Monday, September 17, 2007

Lari's Night (2); Bernie's Party -- Luxe without Calme

15 September 2007

Good morning – and it’s off to the DMV (again!). I fell asleep reading The New Yorker (what else is new?). It felt appropriate somehow lullabying the kitties to something titled, “Fame” and then something by, uh – Joni Mitchell?? – but uncannily suited to a week when it was disclosed that there was now a completely navigable route through the Arctic Sea, essentially confirming what we’ve feared for the last decade or so: the Arctic Sea is now liquid year-round and the polar icecap is melting. Oh Amelia – this is no false alarm. (FORGIVE me, Joni.) The Regen second space was aglow with that dubious aura last night. But also the aura of talent, originality, genius. A number of Pittman’s Regen peers made an appearance, most notably, Raymond Pettibon. Also artists like Tom Knechtel and Nancy Riegelman (looking sensational) and Roger Herman. Also k.d. lang. Collectors aplenty, including Eileen Norton, Barry Sloane. The aforementioned culture commissars. Which is where I believe we left off. I would have much rather talked about Pittman – and Michael Duncan was not too many steps away; I needed to pick his brain about his own chat with Lari Pittman about the series of smaller works on the west wall – but Shaw was on the table for the moment, as I was recalling for Paul Schimmel that moment when his Donner Party was on the block at Christie’s. I assumed (or maybe just hoped) at the time that MOCA had someone either in the room or on the phone. I apparently assumed/hoped wrong. “We don’t have anywhere near that kind of money; we can’t compete in that arena.” The Donner Party wasn’t exactly a bargain, of course; actually the price set a record, or perhaps just under a record, for Shaw. That said, although you don’t exactly go to an auction house looking for a bargain, not all auctions are pitched into the monetary stratosphere (as the Spring New York sales were by and large). (Interestingly, a lot of Shaw drawings failed to sell that evening.) In fact, the Huber hammer prices were not wildly out of scale with the rest of the market. There are a number of factors and circumstances that influence and motivate this market; but I don’t think it’s oversimplifying to say that the most important motivating factor is essentially: you go to get what you can’t get anywhere else. I thought back to another moment that month: the three Blums – Irving, Jackie, and Tim (no relation) – joined by Schimmel in the Armory lounge. I don’t know what the revenues were like for the Armory (or the Armory uptown, Scope, etc.), but there were probably enough loose dollars floating around that room, let alone the Pier, to put together a bid. I sure hope somebody is working to build up MOCA’s acquisitions funds and overall endowment.

Since we know it was François Pinault who acquired the Shaw, I felt comfortable moving from Pinault and his luxury goods zillions to Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods empire, specifically one of his flagship brands, Louis Vuitton. Setting aside the debased standard of luxury Vuitton’s brand of status-retailing more or less pioneered (which is above all retailing the brand; who needs sizzle when you’ve got a pedigreed logo?), and some rather dark episodes in its retailing history, it was hard not to feel dismayed that what would amount to a small free-standing Vuitton boutique right on site at the Geffen would not share some percentage of its revenues with MOCA. Who, I asked, was responsible for this disastrous decision? (I left out the adjective – but it hardly needed to be spoken aloud.) “It was absolutely, one hundred percent my decision…. I mean, it’s [meaning Murakami’s commercial style ventures and commercial production] already there….” Schimmel seemed to confirm what I knew only as a rumor – that the Vuitton products or boutique would not only function as a museum/souvenir/etc. shop, but actually be an integral part of the exhibition. (I give him credit for sheer bravado.) But shouldn’t the museum be at least granted some profit participation in what amounted to a dual promotional/retailing windfall for LVMH? Here, Schimmel seemed to implicate some aspect of Murakami’s artistic (or perhaps just business) practice. But surely the museum (Schimmel or Strick) could simply have said, no. Is the intention here to erase the line between art and commerce altogether? “Anyway,” Schimmel continued, “[LVMH] will pick up the cost of the [opening] gala.” This could conceivably run up more than a few pennies, I realize. (MOCA’s patrons no doubt have some fabulous schwag coming their way.) But let’s get real here. LVMH is a US$17+ billion company. Arnault probably has sufficient funds parked somewhere offshore to fuel a dozen such galas. This ought to go down as smoothly as a flute of Dom Perignon; this will impact Arnault about as much as a draught of L’Heure Bleue across a cool room; he’ll feel this about as much as . . . you get the idea.

Added to which – Arnault and Murakami will be making some money from this venture. In other words, it’s a wash on the LVMH balance sheet. It almost amounts to a free promotion. On a certain level, Schimmel is right: Murakami’s commercial enterprises are part and parcel of his artistic practice. (And certainly no one makes art to lose money.) But a museum is hardly obligated to embrace every aspect of an artist’s practice any more than it is obligated to include every variety or period of an artist’s output in a show. Moreover, setting aside Murakami’s practice/business, the Vuitton bags were designed as bags, not as art. The trademark Murakami icons and motifs, whatever their connection to his art, are here nothing more than design elements, subordinate to the overall style. These are style products – they are aimed to sell as fashion, not as art.

I have no illusions about the art business. It is a business. Art may even be on some level about business. But it’s mostly something altogether different. Although (like any other commodity) the stuff of commerce, livelihoods, financial leverage, it has a much larger and open-ended mission in culture, communication and society that largely transcends its status as commodity or even as sheer idea. It is apprehended, decoded and hopefully enjoyed entirely without reference to commercial valuation, currency, decimal points or micro- and macro-economic models. Don’t get me wrong – I love commercial galleries. Commerce is an essential form of communication. Some of the most acute, insightful and passionate people I know in the art world are dealers (auction house people, too – Amy Cappellazzo and Toby Meyer come to mind). But I also cherish the museum (and kunsthalle) as a refuge from commerce, a place to take the measure of an artwork, to examine and cross-examine it, entirely outside the stream of contemporary culture and commerce, the noise of the commercial context. Luxe or not-so-luxe – I don’t need the noise of LVMH brands (I include the ones I use) buzzing about in a museum.

Oh yeah – and the buzz. Schimmel took some delight at the thought of the crowds of new museum patrons the show might attract – presumably among the chic, the aspiring chic, status-seekers, and the merely clueless. (What next? – a K-Mart Blue Light special in the middle of an exhibition? I think I’d prefer that to Vuitton.) But museums cannot just be about heads, attendance. Museums are not for absolutely everyone – sometimes not even for those of us who love museums. Not everyone takes the Kant seminar at school, and not everyone is going to need to join a museum – or even visit one at all. There are other ways of engaging the culture; other means I daresay of asking the same kinds of questions we ask in a museum or kunsthalle.

Getting back to business for a moment, though. Considering the apparently threadbare state of MOCA’s endowment or acquisitions fund, wouldn’t it be prudent to look to a corporate/commercial sponsor (or in this case beneficiary) for more than just the cost of the opening reception? Assuming the gala runs less than half a mil, I don’t think 2.5 or 3.5 million would be unreasonable. Yes – $3.5 million. That would be about six Donner Partys. Speaking of parties.

But this was Lari’s party – and I was enjoying it – piqued by a taste of something new in (what appeared to be) the gouaches on the west wall – something implied to some extent by motifs in the larger panels and canvases – but here isolated, elaborated and developed into something entirely new. They reminded me alternately of magnified fragments of medieval illuminated texts and orientalist hour book pages (or something that would take its cues from Persian or Mogul miniatures). I lingered too long here. I would have happily spent an hour with them. So I missed Barry McGee’s show downtown at REDCAT. And I haven’t even said anything about Allison Miller, yet. I’ll come back to her – and Lisa Adams, Dan McCleary, Lucas Reiner, George Stoll, Lauren Lavitt, et al. I’m always one party behind with yet another down the road; and I’d rather just go home to my own party of three – and attend to my own (politically) Red Cats.

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