[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 26

Christina Spiesel christina.spiesel at yale.edu
Wed Jan 27 02:55:40 EST 2010

Dear All,

As I gave up watching the political ins and outs of the visual art world 
some time ago, all I can say to John is that I enjoyed reading his 
piece. This, of mine, will veer off into another directions or 
directions and should not be considered a reply to his in any sense.

But first, now that I've had a chance to ask the relevant person, I will 
clear up a prior posting. The comment regarding fitting punishment for 
misbehaving corporate persons is a shared creation -- partly mine and 
partly my husband's. Sydney, a man of great wit,  contributed the 
precise punishments to my mutterings about corporations are 
people#$@!*&%+++???? Then they should be liable like the rest of us.

Now, I will attempt to put together something I've been musing on as 
I've read through, and attempted to follow, this very rich conversation. 
I have been frustrated by our using the word "art" to stand for so many 
different things all at once when the conditions of work are so 
different. Interpretive artists (actors, musicians, etc.) have different 
circumstances from writers who can sit anywhere they find comfortable 
and produce words which may eventually be "fixed" in an electronic form, 
in stone, in bound books, as photocopies surreptitiously passed around, 
etc.  And visual artists generally have to produce the work in some 
specific material form (and I include precise pixels in this mix) in 
order to think through their ideas or to breathe life into them. And 
this difference is one on which many deep cultural biases hang. My 
canonist college experience did not admit art making into the for-credit 
category of courses. Visual art appeared only as art history.  And this 
distinction probably made a lot of sense to those founders of the 
curriculum because a) generally art making can make the hands dirty and 
therefore it violates ancient "taboos" 
[higher/lower/clean/dirty/thinking/craft etc.) and b) because the verbal 
had made off with the language of vision. (See Lakoff and Johnson: 
vision/insight/light of reason, and many more terms have been 
appropriated by philosophy and other disciplines of writing.) In this 
system, "looking" seems to have lower status than "seeing".  So much of 
my adult life, especially the last twenty years or so of it, has been 
engaged in thinking about/working out in words, what I came to feel as a 
visual artist: that my production of art was every bit as much about 
thinking as any poet's or philosopher's production. And since I began to 
teach law students about visual things, I have been operating on this 
boundary of words and pictures in the classroom nine months of the year. 
With this teaching has come an unexpected academic career and I have 
been writing about this topic one way or another for some time now.

In pursuit of grounding my musings in something other than my own set of 
associations, I read some work on how we read -- or what is known about 
how we read -- because I intuitively felt that there are differences 
between reading words and reading pictures. (nd, btw, dyslexics can 
often draw very well.) I'd come across the work of Gus Buswell who in 
the  1930s built an elaborate apparatus to track eye fixations in 
reading. His data outputs for subjects reading texts look a lot like 
ekgs (maybe) with little horizontal space between the ups and downs.  
(Interestingly, poor readers have more jittery data outputs, a visual 
analog to having to go back to try to parse the same bits over and over 
again, where good readers have long smooth strokes, like good swimmers.) 
Buswell at some point decided to use his equipment and test readers 
looking at pictures and what emerged is that there is not a lot of 
uniformity in where people look first in a picture, or, where they wind 
up.  (So artists cannot guarantee a linear unfolding of meaning.) Now 
researchers have access to really sophisticated eye tracking and 
advertisers are using it to refine their work.  Why do I think this is 
important? Because words have a purely conventional relationship between 
their notation and the thing they represent. (Semiotics.) They are 
always abstract in this sense. Their meaning is revealed through grammar 
that defines a set of relationships. (Words torn from that context in 
production -- say a word in a painting -- still evoke this other 
context. We will read it as a noun, a verb, a command, etc.) Pictures 
have more different ways that they can evoke that which they represent. 
(Semiotics.) And words are made sense of in sequences (good for the 
production of propositions, whether in words or numbers) and so are 
time-based. One thing follows another even if in reading our eyes jump 
around. Pictures can bring into a single frame elements made up of 
different pieces of the reality to which they refer. (Think of any 
collage.)  Or the frame can seemingly snatch and fix a bit of reality 
(think photography). However the picture is operating, with whatever 
system of reference, the picture presents simultaneously occurring 
references occurring within a single frame. (I always find it curious 
that film scholars focus mostly on the narrative (time-based) elements 
in the film and rarely on the 29+ (video) or 32(film) frames per second. 
(Did any of you see Gordon's 24 hour version of /Psych/o where it was 
truly possible to appreciate Hitchcock's eye?) My bottom line: different 
forms come with different habits of mind.

But whether we are workers in words or workers in pictures, we all face 
the problem of supporting our lives and supporting our outputs. No 
creative person can exist in a vacuum and everyone needs to find a way 
to support their lives and work. So I am troubled by the discussion of 
complicity as a general category.  And, if any of us really could change 
the game all by ourselves, we'd have an unholy power.  I do believe this 
strongly, though:  Art is a mode, like science is a mode. Not all 
practitioners are idealistic; not all practitioners are ethical. But 
these modes are crucial for the human  societies that enable them. They 
are about exploring what is there -- outside and inside -- and reporting 
on those explorations to others (whether others ever get to actually 
see/read/experience it or not.) And slowly, a history of these 
explorations can accumulate....

This has probably exceeded anyone's patience. With the permission of the 
author, I close with some comments from a friend who went to Burma 
(Myanmar) with her husband who travels to teach and perform medical 
procedures in places lacking them. Stacey Rose wrote on return: "So one 
of the glaring paradoxes that I’m left confused by and questioning is: 
How is it that these most gentle, peaceful, kind, and hospitable people 
live in abysmal conditions and are still seemingly able to maintain a 
high level of humanity, dignity, and even joy? In the face of grave 
poverty we saw and heard much laughter, music, outpourings of 
generosity, demonstrations of compassion. Of course we are visitors, 
dipping into their world for a brief time, leaving it without a real 
knowledge of the daily hardships and complexities. But from this 
visitor’s perspective, it looks like hope."

John Haber wrote:
> Since Deitch, quite rightly, came up as an example of the problem, can I 
> steal from my own words about him, not yet published?
> Art's Evil Empire
> Bringing Jeffrey Deitch to LA's Museum of Contemporary Art is like 
> asking Bill Gates to run Google. With street-level cameras and Google 
> books, the company that made a fortune off the promise to do no evil is 
> scaring people. So why not turn it over to the evil empire? As for MOCA, 
> the museum that almost bankrupted itself is finding its way -– at the 
> cost of funding and oversight from a wealthy patron and collector, Eli 
> Broad. So why not hire New York's flashiest dealer, rather than a 
> curator or academic?
> I shall follow my own impressions here with reports on what some of New 
> York's other dealers think of the idea. What do they think of a 
> commercial dealer taking over a museum? What would they do given the 
> chance? And what will be the impact on the New York arts scene of 
> closing Deitch Projects? However, the reportage, still in progress 
> anyway, will be embargoed here for a month or two pending appearance in 
> Artillery magazine.
> Deitch polarizes people. He does so with Deitch Projects, the Soho 
> gallery that thinks big. This is the gallery where everything seems to 
> blink on and off. This is the gallery that, in 2009, turned the death of 
> Dash Snow into a celebrity event and showcased Kehinde Wiley, with his 
> cross between street art and fashion magazine. Naturally it has welcomed 
> in the new year with Keith Haring. With the garish, steamy, seamy, and 
> unsettling Black Acid Co-op covering its three levels, Justin Lowe and 
> Jonah Freeman could have been targeting Deitch himself.
> One could hear the hesitation between shock and awe when Jerry Saltz 
> broke the news on January 10. "It looks," he wrote online for New York 
> magazine, "like the sacrosanct wall between museums, galleries, and 
> private collectors in the art world is about to come down." Yet many on 
> the Web welcomed changing the rules of an oppressive art scene. One 
> could almost forget to ask just what had changed in putting money before 
> scholarship – or whether anything had changed. Deitch already had his 
> foot in almost every other door. When William Powhida savagely mapped 
> the 2009 art world in his Relational Wall, Deitch stood at its center, a 
> link away from Saltz, Jeff Koons, and dozens of others.
> Since Deitch always scares me, this sure does, but he might be fine for 
> the job. He has art and business experience, both of which go into 
> running a museum. A Harvard MBA and a creator of Citibank's arts 
> advisory program, he gets things funded, and even his excess of 
> networking and connections may prove useful. Jeremy Strick actually ran 
> a superb museum on the score of art, just overspent on infrastructure 
> and exhibitions, a common enough recent failing. Deitch could shore up 
> MOCA's finances. While a sudden promotion from, well, promotion is 
> unprecedented, I should be the last to insist on the need for a degree 
> in art history or museum studies.
> Deitch himself insists that he always ran his gallery "like an art 
> center, with historic exhibitions where only minor things were for 
> sale." On the down side, he could become a west coast Thomas Krens -– 
> another big ego with a taste for lavish, tacky displays. His connections 
> will probably not lead to conflict of interest, or will they? He 
> vacillates on his plans for future dealings, and he even has Eli Broad 
> as a client. As for his business sense, he all but begged to lose money 
> when he opened a warehouse-scale waterfront branch in Long Island City. 
> Not that Citibank has set high standards for financial management either 
> recently.
> Scarier still, so much has not changed in putting commerce first. Think 
> of museum blockbusters or the Met's display of its wealth under Philippe 
> de Montebello. Think of the mainstreaming of P.S. 1 under MOMA or of the 
> New Museum under Lisa Phillips, once a polarizing figure herself at the 
> Whitney. Phillips is in fact just about to turn the joint over to Koons 
> and his collector, Dakis Joannou. Or maybe the whole affair is a New 
> Yorker's ploy to close Deitch Projects and restore some sanity. At the 
> very least, Powhida will now have to update Deitch's place in an evil 
> art world.
> John
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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