Saturday, May 5, 2007


28 April 2007 (later)

The Incognito fund-raiser (I misspoke when I said it was an auction; there’s only one possible “bid”: $250; but a gazillion opportunities for a ‘winning’ purchase.) is a kind of contemporary art fantasy: the notion of picking up something phenomenal for a price waaaaay beyond nominal. There’s some shoehorning of the galaxy of art stars into the prescribed format for sale (approximately 8 x 10; and obviously this is not necessarily the most considered work; but what wouldn’t you pay for even the most slapdash Baldessari, Ruscha, Pettibon, Alexis Smith, David Reed, Ed Moses, etc. (there are certain artists who couldn’t be ‘slapdash’ if they tried)? And it was for a good cause: The Santa Monica Museum and (as I understood) the Roosevelt School.

But the would-be collectors are not the only ones constrained by this limitation. With relatively few exceptions, the works for sale were fragmentary, vignettes, sketches more or less ‘finished’ for the occasion – in fact, not even really ‘finished’ works. (I suppose time would be a consideration here, too.) Which begs the question: what do you really have? An idea? A doodle? A preliminary sketch? A fragment? A souvenir? And – what is it really worth? The question you’re not supposed to ask. Because it’s for a ‘good cause.’ Which – at both the high end and the low – has a way of focusing one’s thinking about the contemporary art market. I should have guessed what the corollary to this would be; but, as Cole Case points out, there’s a full bar and a groaning table of delicacies and I might otherwise be going to bed hungry. (My cats are the only ones who dine at home; I rarely have the energy to fix more than a salad for myself.) I’m really looking for collectors at a luau like this one; but, as would be expected, there are a number of artists here and they’re frequently the only people who will talk to me for more than 3 minutes; the incidental benefit is that they’re usually the most interesting people in the crowd. In other words, while you’re tracking the market ‘intelligence,’ they’re the ones who can actually talk about ideas – in other words, the real intelligence (and what – ultimately – will lead, rather than lag the market). I realize I’m grossly over-generalizing. In point of fact, a couple of my collector pals here are as fully engaged with ideas circulating in the contemporary art world as any artist I know. (Perhaps more so; most artists concern themselves primarily with ideas that have something to do with their own art or, conceivably, the dialectic between their work, their influences and their contemporaries.) Lothar Schmitz is here – an idea guy par excellence: he’s a physicist; and his work consistently reflects some level of scientific self-analysis or deconstruction, not necessarily in physical/mathematical terms, but not necessarily too far from them either. (Though maybe my own thinking on this is a little extreme. I tend to think you could conceivably apply mathematical or physical/chemical expressions or equations to just about anything.) Lisa Adams is here, too – always a good sign. I’m trying to cajole her into making some introductions; but I can only hold her attention for a few minutes. Her fan club is vast – and why not? She’s one of the brightest, most entertaining people around. Is it my imagination or are these things disproportionately patronized by architects and lawyers?

And yes – this being the west side (the far west/seaside) of L.A., of course there’s a sprinkling of mass media celebrities and starlettes; but as anyone who knows me or follows my beat can tell you, they are not who I come out to see. Which doesn’t mean I might not snap a picture or two (it really has more to do with the way I follow street style than anything else – though I let my editors flip through the shots from time to time). They’re not exactly featured here or anywhere else in my copy. So why bother? you ask. It isn’t exactly going to advance the discourse. Well – my answer would be that in a way it does – or it certainly gauges the relationship of the discourse to the mainstream – mass media, the non-selective cultural consumer, the disinterested and only marginally informed consumer (in other words the same relationship someone like me would have to say, football – both kinds). Self-consciousness defeats this kind of observation – the observer’s or the observed. (I feel this post dying as we speak – but maybe that’s what Pettibon is trying to convey with his fading-away logo – “Incognito, Incognito, I N C O G N I T O.”) The pose defeats contemporaneity. And with rare exception, I ONLY shoot candids. There is no request for permission; none is required. So I was annoyed when the companion of one such star-lette threw a hand up in the starlette’s face to block the shot and threw out a rude imprecation in my direction. I didn’t hesitate to respond – though I wondered why the actor – a gifted and interesting performer on both stage and television – allowed his companion to run interference and then in turn be dressed down. It’s conceivable that the actor has a few ‘issues’; but they were meaningless in the context of this particular event. Had I broken his own ‘incognito’? In a way, yes; in a way no. When does the snapshot, the paparazzo shot become an unacceptable intrusion, disruption, invasion, appropriation? It’s not an unanswerable question. In part the answers are contained within the question. Tim(ing) and distance are factors (there was some distance in this instance). It is a kind of appropriation; its use, though, implicitly transformative in terms of the use to which it is ultimately put – a somewhat abstracted narrative of cultural acquisition, style and aesthetics.

Okay – yeah I guess I have my own kind of celebrity fanship (I think I elaborated on this a bit in an earlier post). I’ll walk right past Richard Gere or Philip Seymour Hoffman but then sight Maurizio Pollini and go weak in the knees. Or get super-excited to see Rosalind Krauss or Orhan Pahmuk. Well.

[5 May 2007]

I’m writing/reviewing this a few days after the fact. Only three days after Incognito, I attended a panel discussion on Appropriation in Art at the Hammer. The panelists were Christine Steiner (who held up standards for the law, common business sense, and, arguably, the integrity of the fine art business itself in a previous seminar I already noted (though didn’t discuss) in an earlier post – at LACMA) and Lori Fox, a deputy general counsel at the Getty Trust. The occasional thorny distinctions between various borrowings, appropriations, parody and straight copying were extensively explored – as well as the parameters of fair use and transformative use – all with appropriate and very contemporary illustrations. Needless to say, Jeff Koons’ recent 2nd Circuit appellate victory figured prominently in the discussion. The questioning was intelligent and so were the answers. Steiner was, as might be expected, terrifically lucid. She knows the contemporary art scene as well as the law – which is saying a lot. It is becoming a thornier business – as the culture fragments, cannibalizes, reconfigures, and collapses upon itself in any number of ways and aspects. More on this later.

I think I mentioned I’d been to Jack Pierson’s opening at Regen Projects a couple weeks ago. I’m on my way to check out the Charles Ray installation at Regen’s second space now – which may be as good a place to pick up from as any.

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