Archive for the NYT arts articles Category


The New York Times today reports on the goings-on at Governors Island, a 172-acre cultural refuge just 800 yards off the shore of a larger island of somewhat more cultural renown, Manhattan. The article describes how, over the past four years, as the Manhattan boom reached a peak and then turned quickly to bust, artists have begun a daytime habitation of the non-residential island. (Governors Island is described a quirky amalgam of empty Victorians, a high school, forts, parade grounds, ball fields, an artificial beach, and an “encircling promenade.”) It describes the happenings today as “ingrown and wildly experimental,” akin to an Art Wonderland.



Governors Island was originally, before the 20th century, a military base. It has been managed through the years by the State of New York, the U.S. Army, and the Coast Guard, until it was finally was shuttered by the federal government in 1997. Thanks to the efforts of Leslie Koch, who runs the Trust for Governors Island, the island now is replete with such ongoing cultural whimsies at “artsy miniature golf, avant-garde theater and whimsical sculpture.” Its participants include “trapeze artists, bicyclists, conceptual artists, D.J.’s, musicians, dancers and dramatists,” and its attractions range from “a free miniature-golf course designed by an arts group, where fanciful stations allow players to take metaphorical potshots at a national missile defense shield or putt a ball in support of carbon-neutral footprints” to “outdoor dance performances in one of the island’s forts, a mock archaeological dig meant to play with ideas of the island’s past, an African film festival, outdoor Shakespeare,” an Art Fair, “and Civil War re-enactments.” So far, this season the island has attracted 250,000 curious gawkers, a sharp uptick from only a year ago.


As you and I know, artists are like this. They’re opportunistic like bacteria (the good kind, you know, that helps you digest food and so on). When the economy, or political factors, or the standards of society blocks to them and many of the rest of us from doing what we most want to do, artists are among the only ones of us who will not rest until they find a place to rest. In the gutted sections of a gutted city, in the blown-out industrial areas of a postmodern city, even on an abandoned island — you can bet that artists will be among the first to begin looking for creative and sustainable ways to rebuild, reconfigure, restore, and recover.

Course, I don’t have to remind you what usually happens next; once the artists have brought a place back to life, once the culture of the formerly dead and dilapidated and all-but-destroyed parts of our society is restored, then come the moneyed interests, the developers, the scammer, skimmers, and other scabs who would never do the hard, dirty work and who capitalize on those who do. The article notes a “master plan” that outlines  “development zones,” phases of construction, and so on. And Ms. Koch herself makes no bones about using artists as a launching point for creating an “island culture,” even as her $12.5 million budget includes no money to pay artists or for programming. She talks, without apparent irony, about the island’s “brand” being “summer vacation with irony.”

Still, as this is the new feel-good CAFA, we’ll not be our usual cynical selves and just try to enjoy the whimsical, populist, free-ranging and free-spirited Art Wonderland that currently inhabits Governors Island. Then, when island development inevitably takes off, and the artists are shuffled off in the usual unceremonious fashion, we’ll go find the next Art Wonderland that artists create.

(Photos are courtesy the Figment Project)

This NYT quotation of the day caught my eye (for obvious reasons):

“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want.”
Liz Fallon [no relation], visual artist, Portland, Me.

It’s from an article on how the recession is affecting artists called “Tight Times Loosen Artists’ Creativity.”

Here’s another quote:

“This too shall pass. Artists must continue to create no matter what happens around them.”
–Diane Leon-Ferdico, painter, Elmhurst, Queens

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)!

I have no way of knowing yet how accurate was Holland Cotter’s NYT review of the just-opened Whitney Biennial, but, based on his descriptions of the show and what I know of it myself, this assessment sounds about right:

…this year we have a Whitney show that takes lowered expectations — lessness, slowness, ephemerality, failure [emphasis mine] (in the words of its young curators, Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin) — as its theme.

A biennial for a recession-bound time? That’s one impression it gives. With more than 80 artists, this is the smallest edition of the show in a while, and it feels that way, sparsely populated, even as it fills three floors and more of the museum…

Past biennials have had a festive, party-time air. The 2004 show was all bright, pop fizz; the one two years ago exuded a sexy, punk perfume. The 2008 edition is, by contrast, an unglamorous, even prosaic affair. The installation is plain and focused, with many artists given niches of their own. The catalog is modest in design, with a long, idea-filled essay by Ms. Momin, hard-working, but with hardly a stylistic grace note in sight. A lot of the art is like this too: uncharismatic surfaces, complicated back stories…

…the overall tenor of the show is low-key, with work that seems to be in a transitional, questioning mode, art as conversation rather than as statement, testing this, trying that. Assemblage and collage are popular. Collaboration is common. So are down-market materials — plastic, plywood, plexiglass — and all kinds of found and recycled ingredients, otherwise known as trash.

As a side-note, I have visited the past two Whitney Biennials, and I have reviewed them—usually focusing on the Minnesota angle for a little Minnesota-based web-publication. I find Cotter’s quick take above on the past two Biennials to be pretty spot-on, though I’d probably be a little harsher in my assessment of the 2006 show (and, indeed, I was). So, I have no reason to doubt him about the 2008 version.

I also then must say, “kudos, Whitney!” for recognizing—like CAFA—that failure is the order of the day in art.

As a final note, I do plan, once I can break free long enough to do so, to visit this failure-focused Biennial. In a perfect world, in which I have enough time away from my day job and enough left-over energy, I’d write more regular reviews of local and national art for a hungry local audience. (I say this fully realizing that all the local art criticism venues are rapidly dying off.) Still, I’m hopeful that I can, later this spring/summer, visit the seemingly less dire, more circumspect, more internationally derived Carnegie International, which opens in May, and write a comparative survey of these two major art events.

And heck, if I can’t get the review published somewhere good, then you can be sure it’ll end up just another feature of Failure. Stay tuned!

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.

A lot of articles have been published in the past few weeks about the fall art auction season, each with conflicting assessments of the state of the current art market. It’s difficult for us non-insiders to know what to think, as one day the news is poor, and the next the news is stunningly good (at least for the auctioneers).

Consider this run-down of recent article-posed questions: Is the market failing, as Sotheby’s stocks fall upon failing to sell out a lot? Is the downturn of the art market a sign of collapse in the economy in general? Is the art market heading for a crash, or is the market as healthy as ever (as sales records continue to mount and Sotheby’s stocks rebound.)

The New York Times auction season-culminating article in the end called the art sales results spotty at best, with traditional and established favorites artists selling at amounts under pre-auction estimates or not selling at all, while cut-rate are by younger artists broke sales records. The article quoted on auction director as admitting; “We bit off more than we can chew…”

Ironically, another recent NYT article described the business-as-usual art-world excess and “over-the-top decadance” (i.e., an exhibition by Damien Hirst that cost more than $1 million to produce) that continued even in the midst of all this market uncertainty and turmoil. The installation, currently running at the Lever House on Park Avenue through February 16, presents formaldehyde-filled tanks with 30 dead sheep, one dead shark, two sides of beef, 300 sausages, and a pair of doves, as well as 15 medicine cabinets filled with bottles with labels for antidepressants, cough medicine, and other drugs.

“It’s my flock,” said Mr. Hirst, at the end of the story.

It’s a telling sign of the times that an influential international arts magazine—Frieze—has not only mounted, in recent years, a big commercial art fair in London, but this year, apparently, the underlying subject of this year’s fair (Oct 11-14) is commerce for commerce’s sake.

Or, according to a NYT article titled “In London, Art and Commerce Scratch Backs“:

Seven artists were commissioned by Frieze to create projects that “respond to the social and economic dynamics of the fair,” according to its catalog. These included Mr. Prince’s car, Ms. Favaretto’s note and a piece by Gianni Motti, “Pre-Emptive Act,” in which an actor dressed as a police officer does yoga as a way to subvert expectations about authority and security.

Another commissioned artists, Kris Martin, hit on a novel concept: stop Frieze for an entire minute on Wednesday, the day the fair was all but groaning with important art-world figures and important collectors like Charles Saatchi, Frank Cohen and Eli Broad.

The idea was to “succeed in temporarily stilling the wheels of commerce,” the catalog said.

“To be honest, I never thought it could work,” said the fair’s co-director, Amanda Sharp. But the announcement came across the loudspeaker: please stop buying, stop selling, stop talking and switch off your cellphone “in respect of the moment.”

Shockingly, everyone obeyed. Silence reigned. The wheels of commerce were stilled. “It was actually quite beautiful,” Ms. Sharp said.

The great thing was that Mr. Martin’s piece, titled “Mandi XVI,” would probably have worked even if it hadn’t.

“If it failed,” Ms. Sharp said, “it would have been an experiment in failure.”