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: