Xavier Delory, from the series ‘Habitat’
Harper’s Bazaar, April 1965
Once upon a time, covers were selected because of their graphic boldness and visual panache. Now they are chosen based on market research that tests the appeal of various stars and cover lines. Is today‚Äôs method really more effective or does all this testing just make up for a lack of imagination?
As an counter example, he chose a August 1962 Harper’s Bazaar cover of Steve McQueen designed by Ruth Ansel (who he has worked with, as have I, and who is truly a phenomenal designer). This choice drew a bit of flack in the comments due to the use of a celebrity face, which many readers viewed as not so different from magazine covers today.
Well, Harper’s Bazaar covers under Ansel really were dynamic: I’ve assembled a small gallery to prove it. (Forgive the quality, though: Some of these were scans of really really old slides).
Joshua Mack, over on Artreview.com writes an insightful review of a recent Artforum panel. He points out that the museum and gallery system is predicated on an exponential consumption of art, and hints that art, as we know it, is another extension of the late-capitalist system and not, as so many of us would like to believe, an alternative to it.
But there is no going back, and the failure of the panel to even hint at a way forward suggests a helplessness vis-√†-vis the juggernaut of commerce that parallels a broader consumer passivity in the face of mass consumption. In the same way, the audience for art faithfully follows the market, focusing on the major galleries, museums and artists because it has been trained to do so. Increasingly, we seem to expect our institutions to deliver product to us the way our supermarkets do. Or, more importantly perhaps, institutions themselves expect that we expect this.
He also adds his voice to ‘the system is unsustainable’ chorus, i.e. the art market doom watch.
Depressed about film disappearing? Well, you can always make your own…
Nicholas Calcott (NC): So what did you think of the show?
EL: I was kind of expecting a bit, actually. And I thought the whole scenography… It was done okay… With some of the sort of scrapbooks it was a fairly autobiographical effort. I was hoping… Well, you haven’t seen [the David Lynch show, 'The Air Is On Fire,' that was at Fondation Cartier in 2007] but I was hoping to be surprised by another production of hers like that that wouldn’t [have been] clear from her music.
NC: I dunno, I just didn’t like the little touches like the scrawled love notes to Patti Smith… [The show] just really didn’t mean anything except for one big love note to Patti Smith.
EL: Yeah, but then again you have to think of the original design of this room [with the notes scrawled on the wall] – it was… a guestbook. In a kind of intimate setting.
NC: Right, but if you put it up on the wall it’s a public display. The guestbooks that you’re talking about… They give you the option of looking – They’re not really there to be presented.
EL: But it’s the public’s problem. You could write in big bold letters, ‘Fuck Patti Smith.’
NC: But the fact that they presented this public space in order to… I dunno, the whole show just had this sycophantic tone that was kind of grating to me. Not just the fact that [Patti Smith, who is known primarily for singing and poetry] got the show which one could interpret as being sycophantic, but also all of her little love notes to [among others, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, Rimbaud, Walt Whitman].
EL: Yeah, and her museum or train tickets presented as holy relics in the museum context seemed like such ‘precious artifacts.’
NC: Patti Smith’s pilgrimage to so-and-so’s grave, Patti Smith’s pilgrimage to… I mean she’s kind of presented like… The whole thing is presented with all of these religious themes. Like there was that crown of thorns…
EL: Yeah, and the crucifix.
NC: There was that video where she pulls a rosary out of her pocket. Part of the reason why Patti Smith’s stuff is so great is because there was always this play between sainthood and utter baseness… She was kind of presented as the patron saint of punk rock and what she was actually singing about, the whole scene at the time, was this gutter drama.
EL: Even back then when she was ‘the holy patron of punk rock,’ alot of people viewed her and the whole production, her business, as being extremely artsy.
NC: Yeah, I think so too. The thing about the show though is that it just ignored that. There’s no… The gutter drama isn’t there, I mean it’s made its way into the institution.
EL: I don’t know… I have to compare it to the David Lynch exhibition. The David Lynch was worthwhile… There was none of his books strewn about, it was not such a blatant personality cult in the atmosphere of the exhibit. And his drawings and stuff and serious painting… Overall, it was kind of worthwhile to have a museum exhibition because through very interesting pieces you could see his universe, his imaginaire… I can’t speak English today. And the logics for making a museum show for someone who’s primarily known as a singer, they were a bit dim. Of course she’s taken a few pictures, done a few drawings, some of them are nice. But… But they also took out the singer dimension – tried to present her as a plasticienne [visual artist] of sorts.
NC: There was some stuff, some singing, like the cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was played with the video… But you’re right, for the most part there was a total lack…
EL: Right, and I think it would have been cooler if you could have seen some live footage rather than films that someone else made about her. Or perhaps something even more informative, like something to put her in the broader context of the era where she was most active… Overall [the show] was a bit… insubstantial. With this general feeling of a personality cult.
So you notice there’s no mention of the photographs. Well, some of them were actually quite pretty, but the show seemed to be centered around the idea that she makes these polaroids rather than the polaroids themselves. Not a good atmosphere for a show that should be about the photographs and not about the cult of the artist.
Sophie Calle, ‘Les Dormeurs’
Stacy Oborn, over on The Space In Between, rips into Sophie Calle with a review of her work in general that quotes liberally from Walter Benjamin, Art Review, The Guardian, and others. It’s a pretty strong essay, whatever your views on Calle are, and I urge you to go take a look at it. Among the many quoteworthy passages:
Robert Storr had it right back in 2003, when he wrote in Art Press that she was ‚Äúdecidedly bourgeois rather than bohemian,‚Äù and moreover a ‚Äúdownright annoying‚Ä¶embodiment of the unreliable narrator‚Äù and finally, that, ‚ÄúHers is a labyrinth with a walled-off chamber at its center, a maze of mazes without a core.‚Äù One of my (many) issues with Calle‚Äôs work (which Storr astutely refers to as overly preoccupied with her ‚Äúsentimental education‚Äù) is her bullish confusion of universal experience with literary tropes. She has said that her materials are the banal experiences of everyday life, and that what she makes art out of is no different than the French luminaries that came before her, writing about their private lives: Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire. But, of course, there is a difference. What Calle loves is the general, of being without content. It‚Äôs the page itself she‚Äôs interested in, not the page as materiality, or the page as it exists, but the blank of it, the lack of it
There is a long and storied history of scribes and manuscripts, of printing presses and the craft of the book, that is outside the purview of this brief essay. But of all the visual and plastic arts, books hold a special place in the history of photography. Most photographers, curators, and gallerists (and especially those of a certain age and older), learned of, and fell in love with, photography through books. Ultimately, books are far more accessible than exhibitions of important work. One can return to them repeatedly and absorb the accompanying texts at will; a lap, two hands, a few hours, and some sunlight are all that is required.
The essay itself reads as a general paean to photo books, and was a little shallow for my taste. It didn’t go too deeply into what photo books mean, why they are so different from exhibitions besides the fact that you can’t hold 36 framed pictures in your lap and look at them with ease.
He doesn’t for example, go into the filmic potential of books (besides a mention of a Lewis Baltz quote), or really examine them as objects, or wonder whether our fetishization of them has more to do with market forces than artistic potential, or any number of other concerns that make the photo book unique and possessing of its own problems and visual language. Anyone else agree with me? What is it about the photo book? Why are we all so attached to it? Is it just that photographers, in the end, are actually really just collectors (all we do is collect pictures that our cameras take, after all) and photobooks are something which is so easily collectible?
Lee Friedlander, from the book ‘The Little Screens’
Clay Shirky writes an interesting blog. A recent post is a transcript of a lecture he gave on how sitcoms are like gin in that both mask a “cognitive surplus” brought around by radical changes in social structure (the internet and the industrial revolution, respectively). He goes on:
…”Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”
So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.
And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.
So… We should all be far more productive than we actually are. And you should be participating by leaving comments on this blog.