18 February, 2011

18 Feb - Orgy of the Rich

LAUNCHPROJECTS - Tuesday's evening auctions at Sotheby's London experienced an unprecedented moment - five protesters snuck into the room and disrupted the auction process. The protestors threw fake £50 notes in the air and then unfurled a large banner stating "orgy of the rich". The demonstrators belonged to Arts Against Cuts, a group of artists and students protesting a recent plan by the U.K. government to explore budget cuts for arts programs in the wake of the recession.

Their protest began with moaning as Andy Warhol's Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) was presented by Sotheby's star auctioneer Tobias Meyer. The moaning escalated to screaming, shouting, sirens, and alarms while dozens of protesters rallied outside the auction house, shouting and waving banners. One particularly poignant sign read 1 Warhol = 1,222 tuitions.

In the words of New York Times contributor Soren Melikian, "If this was a happening, as I overheard another dealer saying in jest, it was too close to the bone to feel like a joke. It chimed well with the Whatever the reality, this may have long-term repercussions in the market. People deeply involved in art, rich and not so rich, tend to live in their own cocoon. They are not used to having the worries of the rest of the world thrown in their faces."

Rob Parsons and Godfrey Baker of the London Evening Standard quoted a protester explain that "it is obscene that the amount of money being spent at this auction could be the difference between having some form of local services which exists in the community and not." Belgian collector Mark Vanmoerkerke said the auction house took the interruption in its stride. He said: "It's fun to see people stand up for what they believe in. An orgy of the rich? They're not exactly wrong."

My guess is that Vanmoerkerke's flash of insight did not influence his enthusiasm or spending, nor did the protest have any effect on the rest of the evenings sales. The notably small sale raised £44m. When combined with the results of the single-owner sale Looking Closely held the previous week, Sotheby’s total for its post-war art auctions fetched £88m - the second highest February in the auction's history.

15 February, 2011

16 Feb - Contemporary Gaga

LAUNCHPROJECTS - In Monday's LA Times, art critic Christopher Knight discussed the "space Age plastic egg" in which pop-music sensation Lady Gaga arrived and later used in her performance on Sunday's Grammy Awards. Knight addressed the similarities between Gaga's egg and and Japanese artist Mariko Mori's Wave UFO sculpture, featured in the 2008 Venice Biennale. Knight further paralleled the meat dress worn by Gaga at this year's Video Music Awards and Canadian artist Jana Sterbak's 1987 sculpture Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorexic, made from 50 pounds of raw flank steak, now in the permanent collection of Paris' Centre Pompidou.

The article jogged my memory to my first experience with Lady Gaga's music. I had heard a few of her songs on the radio, knew she was Julliard trained, and wanted to know more about her. In a quick Google search, the video for the song Bad Romance popped up. I was stunned to watch this contemporary pop icon clearly riffing on Matthew Barney's epic video project, The Cremaster Cycle. I was electrified by the connection. Gaga had successfully transformed an utterly esoteric work of art (even among the erudite and experienced of contemporary art aficionados) into a sexy and accessible 4-minute visual sensation targeting mass audiences and teenage fans across the globe.
Gaga's "sampling" of contemporary art could perceived as the debasement the original artists' intention and process for media attention and pop sensationalism. I have yet to find any artistic credits to Mori, Barney, or Sterbak on Gaga's website and if that does not yet exist it needs to happen. I also feel, however, that it is exciting that contemporary art is influencing videos, album covers, and pop fashion. It provides the possibility of a more mainstream access to the type of art that can otherwise be considered too rarefied for mass consumption. Access creates understanding and appreciation. It ideally also fosters future champions of the arts.
When pop stars incorporate contemporary art into their practice it becomes less intimidating and mysterious to those who do consider themselves "art people." Lady Gaga must give credit to the artists that inspire her ideas. Credit, a brief description, and links to more information about the artists that influence her work on her website could whet the appetite of her enormous fan-base. Gaga could also add a curator to her entourage. Imagine the cultural street cred that would create - a much stronger statement of cultural achievement and sophistication than "poppin' bottles of Crystal." This confluence of culture is a potentially phenomenal vehicle to acquaint a substantial and diverse group of pop music fans to the wonder of contemporary art. Keep it up, Gaga - just give credit where credit is due.