and Richard Prince). Their websites and logos—the stuff that surrounds their art—raises the question: who are the brand-makers behind the art world's biggest contemporary artists?

Here are five of the biggest artist brands around. Comment below on who you would add to your own list.


Mario Testino. Photo: Nadja Sayej

Mario Testino

When I met the London-based Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino, I asked him why it was important to be a good self-promoter as an artist. After all, he has released over a dozen books of his photos, mounts museum-scale exhibitions and is often in the spotlight himself as an artist. He said: “Even when they don’t want you, pretend they want you.” It seems to have worked. Testino has hired a videographer to follow him around at press conferences, documenting his entire life. He has a team of 35 people working behind him. With solo show titles like In Your Face—filled with celebrity pictures of the Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga—his branding screams for attention. As a by-product of shooting for fashion glossies, Testino’s branding has made him a celebrity. In interviews, he uses the words “amazing” and “incredible,” reinforcing his aesthetic—and his brand. His managing director is Jan Olesen of Higher + Higher, who handle the brands that Testino shoots.


Damien Hirst. Photo: Christian Görmer via Wikimedia Commons

Damien Hirst

We’re no stranger to the fact that the Young British Artist superstar has become a luxury brand. He has ventured in art collecting, fashion design, and is a one-time restaurant owner. Cashing in on his notoriety, he’s like the Pharell Williams of the art world—albeit a less fashionable counterpart. Who can forget when Hirst launched a line at New York Fashion Week with Levi’s in 2008? Or maybe this past Valentine’s Day when he exhibited a solo show of candy hearts (which critics called lazy and predictable). News hooks are his key to drawing the media’s attention. Managed by business mogul Frank Dunphy, a significant amount of Hirst’s commercial success depends on his business partnership. As the artist said, “Before he came along, I was like a punk, really. I didn't care about money. Or I pretended not to care. But when the figures start to get high, it's hard to pretend you don't care. It scares the shit out of you. He got me over the fear. I'd still be drinking and I'd probably would have found some way to fuck it all up if Frank hadn't come along.”


Jeff Koons. Photo: Bengt Oberger via Wikimedia Commons

Jeff Koons

Probably the most branded artist in recent history, Koons broke the purity of the art world in many ways. His work personifies commercialism; he repackages products with a sense of nostalgia and creates large-scale items that inflate art market sales. His studio manager Gary McCraw helped manage a team of 87 assistants. While Koons has kept much of his branding team under wraps, Mathieu Victor's LinkedIn account shows he was Koons' project manager and art director for 12 years before going independent in 2014, assisting with a “direction of projects ranging from high-end jewellery to monumental sculpture.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 


Bruce LaBruce. Courtesy of the artist

Bruce LaBruce

In contrast to Koons and Hirst, a lo-fi punk approach marks the work of this filmmaker, who made his name by creating queercore gay porn features shot through with sarcastic, arty tales. Launching a film retrospective at MoMA later this month, LaBruce started out making films in the 1980s, alongside a queer punk fanzine called J.D.s (Juvenile Delinquents). Promoting his work and branding fake blood—as well as gay zombie porn—became his trademark. “It was very homemade and because of the fanzine, which was D.I.Y. desktop publishing, and so is Super 8 film, and because it was pre-internet, I learned how to treat and promote the films as part of the whole creative process, which is what I still do to this day,” he said. “To me, it’s all a part of the same process.” LaBruce doesn’t have some magical brand maker behind the scenes—he does all the work himself—though his choice of collaborators helps. His recent jewellery and perfume line collaboration with German artist Jonathan Johnson shows the LaBruce name as a brand that carries well into merchandise—from “L.A. Zombie” gold rings to the “Obscenity” perfume.


Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Gagosian

Yayoi Kusama

Polka-dots fill the work of this Japanese artist who embracing the consistent artist-as-brand model early on in her career and shows at Gagosian this month—and was named the most popular artist in 2014, based on museum attendance. Her Louis Vuitton brand sponsorship is just one example of how her dots have paved the way for purse sales and clothing that follows the same pattern of her artwork. She’s even done a "win a trip to visit Kusama’s studio" ad campaign. All we need now are art world air miles...


Nadja Sayej


(Image at the top: Jeff Koons by Sebastian Kim)

Posted by Nadja Sayej on 4/17 | tags: Jeff Koons brand Artist Branding Yayoi Kusama art merchandise mario testino bruce labruce commercialism Damien Hirst Art Marketing

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The Talismanic Adventure of Nicholas Roerich
by Philly Malicka

"Culture is the accumulation of highest Bliss, highest Beauty, highest Knowledge."
                         —Nicholas Roerich, Realm of Light, Book II, 1931


Three solid red circles, pyramid-set, and surrounded by the thick line of a red circle. The ancient symbol of the Pax Cultura represents the interconnectivity of Art, Science, and Religion—the protection of which formed the basis of the Roerich Pact, signed in 1935, which agrees that "historic monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational and cultural institutions" should be protected both in times of peace and war. Such monuments would be identified by flying a distinctive flag, the Banner of Peace, bearing the Pax Cultura emblem. 

Pax Cultura Emblem


That was 80 years ago and the pact has since been trampled and transgressed by countless murky political dawns and yet it remains the best-known achievement of Nicholas Roerich in Western society today. The Russian painter's faith in a triune reality which could protect the cultural assets of assenting nations catapulted Roerich to public consciousness during the 1920s and 30s. But the Roerich Pact is just one of many idealistic goals and achievements the painter and spititualist had throughout his life and career. Many of his ideals—manifested in artworks, writing, and eastern expeditions—would be co-opted by governments and individuals seeking to imprint their own political agendas onto his multivocal brand of spiritualism and soul searching. Some stood to gain from association with his visions of geopolitical utopia, while others sought to capitalize strategically on his travels in politically valuable Tibetan, Afghan, and Northern Indian regions.

Roerich was born into a prominent family in St Petersburg in 1874. He was, substantially, an artist, creating some 7,000 paintings in his lifetime (in 2013 his once lost Madonna Laboris became the most valuable piece of art ever sold at Russian auction). Yet his versatile and visionary output soars across the realms of Eastern philosophy, architecture, poetry, botany, and archeology. 


Disturbed by the acts of cultural iconoclasm his family witnessed during Lenin’s regime, the Roerichs fled Russia to England in 1919. Once in London, Roerich ingratiated himself in Theosophists circle—as kooky a crew as you could find in the city at the time. Inspired by the esoteric minds he encountered, he committed himself to a fresh brand of occultism known as Agni Yoga (he and his wife Helena founded the Agni Yoga Society in 1920) and prepared for his passage to India, which he financed by working as a stage designer at the Covent Garden Theatre.

Before this first mission, however, the Roerichs traveled to America where, in 1920, a major and celebrated exhibition of his early paintings toured the country. It was during this time that Roerich befriended key figures in U.S. politics, namely, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Wallace—two individuals who would later influence the unique representation of the mythical territory of Shambhala Roerich presented in his paintings, poetry, and philosophy. 

For a number of years the Roerichs settled in New York, where they founded an array of institutions aiming to unite artists around the globe in the name of disseminating civic and cultural ideas. But in 1925 the longed-for quest for Shambhala beckoned and the Roerichs departed on their first five-year expedition which saw the creation of many works such as Roerich’s Treasure and The Red Rider. 

A crucial part of our understanding of Roerich’s painting—and the political tensions which surrounded it—depend on an understanding of what this mythical region really signifies. Think of the deep purple dreadlocks of your crustiest friend at school, or the plucky truisms you thought you encountered when you first read Howl; consider that time you took mushrooms in the woods and entered the fourth dimension. And, if you can, reconsider.

Issa and His Giant Skull

Shambhala is a kingdom alluded to in ancient Tibetan texts; it is at once inaccessible, ineffably peaceful and yet rooted in every living being. It lies somewhere between the icy mountain ranges of Eurasia but at the same time, it is, by definition, hidden. For Roerich it was, "the indispensable site where the spiritual world unites with the material one." Roerich’s Himalayan landscapes seek to produce an image of a world on the edge of physical reality. They are sublime panoramas, dazzling in their jagged beauty, as luminous and visionary as Blake’s prophetic etchings. They are observed from on top of the world, overlooking craggy paths, staring into the heart of Fauvist, euphoric light.

It was the ultimate sabbatical—but someone had to pay for all this, and Roerich was crafty in the way he branded himself as an emissary of Western Buddhism to unknown and potentially paradisiacal landscapes. 

 He Who Hastens

It has been contended that Roerich accepted funding from both British and Bolshevik intelligence to finance his first expedition, that his journeys were not simply artistic and philosophical endeavors but driven by a unique form of espionage arising from lingering territorial disputes within the region known today as "The Great Game." For Soviet armies and British Raj-defenders, Shambhala signified political territory, not spiritual freedom—and sponsorship of the first Roerich expedition was a strategic policy of surveillance over regions we know today as Mongolia, Tibet, India and Afghanistan.

Perhaps the perceptible sense of menace, the angular strain we witness in the jewels, the cliff tops, and human faces of Roerich’s paintings belies the political tensions which enabled his Himalayan missions.

Himalayas, 1933

Roerich’s second Himalayan expedition to Manchuria in 1933-34 was sponsored after a long correspondence with Henry Wallace, then Secretary of Agriculture for America who became a Roerich-disciple, deeply attracted to the idea of Sacred Union of the East, a spiritual and geopolitical utopia the Roerichs were hoping to establish in the heart of Asia. Like Shambhala, this utopia was to show humankind as a blueprint of ideal society. Wallace comissioned Roerich’s journey under the pretence of finding a hardy seed which could withstand the ravages of the recent Dust Bowl. 

Once again, political pressures encroached on Roerich’s vision. Through the painting and writing from this controversial trip we witness Roerich branding America as a paradigm of Shambhala—the point at which the new and ancient world emerge as congruent ideals. He writes:

In the remote yurtas of Asia’s deserts, President Hoover is the giant Savior of starving peoples. Ford is considered as a symbol of motive power. The Mongols consider American Indians their lost relatives. All our latest discoveries are regarded by the East as signs of the era of Shambhala. Milliken’s cosmic ray, Einstein’s relativity, Theremin’s music from the ether, are regarded in Asia as signs of the evolution of human consciousness, confirmed by Vedic and Buddhist traditions and the teachings of Shambhala.

We are told that "many reproductions of the towers of New York have remained in the desert! And they are kept in the sacred corners, where the most revered objects are collected." Reading this, my starry belief in Roerich’s visions begins to wither: weren’t the mountain folk just excited to have something unfamiliar to look at? Undoubtedly, Roerich loved America—but how much was his journey hijacked by state-led propaganda designed to promote Uncle Sam’s supremacy over ancient Eastern traditions? 

It’s at this point that the U.S. sponsorship of Roerich’s mission to find rare forms of moss in the name of a Buddhist Kingdom seems, aptly, dank and murky. Perhaps this was something Roerich himself also recognized and rejected; after the first year he is reported to have abandoned botanical research and dedicated himself to painting and poetry. 

Soon enough, the U.S. authorities were pursuing him for tax evasion. Wallace’s "Dear Guru" letters were later used to humiliate him in 1948 as he stood for office. Roerich died in India a year before, too early to witness the bloody iconoclasm as India and Pakistan were divided.

 Path to Shambhala

Today, we can immerse ourselves in Roerich’s vision in eponymous museums in Moscow and New York as well as at the residence in which he spent his last days, in Kulu, Himachal Pradesh. Though the quest for Shambhala was abandoned, he is revered today as an artist-explorer whose bold gait straddled wildly divergent cultural and political forces in the name of locating or creating an unending happy and tranquil kingdom. 

Nicholas Roerich never did receive the Nobel Peace Prize, despite multiple nominations. The most apt tribute could be the Roerich star 446, which was named after him, his brand too lofty to pinpoint, his geopolitical Utopian like the star itself—already dead.


Philly Malicka


(Image at the top: Portrait of Nicholas Roerich, All images courtesy Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York)

Posted by Philly Malicka on 4/17 | tags: nicholas roerich landscape painting brand pax cultura editions Shambhala ArtSlant Editions

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From the Harem to the Revolution: Worn Out Images of Middle Eastern Women in Art
by Danna Lorch

Two chador-clad figures gesticulate with fully covered arms onscreen at the rear of Carbon 12, a gallery in Dubai. It would be easy to yawn and dismiss Anahita Razmi’s video, Middle east coast west coast (above), as yet one more work in which an artist covers Middle Eastern women’s faces and bodies to insinuate that they are voiceless. That assumption is turned on its (veiled) head, once one picks up a set of headphones to listen to the work’s sound, which reveals that the performers are actually a male and female couple bickering about stereotypes associated with west coast and east coast artists in the United States. It turns out that Razmi set Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson's 1969 audio recording to the performance.

Anahita Razmi, This is not Iranian. Courtesy of the artist and Carbon 12


Razmi’s show is titled Sharghzadegi, after a made up Farsi term for "Eastruckness," which plays on "Gharbzadegi," a somewhat derogatory adjective for "Westruckness," used in Iran to describe a person who models her or himself after Western values. The exhibition concerns our predilection for labelling and branding by questioning whether terms like “The Middle East” are relevant or even mean anything. Razmi, who is half German, half Iranian, photographed a Farsi tattoo on her forearm that translates, “This is Not Iranian.” She asked in our interview with exasperation, “What is not Iranian? Is it the person or is it the sentence?” then went on to clarify, “I am making a personal statement but a non-statement at the same time. These works are labelling something but at the same time questioning what labelling does.” Razmi is suggesting that the Eurocentric notion of “The Middle East” has become absurdly vague in our globalized times, as have tired gender and cultural typecasts.

Shirin Neshat, Speechless from the Women of Allah series, 1996, gelatin silver print and ink. Courtesy of the artist and LACMA


The tattooing of Middle Eastern women’s bodies with text was famously played out in Shirin Neshat’s Women of Allah, a series of four photographs from the late 90s, which presented women in chador beside phallic weaponry, with every exposed centimetre of skin inked in classical Persian poetry, as if to imply that women—even the dangerous revolutionary variety— are the named possessions of the male religious elite. While this notion was wonderfully controversial back in the 90s, post 9/11, the equation of Middle Eastern women with violence and veils has been so overdone that artists with roots in the region look downright lazy if they self-represent female bodies in this way—unless, like Razmi, they have a fresh spin.

Hassan Hajjaj, Kesh Angels, 2010/1431, Edition of 7, Metallic Lambda Print on 3mm White Dibond, 39.8h x 54.17w in / 101h x 137.6w cm.
Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Gallery


Interestingly, LACMA seems to believe that Neshat’s earlier work is both "contemporary" and an example of Islamic Art. The museum is featuring Speechless from the Women of Allah series as the promotional image for a group exhibition titled Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of The Middle East which includes strong work by artists including Hassan Hajjaj (whose Kesh Angels follows and documents a funky group of female bikers in Morocco), Wafaa Bilal, and Mona Hatoum. Regardless of the show’s scope, equating women from the region with guns and veils still draws crowds. It is dangerous for a powerful institution like LACMA to play into Western media stereotypes and imply firstly that Islamic contemporary art and "Art of the Middle East" are the same thing, and then to throw in such a pigeon-holed image of a woman from the region as a teaser.

(above) Jean-August Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814
(below) Lalla Essaydi, La Grande Odalisque, Les Femmes Du Maroc, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Toledo Museum of Art


In the Orientalist era, females did not have license to represent themselves artistically, and were instead objectified by European painters like Delacroix and Ingres, whose work provided a cover for buttoned up Victorian adventurers to explore their own sexual fantasies related to the harem rather than convey a realistic window onto women’s lives. In 2008 Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi reclaimed the harem and women’s bodies with a riff on Ingres’ 1814 painting of a nude concubine, La Grande Odalisque, in which a porcelain-skinned woman looks demurely and sensually away from the painter as though she is a decorative object. In Essaydi’s photograph by the same title in her Les Femmes du Maroc series, the subject looks fiercely into the camera as if to imply that she controls both her own sexuality and her destiny. Her body is tattooed in henna calligraphy with architectural patterns coordinating with the threshold she dominates. "Odalesque" in Turkish means "to occupy a space" and Essaydi is perhaps calling into question the ways in which Arab people have allowed themselves to be occupied by an Orientalist world view, even decades after colonialism’s demise—how women’s bodies provide the ultimate canvas, blank page, and battleground for that struggle.

Shurooq Amin, A Man of No Importance. From the Popcornographic series. Mixed Media on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery


It is impossible to break down stereotypes related to women from the Middle East and art without simultaneously unpacking complex tropes on patriarchy. Kuwaiti painter Shurooq Amin whose show, It’s a Man’s World was closed within three hours of opening at a Kuwait City Gallery in 2012, is known for portraits that expose her views on the hypocrisy of her society, but also for self-portraits that portray Arab women as powerful and independent figures in a patriarchal culture. In A Man of No Importance, Amin crowns herself a queen upon a throne, unfolding a chain of tiny paper doll men in traditional dress. Amin fiercely tackles notions of masculinity, one taboo at a time, and there are a handful of other artists from the region, both male and female, who are engaged in the same on going project.


Danna Lorch 


(Image at top: Anahita Razmi, Middle east coast west coast, HD video, 23 mins 04 secs, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Carbon 12 Dubai)

Posted by Danna Lorch on 4/21 | tags: photography painting Shirin Neshat middle eastern women in art arab women in art gender in art

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Darlings: A New Cult of Youth in Art
by Stephanie Cristello

The art world darling. The term’s ties to youth are not surprising, ever more now that youth in the art market doubles as a texture, a feature of desirability—a quality that is not necessarily bound to age, but to attitude. The cult of youth has held strong since the Victorians, and its associations with affection still stand. While the term darling (dear-ling) and its tender definitions may not have evolved over the past few centuries, the idiomatic media darling—the darling that belongs to the crowds, not to the individual—certainly has. The contemporary art and art market darlings are young and brilliant, bright and seductive, mysterious and coy—painted as both coquettish and confrontational. There is often something oppositional within their career objectives (i.e. their persona battles the institution, at the same time their work gains value at auctions and fairs for being housed within certain museums and public collections). In a particularly telling formula, which ran in BLOUIN ARTINFO this past September on Danh Vō, “when asked about the practical or conceptual foundations of future projects, his favorite rejoinder is: ‘I have no idea.’ Today, however, Vō is an institutional darling…” In darlings, the modest is conflated with the inflammatory, just as their implied youth—a play on inexperience, false or not in the press—is synthesized with value.

The contemporary characterization of darlings is all part of the increased viability—and indeed expectation of—artists’ commitment to the social and the public. We see them dressed in tailored couture in their studios, on the spreads of glossy magazines, or backlit on screens (see: Kour Pour opening at Depart Foundation in the popular Diary pages of—their washed out skin under the hot light of a camera flash. We recognize them in the aisles of international art fairs, delicately cast in the glow of their distilled personalities, which we have gathered and absently absorbed from news briefs and feeds. We know their biographies in sound bytes: born 1986, lives/works in X. Their names are committed to the lexicon of being in the know; art presses, publication houses, and art fairs have since adapted to allow for this type of coverage to rise to the top, notably Art Basel’s Nova Sector, or Taschen’s ever-expanding roll Art Now, branded “if it’s hot in the art world today, it’s in this book.” These darlings appear and disappear as invisible celebrities; the proliferation of material that focuses on keeping current allows for their names to operate more as unfixed zeitgeists than as permanent monuments.


Parker Ito posing in his studio, in front of The Most Infamous Girl in the History of the Internet / Attractive Student / Parked Domain Girl, 2010 - 2013. Image courtesy of Artpulse Magazine. 


How do we define darlings—this reified cult of youth for our times? Perhaps it is best to start with the speculative nature of these art world reputations, rendered as forward thinking and daring in their approach. We often hear they propose new ways of seeing for the digital age. We hear about Post-Internet artists that have moved beyond the novelty of the web; where the movement’s quality of the now is “its most distinctive feature."

The decadence of the term darling is tied to a similarly ever-present youth in media headlines—ten young artists to watch, up and coming, the “on the rise,” future greats. To be a darling is to occupy a position within the market. The position is of course desired. Nowhere is the duplicity of the relationship between contemporary art and the art world more prevalent than in its darlings. But where is the line of dissent? When does youth become true progression, and where does it get destroyed under the weight of the market?

Oscar Murillo at the Rubell Family Collection. Image courtesy of Paper Mag. 


The answer has to do with how we write about them and their work. Mention a contemporary artist quick on the rise and the name on everyone’s lips is Oscar Murillo. His affectation is clear; while he is characterized on the “threshold of naïve” his art world rank is staggering. It is supposed to be staggering. Bright, young, and promising—Murillo’s tenacity is never lost in the press. Descriptions of the artist—his ambition and seemingly impossible market inflation—are always tempered with biographical information: his immigrant upbringing, his place within the cannon as a twenty-first century Basquiat. The precedence for failure is weaved into his persona. As Allan Schwartzman has been quoted in almost every instance of Murillo’s published features “almost any artist who gets that much attention so early on in his career is destined for failure.” How dangerous and seductive.

The machine of history moved before Murillo. But how much of his affectation—as a ruthlessly motivated artist that won the hearts of collectors—is the texture of words?

As darlings have collapsed youth into a seductive image, the flattening of history is no longer limited to the cannon, but instead pushes against the present. Current artists are frivolously written about as if they were long-established icons—take a recent description of Petra Cortright in her studio in The New York Times, “She looked like a movie star but exuded the aura of a cult member from the ’70s.[4]” Cortright’s position as a darling in the media is different than that of Murillo’s. Whereas descriptions of his rise on the market is perforated with allusions to an unrivaled intensity in the studio, Cortright is painted as lackadaisical flower child, quoted not on her status in the market in the same publication, but on her choice of sunglasses, “I always wear the pink ones,” she said. “They’re supposed to make you happy and playful.”



Within this flattening of time, darlings are embedded into their exhibitions. Beyond media coverage, we read about The Most Infamous Parker Ito in the History of the Internet, at The Hole in 2013, or the better-named Parker Ito Does Parker Ito, on in 2011. The essential egotism in describing darlings serves as a turning point, where we see the young artist and the persona of youth meld seamlessly into one. Youth is no longer illicit; it is expected. Naïveté, false or not, is the norm—branded and packaged, not as a vehicle for critique, but as validation. In the process, the authentication of youth itself has become a type of acceptable practice in contemporary art all its own. If anything, what is surprising is the sort of conservatism that follows this brand of youthfulness (when did youth become so tame?). The persona becomes the person. Far from fleeting, the affect of youth has been absorbed as a categorical marker.

 Alicja Kwade Andere Bedingung (Aggregatzustand 4), 2009. Installation view Boros Collection, 2012.


The Sammlung Boros in Berlin, one of Europe’s most highly respected private collections of contemporary art, features rotating exhibitions of work acquired by Christian and Karen Boros, housed within an old Nazi bunker. As I was toured through once, the guide was sure to mention multiple times that the Boros’ do not collect backward. Each piece within the collection was bought the year it was made. Extra contemporary. As we walked through the various chambers, Alicja Kwade’s work dominated the strongest spaces. I can still hear the guide’s voice echo when I see her pieces, “and this is the work of Alicja Kwade, Berlin’s little darling.” If you can imagine this statement looping over Kwade’s installations—particularly in her treatment of harsh materials, which are forced to bend, seemingly operating on their own sense of gravity—the irony will become apparent.

Rather than qualify the art itself, the darling belongs to the personification of the market within contemporary work. This existence of youth-personified is part of the contemporary consciousness, and can offer effective criticism if navigated knowingly. Where the cult of youth once pushed the boundaries, now it walks the line. It is a challenging position, but still has much to offer, and deserves to be contextualized as such.

Art and the market are inextricably linked. Art and the market are heartbreakingly separate. Both are both. To try and think of them any differently will only lead to more interpretations of surface—and unfortunately, to more shallow writing on contemporary work.


Stephanie Cristello


(Image at top: Oscar Murillo, Photo by Mark Peckmezian Photo: Chi Lam.)

Posted by Stephanie Cristello on 4/22 | tags: petra cortright dahn vo parker ito art market media darlings youth cult of youth darlings

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I Was an e-Erotica Editor
by Lesley Dixon

Rape is taboo, says my boss. The heroine cannot be raped during the span of the novel, though having been raped previous to the events of the story is acceptable, as long as it is not described explicitly.

I ask my boss if fingers count. I had a manuscript the other day in which the heroine had fingers inserted inside her without consent, and I am curious, do I tag this as rape, or no?

There is a silence as my boss considers this. That would not need to be tagged, my boss decides. Rape is not rape unless it is with a penis, she decides. Meeting adjourned.

For the last year and a half I spent eight hours a day editing bottom-of-the-barrel tripe from a dark, musty corner of the e-book erotica industry spawned by Fifty Shades of Grey and the Twilight series. While my experience may not be representative or even typical of the e-erotica industry as a whole, it was thorough and specific. This is an industry, I had gathered, that was woman-centric, empowering, and sex-positive. This is an industry, I now know, that can be lazy, narrow, prejudiced, and un-self-aware. This is an industry that turned me into a petty, daily arbiter of whether or not fingers counted. This industry’s privileged place as an emancipator of kink and fount of sexual empowerment is misconceived and dangerous. 


Our books were obsessed, varyingly but relentlessly, with tropes like hair washing. There is surely nothing wrong with a little erotic bathing, but when coupled with the heroine being spoon-fed, sat upon laps, carried across even the smallest distances, and given post-coital wipe-downs by omnipresent “warm wash cloths,” the effect is distinctively infantile or geriatric. The heroine uniformly has no financial independence, saved from the horror of having to work for a living by millionaire heroes. How can e-erotica be sex-positive when it promotes such a grotesquely lazy kind of sex? The protagonist is endlessly rewarded with sexual acts and compliments for being a brave, strong woman, when she has spent most of her time weeping and being kidnapped. Is anyone who expects to be thus coddled entitled to sex? Adulterating any sexual act with a sense of entitlement is a recipe for villainy. After eighteen months of parsing the language of entitlement, I came to see these e-erotica heroines as just that: villains. 


Can anything that so roundly denies its own identity as pornography truly be sex-positive? The masturbatory intent of these books is clear. The poor quality of the writing itself is baffling and unquestionable. E-erotica has a great many things in common with mainstream pornography: prolific output, low production costs, democratic zeal. Why, then, does e-erotica look down its nose at pornography, and bristle at being described as such?

My boss once told me not to refer to the sex scenes directly when giving authors feedback, as it made many authors uncomfortable to be faced with their own creations. E-erotica is full of people who consider themselves avid readers, though many of them exclusively read erotica—a distinction as absurd as compulsive porn viewers who watch porn to the exclusion of everything else considering themselves film buffs. E-erotica is only okay if it is distinct from porn, if it is better than porn, and right now, it is not empowering to anyone.

For an industry that prides itself on body positivity and acceptance, on embracing women of all physical types, e-erotica can be shockingly cruel. The hypocrisy of lauding their heroines for being curvy in the same breath as slut-shaming their rivals for being stick-thin seems to be lost on the great majority of authors. Pathetic ex-husbands and villainous stalkers are uniformly small-penised and weak, good guys predictably buff and well-hung. Many of our books display a closed-minded contempt for anything that deviates from a narrow norm (usually tired, rote BDSM vocabulary), in direct contradiction with its façade of experimentation and open-mindedness.

The e-books published by the company I worked for explore some dark territory without seeming to realize it. Taking a cue from yaoi manga, our manlove authors (gay male erotica written by women for a female audience) had to be repeatedly reminded that we would not publish characters under the age of 18. In order to work around this restriction, the effeminate submissive characters in these books were often made to be sickly, malnourished, sexually and physically tortured by villains, and thus unnaturally small and youthful in appearance. The implications of pedophilia are clear enough, though sometimes authors go as far as to give these submissive boys speech impediments or physical disabilities to enhance their childishness further, so that they are only able to communicate in toddler sentences and need to be carried like babies. It is not my intent to argue for or against the presence of pedophilic themes in fictional erotica. What is disturbing, however, is the ubiquitous denial that fetishes such as pedophilia and bestiality are present in these e-books. The same authors that enjoy writing about werewolf “knotting,” a phenomenon in which a dog penis enlarges once inside the human vagina to prevent disconnection, would be deeply offended to have their work categorized as bestiality. Similarly, the viral Twilight trope of a paranormally immortal man “imprinting” on a baby girl so that he remains her protector until she reaches the age of sexual consent left many authors aghast at their work being tagged as pedophilia. The erotica world is rife with these denials through codifications. This hypocrisy leads to the feverish cultivation rather than an open examination of fetishes like pedophilia and bestiality. Cutesy euphemisms and slick branding in e-erotica used to protect readers from their perversions seems to fuel and perpetuate the more fucked-up aspects of what gets them off rather than allowing a place for conceptual play and release. Much like my boss’s hairsplitting over the definition of rape, it is the reluctance to acknowledge these dark tropes as what they are that is disturbing, rather than the basic fact of their existence.

By identifying as ubiquitously and uniformly sex-positive and empowering, this particular corner of the e-book erotica industry has sought to protect itself from earnest critique: feminist commentators are often reluctant to wholeheartedly criticize a force that has introduced so many women to their own sexuality—and rightfully so—even if that sexuality is wrapped up in a lot of potentially harmful tropes.  Simultaneously, any outsiders (vanillas) who understandably recoil from the sheer weirdness and grotesquery of e-erotica’s alien yet reactionary ideology ideologies are dismissed as narcs, rubes, or bullies. The result is that the e-erotica industry, or at least this particular brand of it, builds a callus against any criticism and gets darker and darker, unintentionally and increasingly absurdist, even nihilist in its repetition of themes, in the way a word chanted over and over both loses and gains meaning..

If you are disturbed by this trend, you are: a vanilla who could never possibly understand; a cruel high school bully who hates readers of all kinds; or a pretentious feminist who wants to ruin sex for everyone. Overly defensive erotica advocates find it easier to exist in a world of these three enemy stereotypes than to examine the complicated, upsetting roots of their own subculture. It may be frightening or sad to explore why these tropes are so precious to them. The overwhelming fixation on copious vaginal fluid, for instance, may speak to the average post-menopausal erotica author who is insecure about her body, as might the surprising size of the external clitoris of most heroines, which gets larger as a woman ages. The submissive, childish boys in the manlove genre may be a proxy for women who are uncomfortable, for whatever reason, placing themselves in a sexual scene. There is a widespread dogma in e-erotica that BDSM can cure all ailments, from frigidity to PTSD to past abusive relationships and rape. The insistent prevalence of this unfounded notion may suggest that a great many authors and readers suffer from these traumas, and are actively seeking a way to process it through sexual release. Is e-erotica a cathartic outlet for pain and insecurity, or is it a snake oil cure-all sold to women who, for all we know, don’t have adequate access to mental health treatment or literature?

The only way to disabuse e-erotica of its lazy prejudices and insidious dogma is to stop allowing it the security blanket of sex positivity. Imagine if we were to only analyze male-centric internet pornography from an assumption of its being sexually empowering, and how little we would learn from it.


—Lesley Dixon

Image at top can be found at this link

Posted by Lesley Dixon on 4/22 | tags: pornography editions ArtSlant Editions brand Ebooks erotica

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Branding a Genre: INSA's Gif-iti
by Char Jansen

Is it possible to trademark a whole genre of art? UK-based artist INSA has done just that, and gives an insight into the practicalities of defending your art in the digital era. In his most recent project, INSA’s Satellite Gif-iti (racking up more than 2.5 million views at the time of writing) the artist puts a behemoth brand stamp on the earth, endorsed in a 3 minute film—which sees the artist paint a carpark the size of two football pitches in Rio De Janeiro, and create a Gif from images shot from a satellite in space. The BBC, and even, Lil Wayne, are talking about it.


INSA, London, 2011

In 2011, INSA created his first Gif-iti piece in Belgium. At the time, his main motivation was to push his practice to the next level, taking graffiti beyond the buff and into cyberspace where it would live better and longer. IRL, INSA had already paid his dues: he started out painting graffiti aged 13, when he would take buses down to London to paint trains (and he spent a stint in prison at age 21) and has gone on to produce exhibitions, products, and large scale installations (including his Self Reflection is Greater Than Self Projection, London 2012) as well a short film for Channel 4.

INSA x INKIE, Belgium, 2011

While early Gif-iti works clearly reference graffiti (big, bold tags, with highlights and shines as an in-joke to fellow graffiti writers) later Gif-iti works have developed not only in their technical complexity but in their thematic concerns. Galvinising medium-as-message, INSA's recent Gif-iti pieces (take Cycle of Futility, or C'est La Vie) are a satirical comment on a URL existence, and the paradox of online materialism. 

INSA, London, 2012

INSA, The Cycle of Futility, London, 2014

INSA’s previous "graffiti fetish" style had already been ripped off and reappropriated all over, but he understood his Gif-iti innovation was something he was going to have to protect as closely as his identity. Advertisers soon cottoned on to the visual power of his Gif-iti work and it became the artist’s—who rarely produces conventional physical works—most desirable asset. Trademarking his brand was about protecting his ability to earn from his creations—but it wasn't just about the monetary value. 

The process of creating these Gif-iti pieces is technically complex and laborious. In each Gif-iti wall, individual layers are painted by hand, some comprised of up to 16 layers. Protecting the Gif-iti brand was also a way to claim that technical innovation and differentiate it from other kinds of digital and gif art where the maniuplation is applied digitally. In order to fully understand the concept art work, it was fundamental that the Gif-iti brand exist.   

INSA, Rosekilde Festival, 2014

When imitators and fan works did appear, INSA was mirred in that greyish area of intellectual property. Ideas aren’t easy to safeguard, and more so with mass exposure across the web. Though regulations are designed to encourage innovators to make new things and be fairly compensated for their work, it’s impossible, due to the nebulous nature of the net, to track everyone—and when someone uses your idea for profit, you're likely to get pissed.

In Norway last year, a group of artists painted what they claimed as “the world’s largest Gif-iti” as an ad for an energy drink. Since there was no mention of his name, INSA considered the project an infringement and in response, he went to Taiwan and painted an even bigger Gif-iti: “that piece is fucking huge, 8 stories high. I would never have actually attempted to do a Gif-iti piece this big… but before I went out to Taipei I saw that some painters in Oslo had taken the Gif-iti idea and done a big advert with it. I couldn’t let that be the case.”


INSA x Madsteez for Pow! Wow! Taiwan, 2014

Rather than taking legal action, INSA's way of defending his brand is an example of a head-on approach to enforcing intellectual property rights in an environment in which authorship and originality become murky and soluble. Instead of engaging in a lengthy legal battle INSA's answer seems to be to go bigger and louder to reassert his ownership. On a broader level, his take on branding reminds us of the competitive culture of creating now, and the struggle of making a profitable art form that remains the property of the artist.   

INSA x Roids, Hawaii, 2014 

—Char Jansen


Char Jansen is an assistant to INSA

Posted by Char Jansen on 4/23

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If You Build It, They Will Come: The Inauguration of a New Era at the Whitney
by Andrea Zlotowitz

Picture this: on a sunny day, you are walking through the meatpacking district in Downtown Manhattan. You walk down the cobblestone streets, passing the high-end clothing stores; you pass the Standard Hotel and stumble upon the foot of the High Line.  

As you approach Gansevoort Street, you notice a new building that doesn’t look like the others: bordering the West Side Highway, you walk towards this large, strikingly asymmetrical building and are dumbfounded by the pure magnitude of its structure. This building is the all new Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Designed by Renzo Piano, the new building’s mission is to “create an environment in which visitors will be encouraged to connect deeply with art through an irreplaceable first-hand experience,” according to Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director. Almost twice the size of its former home, the Whitney’s gallery spaces have benefitted immensely from their new spatial arrangements. Piano’s design was conceived as a “laboratory for artists” and aims to provide an engaging environment not only for artists, but for critics, scholars, curators, and creatives alike.

Attending the press day with several ArtSlant staff last week, our morning began with addresses by Adam D. Weinberg, Donna de Salvo (Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Programs) and the building’s designer Renzo Piano (who referred to the building’s lobby as a piazza larga during his speech, causing ripples of laughter throughout the room). During 40 minutes of speeches, the audience saw the dramatic entrance of the fire department and medics who came to attend to woman who collapsed (we hope she is ok); Lightening the afternoon, New York Magazine’s Senior Art Critic and ham Jerry Saltz did his social waltz around the museum and was sure to converse with everyone in sight; my personal favorite activity was observing every attendee’s perfectly structured outfit, as the corridors turned into a temporary runway.

On Friday, May 1, the new Whitney Museum opens to the public with America Is Hard to See, which examines art in America ranging from 1900 to today. Pulling works from the Whitney’s permanent collection, the enormous building's galleries illuminate the collection's gems, some of which have never been presented before. We were blown away by the architecture of the new premises: this is truly how art should be seen. The galleries are flooded with natural light, and none of the internal walls of the exhibition spaces are permanent meaning that each exhibition can take on the space freely and in new ways. 

Edward Hopper, 1882‑1967, Early Sunday Morning1930, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney © Whitney Museum of American Art


Amidst the grand entrance to the museum, the four elevators that take you to the galleries are themselves an art work. Entitled Six in Four, the elevators are tangible imaginative installations by Richard Artschwager, each one different. “Employing materials such as plastic laminate, glass, and etched stainless steel, the four elevators are the culmination of a body of work based on six themes that occupied Artschwager’s imagination since the mid-1970s: door, window, table, basket, mirror, and rug.”

The new building features interactive terraces for each floor, allowing for traditional interior art space, while affording movement outside. The terraces and immense windows incorporate a vast amount of natural light within the galleries and grant a mimetic relationship to the outside world. Hosting some exceptional sculptures and communal sanctuary, the Whitney’s new terraces interweave the building’s incredible geometries. They also provide some of the most breathtaking views of Manhattan’s skyline—a proper scene to remind visitors of the museum's roots.

Photograph by Nic Lehoux


Organized chronologically, the current exhibition presents works such as Georgia O’Keeffe’s soft colors, Max Weber’s abstract compositions and John Covert’s lightly collaged paintings, on the top floor, the smallest floor of galleries, focused on works created between 1910 and 1940. As the exhibition continues, viewers encounter works from 1925-1960 and 1950–1975, where the exhibition advances into the present with the emergence of new technologies and the expanded use of a wider range of materials. (While the dating arrangement does not flow consecutively, the movements these works chart allow for the intricate map of American art to speak exuberantly and passionately). Between Robert Rauschenberg’s Satellite and Thomas Downing’s illusionistic painting Five, the mid-century artworks encourage viewers to question what they see. The entire floor flows with the energy of chaos, compulsion and madness. It’s brilliant.  

The climax of the exhibition comes on the 5th floor (our advice, start from the top and work your way down) hosting works from 1965 to today. Here Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nam June Paik, and Mike Kelley are among the blockbusters. Each floor is a self-contained era in American Art, the marks of the dawn of new artistic expression, a visual representation of contemporary culture, social history, and politics. Weaving through the galleries with an in-depth historical lens, America Is Hard to See illustrates the formative years of American art’s evolution and development. 

Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), Rückenfigur, 2009, Neon and paint, 24 × 145 1/2 × 5in. (61 × 369.6 × 12.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  2011.3a‑i.  © Glenn Ligon 


A new building is a perfect opportunity to address the blurred lines of American identity and what it means for "American Art" and for a Museum of American Art. Who is represented here? Artists born in the Americas, those who have adopted this as their home, or is this definition unnecessary—as diverse as America itself?

Robert Bechtle (b. 1932).'61 Pontiac, 1968‑1969, Oil on canvas, 59 3/4 × 84 1/4in. (151.8 × 214 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Richard and Dorothy Rodgers  © Robert Bechtle 


The Whitney has created a space to embody community. Natives and tourists alike are sure to be in awe of this new home for a fundamental collection of American art, one that scintillates with the cultural production of decades in the beating heart of New York City.


Andrea Zlotowitz


(Image at the top: View from the Hudson River. Photographed by Karin Jobst, 2014.)

Posted by Andrea Zlotowitz on 4/24 | tags: Whitney Museum American art Renzo Piano architecture art museums new york museums

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Made-Up with Danny Volk: S1E12 with Zachary Cahill
by The ArtSlant Team

Danny Volk talks to artists in their studios about life and art—while they do his make-up. This concept was a new one for us, and, unsurprisingly, it produces some unique moments: see artists like Theaster Gates, Pope.L, and Jessica Stockholder working in their studios as you've never seen them before. 

Revisit Season 1 as we anticipate the all-new Made-Up Season 2, to be released this Spring on ArtSlant.

This week: Friend of the site Zachary Cahill talks about his fave color (pink!), day jobs, and his major USSA project.



More About Made-Up With Danny Volk 

Made-Up is created and hosted by Danny Volk. Volk was born in 1979 in Akron, OH and currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. Volk got his MFA in Visual Art from the University of Chicago in 2014, and his BA in Theater Studies at Kent State University in 2006.

Produced by | Danny Volk and Stephanie Anne Harris Trevor

Cameras | Bryce Peppers, Valia O'Donnell

Technical consultant | Ben Chandler

"Comic Strip" by Serge Gainsbourg remixed by DJ Flashcookie

Posted by The ArtSlant Team on 4/24 | tags: video-art zachary cahill Makeovers studio visits Artist Interviews made-up w/danny volk

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The Truth Behind the “Judith Beheading Holofernes” Pasta Sauce Label
by Natalie Hegert

A jar of pasta sauce recently came to our attention when it went viral, at least among guffawing art history majors on Facebook, who were compelled by the droves—likely due to our desperate desire for validation—to click on this blog post evocatively titled “Why This Company Desperately Needed to Hire an Art History Major.” Oh yes, we collectively clamored, here’s a circumstance when our expertise surely would have been of use.

Speculation circulated as to the intent of the label, which features a detail of Caravaggio’s 1598 painting Judith Beheading Holofernes. The detail just happens to crop out all the gore of the painting—the brilliantly bloody, spurting, streaming, juicy gore—in favor of a close up of Judith’s face. Without the context of carnage, she does appear, as the blog post suggests, to be merely “looking down at a big pot of organic tomato and porcini mushroom sauce, pondering if she needs to add more tomatoes or porcini mushrooms.” (The slight affect of dismay on her face, now that we think of it, is quite out of proportion to the butchery she is performing in the painting.)

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c.1598


The blog post purports that this flagrant misuse of Old Master painting could have been avoided, if only the company had an art history major on staff, who would have surely informed the CEO of the context of Judith’s nasty undertaking, and steered the company toward a more suitable image for a tomato sauce label. One without all the, you know, homicidal horror. As one Facebook commentator astutely pointed out: at least the sauce doesn’t contain meatballs.

But the premise didn’t add up—it couldn’t. How could they not know the lovely girl in the painting was actually “mid-decapitation”? It must have been intentional. Did they just think we wouldn’t make the connection? Is it an inside joke?

Being the indomitable scholars that we are, we decided to investigate.

The Caravaggio sauce is part of a line of tomato sauces distributed by a company called Middle Earth Organics.[1] You can read about their sauces here. Each variety of sauce bears on its label the image of “a Renaissance woman,” Robert Reiss, who started Middle Earth Organics about 12 years ago, told us. “You have your Botticelli, Raphaello, Leonardo,” he rattled off the names with a practiced Italian accent, rolling his r’s with relish, “and well, I’m a huge Caravaggio fan.” So they had to have a Caravaggio, too. But finding a suitable Caravaggio, one that wasn’t too dark or sharply chiaroscuro, was a challenge. Judith was simply the best candidate.

As for the incongruous subject matter? “It never even occurred to me!” he laughed. Reiss said, in all honesty, he “paid no attention to the subject matter” of the painting, and in 12 years “no one ever said anything about it.”

The sauce was even featured in an Art in America article in December 2010, exploring the “Caravaggiomania” phenomenon, noting the “label of a blood-red pasta sauce” bearing the head of Judith, but not delving into the distasteful connotations of its use.

The question then: did this company desperately need an art history major? Yes, and no. Reiss is, in fact, an art history major, from Princeton no less, and studied German Renaissance sculpture in Germany on a Fulbright scholarship before studying Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He attributes his use of the Renaissance art-inspired labels with the brand’s success in upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods. “I know what I’m doing when it comes to art history,” he said, pointing out the careful attribution to the paintings on each label. But this art history background didn’t make him think twice about using a detail from a painting depicting a horrifying and vengeful murder to adorn a food product.

This separation of subject matter from artist is, I think, characteristic of those of us who study art history. We are all too often desensitized to the subject matter of the art we look at. A Caravaggio is a Caravaggio, after all. So, perhaps, what we really need is a comedian to point these things out to us.


Natalie Hegert 

[1] For those of you wondering about the Tolkien reference, the name “Middle Earth” actually refers to the translation of “Mediterranean.”

Posted by Natalie Hegert on 4/27 | tags: painting pasta sauce brand renaissance judith and holofernes Judith art history majors middle earth organics Caravaggio

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Artist-Writer-Curator: "Triple Threat" or "Triple Debt"?
by Andrea Alessi and Darren Jones

It started with wordplay.

This winter, artist, writer, and curator Darren Jones emailed me musings about the art world equivalent of “triple threat.” In musical theatre a “triple threat” is someone equally skilled in singing, acting, and dancing. Are artist-writer-curators, Jones asked, the art world analog to these stars of the stage? Or is this particular combination of professions more accurately described by a turn of phrase: “triple debt,” or perhaps “triple regret”? Working across three complimentary, but very different disciplines “isn't easy to navigate,” he wrote to me. “It can be awkward when mismanaged, and yet it affords those that do it a unique position, and insight across all three practices.”

This play on words grew into a discussion in which Jones considers the politics, challenges, and perceptions of those who work as artists, curators, and writers. We spoke about his own practice(s) and insights into being a triple debtor: How does he introduce himself? Are the disciplinary lines ever blurred? Is this about money? And when is it okay to curate your own work into an exhibition?   

HANGMAN #1, SIKKEMA JENKINS / MERLIN JAMES REHANG, 2015, In this series gallery exhibitions are
rehung with suggested improvements to the curation, Top image is original / bottom image is my rehang.


Andrea Alessi: Can you start by telling me a bit about the history of your three practices. What came first? 

Darren Jones:  I was an artist first, having studied painting in Edinburgh and then at Central Saint Martins in London. After graduation, I set up a studio in Hackney—which was then the heart of the burgeoning East End art scene—with two friends, the English painters Jo Wilmot and Coco Hewitt. With so many artists in that area we knew that it was imperative to make connections and promote ourselves rather than hope for a dealer to come knocking (Charles Saatchi’s shadow was cast across the art scene at that time due to the success of the YBAs.) In 1997, with Jo and Coco, I formed the Shopfloor Collective. That consolidation of minds, contacts, and resources created energy and attracted collaborators. I loved being a part of it. We discussed our interests, argued, and put together our own shows in our Belsham Street studio. Later we curated bigger events in various London galleries and spaces. We invited our friends and fellow artists to participate and the value of cultural community became apparent.

While words had been a part of my visual art for some time, and I had written poetry since childhood, art writing would come much later. My first published piece was for Garageland Magazine #6—an opportunity that came to me through people I had known during our Shopfloor days, so it is all connected.

AA: Is there a hierarchy?

DJ: I would say that it is a constant rotation, depending upon what project is most pressing or engaging. Words are the thread connecting the three practices. Today I’m predominantly a text based artist; I write about art for various publications; and when I'm curating an exhibition I begin with forming the title and introduction.

AA: How do the three practices affect your identity? How do you introduce yourself?

DJ: They are all natural appetites within me. I am always an artist, always a curator, and always a critic, but reconciling those quite different roles into one resolution is elusive, and I think perhaps not even desirable. Each of them have the capacity to excite me at different times.

There is an odd switching between them verbally. Introducing myself as doing all three is excessive, so I often pick one or two depending on the circumstance, not to diminish the other practices, but for efficiency. How my peers consider me or define me, if they consider me at all, crosses my mind too. All three areas are currently coalescing within my visual art practice so that I am making artwork about curating and writing.

AA: Quite a few ArtSlant contributors are also artists. Ryan Trecartin just co-curated the New Museum Triennial, and increasingly curating can even be seen as a manifestation of artistic practice: Cindy Sherman’s 2013 Venice Biennale contribution, for example, was a mini-show she curated within Massimiliano Gioni’s sprawling Encyclopedic Palace.

Is the phenomenon of people being artist-writer-curators (or some combination of the three) on the rise, or has it always been this way? Historically, many artists wrote manifestos, or meditated about their work and that of their peers or forebears. And of course, there were (some major!) exhibitions organized by artists: the original Armory Show (1913), the First Impressionist exhibition (1874). Are we revisiting old history here, or do we think more artists are writing and curating today than ever before?

DJ: Being an artist and curator is common enough because while they involve different skills, to my mind, they are not so far removed from each other. And as you say there is precedent (although there is a difference between artists who curate, and academic curators who are not artists). But being a critic additionally, is rarer because that is a distinct role; there you are stepping away from the physicality and involvement of making, installing and showing work in order consider it, from an objective position, in a wider art-historical and socio-political context.

The critic has no hand in the production of an artwork or exhibition. Making or curating art is about having an idea and then presenting it to your audience so that they may form their own interpretations. Critiquing art is about being a part of that audience, making an argument, and then drawing together your conclusions to offer specific points. In a sense, artists/curators and critics come at the artwork from opposing directions.

AA: "Triple debt" implies three professions in which practitioners are financially struggling—perhaps even suggesting that the reason one might choose to do all three is because they are unable to make a living doing just one. Getting paid, working for free, and having one's labor valued are huge problems in the art world. How do you think this plays into professional decision-making?

DJ: Taking on all three practices theoretically widens the scope of income streams. One could make money from selling artwork, writing reviews, and receiving curatorial fees. But that probably remains in principle rather than practice, because being a "triple debtor" doesn't guarantee receiving those monies over someone concentrating on one practice. You are still competing with everyone else, and actually in a less concentrated way than someone who is an artist or curator. In fact having outlay in all three areas could end up being more of a "triple regret."



AA: Whether they reconcile or synthesize some of your practices or not, you do suggest some disciplinary crossover. You've been making art about writing and curating, for example. Can you talk a bit about this work?

DJ: In the Art World Watch series—a play on Human Rights Watch—I make visual commentary on the art world generally. The Hangman pieces are photographs of exhibitions, installations, or individual artworks in galleries that make an impression on me curatorially, for a show being overcrowded perhaps, or because I am appalled at the quality, or ubiquity of the work.  I take a photo and rehang the exhibition or amend the artwork in photoshop, so that I have before and after images. The intent is not to insult the original curator or artist, rather it is a natural response to the act of looking at exhibitions as a critic, and then responding through my own art.

Also within the Art World Watch series I engage with museum and gallery spaces. At the Dallas Museum of Art, I made a quick TV show-themed text piece that read “private vewing” and hung it in the museum. At the New Orleans Museum of Art, I played around with their institutional signage, doing what it asked me not to. I think of these as artistic drive-by gestures, brief responses made while I’m in the situation.

Recently I used Photoshop to rearrange the text in a Jenny Holzer piece at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. I also photographed her text reflected in glass moving out across the museum’s lake. It seems that the art world has canonized her to the point of being able to walk on water.

In another line of inquiry, those preposterous lists of important/emerging/trending artists, conjured up by critics are nothing but a boon to egos and increasing web traffic. They are often without an ounce of objective reasoning. I like the Submerging Artist Scheme for artists 45 and older, presented by the Big West Festival in Australia, which is funny, but has pathos. My response to all these hyperbolic lists is the headline “List of the most Important Living Artists,” on an otherwise blank sheet of paper, or, “List of Artists who Have Pledged Never to Exhibit Their Work Again.” It’s long.

THE HANGMAN #2, Reworked Jenny Holzer at Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth 
(Top image original presentation), 2015, Photoshopped digital image


AA: Another thing you brought up to me earlier was a conceptual overlap between your curatorial and artistic practices—curating as an extension of art making, which is something we see in galleries, but also in biennials and large exhibitions a lot these days: an artist takes their invitation and curates a show within a show. You mentioned wondering how you could frame what others were doing within the context of your interests, "the notion that 10...or 20 artists might disseminate the ideas better than one."

I'm curious about this idea, but also about whether there are other instrumental relationships between your practices. Art in service of writing; criticism in service of curating, etc.

DJ:  The idea was that multiple artists would offer many angles on any given theme and increase the breadth of an exhibition—more than I could do alone—while sharing resources and spreading the word. It’s expansive rather than isolationist. A great recent example of this—which I had nothing to do with and which was organized by artist, Heyd Fontenot—is a fantastic show at the CentralTrak Artist Residency in Dallas, titled Who’s Afraid of Chuck and George? Dozens of the artists’ friends and colleagues contributed work to the show. The opening night was a celebration of the lives and work of the artists Brian K. Jones and Brian K. Scott as well as the contributors. It was a marvelous way for the Dallas scene to coalesce around its practitioners. All three practices relate in that way and supply the initial materials for each other.  At this stage they are inextricably linked. 

AA: Who are some other triple regretors whose work you admire? Are there some people you think are doing something particularly unique—be it in a combined way, or separately across several practices?

DJ: Emmanuel Cooper was an art critic, a renowned potter, publisher, teacher, editor, broadcaster, author, gay rights activist, and curator. I met him when I was 19 and new to London. His energy, industriousness and commitment to his varied causes was astonishing. I think he instilled in me the idea that one can be accomplished in many areas, if one has the work ethic and interest required.

Phong Bui is a fascinating practitioner of his crafts. In addition to helming The Brooklyn Rail, he is an artist, a writer, and a curator. He is also a teacher, radio host, and to my ear, a philosopher. He is one of the most dynamic people I know, and his ability to bring people together, as he would say "in solidarity" is unique.

Carlos Rigau's work as an artist is partially about extreme social idiosyncrasies and peripheries of Miami life. Carlos also runs General Practice, a space that operates between Miami and New York. His interests lie in setting up an experimental platform that is unencumbered by the sleek economics of the Chelsea model. General Practice, currently located in Brooklyn, might be considered an artistic workshop of trial and play, community involvement, and creative industry. Vitally, Carlos has a social intelligence and charisma without which I don't think General Practice could function quite as it does.

Jose Ruiz is an artist, curator, and teacher. He founded Furthermore in DC, which began as a digital print studio and has now expanded into exhibition/design services and artist publications as well as offering educational programs to support young artists in the area. In addition he is a co-founder—with Chad Stayrook and Brian Balderston—of  Present Company, an exhibition and performance space in Brooklyn. I met Jose when he was the curator—with Erin Sickler—of the 2009 Queens International.

Michael Petry is an internationally exhibiting artist, a curator, writer, author, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and co-founder of the Museum of Installation, both in London. I'd like to ask him how keeps pace with all of these projects!

I'll stop there because I'm starting to feel lazy in comparison to all of these driven individuals.



AA: What are some of the occupational hazards of being an artist/curator/writer? When can you include your own work in a show, for example?

DJ: There are some frustrating aspects. The artist-friends of mine who I am closest to are such in part because I love their work so much. Naturally I want to write about their exhibitions, but that's is a tough area to navigate. Placing my own work in an exhibition is case by case. I've done it before and felt wretched about it afterwards, and other times it wasn't a problem. One learns. It depends on context. When I curated a large international exhibition of Scottish art at Hunter College Galleries in New York, it was not appropriate to include my own work, whereas the exhibitions I organized at St. George's Church in Queens or Trinity Museum grew out of my own practice and my connection with spiritual spaces, so there it was appropriate to include it.

AA:  You say "triple regret," but can you imagine it any other way?

DJ: I'm being droll with the wordplay, but yes, I love it, and while it is a lot of work to manage them all at the same time, it is how I need it to be in order to pursue my creative interests.


Andrea Alessi and Darren Jones 


(Image at top: Darren Jones, PETER SCHJELDAHL IS TIRED BUT I'M WIDE AWAKE, Edited digital image from MoMA's exhibition The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World. Original image, left. My removal, right, 2015. All images: Darren Jones. Courtesy of the artist)

Posted by Andrea Alessi and Darren Jones on 4/30 | tags: artists. art critics curators triple threat text art

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Wanksy: Real Social Change via a Giant Comedy Penis
by Paul Hanford

Comedy phallus graffiti: a long standing symbol of public indecency, raiser of many an adolescent smirk, and, applied in the right context, an act of deprecating terrorism. Sometimes, it might even be all three: imagine a heroic squadron of schoolboys plotting to pin a felt tip cock illustration on the back of a young David Cameron. Imagine the general gusto, the social pride and the giggles they must have experienced.

Via Facebook

One Manchester resident, known publicly by the simple tag name of Wansky, has been chalking giant phalluses around the city's many potholes: a cock crusader anonymously chalking into action after seeing friends injured in pothole-related bike accidents. And like some incidental superhero from the Marvel Universe breaking the law for the public good, the authorities are actually taking notice. Within 48 hours, according to the Manchester Evening News (MEN), many of the potholes the "artist" had helpfully marked up had been.. ahem... filled in.

Via Facebook

"I wanted to attract attention to the pothole and make it memorable," Wanksy told MEN. "Nothing seemed to do this better than a giant comedy phallus.” 

Like Anonymous’ adoption of the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes masks, is Wanksy subverting an existing signifier into a socially activated form of branding? A kind of cheeky Batman logo? The idea of demonstrating one public indecency to highlight another—dangerous road conditions and public welfare—seems to be, judging by the responses, a successful trade-off for now.


—Paul Hanford


Image at the top: Via Facebook

Posted by Paul Hanford on 4/30 | tags: wanksy penis drawings drawing graffiti/street-art

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Made-Up with Danny Volk: S1E13 with Casey Smallwood
by The ArtSlant Team

Danny Volk talks to artists in their studios about life and art—while they do his make-up. This concept was a new one for us, and, unsurprisingly, it produces some unique moments: see artists like Theaster Gates, Pope.L, and Jessica Stockholder working in their studios as you've never seen them before. 

Revisit Season 1 as we anticipate the all-new Made-Up Season 2, to be released this Spring on ArtSlant.

This week: Danny sits down with artist and good friend Casey to talk about using friends in your work, transitioning from photo to video, and interacting with a Ronald McDonald statue.



More About Made-Up With Danny Volk 

Made-Up is created and hosted by Danny Volk. Volk was born in 1979 in Akron, OH and currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. Volk got his MFA in Visual Art from the University of Chicago in 2014, and his BA in Theater Studies at Kent State University in 2006.

Produced by | Danny Volk and Stephanie Anne Harris Trevor

Cameras | Bryce Peppers, Valia O'Donnell

Technical consultant | Ben Chandler

"Comic Strip" by Serge Gainsbourg remixed by DJ Flashcookie

Posted by The ArtSlant Team on 5/1 | tags: video-art Artist Interviews made-up w/danny volk made-up with danny volk studio visits

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