Month: February 2016

Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy sequel falls short of the original

posted by – 02/25/16 @ 4:47pm

Damien Hirst’s original Pharmacy restaurant in Notting Hill (1998).

Most galleries or museums prohibit eating or drinking for the sake of the safety and protection of valuable objects they contain. By a similar token, touching the objects is strictly forbidden. How must it feel, then, to enter the space that doubles as a work of art and a restaurant?

Just ask visitors to Damien Hirst’s reincarnated Pharmacy 2 at Newport Street Gallery. When the controversial artist first opened his original Pharmacy in 1997 with an A-list crowd, he climbed the rankings of the day’s hottest artists and ones-to-watch. The “sequel” (as the Daily Beast calls it) that reopened this week, though, fell as flat as many sequels do. In the words of the article, “it is notoriously difficult for a sequel to recapture the original magic, and unfortunately Damien Hirst is not about to become the London restaurant scene’s Godfather.” While the space incorporates the most startling and impressive features contained in the original Notting Hill location, the same fervor and hype that surrounded that opening was far from reach this time around.

Regardless of the space’s sometimes-questionable cohesiveness and odd menu features, the artist subverts the stereotypical role of and etiquette required in a gallery. The first Pharmacy more effectively threw people off guard and stimulated conversation, while Pharmacy 2 appeals more to a crowd just looking for a quick and solid bite. But for each setting, Hirst subjects the viewer (or diner, in this case) to a new experience, confronting them with objects that intimidate them both by their artistic purpose and their sterile, medicinal usages. And while one couple noted their satisfaction with the meal, I can’t help but wonder if the food, and for all intents and purposes the art itself, is a bit less savory considering what surrounds it and constitutes it.

San Bernardino art activists help their city heal

posted by – 02/23/16 @ 3:58pm

Thomas McGovern and Juan Delgado, professors and art activists in San Bernardino. Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld, New York Times.

Thomas McGovern and Juan Delgado, professors and art activists in San Bernardino. Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld, New York Times.

It’s no secret that the city of San Bernardino, California, has been under the microscope in recent months since two terrorists attacked an office building there. The shootings are once again making headlines as Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation butt heads over what rights the tech company has to defy FBI orders. The New York Times, though, finds a pieces of positivity in the shaken city despite constant media attention and criticism: the city’s residents are actively “trying to find a new civic identity rather than someone from CNN telling [them] who [they] are” with the help of local art activists.

In attempts to shape this new identity and empower the city’s residents, poet Juan Delgado and his colleague at California State University, photographer Thomas McGovern launched a project aimed at documenting and capturing San Bernardino’s “scrappy allure.” Even before the life-altering attack on the city, Delgado and McGovern saw that the city “was on a decline” and in need of revitalization. In fact, the project was launched three years before the December 2nd attacks. In a city not yet struck by terrorists but riddled with “gang violence, drug addiction, foreclosures, and political dysfunction,” the artists wanted to make people see the positive in their city rather than the emptiness that many felt as businesses left town and shops closed.

In a variety of projects, including a book and a six-week public art show, the art activists inspired the community to solidify a cultural identity that ultimately strengthened the sense of community in San Bernardino. Delgado and McGovern drew attention to the city’s problems without exploiting them. They provided young people with a more positive outlook on their situation. In fact, they opened young people up to art in a way that the city had never seen. And when the unthinkable happened not yet three months ago, that common grounding and residents’ “stubborn regard for their city” undoubtedly banded people together when they could easily have been torn apart by tragedy.

New York galleries expanding their reach

posted by – 02/18/16 @ 4:47pm

Broadway 1602’s new Harlem space. Photo: ARTnews.

Our past blog posts have mentioned and reflected on the closed-off nature of the high-market art scene. Between high-brow gallery openings and multi-million dollar under-the-table sales, many potential audiences lack an entrance point into the seemingly exclusive artistic communities of many major cities. However, certain galleries in New York are reaching into different neighborhoods – ones lacking high-end visual arts galleries – to shake up the entire city’s art scene.

In the latest of a string of big-name gallery moves, Broadway 1602 has announced its relocation to a former fire station and its adjacent warehouse in Harlem. Just as the gallery was a pioneer when it opened in the Flower District, it is one of the few established spaces to relocate to the “on-the-rise” neighborhood. Last year, Gavin Brown announced a similar move to spacious three-floor space. And just a couple weeks ago, Elizabeth Dee Gallery disclosed plans for a move into a two-story Harlem space this May.

With multiple galleries reaching into the Harlem neighborhood, a new demographic will benefit from their presence. While Harlem residents may have been disinterested in, intimidated by, or unaware of the galleries before their introduction to the neighborhood, the proximity in which they will find themselves to great art could change their relationship with the broader artistic scope of New York City. Harlem is known to have a strong creative and artistic pulse, so the addition of these new visual art spaces will only strengthen that and expose residents to art that, until now, existed outside their immediate reach.

Interestingly, too, this sort of change in New York’s art scene will bring the galleries’ existing clients, dealers, and visitors into a new neighborhood. As a result, they will be exposed to a different creative community than they may find in a stereotypical, more buttoned-up New York gallery space. The relocations, then, create a two-way entry point. For Harlem dwellers, they can more easily access big-name galleries and their work. Neighborhood outsiders, on the other hand, gain entry into a new artistic community that is not as often represented in the stereotypical gallery circuit.

Revelation and concealment in Australian and American art

posted by – 02/16/16 @ 1:51pm

‘Everywhen’ at Harvard Art Museums. Photo: Marinda R. Horan.

In his show “Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia” at the Harvard Art Museums, visiting curator Stephen Gilchrist showcases the unparalleled, often-mysterious artwork of Australia’s indigenous populations. While these native groups have been creating work for an as-yet-undetermined number of years (millennia, even), what most audiences would consider “modern” or “contemporary” work only emerged when people like Geoffrey Bardon interacted with Aboriginal people and supplied them with adequate supplies. Notably, this sort of transition from traditional to modern started in 1971, much later than the art world’s stereotypical definition of “modern.”

In creating a show to teach others about Australia’s history, Gilchrist, who has roots in the Yamatji people of Western Australia, illustrates the tension between “revelation and concealment” inherent in indigenous peoples’ relationships with colonizers and urban dwellers. Revelation, in this case, means sharing a part of the Aboriginal identity with outsiders, while concealment means keeping some traditions and symbols sacred. While much of the art on display includes a modern take on traditional indigenous art forms, the artists never shake the most distinct elements characteristic of Aboriginal work. From an outsiders perspective, one distinctive feature, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, is not actually a visible part of the work; rather, it’s that the audience is “denied the tools to decode [the abstract forms’] meaning.” That is, these Aboriginal artists allow audiences to glimpse a part of their sacred history but keep the meaning and significance of certain symbols and images under wraps. In doing so, the artists maintain core parts of their treasured identity still untouched by the colonizing of Australia.

This contrast between revelation and concealment does not apply to just Aboriginal artwork coming out of Australia. In America, the preservation of African American history through art is an important task assumed by artists, curators, and collectors alike. While work in this vein aims to share a part of the black experience with viewers, there always remains some sort of obstacle in knowing that most viewers will never quite understand the feeling or experience depicted within a piece. That total understanding is left to the creator of the piece and, perhaps, the subject of the painting. While viewers can glean a significant amount of information from the artistic record, they will always be somewhat removed from the history and experience that is not their own.

The De Soles and Ann Freedman reach settlement in forgery case

posted by – 02/11/16 @ 1:21pm

The forged Rothko at the center of the Knoedler trial.

This week saw the close of a highly publicized case involving a now defunct, well-known New York gallery and charges of fraud and racketeering in their sale of a forged Rothko. Sources like the New York TimesWall Street Journal, and ARTnews documented the three-week trial in which Domenico and Eleanore De Sole, who bought the forged painting for $8.3 million, accused former Knoedler & Co. director Ann Freedman, a woman the couple “trusted,” of consciously selling counterfeit work. It also came to light that the gallery sold more than 30 other forgeries since 1994, making many question Freedman’s claims that she had no knowledge that the paintings were fakes.

Knoedler was, according to De Sole, “the best gallery in America.” Knowing this sterling reputation, De Sole, the chairman of top auction house Sotheby’s, felt he had no reason to question the work. However, closer looks into the provenance Freedman provided for the Rothko in question soiled her – and the gallery’s – reputation. On the list of experts that Knoedler claimed authenticated the work and could vouch for its authenticity were people who are not qualified or even attempt to authenticate artwork.

The case has many art world insiders reeling. The art market relies largely on sales by big-name artists like Rothko and Pollock. How, then, did so many forgeries painted by the same man in Queens and distributed by one now-disgraced dealer go undetected? Because many art deals, especially involving multi-million dollar acquisitions, are shrouded in secrecy. No one thought much, then, of the mysterious Mr. X, the anonymous collector that was purported to be the seller. Until recently, no one questioned whether or not he even existed because, as De Sole said, Knoedler is “the best” and would not handle inauthentic work.

The case has many people looking beneath the art world’s high-culture façade to the sketchier, more dishonest aspects of the acquisition process. We are led to believe that the Rothkos and Pollocks of the world are one-of-kind, irreplaceable works. If De Sole, a man who is constantly in the presence of masterpieces and high-dollar pieces, can fall victim to the forgery trap, there’s no telling to what extent other buyers have gullibly purchased counterfeit work. The case reminds buyers that there are significant risks involved in art buying and that due diligence is necessary in order to avoid a multi-million dollar mistake.

#TheUnknowns at Sotheby’s: Using social media as a curating and collecting tool

posted by – 02/09/16 @ 1:03pm

#TheUknowns includes work by artists that Kasseem Dean and Canon, the sponsor of the event, discovered on Instagram. This is “One White Earring” by featured artist Princess Smith. Photo courtesy of the Huffington Post, James Barrett.

In the early 2000s, Kasseem Dean – better known as Swizz Beatz – produced a string of hits for some of today’s most successful hip-hop artists, including Jay Z, T.I., and Beyoncé. Thanks in part to the success of these musical artists and the exposure he received as a result, Dean started collecting artwork from some of the world’s most prominent visual artists. As Nate Freeman reports in ARTnews, Dean’s past purchases have included “the likes of Chagall, Miró, Basquiat, and Warhol.” However, while the work gracing the walls of his home may impress visitors and portray a certain high-culture status, Dean has decided to turn more towards art that he personally connects with, rather than art that experts and history tells him is valuable.

Enter Sotheby’s and their collaboration with Dean in his new project – #TheUnknowns at S|2. In an interview with ARTnews and in the show’s wall text, Dean wants to convey the artistic value of little-known artists he found on Instagram. By using social media, Dean could communicate with artists genuinely and directly. This way, he says, selecting work “didn’t…feel like the lottery” and “wasn’t over-promoted.” At this show, then, audiences will be seeing work by unfamiliar names and, in doing so, be forced to judge it based on quality and gut feeling rather than previous knowledge.

On the receiving end of Dean’s search are artists on Instagram who can essentially represent themselves and their work any way that they want to rather than jockeying for gallery representation or struggling to be featured in a show. For artists still looking for success and way to break into the art world, Instagram allows them to show their work to more people than would otherwise see it locked up in a studio. With this project, Dean is acknowledging social media as a valuable resource and breaking down the perceived barrier between unknown artists and major arts organizations that historically revert to established names and reputations.

In drawing from talent “tucked into some barely-liked corner of Instagram,” Dean aims to convince people who may not otherwise be art buyers that there is in fact an “entry point into these galleries and into these museums and into these auction houses” no matter how intimidating or high-brow they may seem. Dean admits that the show isn’t completely perfect and calls for some slight changes, but he hopes, at least, to encourage a broader audience (whether seasoned buyers or new ones just starting out) to buy work they connect with, rather than work they feel obligated to enjoy.

$1 Million gift to RxArt draws attention to benefits of art in hospitals

posted by – 02/02/16 @ 2:03pm

Artist Kenny Scharf paints a mural in the stairwell of the Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatric Units at Kings County Hospital as a part of an RxArt project in September 2013.

This week, ARTnews and the Wall Street Journal reported on a landmark gift that the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation made to RxArt, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping children heal through exposure to visual art. The foundation donated $1 million in honor and memory of Eliza Moore, who helped create RxArt 15 years ago. According to ARTnews, this sizable gift enables the nonprofit to commission at least five major projects each year.

The gift symbolizes a mindset that many hospitals are adopting: that visual art in the hallways and rooms of recovering patients can increase recovery rates, contribute to an overall sense of peace, and serve as a welcome distraction from tiresome recovery processes. Dr. Lisa Harris of Eskenazi Health said it best in her quote to Jacoba Urist for NBC News: “If an art installation gets a patient out of his room or paintings take a person’s mind off their pain and lower their stress levels, the art isn’t just decorative anymore.” For hospital patients, art serves a purpose that it doesn’t have on a gallery wall. Instead of being a focal point on a spot lit white wall for consumption and purchase by visitors and buyers, contemporary art in hospitals serves to brighten and liven up the typically sterile, clinical hallways. Sometimes, the presence of contemporary art even becomes an educational outlet; in that capacity, it is also a distraction from the monotony of stressful health-related discussions.

Urist addresses, too, the obstacle that hospitals face in trying to develop arts programs and build an effective art collection: funding. In the article, the director of Yale University Health, Dr. Paul Genecin, reminds us that “we are in a time of great austerity” and that, in effect, “art projects seem nonessential.” With data confirming the psychological benefits art affords patients, at what point will art be considered a valid expense rather than a frivolous one?

Hopefully, the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation’s gift to RxArt will bring attention to the necessity for arts funding in hospitals. Meanwhile, it’s nice knowing that, for at least 5 locations, RxArt will be able to introduce contemporary art to boost children’s recovery and make their hospital stay a more pleasant one.

For more information on RxArt, visit their website here.