Archive for the Entertainment killed the art star Category

The local arts community here is atwitter these days with talk about the recent failure of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune. With a reported debt of more than $1 million, the theater is closing after more than 30 years of presenting a particular brand of original, experimental, physical productions. The shutdown comes just three years after Jeune Lune won a Tony Award for best regional theater, thus emerging as a national creative force. Dominique Serrand, a founder, had this to say about the end:

“Today, we begin imagining a new way of working,” Serrand said. “Building upon our artistic legacy, and facing a different future, we are exploring ways to reinvent an agile, nomadic, entrepreneurial theatre with a new name that will create essential and innovative art for today’s changing audience.”

[Translation: We’re failing because the audience is drying up.]

Meanwhile, an editorial from today’s Charleston Post and Courier suggests that something similar is happening to a theater in that town. Jill Eathorne Bahr, the resident choregrapher at the Charleston Ballet Theatre, pleas, in a piece called “Arts need support more than ever,” for more support for the arts from a seemingly ambivalent public. “Raising money for the arts in today’s financial climate,” she writes, “can be daunting, thankless and endless. Federal and state funds continue to be pushed into the background. And the product, dance, is more difficult to sell.

“I believe there is room and potential funding for everyone, but it won’t be as easy to do what we’ve done in the past. We’ll have to … generate new interest and operate in an accepting and generous manner. It takes a driven group to carry off a high-wire act like this.”

In the Montreal Gazette, a recent editorial called “Let Canadian artists be free” describes the hit that film and TV artists are likely to take because of a new tax bill called Bill C-10. According to the piece, the bill provides “arbitrary powers to the minister of heritage to deny tax credits retroactively to film or television productions the minister deems contrary to public policy, threatens freedom of expression as well as the financial foundation of our film and television industry.”

The article further explains that the bill will have “chilling financial implications. The ministerial powers to deny tax credits after the fact will create such uncertainty that banks will be reluctant to provide financing to cover tax credits. Industry group FilmOntario presented senators with the opinion of the Royal Bank of Canada: ‘Should the assumption of eligibility currently underlying all bank loans to this industry be compromised or diminished by Bill C-10, this will indeed limit the ability of the bank to continue funding Canadian content production.’”

Translation: Restricting freedom in this way—by keeping a close watch on how art affects the public good—will knock off Canada’s already hamstrung and suffering artistic community. Or as the story concludes:

The creative community in this country is fragile. We fight to have our voices heard over the roar of American pop culture. Our funding and protection slips away yearly. The artists of Canada - our writers, directors, actors, dancers, musicians, painters and poets - are not the rich and famous. The artists of Canada are among the working poor. But we know what we do is important. We do it with passion and conviction, empowered by our freedom of expression… To preserve artistic freedom and to avoid financial uncertainty for a significant sector of the Canadian economy, our film and television community asks the Senate committee to please fix Bill C-10.

So word from United Press International is the voiceless, weightless shadow of cancer-victim Roger Ebert can’t wait to get back to writing movie criticism again.

“I am at last returning to the movie beat,” Ebert announced in the letter published Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to opening night of my annual film festival at the University of Illinois on April 23, and I will resume writing movie reviews shortly thereafter.”

The critic said he underwent his third surgery in January, but revealed his ability to speak was not restored; that would require another operation.

“But I still have all my other abilities, including the love of viewing movies and writing about them,” Ebert said.

We here at Art Failure Central certainly wish Mr. Ebert a speedy recovery and many long years of out-thrust thumbs. However, we also suggest that perhaps it might be a different kind of cancer—the cancer of art failure, and the failure of newspapers and of daily arts criticism—that ultimately ends his critical career. If you don’t believe me, check out what David Carr of the New York Times recently had to say about the impending demise of the movie critic.

The continual drumbeat of news that film critics are being laid off at daily and weekly newspapers across the country has kicked up some quotable reviews.

“A dire situation!” Scott Rudin, independent film producer.

“A terrible loss!” Tom Bernard, Sony Pictures Classics.

“Puts serious movies at risk!” Mark Urman, ThinkFilm.

Those men …. were upset by the departures of movie critics. Nathan Lee, one of The Village Voice’s two full-time critics, was laid off last week by Village Voice Media, a large chain of alternative weeklies that has been cutting down the number of critics it employs across the country.

The week before, two longtime critics at Newsday — Jan Stuart and Gene Seymour — took buyouts, along with their editor. And at Newsweek, David Ansen is among 111 staff members taking buyouts, according to a report in Radar.

They join critics at more than a dozen daily newspapers (including those in Denver, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale) and several alternative weeklies who have been laid off, reassigned or bought out in the past few years, deemed expendable at a time when revenues at print publications are declining, under pressure from Web alternatives and a growing recession in media spending.

R.I.P., art/movie critics (and newspapers)!

So, on the eve of Hollywood’s annual bloviatathon, before we get sucked into, as A.O. Scott put it in the NYT, “the pomp and tedium of Hollywood spectacle,” let us call an end to—once and for all—any further discussions of the great (personal) waste of time that is the American Entertainmo-Industrial Complex.

Are we all agreed?… Great! Now we can return to more pertinent and pressing issues (and CAFA obsessions): The impending failure of the art market.

A recent story, in The Art Newspaper, speculates on what will be the exact timing, depth, and duration of the inevitable, looming bust. Anyone who has any sort of interest in art, or in the art market, should read this article. While there is no consensus about what shape the market crash will take, make no bones about it, arts-lovers (much as I hate to say it): Doom is neigh.

“Everyone is wondering if the downturn will be like 9/11”

New York dealers fear the worst

Brook S. Mason | 2.13.08

US dealers are admitting to sluggish sales, hesitant clients and cancelled deals amid continuing financial market woes, which last month saw America’s largest bank, Citigroup, post a $9.8bn fourth-quarter loss.

“Nobody wants to say the sky is falling but perception affects every market and clearly, we are entering a new period in the economy,” said Martha Fleischman, president of Kennedy Galleries. “The people who see art as part of their portfolio and like to flip will get an education very quickly this year,” she added.

“There are more dealers hanging on by their fingernails but no-one will go on the record,” said a prominent art world public relations expert who did not want to be named. “Everyone is wondering if the downturn will be just like 9/11,” she added.

Following on the heels of the essay that I wrote five years ago and reposted a few days ago, I wrote my final word on Hollywood in January of 2004, after a long ten days spent back home.

Here you go:

Hollywood Art Critic, Part 2

January 31, 2004
Michael Fallon

IT’S BEEN SAID MANY TIMES BEFORE, but California is a bizarre place. And I don’t mean the constant calamities. (Sure, it might seem unnerving that there was an earthquake up near San Simeon just this morning as I write from a coffee shop in Malibu–but that’s background noise here.) I’m also not referring to the endless stream of eccentrics who make their home in California. (San Simeon, for example, is the locus of William Randolph Hearst’s infamous castle; Hearst was once spoofed by an outlandish and vastly overweight filmmaker in the movie “Citizen Kane;” the filmmaker later in life shilled for cheap California wines before dying of a heart attack in Hollywood in 1985. Strange enough stuff for most places, but rather quotidian for here.) Rather, mostly what makes California strange is its endless taste for make-believe.

If one had time, one could read Boorstin and Borges, Baudrillard and McLuhan and perhaps Sontag, and somehow come to understand the state’s Hollywood-borne penchant for fancy. For example, why does the state’s electorate continue to elect actors to play the role of the chief executive office? (We all know from our experience with the wrestler that this just doesn’t work in the end.) Or, in more mundane life, why do Californians eat “teardrop” tomatoes, rather than what we more prosaic Minnesotans call “grape tomatoes”? (They’re the same thing, just different names.) Or, why, at the end of the day at Disneyland, do machines spew out “snow” over Main Street after the fireworks show to conjure up the magic of a winter wonderland to an enraptured audience in 60-degree weather? (This stuff turns out to be some sort of detergent foam that, if you’re not careful, can sting the eyes.)

And speaking of winter, the fashion rage in Malibu this December seems to be knee-high mukluks. Since I’ve been sitting in the open courtyard of the Coffee Bean Café in a strip mall a block from the ocean, I have seen nine women, and one man, wearing this displaced garb–often with short skirts and midriff-revealing tops–as they wander from store to store (Malibu Lifestyles, Indiana Joan’s, Planet Blue) looking like extras from a Klondike gold rush movie. I came from the direction of Hollywood this morning via the Ventura Highway and Mulholland Drive, through the Malibu Valley and the scrubby Santa Monica Mountains, but this is definitely the deepest suspension of disbelief I have seen all day. Consider how impossible would be the diametrically opposed phenomenon: bikini-clad lifeguards on the beach at Lake Harriet in late December.

If you think California is so strange, you’re probably wondering, why are you even there? Well, I could talk to you about the true reason–preempting the winter blahs that have tended to afflict me every year since moving to Minnesota seven winters ago (yes, I count my time in winters) through contact with sun-warmed Pacific Ocean salt air–but that’s not terribly interesting. Instead, let’s talk about the reason I’m going to present to my accountant at tax time: I am here to research further the potential of becoming the Hollywood Art Critic that I dreamed of becoming in my column of August 29 of last year (see link below).

LET’S BEGIN AGAIN. On my third day of my recent trip to California, just a week before this past Christmas, I made my way to “The Brewery” just east of downtown Los Angeles. I had been hearing a lot of buzz lately about how this artists warehouse commune was the ground zero of L.A. art activity these days, and while it turned out the complex was not much more than what’s going on in Lowertown or in the NE arts corridor, the visit was revealing nonetheless.

At the Brewery I bumped into Mat Gleason, the editor and publisher of a ten-year-old underground arts zine called Coagula (see link below), a low-tech, slash-and-burn gossip rag that art regulars from coast to coast seem to hate even as they can’t help but read it. (To give you an idea of Coagula’s attitude, a book compilation of its first five years is called Most Art Sucks and is billed as the “only honest book about the world of contemporary art.”) Gleason himself was a fast talker who relished keeping tabs on who’s been stroking whom in the back rooms of the art world. Indeed, when I came on the scene he was busy complaining about the Coagula compilation book. It turns out Most Art Sucks didn’t sell particularly well–despite the fact that David Bowie wrote a glowing book review of the text for barnesandnoble.com, and that a Bowie blurb was included on the book’s back cover.

“You would think a publicist might be able to get us some publicity based on this fact,” says Gleason. “But what do I know? She couldn’t get us a write-up anywhere.” This leads to a litany of further invective. For example, as it turns out, the aforementioned publicist now works for Viggo Mortensen’s nonprofit “charitable” organization that is charged with funding art. “Really it’s a scam,” says Gleason, “It exists for Mortensen to take a write-off and to filter money to his artist friends.”

Eventually I make my escape (but not before hearing more complaints–about Gleason’s landlord, about how cold the studios are, about some art by a dead artist he’s been saddled with and that no one wants to take away), intrigued that he brought up the issue of publicists. According to the New York Times, Hollywood these days is all but ruled by publicists. A recent article by entertainment columnist Frank Rich quotes journalist Peter Biskind saying: “The disconnect between appearance, as it is presented in the media, and the reality of what actually occurs behind the scenes is as great in Hollywood as it is in Washington, if not greater.” And in fact, as I discovered when I first began researching what kind of art a “Hollywood art critic” might end up covering, the lion’s share of the art buzz out here was more of the same-old same-old California penchant for unreality. That is to say, if you look for info on California artists what you get is a lot of guff about Hollywood stars who act the part.

To mention just a short list of Hollywoodians who have gotten press for their artistic pretensions of late–there’s Tony Bennett, whose sailboat scenes have been collected by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathi Lee Gifford, and Arsenio Hall. Beyonce Knowles was quoted as saying of her painting habit: “It takes me away, and it’s really peaceful.” Dwayne Hickman, star of the 1960s TV show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” says painting “is an expression of art that you can sit down and do anytime you want. I can’t go downstairs and act, but I can go downstairs and paint.” Couple Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson hang their own work on the walls of their sunny L.A. home. Michelle Pfeiffer wishes she “could paint like Renoir.” And Jane Seymour; Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, John Waters, and the aforementioned Viggo Mortensen and David Bowie have been among those cited in the “trades” for their art habits.

I’d let this hoopla pass me by as just so much dabbling by people who have too much time on their hands if in turn the real California artists–the ones worth watching–were getting their due as well. But the simple fact is, the truth beyond the glitzy Hollywood portrait of the pursuit of art is the life of the artist here, as elsewhere, is bleak. Artists in California who do not happen to be Hollywood actors struggle to survive against the terrible ambivalence of society.

I know this first hand, as I spent the rest of my Brewery-excursion in the studio of 70-year-old artist George Herms, a local mainstay since the 1950s. Herms came up with the Beat Generation and has been collected by most of the major museums (including the Walker Art Center). At this point in his career, he should basking in success, coddled by art patrons, happily retired and secure in his finances. But in fact, I discover, Herms is struggling to survive at the Brewery, unable to pay his bills despite all he’s accomplished, and recently sued by the Brewery’s owners for back rent.

“I’m just an idiot,” Herms says, as the afternoon light fades in a studio that is filled with nearly fifty years worth of art and art materials, some of which he’s recently had to raffle off just to pay lawyer’s fees. “I get up and work everyday. I’m more into what I’ve just started than in taking what’s finished and turning it into the coin of the realm.”

If only this were a Hollywood story: The upstart pretender to the throne, looking like a fashion model in his mukluks, would lead a ghost army of nonprofit granters and art patrons from across the sea just as a light foamy snow begins to fall. All would arrive just in time to save the debt-ridden artist from near-certain calamity. Ah, wouldn’t that be something?

So I guess the Hollywood writers are coming back to work soon.

Yay.

I had been intending, for weeks and weeks, to write something about the plight of the writers, to compare their lot to the lot of all the everyday artists in the country who are slowly working their fingers to nubs for an occasional bone thrown by an uncaring public. Etc. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.

I mean, this is Hollywood we’re talking about, not art. And these are corporate workaday hacks–correction, well-paid corporate workaday hacks–who are fighting for a bigger share of the tons of money you and I stupidly throw at them year after year. This is not something of any sort of lasting cultural value…

All the stories I read about this strike went on and on and on about how “devastating” was the strike to the entertainment industry, and how “demoralizing” it was to the struggling writers. They cited the number like a running stock-ticker—$1 billion dollars lost and counting… $2 billion dollars lost and counting… And Bingo! $3.2 billion dollars lost (*according to Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp).

But you know what? The strike wasn’t really that devastating really, at least not to the people who matter— i.e., you and me. The world did not stop turning. People did not go into withdrawal. No one suffered any lasting effects. The juggernaut industry that is our modern bread-and-circus distraction was not really missed all that much.

Of course the bitter strikers and the even bitterer globocorporations that produce this tripe will trot out all the positive cliches, if only to get the river of money (our money) flowing back where they want (their pockets). “At the end of the day, everybody won. It was a fair deal and one that the companies can live with, and it recognizes the large contribution that writers have made to the industry,” said Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS Corp.”These advances now give us a foothold in the digital age,” said Patric Verrone, president of the guild’s West Coast chapter. “Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as television migrates to the Internet.”

Fine fine sentiment. But we, who will be ponying up for all this bonhomie, know better.

Truth is, we’d be much better off without all the distraction and crap. Or at least we’d be just fine. And we’d certainly have more money and more time to focus on something more meaningful–the paintings made by the minor genius who lives at the end of the block, the song written by your cousin the burgeoning cafe-folksinger, the short one-act play written by that cute girl at work.

Art, people. Not mindlessly distracting entertainment. Art. (Or at least a better balance between the two…)