Friday, February 11, 2011

A Gathering of Nerds: #CAA2011

Gruesome detail of Hilton interior. (and note the sensible black pumps, clearly a Renaissance or Baroque scholar)

It's that time again when sufferers of academentia descend on the garish post-mid-century-modern behemoth that is the 53rd Street Hilton like the flock of doomed blackbirds careening to their death in Arkansas. Indeed, among the overheard comments I noted while sashaying past a hallway was "Art history is in crisis." (this turned out to be among the attention-grabbing session titles that I look forward to each year) and at a panel, "only 13% of teaching jobs in the Humanities are tenure-track." Since thankfully, I happen to be among those academics that are as rare as a camel that can pass through the eye of a needle (ie. I am not looking for a job), I'm largely skipping the conference.

Let me cut the suspense short, here are my nominees for Best CAA Session Titles 2011:
Against Acknowledgment: Sexuality and the Instrumentalization of Knowledge
Recurating: New Practices in Exhibition Making
Interdependent Identity: Paradigm and Paradox in Contemporary Israeli and Palestinian Art
The Art of Pranks
Creating the Queer Diaspora
Dark Matter of the Art World
Will You Friend Me? Social Media Possibilities, Responsibilities and Challenges in Art Administration and Teaching

So this contest is not as fun as Toddlers & Tiaras, one of my antidotes against academentia, but it's fodder for snark and knowing sideyes among nerds such as myself (not that I am exempted from coining similar verbiage). However, my peeps in language departments always top me with their list of the MLA best of (see it here: ) In any case, I particularly adore it when academics try to come up with "sexy" titles (particularly since I have been toiling to find one for my book since probably Y2K, oy). I also love when we nerds try to over-analyze things like social media, or deploy alliteration to draw out a barrage of theory-speak. Good times.

I was as usual underwhelmed by the fashion, and as I was tweeted from on site, it consisted of a lot of severe haircuts (guilty) and eyeglasses (guilty), black clothing, the latter sometimes adorned with a particularly aggressive geometric/ethnic/or brightly-hued item of jewelry (on women). I did see one attendee rocking a neo-Boy George look featuring a fierce white fur in a very 1980s cut, rocked with leggings, short lace up boots and topped by a bowler style hat. Props. (above) Some out-of-NYC-based peeps noted that CAA features "better-dressed" people when held in NY. I am not so sure.

My favorite things besides the fashion runway and the session titles is (no, not the lukewarm Starbuck's coffee) the book fair. This year, as one doom-saying colleague pointed out, it was comprised mainly of art supplies rather than recondite and costly art history publications. I did a drive by so I will report later on the trends for the year. Based on perusal of book editorial catalogues, it seems like relational art, South Asian art, global art history, fashion, and propaganda are hot topics (some of these are among my favorite subjects). In one pamphlet I noted that there is one section headed simply "James Elkins." This man produces new books as frequently as Kim Kardashian changes short skintight low cut dresses and Laobutins. How does he do it? Does he never sleep? I imagine a Fordist plant in which thousands of drone art history doctoral student research assistants toil over iMacs, microfilms, and manuscripts.

For 2009 bulletins see:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Modest Proposal for a New BRAVO Reality TV Show: Starcurator: The Next Great Celebrity

Some of the artworld twitterers I follow were recently mentioning a new reality TV show about gallerinas, which sounds absolutely thrilling. But I had been discussing the possibility of another spin-off with a friend suffering from #academentia PTSD: a "Starcurator" contest similar to The Apprentice but way more chic, insiderish, elitist, glamorous, cosmopolitan and well, cooler. Following is our modest proposal.

Andy Cohen, are you listening? Because I have an idea for your next BRAVO art-related reality TV show. Yes, Work of Art is provocative and gets the twitterati worked up. But what about looking at this from the OTHER side? Do you read E-FLUX, artforumdiary? It arguably rivals Andre Leon Talley's column in VOGUE and The New York Times Style section. The Starcurators are where it's at! Glamorous and globe-trotting, they smoke cigars with Thomas Krens in Venetian Palazzos, loiter in hot tubs created by artists in Japan, stay in 5-star hotels or stylish apartments, organize back to the land trips to "exotic" locales where brand-name artists create site-specific projects, and rack up frequent flier miles and 5-star restaurant tips for their friends.

Like the star-artists they promote, they live BETWEEN places, for example, STARCURATOR X, lives between New York, Ulan Bator, and Cleveland. They move around the world (or the provincial allegedly global or glocal artworld) with the same collectors, gallerists, critics, museum bigwigs, and cosmopolitan artists, curating shows about the glocal, immigration, displacement, and urbanization. They travel via the business class preferred boarding lane, with multiple passports. Their innumerable biennials thematizing poverty and displacement may be supported by local business and (often corrupt) governments for their tourist boosting and gentrification potential.

This has all of the elements of a fabulous reality TV show. As you have done in the past, Andy, you may create a brilliant melange of other reality TV formats to create an exciting and riveting new program. For example:

Top Chef and Bizarre Foods - watch starcurators eat meals served by Rikrit Tiravanja and Ferran Adria in a Palapa somewhere in Costa Rica!

The Rachel Zoe Project
- watch Starcurators select clothes loaned to them by art collector Miuccia Prada! Or, watch Starcurators buy Longchamp travel totes at Duty Free in Cape Town!

The Apprentice
-watch Starcurators rephrase the same project in a new way, and find the money to do it in less than 3 months!
-watch Starcurators hold 4 visiting professor positions, 1 adjunct curator post, at least one "director" of a biennial project, and direct a museum - at once!

Globe Trekker/Survivor
- watch Starcurators go on a guided tour of a Rio de Janeiro favela with billionaire museum trustees!
-watch starcurators engage in a months-long dispute about who has the "right" to curate non-Western artists only instead of doing this in theory-heavy periodicals, make then engage in a challenge face-to-face!
-watch Starcurators attempt to live on lukewarm paninis, cold Illy lattes, Champagne, Chinese cigarettes, and no sleep for 4 days in a bienale (the women's challenge: doing this in Manolos); note: you can go for glamorous luxury destinations like Venice or more off the beaten track locales like San Juan (if they ever revive their Poly-Graphic Triennial)

The Twist
- force Starcurators to work with locally-based artists (ie. not Kara Walker, Emily Jacir, Dan Perjovschi, or William Kentridge)
-force Starcurators to sit through one of Hans Ulrich Obrist's marathon Hugo Chavez/Bernie Saunders/Fidel Castro-length interviews/lectures/events/performances
-appoint artists from the "developing" world to select the Starcurators in an exciting reversal!
-force Starcurators to live like the locals instead of staying at swank 5-star or faux minimalist-spa-sustainable living hotels in "developing" nations where alternative biennials are held
-force Starcurators to organize shows around themes NOT related to globalization, migration, urban experiences, or Relational Aesthetics
-appoint resentful overworked overeducated academics who make a living teaching as judges (but not those that are also Starcurators, an important distinction)
-appoint famous collectors/gallerists from New York City to select the Starcurators
-appoint critics based in New York City as judges
-appoint auctioneers as judges

The Prizes
-Starcurator is hired by billionaire collector, in exchange they get to act as consultant to them with paid trips to buy works
-maybe you can reprise your Brooklyn Museum tie-in and get Pollock-Krasner or McCarthur to give the Starcurator a grant or ask Bellagio to grant them a residency
-Starcurator recieves a work of art by emerging artist they chose only if you can organize a tie-in to get MoMA or another museum to purchase one as well, so that the market-value goes up
-apartment or home in "exotic" location of Starcurator's choice (exception: New York)
-"Visiting Professor" position at Curatorial Studies/Contemporary Theory program which entails teaching one seminar a year with no committee work or advising, a huge salary, and the ability to fly in for a few weeks a year while living in an "exotic" location of their choice for the rest of the year
-Starcurator receives a wardrobe and nerdy glasses by a designer such as Prada; or (in the rare case that the winner does not need glasses) a wardrobe by Jill Sander, Miyake, or Marc Jacobs