23 June, 2011

23 June - Guest of Cindy Sherman

I finally watched Guest of Cindy Sherman, the documentary co-directed by Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, aka Paul H-O. Paul begins with the fabulous and ghetto public access program "Gallery Beat," in which he and co-producer of the film Tom Donahue bust into galleries throughout New York and force their way into the faces of some of the art elite of the early 90's including Julian Schnabel (who hates them and comes off as an odious narcissist in the film), Spencer Tunic (then an unknown artist, Paul records the show in the buff), Tracy Emin (she is so unknown at the time he forgets her name), Ross Bleckner (who mocks public access TV). The list goes on and on and on.

Eventually, Paul finds his way to the already iconic photographer Cindy Sherman. The chemistry is immediate and Paul is permitted rare and intimate access to record Cindy's world. What ensues is an insider glimpse of the glamor, treachery, and mercurial nature of the art world from the late '80's through five excruciating years of Paul's unraveling from being Cindy Sherman's boyfriend, downgraded to "Guest of Cindy Sherman," then ultimately to becoming "Ex of Cindy Sherman."

The documentary is as painful as it is intoxicating, reality TV at its best. As Joy Press of Salon.com describes "We get a sidelong view of the art world and its symbiotic relationship with commerce and celebrity, as well as an exploration of the awkward life of a famous person's "plus one." We also get an incredibly rare look at Cindy Sherman the person, the fledgling surfer, the "Florence Nightingale" of girlfriends. Risë Keller of Movie Habit wrote an insightful review of the film, describing that "because the graceless Paul H-O features so prominently in it, I kept fearing the film would lapse into something clumsy, something that would make me want to stop watching the film before it was over. But the narrative surprised me at those moments by pulling back from his particular brink of clutziness, and the story about this odd couple kept me on edge. Other tensions kept pulling me in, too: the tension between the sunny, pert faces of the “real” Cindy Sherman and the desperation in her portraits, and the class tensions that course through most scenes. "

One of the most compelling, and optimistic, aspects of the documentary in my opinion was the message (delivered as Paul's lament) that authenticity can transcend the bullshit of the art world. Paul was having a blast as a subversive ex-artist documenting (and snidely judging) the art world through the lens of Art Beat. It worked for him. As Cindy Sherman's boyfriend, he begins to resent how hard he has to work in contrast to the ease with which Cindy breezes through the art world. Why? I venture authenticity. What shines through in this film is Sherman's conviction and a drive. Her singular voice in a cacophony of art world sycophants that transcends its superficiality and fickle whims. Sherman makes art her way - has even attempted (unsuccessfully due to her success) to make unsalable art. For that very conviction, she is exactly who she is. And as the movie poster illustrates, Paul finds himself lost in the shadow of Sherman's spotlight.

19 June, 2011

19 June - A Bentonville Bilbao?

Is Bentonville the new Bilbao? On 11-11-11, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will open its doors in the unlikely city of Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum will be 201,000 square feet, over twice the size of the Whitney Museum of American Art and will chronicle the entire story of American art from the Colonial era of the late 1600s to contemporary works including Chuck Close, Kara Walker, Mark di Suvero, Walton Ford, James Turrell, and Roxy Paine. This project is the brainchild of Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton, heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune.

In addition to Ms. Walton’s lavish spending to build the collection (over 400 works will be displayed upon the opening of the museum) and initiate the project, her family has pledged to give $800 million to the new art museum, the largest cash donation ever made to a U.S. art museum. Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal explains that “the gift from the Walton Family Foundation trumps the $660 million in oil stocks that J. Paul Getty bequeathed to his namesake Los Angeles museum more than three decades ago.” According to Don Bacigalupi, the museum's executive director, "$325 million from the family's gift this week was earmarked to buy additional artworks. Another $350 million will go to cover the museum's operating expenses (around $16 million a year), and the rest, around $125 million, will be set aside for future upkeep of the complex."

The museum's “encyclopedic sweep (is) reminiscent of the ambitions of the robber-baron museum builders in the Gilded Age, but rarely attempted by new museums today. Billionaire Eli Broad, for example, has pledged nearly $340 million to build and endow a new museum for his collection in Los Angeles, but his vast holdings only cover the past few decades of U.S. and international art.” (Crow)

This is a massive undertaking in any city, but this is located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Why? Because Ms. Walton seeks to bring high art to this middle-American town of 35,000, best known as the headquarters of Wal-Mart. The Crystal Bridges website describes their mission, in addition to expanding access to art, cultural and learning resources, "will also spur the continued economic development of Northwest Arkansas.”

This brings to mind the Guggenheim Bilbao, now the landmark of the city. Built by starchitect Frank Gehry, Bilbao was transformed virtually overnight from a backwater to be avoided to a must see destination. As the city’s website describes “Bilbao was changed forever. Then came the obvious knock on effects of hotels opening, the airport expanding, upgrading of all facilities, extra employment etc etc. Today the advances continue as Bilbao continues to strive to make itself a tourist friendly destination.”

Ms. Walton described that “for years I’ve been thinking about what we could do as a family that could really make a difference in this part of the world. I thought this is something we desperately need, and what a difference it would have made were it here when I was growing up.” Carol Vogel of the New York Times reported that the museum is “planning for about 250,000 visitors in their first year and expect an annual operating budget of $16 million to $20 million. In addition to the 120 full-time jobs the institution is creating, they said, it will pump millions of tourist dollars into northwest Arkansas.”

An interesting story to follow – certainly a worthwhile collection to visit. Let's hope the Field of Dreams concept works for Bentonville as it did Bilbao, "if you build it, they will come."

images: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Bilbao