Monday, October 18, 2010

Fun with Academentia: Ph.D. Comics

I am headed to Europe for a nerdolicious conference so this refresher on academese is super helpful. Although I am already a model minority junior professor, the situations in this hilarious series of cartoons on the Ph.D. experience still ring true. There is always the hope that I might meet another equally nerdy colleague for some romance --especially since this conference is in a discipline not overwhelmingly populated with over-educated neurotic fashionista artsy females ie. NOT art history. Also, I am out of NY, that quagmire for single women of a certain age. Then I can emulate my friends who all have long-distance affairs/marriages with exotic foreign men, although my last attempt at this arrangement left me heart-broken but with greater insight into #gametheory. Looking on the bright side, such shandisimos are material for the eventual fictional chronicle or telenovela and I can #dreamon

Monday, October 4, 2010

Problems in Philosophy by Amy Sillman (2010)

Just a couple of days ago I was kvetching with a colleague about how to incorporate aesthetics and philosophy into teaching. He was talking about philosophy of beauty and showing his class Snooki as an example of what one writer would regard as the anti-beauty par excellence, I suggested showing The Situation with the Apollo Belvedere. Once a friend showed Madonna's "Like a Prayer" with Bernini's "St. Teresa in Ecstasy." Nerds' sense of humor can be rather opaque but hey, it is sometimes an antidote to academentia. Meanwhile, for the past two years, I see game theory in every situation, which can be quite debilitating. I'd rather watch "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What do Phillipe Segalot and Danielle Staub Have in Common?

Photo by Beatrice de Gea for The New York Times

I just finished Carol Vogel's "Auction World's Blast of Brash" and I know that I should not get worked up about this because I have better things to do, I should not expect anything more, and I have called her columns the New York "artworld" version of PRAVDA. Hewing to the party line, they often read like summaries of press-releases. The fawning profile of dealer/collector/auctioneer/curator-type Philippe Segalot is not a departure from that tone. There are so many things that annoyed me while reading the article that I will limit myself to a telegraphic series of observations.

It seems perverse to introduce this person by presenting him as some kind of "brash" outsider who acts almost as a performance artist would at an art fair, yet is in fact the ultimate insider operating to ensure buyers first dibs at Basel.

It is telling that Vogel seems to think that he seems to blur the lines between auctions and museum/art fair/biennial special events (Think Pink party) and that his actions are an instance of the a recent trend to assume the cultural authority of museum curators. This strategy is used to attempt to distance art sales from the taint of crass commercialism (Olav Velthuis's Talking Prices is useful to read as is Isabelle Gaw's High Price) by presenting "curated" gallery shows, art fair exhibitions, and auctions. As many have observed, what this type of operation attempts to achieve is to endow these events with an aura of objective discernment, distinction, and canonical inevitability.

An inadvertent moment of hilarity, for me anyway, was Vogel's extensive discussion of Segalot's grooming, particularly his mane of blow dried hair. (hideous Eurotrash styling but that's only my opinion) Perhaps here Vogel is allowing herself a bit of subversive humor, mocking the apparently vain fashionista by interspersing her breathless description of his style with detailed description of starstylist Fekkai's manipulation of asynthetic/real hair weave for a Maurizio Cattelan sculpture of ex-supermodel --now star in the most delicious and dirty divorce battle-- Stephanie Seymour.

At one point, she makes an aside to mention that an (unidentified!) "reporter" attempted to fact-check a story presumably by pulling Segalot's hair to verify that it is real. Here, the revolting practices of the elitist provincial NY "artworld" intersect with the equally revolting but more entertaining practices of reality TV exhibitionism, as anyone who like me watches The Real Housewives of New Jersey will note. This is because the climax of the last season's conflict was an incident when the daughter of one of the housewives yanked at the (apparently cheap) weave of another, leading to criminal proceedings. If you want to know more about RHONJ's "Weavegate" see

Speaking of hair, the description of the Seymour sculpture is tailor-made for an Intro to Feminism or Women, Art and Power class:
"Stephanie is the ultimate fantasy," Mr. Segalot said recently...And Cattelan's description of the work "I wanted other men to be able to share her." (of course this is in line with centuries of tradition in portraits of women, such as princesses available for marriage alliances shopped around to willing monarchs). What I love about the whole article is the subtext that this is a world run by men for men where women are saleable accessories to the action/auction. It is fitting that according to Vogel the other prominent work for sale is Warhol's portrait of Liz Taylor "Men in Her Life" which dates from a period "whe she was between husbands." Much like these works are between owners, between auction and art exhibition.

Finally, Vogel's passing aside describing the works in Segalot's chic apartment, which she mentions are by artists also in the sale raised some Art Market Ethics 101 alarms. According to Vogel Segalot launched now trophy artists into the auction market, he collects the same artists, we do not know the provenance of the objects as is often the case with auctions, we do not know who ends up buying many of them, Segalot's own collection increases in value, obviously, with these transactions as the sale prices increase.

Vogel's article here:

The Grand Tour: SP Biennial Edition (for F.,G., and J.)

El alma nunca piensa sin imagen / The soul never thinks without images by Roberto Jacoby

This year's Sao Paulo Biennial has "politics" as its curatorial theme - the "politics of art." Stop. Right. There. Politics as a theme is exactly what should raise a big red flag. More than once, I have reflected on my own bad conscience as a drive-by eyewitness to self-congratulatory so-called artworld events that claim to raise awareness about political struggles just by merely flying there (on almost 1K flights, wearing chic ensembles). [see below for the link to my blog and the search term biennial for some of my sarcastic reflections as a newbie to the Venice Biennial event] I have never been able to afford to to go the second oldest Biennial, in Sao Paulo, so I have to console myself by hearing friends' stories, struggling with Portuguese newspaper articles and the provincial NY artworld's version of HOLA! the artforum diary. (for that, see

It's interesting to note that the chronicler of this year's opening
notes controversies surrounding two works but ignores the most prominent artistic debate which arose from a proposal by Roberto Jacoby, who intended to give his space in the show over to political campaigning for one of the Brazilian presidential candidates, Lula da Silva's chosen successor and frontrunner Dilma Rousseff (he does not say this, but Brazilians are going to the polls as I write this but was prevented from doing so. The writer does note that NY powerbroker Gavin Brown saw soccer superstar Ronaldo in an elevator, and records other art celeb sightings and the beautiful tropical landscaping and drinks available in Sao Paulo and other cultural centers in Brazil.

As I said, I was not there and cannot therefore make a judgement either way, from what I have read the situation raises various questions. In order to understand the basic facts, one would need to know:
-did the artist know that it was apparently not legal to undertake political campaigning in museums/cultural spaces that receive state funding based on Brazilian electoral law?
- did the curators know that the artist was going to present this type of project beforehand?
Depending on those answers, one may draw very diverse opinions about responsibilities in this particular case.

This controversy and the facts surrounding it (which may never be fully known) aside, the story lends itself to thinking about the dynamics of biennial culture now. It might seem that the artist was creating a situation that he suspected would result in censorship in order to push the boundaries of the biennial and its curatorial rhetoric to their limits, what is the difference between the thematics of politics and actual politics as lived on the street, what are the stakes? This type of question is one many of us ask in contrast to what seems like the aestheticization of politics in biennial culture, which thematizes immigration, liminality, globalization, the glocal, the situation in urban megalopolises, or the alleged relation between art and life. This is quite different from the breathless descriptions of the origins of starcurators or artists such as So-and-so: lives BETWEEN Bangkok-New York-Dakar-Aspen, you get the picture. The latter amuses as it reminds me of those elegant - tacky spreads that usually appear in HOLA or HELLO featuring the homes of Eurotrash former aristocrats and the like that describe their life-style as: X-Duke of X shares with us their Swiss Chalet style summer home in Punta Cana, s/he lives between Punta Cana, Paris, Luang Prabang, and New York. And as an aside those homes are quite electically "global chic." So the Baroness Thyssen will have a Thai style villa outside of Madrid, or another home owned by Oscar de la Renta in Punta Cana will be decorated in a potpurri of Chinosierie, US Colonial/Preppy/Hampstons style, and Palladian architecture.

typical photo that appears in magazines like HOLA (this is the interior of Donald Trump's understated minimalist and elegant NY apartment)

In some biennial cases "relational aesthetics" may become a curatorial pose or canon that allows elites to present themselves as cultural brokers and perhaps in some cases as native informants too (for the latter see who can bridge the gap between artists, cultural workers, (rich collectors, gallerists, critics), and the people (whatever that means) through seemingly utopian projects that "activate" formerly isolated or depressed sectors of urban centers or non-urban areas (tourism, gentrification). And as such "relational curating" becomes a kind of Academy, repeated at endless venues, ever more allegedly remote, a new Grand Tour, Jacoby's thwarted project, intended to insert the dynamics of electoral propaganda within a biennial, with campaigners, posters, and fliers, can lead us to consider the problems posed by our current system's conditions, contradictions, and efforts to over-compensate for our collective bad conscience.

And by the way, the more I read the term "glocal" (which if I understand it correctly refers to the complex intersection between specific ways of life and the incursions of global capital throughout the world, the ways in which immigration, globalization, the survival of local attitudes and traits coexist in the developing and so-called developed areas of the world) it makes me think of something different. If the provincial local "artworld" of New York (as Paulo Herkenhoff once referred to it at a conference at MoMA) is conflated with THE "artworld" then its movement via biennials and other events to ever-expanding areas of the world becomes a kind of grafting of this particular point of view onto a global stage, a local pretending to be global.

For information on the Jacoby project including pictures of the installation, its appearance after it was covered over, and video, see:

For my past posts on the biennial phenomenon, the biennial as the so-called artworld's Miss Universe, Epcot Center, World Cup, the links between Work of Art and the World Cup, and much more.....see:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Buleria del Dia

Pasaran rios de pena y lloraran
Que estamos hechos para llorar
Pa´ no mentirme no digas na
Pasaran de dos mentiras una verdad
Que las palabras me duelen mas
Pa no mentirme no digas na
Buscaran el hilo negro para bordar
Y a las mentiras un cachito de verdad

Vente al sur, donde quieras si quieres …

Entre rincones los callejones se cerraban
Se abren del paso de las calles que mojadas
Del rocio de la noche…

Puerto Ricans In Limbo (again and again and again....)

At the end of this month, people born in the US Territory (Colony) will cease to exist -administratively-it may be argued that they already do not exist in the minds of the average fellow US citizen including US politicians. Obama came down to the Island to campaign against Clinton in the Democratic primaries because perversely Puerto Ricans residing on the Island may vote in primaries -but not elect the President. This is one of many bizarre laws that govern the small island's fraught relationship with the US which began as a result of Spain's loss to the the former in 1898, when the Americans occupied and stayed. Notwithstanding the 1953 declaration of limited self-government and the euphemistic "territorial" or "commonwealth" status, what exists is, as I have written here before, a two-tiered system of citizenship, in which those living on the Island are disenfranchised in contrast to those living in the 50 states. There are almost 8 million Puerto Ricans, of which the majority now live Stateside. And they are the second largest "Hispanic" group, after Mexicans.

Islanders' and residents of the states (the so-called "Mainland") are now back on level territory - the birth certificates that entitle them to the US passports coveted by many - and the only passports to which they have since there is no such thing as a Puerto Rican passport - will become null and void at the end of October. In order to obtain them, one must go make a cue at a US Post Office in order to obtain a Money Order that is needed to purchase a new birth certificate. This transaction may take months, possibly the reason that the deadline to become non-persons was extended from July to October. The clock is ticking for the possibly unprecedented legal/existential situation in which approximately EIGHT MILLION people are suddenly to disappear administratively speaking. Floating in an administrative limbo, those needing this proof of existence, the prosaic birth certificate, will be unable to carry out transactions relating to social services, marriages, and the like. Housing, food stamps, school matriculations? You will have to wait (keep in mind that according to some surveys, at least half the population of the Island lives in poverty).

Why is this happening? In the midst-of anti-undocumented immigrant hysteria, it came to the attention of the Bush Administration (and Obama, who apparently has decided to disregard his many demagogic campaign promises instead pursuing policies mimetic with the previous government of the US) that some residents of other countries, such as the Dominican Republic, may have been "passing" for Puerto Ricans in order to obtain US passports. This means that suddenly this Island that seems to be a burden to many members of the US Congress (read the revealing debates in the Congressional Record on the endless plebiscites proposed to resolve the status of the Island vis a vis the US) now poses the problem that it is comprised of porous borders. Unlike they are able to do Stateside, they can't build walls patrolled by Homeland Security forces assisted by members of fascist militias. So the easiest way to invalidate the results of alleged passport fraud was to reissue all birth certificates issued to people born on the Island. Could they have not found other ways of verifying the information?

In any case, the result of this, as my sister pointed out, is that Puerto Ricans must carry out onerous burocratic transactions that in effect coerce them to deal with the US government administration (Post Office) to willingly participate and reenact their status as colonized subjects of this country. Seeking validation of their (literal) existence that only reaffirms their (nonexistence) as Puerto Rican citizens of a non-existent country.