Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Portable, Storable Collection

Bill and Hillary cookie cutters from the Clinton Library, Little Rock, AR. photos courtesy the author.

As my search for the perfect floaty pen continues I believe I have run across a new small collectible: cookie cutters.

Above are two from the Clinton Library's store in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.

I love that they have a sense of humor about eating either Clinton's head!

Saints cookie cutter, New Orleans.

The down side of this art form is that you better check the work--this cookie cutter from the French Quarter was sub-standard work.

These may be the new small collection that I try, I look forward to understanding what they mean about us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the Road Again

Hot mulled wine with pomegranate, cinnamon and star anise.

Kevin and I head out on our holiday road trip, but first, tonight, staff party at my house.

I made a new hot mulled wine recipe last night--I love digging the pomegranate seeds out, it feels very true to the season but I don't care for the streaks of red juice that I found everywhere!

Maple leaf cookies.

Happy holidays everyone, I'll write from the road!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Clue: Art World Version

Part of "Solve the Art Forgery" area at The Magic House, St. Louis.

I've been feeling pretty guilty about not going through all the images I took in Miami two weeks ago (the warm weather seems long long ago and far far away), but the image above, taken during a recent tour of The Magic House, brought me back to my senses.

The Magic House is a great, rambling children's museum run by Beth Fitzgerald and her team. I laughed out loud at a lot of the inventive elements of the Museum, particularly the art whoddunit that included a secret sliding bookshelf and a tube to slide between floors.

The panel above lays out the various suspects in a forgery case, with a CSI-type set of clues leading the kids down the path (evidently the Nanny was looking guilty to that day's kids). The signboard made me wonder: what are the "types" in the art world that are guilty, or innocent? Below are some of the types I found in Miami:

The dealer: This work by Mounir Fatmi was at Lombard-Freid Projects. I've worked with Lea and Jane over the past decade because of our common interests. I loved Fatmi's combination of Muslim prayer rugs with hip hop culture.

The jokester: Gimhongsok's bronze trash bag dog is part Jeff Koons, part mourning of the way we treat other species as throw-aways. As a Korean I assume the artist eats dog--it's on many menus there--so garbage is in the eye of the beholder.

The pioneer: Sam Durant has created numerous bodies of works that dig into influential, if deliberately neglected, episodes in American culture, such as the Black Panthers' resistance to racism in America and the colonization of this continent by white settlers. These three fallen soldiers are funny and somehow deservedly buffeted historical figures.

The entertainer: Judy Wethein's lovely video of a Colombian group singing the American national anthem with their own localized additions was charming, and sad, a little clowning bathos to sober up the frenzy of the fair.

The criminal: Need I say more?

These were but a few of the types I met at the fair.

The ones I like the best are the agitators, the artists who press us to answer questions about why we're here, what we've done and why we're not guilty.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beach Bums All

Dennis Hopper Self-Portrait with Rock and Cactus, 2010

I arrived in Miami yesterday afternoon for ArtBasel Miami. I've run into to many colleague and friends, saw some good, some mediocre work, things I will pursue down the road.

This work, however, stopped me in my tracks. I didn't get a sense of self-reflection, frankly, this felt like a Llyn Foulkes work depicting him as between a rock and a hard place, which Hopper hardly was. He passed away recently but I suspect his work will go up in value now.

Ah, the market.

We went to a great party at the Bass Museum of Art last night, the opening launch of their three year Caribbean initiative with Puma.Creative. Fantastic. A few years ago the Bass was a sleepy forgotten outlet; now, with the beautiful front entrance park that bounds Collins Avenue, I know the director and pal Silvia Cubina is going to make this place rock.

More soon.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Orleans Part II

Terrell House, New Orleans. All photos courtesy the author unless otherwise noted.

I was in New Orleans during the weekend of November 12 for the opening of Brandon Anschultz's Kranzberg series show that Laumeier Sculpture Park co-organized with the Longue Vue House and Gardens. Laumeier's director of exhibitions and collections Kim Humphries, curator of the show, and his partner Sarah Colby and I flew to New Orleans on Friday to see the show. We stayed at the Terrell House on Magazine Street--what a treat!

Brandon Anschultz work at Longue Vue. Photo courtesy Sarah Colby.

Longue Vue's director Joe Baker make the entire home available to Brandon, who made a glorious range of small sculptural interventions throughout the Stern's mansion. The video work in the living room tv cabinet was particularly hysterical; it was as if a manic maid found hair and dust just after the Stern's left the room.

Street corner in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Sarah, Kim and I spent Saturday looking at art in New Orleans. We ran into a funeral parade on Treme Street--hauntingly appropriate in light of the fabulous series on HBO. Surreal and exquisite at the same time.

Parade as it flowed down the street.

I couldn't quite read the image on the t-shirts that many of the parade followers wore, but as we tried to track them in the neighborhood, they disappeared, like the ghost of the dead child on the shirt.

Parade as they passed us by.

Saturday was also the opening of Prospect 1.5 events.

Rashaad Newsome at Good Children.

The video by Rashaad Newsome at Good Children was particularly beautiful. African American women on a stage played a call-and-response to the women on the screen, the subject of the video being responsibility. No excuses, the singers seemed to say, take responsibility. There was no information on context but the work was beautifully produced and mournful, like the afternoon parade.

Performance at The Front.

The show at The Front, across from Good Children, was equally engaging but for different reasons.

We visited another gallery but were quite disappointed by what we saw. A great accidental dinner at Dominique's capped a great weekend.

White chocolate crocodile at the N.O. airport.

When I was in New Orleans many years ago visiting a friend we went to the zoo and saw their albino crocodile. The beast looked like a creepy, haunted white asparagus, so when it raised its head to yell, it packed quite a kick. When I saw this chocolate souvenir at the airport I laughed out loud--the ghost of the crocodile returns!

New Orleans is in the throes of an artistic change, and I hope Laumeier can continue the dialogue with the city that spawned so much of contemporary St. Louis.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Future of Museums

Bookmark from Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, an AIDS-support organization in New York.

What is the future of museums? What about non-profits in general, from health care and social services to micro-loans for veterans? How will museums stack up against social organizations as the economy continues to reform itself? These are urgent questions--now where to find the answers?

I was recently accepted into the Nonprofit Services Center's Women's Leadership Academy for Executive Directors. I got notice just a week before the Academy started--evidently I'm the first arts person to participate and finding an underwriter was tough. (An aside: the Arts and Education Council will henceforth sponsor an arts leader--a great boost for our team!) Through the Women's Academy I have met a woman who started her non-profit using running to build confidence in girls and a woman who organizes small business loans for returning veterans. The group presents an impressive array of talents and passions dedicated to making the region better.

Despite the diversity of the non-profits in this year's Academy, our problems are very similar, but it's clear that we in the arts need to speak differently.

We've tried touting the uplifting, unquantifiable benefits of culture for social growth as our defense. We've tracked numbers to demonstrate our value as an education / entertainment outlet. We've generated economic impact numbers to show our contributions to society's health. What else can the arts do to defend themselves in this economy?

Director's Forum panel "Investing in Consultant: The Value of an Objective Perspective", left to right: Kevin Grogan, The Morris Museum; Lisbeth Mark, Jeanne Collins & Associates; Susan Kreeger, Real HR Solutions; Shirley Ferguson Jenks, Jenks Group; Richard W. Franklin, Exhibits Coalition.

In addition to the conversations I've been having at the Nonprofit Services Center meetings, this past week I attended a Director's Forum run by the Art Museum Partnership, based in New York. The title of the program was "Survival Strategies for the Recession-Weary Leader."

While I'm not sure the conference stuck closely to the overarching topic, and we didn't share new fund-raising secrets, I did learn some interesting / shocking things:

1. The Association of Art Museum Directors estimates that 75% of current museum directors will retire within 10 years. As a result AAMD is instituting its own training programs.

AAMD has been behind the eight ball on this; museum directors and curators from smaller organizations have turned recently to the management programs at Columbia University and the Getty to gain expertise and mentoring. I suspect the AAMD's program may cut into these existing programs as a way to keep itself relevant to the field.

2. AAMD is (finally) opening up its membership beyond 200, which made it exclusive and exclusionary, to allow organizations with budgets lower than today's floor of about $2.5 million.

What this said to me: It sounds like the AAMD recognizes a need to move into the 21st marketplace and diversify to younger leaders, women and minorities, and to consider how this next generation (myself included) will change the field. It's exciting that this group is shaking itself up to address the pressing needs seen and felt across the field. AAMD walks a fine line between support and advocacy, but they need to take a more active leadership role on behalf of all of us.

3. Many museum boards hire a search firm to replace directors, and you are only considered for such posts if you are in the head-hunter's Rolodex (this from Becky Klein of Phillips Oppenheim.) What a shock: what of America's famed meritocracy? This was the most chilling fact.

In light of the AAMD's recognition of a crisis of succession it seems that head hunters need to broaden their own practice and allow for new candidates to break into the hallowed halls of museum practice. Perhaps this explains how conservative and homogeneous large museums have become--because the candidate pool is so small?

Sign on side of van in Chelsea area.

I saw this sign while touring galleries in Chelsea with some St. Louis friends after my conference was over, and somehow the discrepancy between "perfection" and scratched signage suggests the dilemma non-profits have in today's world.

How to meet a set of standards--both your own and the community's--when funds are fleeting and fickle?
How can smaller arts organizations present world-class quality when they are barely heard above the cacophony of the marketplace? What, indeed, will we look like in 10 years when 75% of today's museum leaders retire? All compelling questions, I look forward to helping sort this out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Justice for the Margins

Yoshitomo Nara show at the Institute of Visual Arts (inova), Milwaukee, 2006. photo courtesy inova.

A friend brought this recent article in the New York Post to my attention--it's as if someone has been tracking me, like some caribou in the Arctic Circle.

New York Post "Urban Renewal", September 13, 2010

I have written about the different places I have lived over the past two decades: Seattle, Milwaukee, Phoenix and now St. Louis. (This excludes the big cities of New York and Los Angeles, but ignoring them makes the following point even more pointed.)

These housing acrobatics seem counter-intuitive to pursuing a "straight" path on a career ladder, but life isn't straight, is it?

Ragna Robertsdottir at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007. photo courtesy SMoCA.

What these cities brought me were unparalleled opportunities for professional and personal growth. How else could I have visited Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom over the past fifteen years? Displacement is an important part of shaking up your world view.

Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero mold for work on the US / Mexico border. photo courtesy F.A.R. (Future Arts Research) @ ASU.

I'm thinking about displacement because of an event last night. I was part of a celebration of the University of Missouri-St. Louis' Ferring Art and Art History Travel Program (named for Alison and John Ferring, two of the city's best philanthropists), held at William Shearburn Gallery in the Central West End.

The event, founded by Dr. Susan Cahan formerly of UMSL, gives 10 or so students free trips to art centers around the country. Susan left in 2009 to work at Yale, and I have taken over the program in her absence. Last March I took the group to New York. I worked them to the bone for four full days--that was my goal!

At Shearburn Gallery last night, three of the 12 students talked about their experiences in NY and how it challenged them and changed them.

Ahmet Ogut work produced in PHX and part of my up-coming show with Ogut at Laumeier Sculpture Park. photo courtesy the artist, Amsterdam.

It was a pleasure to hear, again, the impact the trip had on the students. I thought about the first time I set foot in New York--I emerged from the subway to see a collapsed crane strapped against the side of a skyscraper (the trigger to my dislike of cranes on buildings). I know the Ferring trip could play the same life-changing role.

Since good art is everywhere, what is important for an arts career is knowing what is happening elsewhere. Sure, you can just be interested just in what's happening on your block, but I'm more interested in the expansive mind, not the small one. Think small and big!

I am gearing up to organize the 2011 Ferring trip, we'll likely go to New York again because of the density of the experience. And for those students who have never been on a plane or out of St. Louis, watch out, a growth spurt is coming!

This is the great part about teaching--the change is immediately apparent. Yet part of the goal for the students when they return is to figure out how to contribute to making St. Louis vibrant by seeing the energy of other places.

Again, travel is a great teacher in the appreciation of self and others.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Muscular Abstraction

Donald Judd Untitled, 1984. Photo: Mike Venso, courtesy Laumeier Sculpture Park

Much of the collection at Laumeier Sculpture Park is minimal, geometric, abstract. This is a function of the era of our founding, of course, and likely the taste of many of the patrons who contributed works or paid for purchases.

Yet muscular abstraction is also a function of the history of our place. St. Louis was not just a gateway to the west, it was a hard-working, hard-polluting, hard metal kind of town, where steamboats and cross-country travelers could gird up for their trip out west. Our landscape is still scattered with lead mines (and salt mines) that helped fuel travel throughout the booming 19th century.

Richard Serra, Twain, 1982. Photo from St. Louis Art Map

The much-maligned Twain, by Richard Serra, in downtown St. Louis, caused an uproar. The process of putting art in the public realm took the biggest hit, but the conversation around art took another. What is it about the work that created so much hatred? Is it because Serra's hard-edged work undermined the fluffy city-building happening around it? Is it because Serra's work made the bad architecture downtown seem that much worse? Is it because Serra reminded people of its now-disappeared working-class roots?

Flood gates, Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. Photo by the author

The best piece of muscular public sculpture I've seen recently is this flood door, near the ferry landing at Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. The enormous doors hardly seem sufficient to keep out the kind of deluge that has happened here over time--Ste. Genevieve had to move from its original position at the water's edge in the late 18th century--but I'm sure they've worked out the technology.

This piece of public art is a reminder of the area's lifeline, but it is hidden away from the tourists to this hard-scrabble town and its examples of French Colonial architecture.

Sculpture is best when it reminds us of what and who we are. The Judd, above, reminds me of the primitive boxes of so much human habitation over time; the Serra, the complex forms that humans can make in the city.

The flood doors remind me simply that Mother Nature is the basis for everything we can and will ever do.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Aesthetics of Ink

Bavarian floaty pen. photo courtesy the author.

Many years ago my friend Diane showed me a part of her floaty pen collection. I was charmed--a collection that is affordable, portable and storable by the average person!

I began collecting floaty pens for her when I traveled, and have become an afficionado of the genre. I've mentioned this to other people who began bringing them to me, so now that I've got a mini-collection (20 against Diane's 200+), I buy two wherever I go.

During one trip to Denmark for an IKT conference several years ago, Diane charged me with buying up to $100 worth of pens at one of the two big floaty pen factories in Europe (the other is in Italy), but I never got out of Copenhagen for the a shopping spree. Too bad. When you start looking at the pens you can tell which are better made. It's all part of the aesthetic.

There are several styles of floaty pens, the predominate one being a tourist kchothke like the one from Bavaria, above. This includes Dutch on bicycles, Finns ski jumping, bluebirds underneath the St. Louis arch. I get it, but it's not that interesting.

Some pens evidence a sense of humor, but these are harder to find. The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas (which recently closed) had a floaty pen of hands moving across the keyboard. I would have liked one of Liberace dressed in some frou frou feather coat with air blowing it up to reveal--what? In any case, I now judge an institution or organizations' sense of humor, or lack thereof, based on their floaty pen.

Mustachioed Mt. Rushmore.

A floaty pen with a sense of humor includes the Mt. Rushmore mustache pen, above, although this is not the "official" pen of the historic site. It seems there is a new breed of entrepreneur who is producing these pens and having a good time doing it!

The best pen I've ever seen is one in Diane's collection. A cow moves slowly into a barn, placed at the mid-point of the glass capsule of the floaty pen, and comes out a hamburger on the other side. Now that's aesthetic transformation! Droll commentary on industrial farming? All-in-all, this is the one pen that sets the design standards for them all.

Kevin thinks my adopted floaty-pen obsession is a scam--for whom, me or Diane? We both are getting them for free. In either case we both get to imagine other places and experiences through the pens that make the way back into our lives. This, ultimately, is why people collect anything at all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Aesthetics of Alcohol

Pabst Brewery c. 1850s. all pictures courtesy the author.

It seems that beer is a common element in my blog posts recently, a function of where I live, not what I imbibe.

After a recent tour to the Annheiser-Busch brewery in St. Louis with Diane, I've been thinking about the disappearing aesthetics of the German beer-making traditions in the Midwest.

Last night, after the terrible movie Agora, Kevin and I went over to a bar recently opened up in the Pabst Brewery complex in downtown Milwaukee.

I found a few funny pictures in the photo album laid out on the bar. I love the unpaved streets and horse-drawn carriages in the picture above.

Shuttered distribution building.

This is what the area looks like now. I prefer the lack of paving to this dumpy view.

The bar was opened in the former gift shop, with a few lovely courtyards open for outdoor drinking. The Blue Ribbon Hall had rows of heavy wooden tables laid out--they've recuperated some of the beer hall aesthetic.

Blue Ribbon Hall, partially reconditioned.

The bartender gave us a flyer for a play to be held in this space in early September. The play, presented by the Damned Theatre, is "A Rising Wind: The Sinking of the Lady Elgin", written by Edward Morgan and John Kishline. The sinking of the Elgin shifted the ethnic population of Milwaukee from Irish to German (but I'm sure the Italians benefited from it too!). I wouldn't say that the Pabst people understand the interesting social aspects of this, to them it's likely a rental, but still, I love the merging of art with such an historic place.

Blue Ribbon Hall fresco.

Around the walls of the Blue Ribbon Hall and the smaller private drinking room are grisaille (well, mostly blue and red, the Pabst colors) frescoes by the Chicago artist Edgar Miller.

Private drinking room.

The octagonal shape made me think of the Knights of the Round Table, only with a glaring fluorescent fixture ruining the atmosphere.

Ten disciplines of beer.

You can find murals in many of the well-known German places in town--from Usinger's Sausage to Von Trier's Tavern--and they vary in quality and imagination. I liked how these drew aesthetic reference from illustrated medieval manuscripts.

Beer was, before the 20th century, seen as much as a good calorie source to stave off starvation as it was drink. But perhaps this fresco goes a little far in visually equating beer consumption with The Last Supper? At least there are only 10 in the scene, not 12.

Groucho Marx at the brewery.

The Pabst Brewery closed in 1997 when corporate headquarters moved to San Antonio, Texas.

The aesthetics of place surely impacted what Pabst presented to the world. As corporations change shift to take advantage of tax laws, they lose the texture and authenticity so valued by consumers of today's disembodied world.

Dusk on a rainy Sunday night in Pabst alley.

This area at night is absolutely desolate. No homeless, no kids, no sketchy acts, just a long-neglected part of the city's history tossed aside. Given the great investments being made in reviving this kind of space, I suspect the aesthetics of beer will see a renaissance soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Start of School

UMSL office chair. All images courtesy the author.

In addition to my duties at Laumeier Sculpture Park, I am the Aronson Endowed Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

This semester I am teaching a 4393 course, "Art Museum and Gallery Management", to an all-female class of art history, design and liberal arts majors.

Re-reading the readings.

I've taught a lot over the years, but never such a sustained, focused course as this. I have a lot of material in hand that has influenced me, but this has been an extraordinary chance to review why I am where I sit. (In orange, evidently.)

What most strikes me is that I never stop learning--I read constantly, I have a stack of eight books waiting for me (well, they are mostly summer reading, but still!). How do I get through all the things I want to read?

Luckily, the smart Aronsons (Judy and Adam) stipulated an endowment at UMSL that supports my work at both Laumeier and UMSL. I did a small book shopping spree on amazon yesterday to get the students more up-dated materials.

This is my dream: to be paid to think about art.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Continued aesthetics of the road

Inside the locked bathroom, trying to get out. All pictures courtesy the author.

After a rather funny start to the weekend (it was the modern lock not the old door that was the problem), Kevin and I had a trip road trip to Waupaca with pals Diane and John, Mary Louise and Ken.

It's not so often we adults take this kind of trip with friends, and despite the brief trip (two hours each way compared to four days one way when I moved to St. Louis with Mary Louise as the navigator), we still had a great time.

Navigational tools.

We had Google Map directions, several iphones and a gps, but the old-fashioned Gazeteer still ruled the day on the smaller country roads (where county road BB meets the KK, by the herd of black cattle.) Diane won the round!

Welcome to the inn.

Mary Louise booked us into a charming inn, which used to be an enormous working orchard, now with about seven acres of land and glorious river frontage.

Big old hollow, yet still producing, apple tree with a ladder supporting its tired arm.

We had dinner at Simpson's, a local supper club, and given the hour, we returned to the inn to yak and enjoy our time together (while avoiding an amazing gully washer of a storm).

Ken, John, Diane (with bug spray and camera) and Kevin walking down to the lovely Chrystal River.

Diane and I saw a huge heron taking off from its hiding place at the lagoon during our pre-breakfast walk (what a feast we were for mosquitoes), and later ran into a doe, whose path we were clearly blocking.

Diane at corn stand.

We stopped for corn and a few other vegetables--the corn was chewy, evidently, but it had integrity.

What a great set of visuals from yet another great trip down some back roads.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Poor Farm ahoy!

The Poor Farm, friends out front. All pictures by the author.

I spent the last weekend of my Milwaukee vacation with partner Kevin J. Miyazaki (see his blog post), friends Mary Louise Schumacher (her post) and Diane Bacha (her blog), Ken Hanson and John Koethe up in the Waupaca, Wisconsin area to attend the opening weekend of The Poor Farm, an art / educational laboratory by Chicago-based artists Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam.

The three floors (and several projects outside, which I didn't see because of the frightful mosquito quotient) featured a series of artist projects, poetic meditations and mini-surveys of the work of Moira Roth, a much-honored art historian who has chronicled and participated in the feverish events of the American avant garde since the 1960s.

Michelle Grabner and Moira Roth, with knitting chair by Modesto Covarrubias, The Knitter, 2007-2010, behind.

We were lucky to walk through the spaces with Moira to understand the conceptual rooms of her mind and career, seeing how the seemingly-disparate artist projects reflected a disciplined and curious art historian's work.

Poems by Moira Roth, pictures by Slobodan Dan Paich.

I had most recently read Moira's work when doing a project with Nancy Spero, but hers is a career that has influenced countless generations of artists and art historians looking to make sense of the world through art.

History room.

One of the recently cleaned-up upstairs rooms of the 8,000 square foot former farm for the indigent (then a retirement home) housed a set of overlapping, intertwined history that feminist historians like Roth brought to legitimacy in the arts.

Books and texts focused on the 80th birthday of African-American artist Faith Ringgold; documents by Mary Jane Jacob and Russell Lewis on the Women's Building in Chicago, 1893; 19th century African-American history ranging from the tale of escaped slave Caroline Quarlls (who took the underground railroad to Wisconsin, a free state) to W.E.B. Du Bois; to a scattering of documents on the history of Native Americans in Wisconsin.

Roth, Jacobs and Linda Nochlin (who wrote a lovely poem about not being able to make it to Waupaca), are pioneers in a multi-layered multiculturalism which is at the heart of my curatorial practice.

The quiet, meditative quality of the weekend was underscored by the pleasure of lounging around outside drinking Veuve Cliquot and talking with really smart artists, art historians, poets and designers. Wisconsin is a great laboratory these days.