Evening Scraps, Vol. 2

#WINNING—The Little People Art Project

People are still filthy rich—Artnet

You’re welcome, world!—The Bay Citizen

Women can paint, too. And just like men, some of them also aren’t very good. Yay equality!—International Women’s Day

I hope James Franco brings the good shit—WeLoveDC

Uzbekistan seems like a nice place to visit…and maybe launder money—The New York Times

I hope this means good art will cost even more!—Artdaily.org

Looks like it might finally be time for Damien Hirst to immerse David in formeldahyde—The Telegraph

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Art Is Funny

It’s a busy day for your ludicrously underhyped writer, which means it’s a perfect time to simply embed a YouTube clip and call it a blog post. But hold up, this isn’t just any old YouTube clip. No, this one’s actually worth watching, probably twice.

And sure, Hennessy Youngman is probably more hilarious than he is insightful, but really, who in the art world isn’t? I’m kidding, arties! Loosen up, adorn your pince-nez and enjoy this piece of ingenious performance art. Double art.

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Auction Envy

Obviously, the most bizarre work in this afternoon’s Under the Influence auction at Phillips de Pury is the portrait of America’s Sweetfart (and I mean that in the best of ways) Stephen Colbert.

Really, if I had a few extra thousand dollars to spend on a piece of 21st-century pop culture, this would be a prime choice. With its comedic subject, mash-up nature and completely made-up medium (LOOKED-AT-EDNESS!), this picture is to art what Girl Talk is to music. I’m not saying it’s good; I’m not saying it’s bad; all I’m just saying is that both things make me want to get drunk and party. See kids? Auctions are cool.

But let’s get serious (relatively) for a minute—contrary to Mr. Colbert, there are other things in this auction, lots of other things, 286 lots of other things, to be exact. (Colbert is Lot 1, naturally.) And while I find much of this other stuff intriguing, I wouldn’t want to live with most of it. Francesco de Molfetta’s SNACK BAR-BIE quickly comes to mind…

Lot 227/ Francesco de Molfetta/ SNACK BAR-BIE, 2009/ Automotive paint on figerglass with vinyl doll parts and resin smallware/ Est. $3,000-$5,000

On second thought, This looks like Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal. I am no longer even intrigued. (Save for Jack Black’s singular “banana hands” comment to Tony Robbins, that movie was just terrible.)

But for real, there are a few really good things in this auction I want to point out, especially since these artists are still alive, meaning you don’t have to have made a Forbes list to bid. (Yes, the world of art is a macabre one, in which death is good for your stock.) Here are a few of my favorites:

Lot 189/ Clair Harvey/ Two Works: i) The Walk; ii) The Sticks, 2004/ Oil on canvas/ 10 x 13 3/4 in. each/ Est. $5,000-$7,000

Lot 50/ Sage Vaughn/ Cardinal, 2007/ Mixed media on linen/ 31 3/8 x 37 in./ Est. $10,000-$15,000

Lot 285/ Miltos Manetas/ Cables, 2007/ Oil on canvas/ 72 x 84 in./ Est. $3,000-$4,000

Lot 17/ Kehinde Wiley/ Fall, 2009/ Oil on canvas/ 72 x 60 in./ Est. $50,000-$70,000

OK, so that last one is pretty pricey, but then again this is the same painter whose phenomenal portrait of LL Cool J hangs in the National Portrait Gallery here in Washington, DC.

Clearly, the man’s shit is tight. He brings the best of the 18th century to the 21st century, with technique to make any aspiring artist green-patterned with jealousy. Do want. Happy bidding!

[All photos courtesy to Phillips de Pury & Company, except for the last one, which comes courtesy of the NPG.]


Lot 1—$26,000
Lot 227—$4,000
Lot 189—Bought in (didn’t sell)
Lot 50—Bought in
Lot 285—$5,250
Lot 17—$104,500

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Evening Scraps, Vol. 1

The art media is saturated. Scratch that, it’s sopping. It’s a doughnut dunked in coffee in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. In other words, shit’s damp. But unlike a doughnut dunked in coffee in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, art media is actually pretty good. There’s just so much of it, which means each day there’s always too many articles to respond to individually. And so here they’ll be each day around 6 or 7 p.m. (EST), all accompanied by a witty one-liner. It’s evening scraps. Enjoy.

The Eastern Seaboard just got 20 percent more urine in it—Co.Design

You’ll bid if you don’t hate freedom. Eh, it’s probably already been said—LiveAuctioneers

In other words, no matter how many Baby Einstein videos you show your infant, he or she is still untalented—Artinfo

My reaction was more like, “Leave crossword alone!” And they did. May the Shortz be with you—Subtraction

Aww, I can’t say anything snarky about a decent interview with one of the best no-bullshit people around in the art world—Artinfo

Yeah, this sounds reasonable—Refinery29

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DC Gets Its Own, Probably Sad Art Fair…

Washington, DC, is a weird and fucked up place. While it’s true we host some of the best art museums in the country, we also unfortunately host the virus known as the U.S. Congress, whose main task is to kill you kill art funding. OK, so maybe it’s not their main task, but it’s certainly a task, as last month the House voted 217-209 to reduce the budget again for the National Endowment for the Arts. Yes, these assholes would like to see art get got, or actually, not get got. See, under their plan, they’d cut an additional $20.5 million from the NEA budget in FY2011, which would make for a the total cut of $43 million if you take into account the cut already proposed by the Obama Administration (I guess hope doesn’t extend to the arts…). That sucks balls.

But I digress. I didn’t hop off on that tangent simply to complain about the deplorable state of public art funding in this country (that deserves a rant with much more swearing in it); I mentioned it to demonstrate the schizophrenic way this city approaches art. It defies logic that we manage to host such great art museums in a community that generally undervalues art.

Which is why when I read a press release last week about a new DC-based art fair, (e)merge, I felt a little conflicted. Is DC really ready for its own fair?

Let’s get to the real talk—DC isn’t a cultural center. While we’ve had some shining stars in music (The Dismemberment Plan, Fugazi, Wale), we failed hard when we tried to celebrate it, ahem, DMV Awards. Fashion is even worse off here. Sure, we have a few designers of note (OK, all we have is DURKL), but DC Fashion Week is a joke.

So, what will be different in regards to an art fair, especially a fair that hopes to specialize in emerging artists? Will it be all Corcoran students? Will good local private galleries (the amount of which I can pretty much count on my hands) actually attend? More importantly, will out-of-town galleries come? Remember, art fairs costs thousands for participating galleries. And judging from DC’s booming art market (NOT!), it’s hard for this art blogger to imagine anyone giving up a chance to get into one of the New York fairs (or anywhere else) to come here.

It’s also hard to imagine someone still using a mid-1990s catchphrase in 2011, but rest assured I used it to prove a point. See, my utterance of “NOT!” was very much on purpose. I’m a self-aware writer. I understand sarcasm, irony and the need to choose language wisely. Had I said “NOT!” without this hint of self-aware retrocity (and, yes, I just knowingly used a made-up word), I probably would not be as effective a wordsmith.

Now let’s extend this metaphor to DC. This city has no idea what it is and isn’t capable of. This total lack of self-awareness led to the disastrous DMV Awards, the catastrophic Fashion Week, etc. Will (e)merge be different? I hope to all that is not totally embarrassing and shitty that it is because, dang, I’m tired of DC’s bullshit, but I don’t know. Like I said, DC’s got a reputation that it unfortunately doesn’t know about to uphold, and from what I can tell, as someone with an ear to the ground, this reputation isn’t conducive to a significant, meaningful, worthwhile, not embarrassingly bad art fair. Here’s to hopefully being wrong…

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Auction Envy

I’d buy this tonight during Phillips de Pury & Co.’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale:

Mark Grotjahn/ Untitled (Pink Butterfly Green mg03), 2003/ Oil on linen/ 36 x 28 in./ Est. $300,000-$400,000

Detail of Grotjahn's Untitled (Pink Butterfly Green mg03)

Yeah, I’ll be honest, I dog-eared a couple of contenders hoping to find something better by the time I got to the end of the catalog. This fleshtone kaleidascope by Mark Grotjahn, sadly, was the winner in a sea of, well, not winners. They weren’t losers, mind you, they just weren’t great. None of them truly made me regret not being the inventor of Facebook, like, say, a Francis Bacon work might.

But let’s not dwell, let’s work with that we’ve got. The detail of this painting is pretty sweet. I love visible brushstrokes and the precision of the angles would make any protractor and straight edge proud. I think the main selling point for me, however, is the bright green signature. Aesthetically, the colorful, loopty-loop font just looks good against this mellow background.

What worries me, though, is that considering it’s called “Butterfly” and it’s painted in several fleshy shades of pale pink, I fear that in some way this probably alludes to a woman’s nuh-uh. Either that, or I’ve been exposed to one too many geometric vaginas with green tattoos in my life. Oh my. And on that note, happy bidding, billionaires!

UPDATE: Including commission, this went for $434,500. Not bad.

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Art Fairs—A Survival Guide

Well, that’s not whole truth. Art fairs can be lots of fun, too, but usually in an awful way. For instance, spotting the worst face lift, the most inappropriate outfit, the snootiest dealer, those are fun in a really awful way.

What’s not fun, though, is being too poor to buy anything. Or even being wealthy enough, but knowing that you’re probably paying twice as much as the dealer did. Finally, I mentioned the crowd, right? Seriously, if there should ever be a Kathie Lee and Hoda sanctioned ‘Ambush Makeover,’ it should probably be at one of these fairs. Modernism 2010 sticks out in my mind as one of the worst. (To the heavyset woman in the gold lamé leggings who’s not Beth Ditto? Just don’t.)

But let’s get back to the awfulness of art fairs. I’ll tell you a trade secret: Dealers rarely—if ever—display their best items at a fair. In fact, save for a small handful, maybe Art Basel (Switzerland, not Miami), Maastricht (an arts and antiques fair in the Netherlands) and maybe the Winter Antiques Show in New York, dealers are likely to keep the shit most people would actually really want to pay to see to themselves. Why? Money. A really great work of art is worth more the less it’s shopped around. Serious collectors pay for art and exclusivity.

But that’s not to say everything at an art fair is crap. Art fairs just serve a different purpose than the major auction houses or the private private market. No one goes to an art fair to purchase a Van Gogh, especially if we’re talking about a contemporary art fair like The Armory Show that’s happening right now until Sunday in New York City at Piers 92 and 94 between 52nd and 54th streets.

I have yet to make it to the fair myself (I have more satisfying things to do, like watch cat videos on the Internet), but I trust Artinfo.com to give a pretty good rundown of what’s worth it to see and what’s worth it to go laugh at in this year’s selection of booths. I may or may not make it there this weekend depending on how many new cat videos pop up on Youtube. (I have my priorities straight.) And really, considering Artinfo’s No. 1 complaint of The Armory Show was the fair itself, I think the prospect of simply rewatching old cat videos might sound more enticing…

According to Artinfo, “The award for the worst feature of this year’s fair goes—drum roll, please—to The Armory Show itself. Tiny booths, too many exhibitors, and an anyone-who-can-pay attitude toward choosing galleries all made this year’s edition a grim, gray trade fair.” Yup, that sounds awful.

And just in case you don’t know, it costs dealers/galleries well into the five-figure range to secure a booth at a typical art fair. This could be a bargain if we’re talking about the best fairs, which are harder to get into than Harvard due to a heavily vetted selection process. But for a fair whose only selection process is an unbounced check, $25,000 (give or take) seems a little exorbitant to rent a space the size of a small living room for a week or so.

It’s true. Art fairs are more awful the less selective they are for both dealers and fair patrons (including both buyers and gawkers). Hell, if I’m going to pay $20 for an admission ticket, I’d like to know that the things I’m looking at have been heavily vetted, are rare and not third-tier. For both fair-goers and dealers, this goes back to exclusivity. The more selective and exclusive the fair, the more assured a viewer can be and, likewise, the higher prices a dealer is able to quote.

But, think about it, isn’t that awful too? The more reputable the fair, the less non-billionaires can actually afford to buy something? It’s a vicious circle jerk of nonsense, a lose-lose for what seems like everyone except the billionaires and those dealers who get lucky enough to sell to them. But then again, that’s the point. Art fairs aren’t museums; they’re one-stop shops for the super rich.

Moreover, art fairs aren’t even necessarily for those who love art; they’re for those who love the art market, which is a fascinating game, but an awful one nonetheless. Trust me, it’s no Settlers of Catan (#nerdswag).

Anyway, all of this isn’t to dissuade you from going. (Well, maybe, a little…) It’s just to give you fair warning about what to expect if you’ve never been. With the invention of the Internet, the upswing of auctions and more behind-the-scenes dealing, it often seems today’s art fairs are one Botox injection away from completely imploding, which means you might want to go ahead and get ‘er done now, lest you miss out on your chance to experience one of these shitshows first hand. If the answer is yes, here are some tips on how to get the most out of your experience and not come away a completely cynical bastard:

1) Unless you plan to buy, don’t go until the middle of the show. Not only do you avoid the gnarliness of opening weekend (opening night galas are a special kind of torture for the sane), but by the middle of the week, you’ll be able to observe what’s been selling and what hasn’t. This can add a bit of intrigue to your experience, especially if you’re an observer of the art market.

2) Don’t be afraid to talk to dealers, especially if you’re attending the fair in the middle of the week. You may not have an extra $1.5 million to spend on a De Staël (yet), but trust me, a dealer who’s been sitting and staring at his booth, which will begin to resemble a finely decorated jail cell three days in, will welcome the human interaction. Plus, most dealers love to talk about themselves and how great their eye is.

3) Avoid the last day of the show. The last day of the show is a rip-off. Many dealers have already counted all their proverbial chickens and have mentally checked out. At this point, they probably won’t want to talk to you unless you have your checkbook out. Also, sometimes the sold items may have been picked up, which sucks because these are often the more spectacular items at the fair. Some dealers prefer to quietly remove them the morning of the last day rather than wait until nightfall when everybody is packing up and leaving.

Finally, 4) Drink. That’s one of the greatest things about these fairs. There’s almost always a bar and you can walk around the fair with liquor—you can’t do that in a museum. Just try not to spill anything, unless of course, it’s on some big lady’s horrible gold lamé outfit. In that case, make sure it’s red wine and it stains.

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