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  Art For All PeopleŽ    We Talk Contemporary Art    August 2014
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SCREAM

It's what I feel like doing every time it happens.

You might compare it to that scene from "Home Alone" where Macaulay Culkin is standing in front of the bathroom mirror, puts after shave on his face and then …

Aaarrrrggghhhh!!!!!

It stings like hell. By the way, was that scene, “Art imitating art?” Hmm.

Just recently, Sotheby's set a new world record by selling the highest priced painting ever bought at auction, Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for $119.9 million.

We could spin our wheels endlessly asking whether this work of art is worth that price. We could also conduct a posthumous psychological evaluation of Munch and try to figure out whether he had any idea that he was bound for such greatness. Let’s save those hot topics for another day.

What's uppermost in my mind is that we knuckleheads have done it ... yet again. Will we never learn?

Have you noticed that the only time the general public ever really hears about art is when the media is reporting about some multi-million dollar sale? Or when Joe the maintenance worker stumbles upon a $20 million Jackson Pollock behind a wall in his basement? Surprise!

First of all, why doesn't this ever happen to me? But more importantly, why does this happen period? As a journalist, I can tell you it happens because it's legitimate news. The media basically reports about aberrations and anomalies, not the fact that today was a sunny day. Sunny days are lovely, but they're not news.

A ridiculously high priced work of art is catnip for the perfect storm and practically everyone in the art world is a co-conspirator. I could write an entire thesis on this, but I'll spare you that nightmare and cut to the tension-filled chase leading up to the scream.

In other words, it’s tough love time art people.

Who are the co-conspirators? The auction houses themselves that are boosting their own commissions with each progressively higher bid, art dealers who also get to “up the ante” on their blue chip offerings as a result, dead artists and perhaps their estates that benefit, living artists who get to continue fantasizing that perhaps one day – probably after their death - they too will be rich and famous, wealthy collectors who get bragging rights on their new acquisitions and the art media which gets another hot story to feed the beast.

Everyone gets theirs ... or do they? Here's the problem.

Every time we hear about a super-expensive piece of art selling, LIVING ARTISTS LOSE OUT. Why? Because this reinforces the notion that art is only for the wealthy and highly-cultured and connected crowd. The public gets another, good-old fashioned brainwashing.

Trying to convince everyday people that art is FOR THEM is like being Sisyphus trying to roll that damn boulder up the hill. People just don't buy it ... they don’t buy the concept and consequently don’t buy art.

Whenever you see art portrayed in the media, it's usually in some rarefied multi-million dollar atmosphere where you see the stereotypical blue-bloods (often wannabes) standing rather haughtily in front of their latest acquisition. Their arms are usually crossed and their noses slightly tilted upward. Have we not done that scene to death? Art deserves so much better than that.

Many art world people insist on prolonging this farce. Granted, there are many patrons who do fit the bill and fit it nicely. Billionaire Eli Broad is one, but he’s one in a million. And still, even he seems approachable and he uses every opportunity, or every one that I’ve seen, to promote the art more than himself.

We've really got to drop the snobbery. I will never forget the day that a journalist colleague of mine returned from an assignment at an exhibition opening at our local museum. Knowing that I love art, he walked up to me and asked, "Mike, Are THOSE the kind of people you hang out with? My God!" He looked like he wanted to scream.

Apparently, my colleague got snubbed by several people including organizers at this event ... the very event that he was assigned to cover and help promote. We've got to do better art people.

Take all of these elements and yes, you've got the recipe for the perfect storm. Are you an artist seeking a wealthy patron or collector to buy your work? You're partly responsible. Are you an art dealer seeking a wealthy buyer for your offerings? You're partly responsible. Are you a writer seeking a great story about the most expensive painting sold at auction? Oops! I'm so busted.

Anyway, you catch my drift. The money, the media coverage, the fame, the power, the posturing ... These days it seems to be about everything else BUT the art.

I won't lie. When I heard about “The Scream” selling for $119.9 million, it was exciting. I’ve seen that painting in person … or at least a replica. I wish that I had been there at the auction in person.

Yet at the same time, when I realized that the sale and inevitable media coverage would turn out to be yet another additional layer of mental conditioning for the art loathing and art loving public, all I wanted to do was ...

SCREAM.

 

ART CHICAGO: GONE WITH THE WIND

April, May and June are always such promising months, don’t you think?

Put this singing female trio of time together and every year without fail, one of them will always give birth to Hope, yet another product of feminine persuasion, no?

Now is the period of renewal, rejuvenation and noticing the beauty all around us. These days of Spring just ooze pleasantry … just like the smile of that young, lady barista (also named Hope) at Starbucks who just whipped up your venti decaf coffee with room and three shots of sugar-free carmel.  Sugar-free, but oh so, sweet.

It’s a time when countenances are bright with breezy possibilities and the new found warmth of outdoors finally banishes the frigidity of winter.  Thank God.

One of the things that I really look forward to with the onset of spring is the revival of art.  It’s a time when nearly every city is gearing up for its spring season of shows that tout everything from Picasso and DeKooning to some heaven-struck artist plucked from obscurity and now destined for Warhol’s fifteen minutes of ... whatever.

Happily, this would’ve been the case for me in Chicago again this year.  That’s until I got the news online:

“MERCHANDISE MART PULLS PLUG ON NEXT ART CHICAGO FAIR.” Why?  Money, bi-coastal competition, sagging attendance ... the usual suspects. 

“What the hell?” I recall saying out loud while sitting at home alone.  Does this mean, “No more Art Chicago?”  UGH!  In fact, Art Chicago would be happening right now … the last weekend in April.

REWIND ABOUT ONE YEAR

As the elevator doors opened on my appointed - if not anointed - floor inside the Merchandise Mart, I may as well have been witnessing and stepping into Heaven itself.  For the most part, this was heaven on earth for me.  Stepping onto the humongous floor that hosted Art Chicago was like stepping into a dream for this art lover.  I’ll never forget this because on this particular day in 2011, I was the very first visitor to step onto the showroom floor and peruse the galleries.

If you ever want to know what it feels like to be wealthy without actually having the money, walk into any great art museum or gallery alone and be at ONE with the art.  There’s simply nothing like it.  It’s luxury to the max.

I think I got in early and past security because I was wearing my “ArtBookGuy” tee-shirt and perhaps they assumed I was on staff.  Who knows?

Anyway, I recall feeling how blessed I was to be here way ahead of the art-consuming crowd and also before many of the dealers themselves had blown in.  As I walked up and down the art lined aisles, I made a mental note that I had to write about this experience … and now, here I am actually telling you about it.

It was like floating in a baptismal pool ... or perhaps gliding on Cloud 9.  Plain and simple.  Coming to Art Chicago and especially being here alone was sheer bliss.  The lovely and sometimes actually progressive art hanging on pristine walls … the almost monastic silence of the moment and the wide expanse of floor space unencumbered by foot traffic was sublime.  I simply cannot tell you how much I adore contemporary art and this was such a great venue for it.

Shortly after, I was chatting with one of the fair organizers in the press room and she politely asked me … “How did you get in?  We’re not open yet!”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I just walked in!”

As I told the truth, little did I know that I was also standing in the truth of the moment … that truth being that this would be my last Art Chicago … or so it seems as of this writing.

Later that day, just before I ran into and chatted with artist Jamieson Flynn www.jamiesonflynn.com, I was sitting down and typing notes when an older gentleman came over to me and started chatting about the fair.  I recall asking him what he thought about the fair that day.

“Oh, I don’t like it at all!” he replied.  “They throw these things together and it looks like a mall!”

You know, I don’t think I’ve EVER attended an art fair where I haven’t heard people complaining about something.  That includes attendees, art dealers, artists and whomever else.

Here’s my point.  Not even the most refined, best organized, most upscale art fairs (Art Chicago being among them) has the luxury of invulnerability.  Can you criticize the Super Bowl?  Yes.  Can you blast World Cup Soccer?  Yes.  Can an endowment-backed university survive a scandal that involves the alleged sexual abuse of kids?  Sure looks like it.

But this is not the case for most contemporary art fairs.  They’re always on shaky legs.  Contemporary art gets continually bashed by people who don’t understand it and have no desire to expand their horizons because they don’t know enough to know what they’re missing.  Contemporary art fairs get continually bashed by visitors who think it’s the hip and sophisticated thing to do by criticizing everything they see so that they appear to be connoisseurs of the right things.  WRONG.

Little do some of these people realize that it takes lots of money, time, preparation and manpower to stage these art fairs.  The people who organize these things are certainly primarily driven by money (duh!), but there’s also gotta be a little passion for art in there somewhere … otherwise, these fairs would never make it off the ground.  In short, someone blew it.

Imagine throwing a really cool party at your house and all of the guests come in and criticize everything you’ve done.  I bet you won’t be throwing another party next year.  At the very least, you won’t invite the same people.

In my opinion, Art Chicago and NEXT, the art fair for up and coming artists, were really cool venues for art, artists and art lovers.  Most people couldn’t afford the art, but they could afford admission which enabled them to dream at the very least.  This is what art does.  It helps us to dream and envision possibilities.

By the way, I’m not saying that we should blindly support things that aren’t good and worthwhile, but we definitely shouldn’t take worthy things for granted either.  Art is considered a luxury, but it definitely isn’t always treated as such.  Most people protect their hard-earned luxuries to the death, but not this time around.

FAST FORWARD ONE YEAR

I was just chatting with Jamieson Flynn online.  We were talking about Art Chicago being cancelled this year.  I told him about everything I just told you about art fairs and how I’ve heard some visitors complain about them.

“Now they’ve got nothing!” said Flynn.  “That’s right!” I thought.  “Now they’ve got nothing.”

The same thing happened to Art DC a few years ago.  Remember?  Their maiden voyage was also their swan song.  I’m tempted to say “Gone with the Wind,” but I won’t. 

You know, spring is such a great time for art.  Art and spring go together like April, May, June and a little Hope … those four young ladies playing together beneath the warmth of new found possibilities.  Well, I guess one of those possibilities has blown away.

Suddenly and regretfully, it’s feeling like a long, cold, windy spring.  I think I can even see some storm clouds approaching.

 

60 MINUTES & CONTEMPORARY ART

I've just finished watching a '60 Minutes' piece on Art Basel Miami Beach and the world art market. I've attended Art Basel Miami Beach for six years and love it.  I also respect the work of journalist Morley Safer and his story was dead on. HOWEVER, once again, the viewing public got whacked over the head by yet another media report that makes contemporary art synonymous with wealth and privilege.  This is one of the main reasons why emerging artists are having such a tough time today.  Believe it or not, but there are literally thousands of art collectors out there, myself included, who have cool (albeit not blue chip) art collections that include the works of many gifted and super-professional, LIVING artists. You DO NOT have to be wealthy to buy great art by gifted artists.  You do, however, have to do your homework and get to know the artists. Believe me, I'm living proof!  Granted, having great wealth enables you to buy most things, including contemporary art. However, being a wealthy art collector doesn't necessarily make you more cultured or knowledgeable about art than anyone else ... unless you're Eli Broad. Google him. Finally, if you love art and want to become a collector, start with your next door neighbor who may very well be a talented artist.  You don't even have to go to Miami Beach in December.  Gifted artists are human beings and guess what? They live among us. 

 

CLEAN SLATE

When you're on the brink of something seemingly new, it just seems like a great idea, doesn't it?

New Year ... New Life ... New You.  Everything gets ... Capitalized and intensified with hope and promise.  As they say, "Out with the old and in with the new."

You've got a clean slate.

As I'm writing these words, I'm sitting here in my living room where the fireplace is roaring and the tealight candles are flickering from a slight draft that's wafting from God knows where. It's not yet time for that grand countdown, but we're close enough for me to feel pressed by the need to pound out these words so that I can perhaps make sense of the past year and get poised for the days to come.

I could sit here and ponder and wonder and dwell in what has passed, but that's the point, isn't it?  It has passed.  It's over. 

No matter how much we fret and regret, what's done really is done.  Parting with the past is often tough because even though yesterday is over, we still carry the bruises, scars and sometimes triumphs of what has come ... and gone. 

So what is the wisdom of this moment?  Carry on, I suppose.  This past week, a popular radio show host who I loved to listen to passed away.  I'm stunned.  You can get so close to the finish line and not see the dawning of another year.  For all of our stresses and struggles and sometimes victories, at the end of the day, it comes right back down to dust to dust.  You may see another year, but no one gets out alive.

And yet, given that, I look onward with great expectation.  What can I make happen this year?  Who will I meet?  Where will I go?  What will I see?  Will my ship finally come in?

Those delightful twins, anticipation and expectation lift me up, wipe me off and give me a clean slate.  I can make amends for past failures by learning from them and moving on with a sense of grace and gratitude.  I don't have to wallow in the mud. 

As the new year dawns and the old one fades away, I know that at the end of this day, it's not even about me.  It's about what I can contribute in the best possible way.  I'll wash away what's no longer needed and with this clean slate, I'll move forward and onward and take on the new day.  And there's no better way to start than by saying ...

HAPPY NEW YEAR.  



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