So What?

I started this semester out with a few guiding questions to lead this blog writing process. Essentially, I wanted to determine if the art world was becoming more mainstream so I asked myself: “Is art molding our culture or is our culture molding the arts?” Audience, technology, context and place were three reoccurring trends that helped me come to a conclusion.

Here are some highlights:

Takashi Murakami’s retrospective in Versailles was not well received by the French who believed that his art in the palace was a “Disneyfication” of the monument. However, bringing the contemporary fine art into a new context allowed for an atypical audience to see it. Tourists probably did not go to Versailles to see Murakami’s sculptures but they had no choice at the time of the show. On the other hand the show created buzz in France, which inspired the locals to visit to see what all the news was about.

The Abstract Expressionist show at the MoMA has expanded across the whole city including landmarks important to the AbEx artists. The museum created a user friendly website as well as interactive apps for iphones and ipads. By taking advantage of technology in an innovative way, a broader audience can “see” the exhibit. The MoMA has created an experience for those who are physically in NYC and can visit the museum as well as those who cannot.

In October, the Guggenheim had a contest where 20,000 YouTube videos were submitted and jurors decided which ones should be included in the “YouTube Play: A Biennial of Creative Video”. This got me thinking about what makes a piece of art museum worthy. We are used to watching YouTube video’s on a tiny computer screen in the comfort of our own homes, but in this case, the curators are showing them to us in a new context: on a big screen in a museum with other museum visitors. Are these museum visitors even the same audience that YouTube typically has?

David Hoey and Linda Fargo are the in-house window designers for Bergdorf Goodnmans in New York City. They consider themselves solely artists who happen to be creating their art in a commercial setting. They are physically creating the face of a department store through elaborate dioramas and decorative displays. The context for this art is 5th Avenue, not in a traditional museum, and the audience is window shoppers. They might not even realize that they are looking at art.

My research has gone full circle ending up with a post about Takashi Murakami’s participation in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade itself is an interesting juxtaposition of tradition and commercialization. The executive producer of the parade, Robin Hall, believes that it the parade is a snapshot of American culture, which should also include the excitement of the art world. That is why they decided in 2005 to seek out internationally known artists to get involved in the parade. This year Takashi Murakami designed two floats and walked in the parade in a funny costume that he also designed. This is an instance where his art is brought into another new context: out of a museum and into the streets. The audience of the parade is mostly kids who will enjoy the cartoon-y elements of Murakami’s art. The children watching the parade won’t recognize these characters or even the artist but it does brings the artist to their attention.

So what is the answer to the questions I posed?

I believe that the art world is molding society in a new way, by taking advantage of technology. Through online resources, apps for phones and ipads, and other innovative tools a broader audience can appreciate many aspects of the art world and get their intake of art culture. There has been an effort to bring the fine arts to the masses in unique contexts: the parade, Versailles, department store windows. And I don’t think that it is a negative to take advantage of mainstream methods of reaching new and old audiences. It would be a mistake not to stay current with the way society is receiving information and spending their time. It will lead to an interesting dynamic between artists, museums, galleries and viewers.

Artists Designing Floats for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Every year, for the past 84 years, over 50 million people tune in to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade includes enormous balloons of characters that children love such as Buzz Lightyear, Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Snoopy, and Hello Kitty. There are floats, bands, performers, celebrities and over 8,000 clowns. The entire parade is geared towards kids; and according to Robin Hall, the executive producer of the parade, the criteria for the floats and balloons are that children have to understand them and like them. So why in 2005 did they decide to seek out internationally recognized artists to be involved in the parade? Well, Hall believes that the parade is a snapshot of American culture and that should include the energy of the art world as well. This year the artist, Takashi Murakami, designed two balloons of his Kaikai and Kiki characters. (You may remember my previous post about Murakami’s show at Versailles) These characters are colorful and animated creatures that sailed above the city streets smiling. One was pink and had 3 eyes and fangs and the other was white with red accent colors. They could have been seen as scary, but hopefully the smiley artist dressed in a fuzzy, technicolor flower costume halted any fear as he walked along with the balloons.

Jeff Koons and Keith Haring have designed floats for the parade in previous years. Hall and his colleagues are clearly choosing big time artists whose artwork is large, bold, colorful, and will pop out amongst the recognizable characters. (Hopefully, it won’t pop during the parade!) They are pushing the boundaries far passed what the young viewers are asking for and even know of by presenting artists work in a commercial setting. One of the newscasters asked a group of kids watching the parade what they would like to see as a float that is not one this year. The pack of screaming kids instantly yelled “Justin Bieber”! “Yikes!” I though to myself…a real snapshot of American culture, I guess. I suppose I can’t expect any 10 year old to request a float designed by Christo and Jeanne Claude. However, it is refreshing to see floats that may not be familiar to the audience and don’t have a corporate connection, but still are included in the holiday fun.

Mark Twain at the Morgan

This year marks a milestone in American literary history: the centennial of Samuel L. Clemens death and therefore the ability to publish his autobiography. Clemens, more widely known as Mark Twain, requested that his three-volume autobiography only be published one hundred years after his death and the University of California Press has respected that. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.” Twain said before he died. And he was right.

Great American authors mostly gain that reputable title of being a “Great” after they have died and are no longer producing work. It is an unusual treat to have a historical author come out with a brand new book. (Did Mark Twain ever imagine that his books would be read on e-readers or ipads?) His autobiography will surely effect high school English classes, the way we consider our countries history, as well as provide a new context for Twain’s novels that we already have been examining for the past century. The nation eagerly awaited its arrival on the bookstore shelves.

In correspondence with the publication of Mark Twain’s autobiography, the Morgan Library & Museum and New York Public Library have a show up called “Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Process”, featuring more than 120 manuscripts and rare books, including original manuscript pages from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) and Life on the Mississippi (1883), as well as letters, notebooks, diaries, photographs, and drawings associated with the author’s life and work. The NYPL owns two of the world’s biggest collections of Mark Twain related manuscripts, rare books, letters and other items. This is the perfect opportunity to display these fascinating items since the author is currently on everyone’s mind.

The museum is smartly capitalizing on an existing trend to attract museum visitors. There is no need to entice the public to see the exhibit since they are simply displaying something that they will certainly like to see. The audience is already knowledgeable about the topic and won’t be intimidated by it, which is a factor that often hinders museum-goers to see a show.

Declan Kiely, a co-curator of this show and Robert H. Taylor Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library had the tough job of deciding what material gets displayed. “It comes down to an inverse beauty contest”, Kiely revealed.  He has chosen to display the manuscript pages with the most changes.

It is the role of the museum to peel away the top layer of basic knowledge the public has and expose something new. Mark Twain’s autobiography discloses unknown elements about the man himself, but it is still a book, which is the mode of communication that we are used to getting information from him anyways. The Morgan Library takes us out of the bound book and teaches us visually.

“Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Process” will be on display at the Morgan Library in NYC through January 2nd, 2011.

Window Shopping

Art lovers have been turning to their iPhones and YouTube to enhance their experience viewing art. The art of window display design flips that concept and brings art into the consumer world, directly into shop windows. Holiday shopping season is just around the corner, which means stores around the nation, will be transforming into tinsel-y winter wonderlands. Storefront windows are the vehicle big department stores have to make an artistic statement and stand out from the other stores down the street selling the same things. The average person doesn’t look at window displays as an art form but maybe they should.

David Hoey and Linda Fargo are professional window designers for Bergdorf Goodmans, and they consider themselves artists. Walking down 5th Avenue during the holidays, not only is a New Yorker’s nightmare with the streets jam packed with pedestrians, but it is also a shoppers delight. Store after store is just flooding with colors and textures and an overwhelming amount of visual stimulus, all for sale. Stores use their windows as a means to make a visual statement. The displays are like seasonal art instillations open to the public rather than the limited audience that enter museums. Unlike permanent pieces of art, these displays last for only a short period of time, however they are often long term projects that take months, and even years, of planning.

Hoey and Fargo consider themselves extra privileged to be working at Bergdorfs where the window sizes are unusually large. Their canvas is bigger than their surrounding stores. The job of designing window displays is a combination of theater, design and storytelling. They have a blank 3-D canvas to make a bold statement, be it political, humorous, haunting, etc… The Bergdorf pair is not worried about selling merchandise but rather they focus on the art. The characters they create and the worlds they build take care of the rest.

Ms. Fargo once told the NY Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham that she could show off her creative designs in a gallery rather than in windows. His response was: “Oh child, why would you do that?  You have the best art gallery in all the world.’

Art for Sale

Thursday evening I attended ARTWALK NY, an annual benefit for the Coalition for the Homeless that includes a live and silent auction as well as a cocktail party where they honor an artist each year. For the past few years Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere and, his wife, Carey Lowell have been the co-chairs of the event and this year the artist honoree was, painter, James Rosenquist. The majority of the artists in the live and silent auction were big names whose work I had seen in museums and studied in art history courses. (It was particularly exciting for me to see James Rosenquist in person since I wrote a paper about him for an art history final.) Some of the other artists included: Nan Goldin, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Christo, Shepard Fairey, my mom and more. What was especially thrilling was that since work was for sale, it could instantly be mine. This was an unusual experience for me to be looking at the museum quality work outside of a museum and in a commercial setting. Yes, galleries are commercial and sell art, but this felt more like a store. Since it was a benefit, everyone was eager to spend and purchase artwork to support the cause. The space was carefully considered and the art was hung in a thoughtful order, but it did not have the same feeling as a museum or a gallery show that was curated with a theme or special intent. Instead the theme was to spend, and spend a lot to support the Coalition for the Homeless.  The prices were largely printed and the silent auction sheets were visible to everyone. During the live auction there were volunteers who took the work off the wall and held it up on stage. The interaction between the viewers (customers) and the art was not what I am used to, since I am used to looking at art in a museum where it is untouchable and has an extra sense of sparkle since it has been aggregated and endorsed by the team at the museum. At ARTWALK, the work could instantly be owned by any of the guests. Instantly is the key at a live auction. Unlike a typical art purchase that requires a contemplative period of thinking and considering the work, at an auction the time frame for such a pricey purchase is short. The prices are also always in flux, which makes me wonder what is a piece of art actually worth. Well, only what someone is going to pay for it. Most of the work was donated directly from the artists, which gives it a more direct feeling since there was no middleman between the creator and the person buying it. This was cultural consumption at its core. Now just if I had the budget for a nice big Roxy Paine drawing…

YouTube in the Guggenheim

The Guggenheim has a whole section of their website as well as physical shows in the museums across the globe called “Interact” which currently features a variety of programming called “YouTube Play: A Biennial of Creative Video”. The museum put out a call for YouTube submissions and received over 20,000. (Here is a little video explaining the concept) Jurors chose twenty-five to be on display in the Guggenheim Museums in New York, Bilbao, Berlin, and Venice until October 24. This is the first time the museum has done this. The funny catch is that if you are not in those cities or can’t get to the museum all of the chosen videos are available online at youtube.com/play.

This makes me wonder about a few things

YouTube is so popular because it is entertainment at people’s convenience. Due to the accessibility people are less willing to get up and leave their homes to for a cultural outing or experience, such as physically visiting a museum. Personally, I think it would be a unique experience to watch these videos on the walls of a museum with a crowd of strangers, more like a movie theater setting. I am used to watching YouTube videos on a computer screen, so changing the context would offer a different perspective. The catch is that if the exact same videos are available online, will people agree with me and go to the museum or simply watch them at home? Is it even the physical act of watching the movies in the museum that even matters? Or is it simply the recognition that they now have from the Guggenheim? There is a huge difference of looking at a painting on a computer screen or on a photocopied piece of paper than seeing the real physical product, however with video, the art is digital and it can be transported and viewed in many settings, even in your own home on your personal laptop.

The actual showing live in the museum lasted only two days; therefore in this case it makes sense to have extensive online viewing options and related articles. Since this was the first YouTube Play Biennial, I wonder if they will make changes the next time they do it. Perhaps they will have different criteria for choosing what gets accepted from the thousands of submissions.

Abstract Expressionism Takes Over NYC

New York City is always an exciting place for artists. The Abstract Expressionist movement started in NYC in the 1940s by artists likes Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Currently the MoMA has an enormous amount of their work in a show called Abstract Expressionist New York. (Check out this awesome interactive website) Curators did not have to go far to find the work for this show. All of the pieces are in the MoMA’s permanent collection; they have brought some pieces out from storage and rethought the display of others. There are currently galleries on three floors of the MoMA relating to this show including the entire fourth floor of the museum. It is an endless series of rooms of AbEx art. Not only has AbEx art taken over the MoMA but it has taken over the whole city. Each landmark important to this group of artists located across the city, such as their studios, places where lectures and meetings were held and restaurants where they gathered as well as galleries in between have related shows up. This celebration of AbEx art pays homage to the historic and iconic work produced and also looks at new research on the topic. The museum has organized discussions with current contemporary artists who share their personal and artistic perspectives. It was not that long ago that these watershed artists were in their prime and already the impact on current art world is undeniable.

It is exciting that the theme has transpired throughout the whole city. Simply by traveling through different parts of the city you will cross paths with pieces of the show. It can be sought out or serendipitously stumbled upon. New Yorkers will take a liking to the theme of the show since AbEx art originated in NYC its part of the culture and history of the city. Also, the artists in the show are some of the most famous artists in the world. Even if a viewer is not an avid art lover or familiar with the genre of AbEx art they will still take pleasure in looking at enormous Jackson Pollock paintings in person.

I visited the MoMA last weekend with the intention of seeing the Abstract Expressionist show but it turned out that I saw about 4 other exhibits before I even got to the fourth floor. I was not in a fresh mindset to look at over 100 paintings bursting with color and lines. When I got half way thought I had to surrender and speed through the rest of the rooms. The sheer number of pieces is slightly overwhelming. It takes patience to look through each room carefully. Each museum visitor has a different method of viewing art, whether it is slowly examining each piece or generally getting the gist of a series and moving on. Regardless of the audience’s style, it is a tremendous experience to see this body of work all together and I am excited by the work the MoMA has done to get the city involved. I am definitely going to go back the next time I am home.

Abstract Expressionist New York reminds me of The Jewel Thief at the Tang right now. The Jewel Thief explores new way of viewing and exploring abstract art. While not all of it is abstract expressionism, the theme of abstraction is clearly expanding outside of Manhattan into other realms.

The Power of Public Art

I’ve been thinking about an article I saw in the NY Times last month featuring a graffiti artist working on a project located on a wall across from the Standard Hotel on the West 13th street.  This guy, who goes by Blek le Rat, is not your average rebellious street artist, but instead he is considered the “godfather of stencil graffiti art” and was actually commissioned for a project by Details magazine. They recently commissioned four graffiti artists to create murals for a marketing campaign reflecting their view of the new, modern urban man. According to the publisher of the magazine, Bill Wackerman, there is an increase of men living in big cities who are interested in art. I didn’t realize there was a lack of men interested in art and I’m not sure what quantitative data this statement is based on but regardless, it has lead to a project for the magazine.  This mural is supposed to speak to modern masculinity. It’s called “My Mother’s Eyes” and depicts a mother and a child, based on a baroque painting by Guido Reni.

Well, I have been thinking about it in relation to public art and how it morphs our city and consciously or subconsciously influences viewers’ thoughts about art — both men and women’s thoughts. I consider graffiti public art, even though most of it is done illegally. Sculptures and other art pieces that are outside in parks or outside buildings simply appear in people’s daily routines rather then viewers actively seeking them out in a museum or gallery.  It changes the landscape of passers-by and forces people to think about art or other topics.  One example is when the Cow Parade came to NYC and just about every city block had a cow that had been transformed into an enormous range of characters and objects. (They are similar to the painted horses located in down town Saratoga Springs.) That was one of the largest public art events in the world and has continued in cities across the world. They were seen on the street instead of behind closed doors only by people who chose to see them. They were impossible to ignore.

Details magazine has a readership that is mostly male, which is probably why Wackerman is focusing on men’s relationship to the art world. Personally, I have a handful of friends, male and female, who appreciate the arts but despise visiting museums.  I believe it is the physical setting of being inside a building that requires 100% focus — and even working hard at looking at art that is unappealing to them. Public art takes that dynamic away and puts the art in their environment. They don’t have to actively make the effort to look at it; it is just there. It might even spark an interest in art viewing and inspire a visit into a museum or gallery. The more public art in a city there is, the more lively the city will look and feel — and as a result the cultural feeling towards art will hopefully pick up as well. Graffiti art can be a stepping-stone for art appreciators. The first step is to direct the viewer’s eye in the right direction and inform them that what they are looking at is a piece of art even if it is not hanging in a museum. Art can be appreciated in any setting, even on the street.

The article is titled “Art for Guys Who Hate Museums”.  I’d like to take that one step back and think about it in relation to anyone who doesn’t like museums and how public art can change that.

Contemporary Art in the Palace of Versailles

Even though I said I am going to focus on art in New York, I can’t help talking about the show going on right now at the Palace of Versailles of sculptures by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. He has filled 15 rooms with his work, his first major retrospective in France. Murakami works in a range off media including both the fine arts, such as painting, and digital and commercial media. He is inspired by popular culture and mass media, and creates thirty-foot sculptures, such as those in Versailles, paintings or marketable commercial goods. He has even done work for Louis Vuitton spicing up their classic monogrammed canvas with bright colors and cartoon-y accents.

There is huge controversy surrounding the current show at Versailles because of the severe visual clash of the contemporary work within the historic palace. It is not the first time that art has been on display at Versailles. Contemporary artist Jeff Koons showed his work in Versailles in 2008 and so did the French artist Xavier Veilhan in 2009. There were rumors that Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the president of Château de Versailles, decided to have the contemporary art in one of the gardens outside and that there would not be any more shows by living artists in indoor spaces. That obviously is not true, as Murakami’s art is currently on display in the Hall of Mirrors. Articles have described peoples protesting and petitioning against the  “disneyfication” of the palace.

The majority of Versailles’s visitor population is tourists and I believe that Murakami’s show will bring in a new crowd: more locals and people interested in art rather than history. In fact, the palace was originally built to move the center of power outside of Paris. It has been an integral part of Versailles since the beginning to bring people out of the beautiful city of Paris to this outrageous location. Murakami’s art fits along with the extremeness.

One example of a contemporary project that entered the Palace was Sophia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette, which was the first and only movie that was filmed in Versaille. It was a big deal for her to get permission to work in the Palace. I am so happy that they filmed in the actual space where the story takes place; it gave the fanciful movie a special touch. The production of a feature film did not disrupt the Palace at all and we now benefit from having the movie.

The French are extremely protective over their history and heritage, however I don’t believe this takes anything away. The stark contrast of the art within the surroundings forces viewers to think harder about both the art and the history. Murakami’s work will only be in Versailles temporarily, while the incredible grounds and interiors of the Palace will remain forever. I hope that this show provides a new reason for visitors to return to Versailles, and newcomers too.

For those of us who are not in France will be able to see renditions of Takashi Murakami’s work in the form of floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Koon’s work was recreated in the form of a parade float as well. The big, bright sculptures are perfect to commercialize to people of all ages.

The only way to honor history is to look how far we have come. Those who are upset about the show at Versailles don’t have to visit the Palace while it is up, when they return they won’t even know it was there. However I think that people who are upset with the show should check it out in person—they may change their minds. Hopefully though, it will encourage new visitors as well as visitors who are interested in returning for a special treat. Even those who are not happy with the instillation will hopefully be drawn in by their curiosity. I would like to think that King Louis XVI would approve of the show!

Hello

I’d like to start off with a brief introduction as to what sparked my ideas for this blog:

Media, popular culture, trends of consumerism and technology are guiding our modern society. Historically, artists and museums have been the ones to rebel from the norms and try something new. Is that still the case? Or are museums and galleries molding to what society wants to attract more visitors? Throughout the semester I would like to keep track of the activity of museums and galleries in New York City and their methods of getting people in the door; everything from curatorial decisions to marketing materials.

For example: Last Winter MoMA had an exhibit of Tim Burton’s illustrations and sketches, which families and children loved. Critics were skeptical, in that he is more of a Hollywood moviemaker rather than a fine artist and maybe a show at MoMA might have not been typical, but it was a big attraction. On the other hand, this summer they had a very unusual show of a retrospective of the performance art by Marina Abramovic.  Performance art is not looked highly upon by the average museum go-er just because it is not understood by them. That means it was a risk for MoMA to have a huge exhibit entirely on performance art. I didn’t get a chance to see the Tim Burton exhibit but I did see Marina Abramovic multiple times. At first, her performance crept me out. I didn’t understand it. But something about having the artist right in front of me, live and in person was intriguing. I couldn’t step away. It was a huge spectacle; I even came back a few days later. I’m still not sure I understand what I was looking at, but the experience was memorable and it got me to return to the museum. (Check out the flickr from her performance)

Museums and galleries are the middle-man between the public and artists, are artists the ones changing or is it the institutions? Will that change the public’s perception of the art of our time in the future? Will this change how we are currently looking at art? Or if we even are?