Art Counsel

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Sandblasting the Modern Wing


Chicago readers probably already know that the Modern Wing of the AIC was marred by graffiti some days ago – and kudos for the quick response and having it removed as soon as possible. HOWEVER (and this is difficult for me to say without extreme passion or expletive because I was a historian/office manager for a historic masonry preservation firm for eight years), when removing graffiti from historic or otherwise important masonry buildings, sandblasting is the absolute last resort because it permanently damages the weatherproof surface of the masonry and promotes rapid deterioration of structural integrity. You would think that a museum with archives dedicated to architecture would have consulted preservation specialists before going ahead.

By the way, consulting a restoration company is not the same thing as consulting a preservationist. If you ask for sandblasting from a restoration contractor, you will get sandblasting. Restoration firms are in the business of giving the customer what they want, not necessarily what they need. And to be fair, the damage done to the Modern Wing is not the contractor’s fault. They did what they were paid to do. Preservationists are who you want to call when this kind of problem comes up. They are trained to understand long term effects of preservation/restoration efforts and are generally semi-detached from the construction industry so are more likely to give objective advice and to lead you to the proper restoration techniques and specialists.

Anyway, I do not know who is in charge of these kinds of decisions at the AIC (I suspect it is not the architectural archives), but whoever you are, here is a link to a technical preservation brief on graffiti removal techniques from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior that is considered standard by historic preservation departments and societies.

Now, please call a reputable preservationist to ask how to consolidate the masonry to prevent accelerated weathering damage. Sheesh!

Conceptually Speaking, Michael Landy’s “Art Bin” scores a big “Meh”

When the promos for Landy’s Art Bin exhibition were first flying around, it seemed truly subversive, but upon learning that he is not destroying “valuable” art but castoffs, which as artistic failures are really only on the edge of what might be called “art”, the concept was quite disappointing.  So what? He is putting garbage in a garbage bin.  The only remotely interesting thing seems that the garbage of many is collected at a single onsite orgy of artistic self-absorption.

The concept is touted as “a monument to creative failure” and has no apparent connection to current events and concerns.  True, Philip Hensher claims that “Landy’s important…because just at this moment we’re slightly disenchanted with money itself, we’re slightly disenchanted with money’s power to act as an aesthetic judgment in itself.”  But this seems looking through the telescope backwards.  In a time when loss and hardship are commonly felt due to the economy, and in a world where wasting materials is a guilt-ridden experience due to ecological concerns this seems ill-timed.  Not that I think these political concerns are intended to be foregrounded here, as the act of destroying rejected art is not on a level with destroying rain forest with intentional Exxon oil spills.  If he is going for shock-value or making his bid as the Siva of the art world, it would seem more powerful to destroy things of real and enduring value to someone, as he did in Break Down, though magnified to everyone.  Then again, this would merely seem a bit of one-upmanship were he to do so.  Though this is mildly different, it seems muted and even a bit lazy.

Where are the famously resonant recontextualizations?    Am I missing something?  Yeah I get the undercurrent of the “one man’s trash…” proverb and that Landy is not acting as a “judge” and all things are created equal (blah, blah, blah).   Sure, there are many who would like to own even the lowliest of castoffs from some of the donating artists, so perhaps one can cull a certain irony in poking fun at those who would be chagrined at the destruction:  those who might be considered junkmen collectors; those who find value in artists’ mistakes; the nouveau riche for bad taste…  But really, if this is any part of his intention or of the general reaction, how post-modern (zzzzzzz)!    Perhaps the ultimate irony is that this appears to be, all-in-all, a throwaway concept by Landy himself.

Overheard this morning…

Great snarky idea overheard this morning:  Organize a Museum of National Hubris – from Antigone to Zeppelin.  Any backers?

Race in contemporary art (companion post to “Art and Multiculturalism”)

As a follow up to the previous post on multiculturalism, perhaps we should discuss Blake Gopnik’s new article, “Race issue a two-edged sword for black contemporary artists.”   He touched upon two particular issues that are worth serious consideration.  The first is the assimilation of, and a new comfort-level with Black artists.  Besides highlighting the subtle racism involved in framing such a cultural phenomenon, this observation also shows that there is no real “comfort level” for Black artists.  An outsider trying to work on his/her own terms possesses nobility, but only a small market.  An assimilated, popular Black artist is in danger of being tagged as a betrayer.  This is a narrow and perilous tightrope to walk.

The other issue that deserves some attention is the historical tension within certain examples of Black artists’ work.  Gopnik chose to spotlight Kara Walker and Spike Lee works that are criticized by the Black community for promoting and perhaps prolonging stereotypes.  But the community critique does not seem to offer any new solutions to the problem of which historical motifs Black artists can safely use to express the human experience.  Besides, what value can “safe” images hold when expressing great and prolonged historical and present danger? Another question to ask is that, in a time when marginalized communities are increasingly appropriating and redefining discriminatory words, how is the appropriation and recalibration of images any different?

Ultimately this begs the question; what does “race” in art mean?  What happens when we ignore it?  What happens when we embrace it?  How, where, and when is this important/not important?

Please discuss here or on the forum if you wish to create sub-topics on the matter.

Brand-Spanking new forum for arty types

Art Counsel has just launched a forum site where art lovers of all stripes and practices can talk about whatever.  Professionals, students, historians – you can all create your own discussion boards… or lurk on others’ for more vicarious pleasures.  This is meant to be a community building site where we can really get into the conversation of art.  No more glazed eyes when you discuss the intricacies of your esoteric obsessions.  Ask questions and get answers from people working in the field; Compare museum visits and travel notes;  Talk about something besides art (now we’re getting wild).

Join the conversation!  (gooble, gobble, one of us!)

Art and Multiculturalism

Jackie Wullschlager raises an interesting set of questions in her article “Bringing Jewish Art into Focus“: is there such a thing as Jewish art; and does a Jewish Museum of Art have a role in a multicultural society? Of course, we could replace the word “Jewish” with any religion, ethnic group, or combination of such, but what does this kind of labeling do? When is art just art? How does such a distinction color a viewer’s interpretation? When is this valuable?

Feel free to add your own questions and opinions on the subject at our Facebook discussion page.

We are currently building a dedicated forum site, but until then, please fan us at Facebook and join the discussion or suggest new ones.