Whitehot’s Top 10 Book Reviews
By Jill Conner
A friend of mine once remarked that commodity trading is one of the most shady sides of the stock market. My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic captures the long confession of an ad-man who became one of the most influential art collectors in the late 20th and 21st century. Spoiler alert: Saatchi offers no apologies, nor does he seek any kind of personal relationships with artists whose work he collects. He responds to the accusation that he is to blame for blighting the careers of Sean Scully and Sandro Chia, but he also finds a number of faults with the quality of art that is now emerging from British art schools: “[The art schools] have to take on too many students from abroad with poor skills but rich parents who can afford higher fees for overseas students…In the era that created the YBAs, a brilliant crop of students came together with a wonderful group of teachers and that union created something memorable.” Read on for more about his take on the rise of artist celebrities and that mysterious warehouse fire.
Art School: Propositions for the 21st Century brings up the questionable long-term value of art education at institutions of higher learning. If the Saatchi interview says anything, it’s the fact that a degree in art has become short of laughable. Steven Madoff, editor of this fine essay collection, attempts to undress the spectacle in order to identify the true nature and purpose of a fine arts degree. Our current culture of mass information sets up a compelling context. However in the end, art education needs to separate itself from the star system. Brian Sholis designed the format of interview questions that a handful of significant artists and scholars completed for publication. But since some of those artists found success in the art market within the last ten years, their answers are biased and somewhat detached from present reality.
Die Kunst, das Geld und die Krise [Art, Money and Crisis] is a small book of collected essays by Andreas Beyer, Daniel Birnbaum, Chris Dercon, Thomas Girst, Holger Liebs and Beat Wyss. If there was ever a group waiting to claim the backlash of the art market boom, these guys are it. Liebs opens the book with a fictional timeline that begins in November 2009 and ends sometime in 2010. But in each case, the authors detail the close relationship that contemporary art has had to money and entertainment. Philanthropy in art is not a negative but investor speculation is. Wyss’ essay “Profit ohne Arbeit,” [“Profit without Work”] hits the nail on the head and exposes the anti-intellectual banality that has saturated art schools, artist studios and galleries throughout the last ten years.
(Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter Koenig, 2009)
HYPE! Kunst und Geld [HYPE! Art and Money] by Piroschka Dossi was first published in 2007 and has seen countless reprints since. Many of the art critics in New York City are referenced repeatedly in a chapter about collectors, pointing out the overwhelming influence writers have had in setting trends of who was hot and who was not, much like Clement Greenberg years before. Dossi claims that everyone and everything was for sale. But why? Did the art profession suddenly offer cushy retirement packages to those in the industry? Most interesting is Dossi’s identification of the love-triangle that existed between the media, museums and the market.
The beat of American mid-century culture is touring Europe through the retrospective, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting. The lean catalogue for this exhibition captures Ruscha’s shiny, smooth branding of America’s thoughts, ideals and hopes. After seeing Jasper Johns “Target with Four Faces” (1955) in 1957, Ruscha connected American identity with corporate logos and the gross domestic product that flourished in the Postwar era. This retrospective also explores the close connection that Ruscha’s work has had to advertisement aesthetics, ranging from the never-ending horizontal line that either extends into the background or runs across the foreground, framing letters that spell both names and ideas. “Fifty Years of Painting,” is currently on view at the Haus der Kunst, Munich until May 2nd and will re-open at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm on May 29, 2010.
(Hayward Publishing, 2009)
Boris Groys’ Einfuhrung in die Anti-Philosophie [An Introduction to Anti-Philosophy] reconsiders the work of philosophers such as Søren Kirkegaard, Martin Heidegger and Walter Benjamin along with more recent thinkers such as Clement Greenberg, Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Derrida. Groys claims that philosophy is a method of critique that seeks to define truth through reason. However he makes a convincing case that truth has become a product that continues to inspire artists who attempt to make objects that signify truth. The only irony is that truth is something experienced rather than owned. Groys suggests that truth is more closely connected to natural order, rather than logic and reason.
(Edition Akzente Hanser, 2009)
Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction by Caleb Kelly presents an overview of the destruction of organized audio as a global movement: “The image of the performer bent over newly released audio technology, or alternatively, over beaten up domestic hi-fi equipment, producing an array of noises at extreme volume or at palpable near silence, was a regular part of many experimental music performances.” Four chapters describe noise as a liberating force within sound. Touching upon Nam Jun Paik’s early work with music, this book considers the utility of the audio glitch and explores how these developments fit into the scope of everyday life.
Sound was initially identified as an art medium in the mid-1950s by Iannis Xenakis, who worked as an architect in the atelier of Le Corbusier from 1947 to 1959. Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary by Ivan Hewett, Sharon Kanach, Carey Lovelace and Mahki Xenakis presents the life and work of this strongly influential figure who has since been displaced from the current dialogue of experimental, contemporary art. Xenakis is most known for his use of advanced mathematics to organize sound compositions. This elaborate, logical method first appeared as a series of drawings that clearly anticipated the linear movement of sound as it traveled through interior space. These studies led Xenakis to design and build a temporary, portable sound structure referred to as the Diatope. This publication follows the 2008 translation of Music and Architecture by Iannis Xenakis as well as the DVD release of Kraanerg (1968-69) performed by The Callithumpian Consort.
(Drawing Center, 2010)
Performance art has also had a marginal place within the discourse of contemporary art due largely to its ephemeral, time-based character. However artists of this genre are now re-performing their work in museums, reaching out to a larger audience. Tania Bruguera: On the Political Imaginary documents the scripts and performances that Bruguera has developed since she began performing in her native country, Cuba, during the early 1980s. Described as, “an interdisciplinary artist working in the ephemeral, experiential forms of performance and installation, she creates a space where art, politics and life converge.” Bruguera toured her dramatic but silent actions to England, Spain and New York before moving to Chicago. The artist’s intense focus on a series of bodily movements as a form of free expression captured the personal with the political and ultimately added more significance to performance art.
The same cannot be said for Penny Arcade, who emerged in the 1980s as a performance artist in the East Village, only to remain largely obscure to the alternative and mainstream press. Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews by Penny Arcade covers the life and work that is still largely unknown. Born Susana Carmen Ventura, the artist was drawn to New York’s theater scene in the 1970s and developed the stage and audience as her platform. Richard Foreman’s Ontologic-Hysteric Theater was thriving and the new wave, led by Klaus Nomi, flourished. In an interview with Chris Kraus, Arcade admits that she demanded much from the audience and added, “if you need to see like a big article about me in The New York Times or the Village Voice, stop coming, because they’re probably not gonna write about me.” While Stephen Bottoms remarks the mystery of Arcade as “one of New York’s ‘best-kept secrets,” this book serves as the artist’s new platform, one that will be added to art history.
Jill Conner is an art critic and curator based in New York City. She is currently the New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and writes for other publications such as Afterimage, ArtUS, Sculpture and Art in America.
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