January 28, 2010

In It To Win It

News that NYC art dealer Jeffrey Deitch would be assuming the helm over at LA’s beleaguered MOCA seems to have been mostly accepted by now in the Art World. Some, however, have wondered whether there might be a genuine conflict of interest given that Deitch’s power in selecting artists and/or curators for future MOCA shows will certainly provoke cynicism and cries of impropriety.

Eli Broad attempted a mild pooh-poohing of that suspicion, apparently believing that we only need to take his word for it:

“In announcing the selection, Mr. Broad sought to distinguish Mr. Deitch from other commercial gallery owners. ‘He’s hardly a dealer like Larry Gagosian,’ he said, referring to the gallery owner widely considered one of the most successful in the world. ‘Jeffrey’s done national and international exhibitions. It was always clear he was never in it just for the money.’”(1)

But it might be a nice side benefit, yes? I can’t help recalling what my old friend Ananda Coomaraswamy had to say about museums that show the work of living artists:

“It is unnecessary for Museums to exhibit the works of living artists, which are not in imminent danger of destruction; or at least, if such works are exhibited, it should be clearly understood that the Museum is really advertising the artist and acting on behalf of the art dealer or middleman whose business it is to find a market for the artist; the only difference being that while the Museum does the same sort of work as the dealer, it makes no profit.”(2)

Let’s see how that goes with Mr. Deitch and MOCA.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/arts/design/12moca.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

2. Coomaraswamy, Ananda. Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art, New York, 1956, 7.

January 26, 2010

Visual Studies Reader

Lest you were worried that recent dissertations on visual arts were not continuing the honored tradition of “deep thoughts” on visuality, the Visual Studies Reader project, launched last year and to be published as a Wiki in 2012, invited current graduate students and recent PhD’s to submit articles for consideration.

A quick scan of the topics and titles yields peace of mind and satisfaction knowing that intellectualism is not dead. Drafts and “complete” essays are on the Table of Contents page. My personal faves are “Synaesthesia: Deleuze and Haptic Sensation;” “Lacan on Algebra, Graphs, and Topologies” and “Neurophenomenology and Aesthetics.”

Happy reading!

January 25, 2010

New Year, New Plan

With the start of this current semester my teaching load has increased three-fold. Undoubtedly, welcomed news for my fine arts education career, particularly if I consider the coursework I have been contracted to teach. More on that later, but suffice it to say that for the next 13 weeks, major changes in my time-management are required.(1)

When I came to this conclusion, one thing that occurred to me was to put my blog on temporary hiatus. Regular readers of Theory Now know that I generally post only three times a month, essentially because I expend inordinate amounts of effort on researching and writing my posts. Faced with the prospect of additional teaching duties, I envisioned my posts dwindling to once a month, so a sabbatical seemed a natural solution. However, another plan has come to mind, one that has an ironic possibility of improving readership.(2)

My plan is this: I will temporarily forgo my modus operandi of lengthy, academic posts for shorter observations on art news, curatorial events and our shared "society of the spectacle." In challenging myself to write more spontaneously and off the cuff, I hope to continue to breathe life into this blog and maybe even tempt you loyal readers to visit more frequently. So, off we go.


1. I will be joining Lucy Hogg, Ivan Witenstein and Christine Bailey in "Fine Arts Core IV: Senior Thesis" at Corcoran College of Art + Design. We are working with 26 Seniors to guide them as they develop their BFA thesis shows this Spring.

2. As has been noted by those who monitor such things, bloggers who post daily or even multiple times a day tend to have greater readership.

January 12, 2010

Critical Fragments: Definitions

“A work of art…is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).”(1)

Not forgetting that the “social institution” of the artworld consists of sister institutions (museums, art schools, commercial art galleries), we could safely say that an object’s “institutional” definition as a “work of art” depends utterly on this system of institutional analysis. These systems make up the parameters by which we address an object’s intentions by way of its maker’s conceptual definitions framed within the institutional analysis. What the maker intends is thus enveloped within these institutional systems and runs a kind of critical gauntlet before it attains “institutional validation.”

I think it relevant to distinguish between “institutional validation” and “definition” here. An object’s status as a “work of art” is dependent upon its “institutional” validation” but is still extraneous to its true “definition” as art. Although “institutional validation” seems to confer a measure of “success,” one can tally countless artists that never attained either institutional favor or success in their lifetimes. Their measure of “worth” as artists was surely “defined” by themselves, if not by others that they knew during life, and we assume they continued making art, regardless of whether they made a living at it, for other reasons. Their reasons for “being” and for making rest with themselves. As the “social institution” of the artworld plays “catch up” and validates those “starving artists,” our perception of their artwork falls under the institutional spell of canonization which effectually colors the art’s “definition.”

So what is art? David Carrier has written that the determination of art is established by historical precedence. We now know that history is yet another “institutional” system, not a “fixed” ordering of events but time as manipulated through texts. Books, journals, newspapers and now digital media “report” on events not objectively but through the filters of agenda, bias and taste. One cannot rely on “fact” being ascertained through either an appearance in “print” or photograph.

The supposed determination and definition of art remains in question. It is fraught with perplexities, rife with controversy, fading in age. We are temporarily dazed by the spectacular, infatuated with the new, titillated by the glitz. We have forgotten that there used to be reasons for making art, that the art object was eviscerated, that artists had challenged the very institutions that granted them access. What is left now is to eradicate the dross and exhume the body; to conduct a thorough and unapologetic autopsy of art and its definition once again.


1. Dickie, George. Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis, Ithaca, 1974, 34.