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Global economic meltdown, the euro crisis and Occupy protests – this year has been dominated by financial issues. But what is money anyway? We invited writers and artists including Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood and Naomi Klein to invent new currencies and banknotes for a changed
When Labour launched its manifesto last week, it chose a brand new building as a backdrop. This was the Queen Elizabeth hospital, Birmingham, where the first phases of a new £545m super-hospital will open in June. The forecourt where the cabinet gathered to brandish their paperless manifesto memory sticks looked somewhat bleak, but never mind. We were invited to admire the scale of the investment behind the V-formation of grinning ministers.
Labour has been an enthusiastic builder. It has embarked on a huge hospital building programme and has promised “to rebuild or renew nearly every secondary school”. It has celebrated construction which flourished in the prolonged boom. In his first conference speech as prime minister, Brown promised 240,000 new homes a year, a target that has shrivelled in the merciless drought of recession.
It also, in its early days, proclaimed the importance of architecture and design, to an extent never before heard from a British government.
Shepard Fairey is all for free speech and creating a political dialogue. But the man who created the instantly recognizable posters for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has some choice words for the anonymous artist who made the Obama Joker artwork.
“I have my doubts about the person’s intelligence,” Fairey said on the phone from Pittsburgh. “It’s not grammatically correct. It would be ‘socialist’ … Obama is not Marx. He didn’t create socialism.”
Semantics aside, “I don’t agree with the political content of the poster,” Fairey said. “They don’t realize that Medicaid is a socialist program.” The federal Medicaid program, of course, predates the current administration by several decades.
It won’t shock anybody that Fairey, the guy who churned out the artwork that some call “left-wing propaganda,” doesn’t get behind the idea of Obama being a socialist. But he does think the Joker poster is well done.
“The artwork is great in that it gets a point across really quickly,” Fairey said. “The Joker is a sinister, evil character that can’t be trusted. And if they want to make that parallel with Obama — bam.”
“A lot of these things are fueled by frustration,” Fairey said. “Maybe they’re frustrated and don’t understand the whole situation.”
But who is Fairey to criticize the nefarious Obama poster when he himself is responsible for numerous artworks that painted President Bush as the villain?
“My frustration with Bush was fueled by a very clear understanding of what’s going on,” he asserted.
Regardless, Fairey is not proud of his popular piece that portrayed Bush as a vampire. “I think that it was a very one-dimensional presentation,” he said.
Maybe one day the Joker artist will come to regret his notorious poster too. But we may never know. We’re left with no leads as to who made the poster. Even Fairey’s circle of well-connected street artists is still guessing. If it’s an established artist, he did pretty well to cover his tracks.
“Most artists get to the point where they would like people to recognize their work by some sort of signature style,” Fairey said. “Either, it’s done by an artist who doesn’t want people to know who they are, or it’s not done by an artist.”
Since it has no discernible style, it could just as easily be the work of a kid with a pirated copy of Photoshop or a middle-aged guy looking to spread a message. The latter would be especially interesting because the political nature of graffiti and guerrilla posters tend to skew to the left.
“It could be possible that a right-winger finally got hip to the idea that street art can get people’s attention and be a valuable way to express a point of view,” Fairey said.
Los Angeles Times
Tate Liverpool exhibition to explode myth that Picasso was ‘ a playboy extrovert’. Photograph: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images
Picasso’s cold war career as a highly political painter, peace campaigner and tireless fundraiser for leftwing causes will be revealed in an exhibition at Tate Liverpool next spring that will include letters from world leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Ho Chi Minh, as well as a telegram from Fidel Castro congratulating the artist on being awarded the Soviet Union’s international peace prize.
Christoph Grunenberg, the gallery’s director, said the exhibition would explode the myth that Picasso was “a playboy extrovert … more concerned with chasing women than world politics”.
Picasso himself said: “I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict. But I have no doubt war is in these paintings.”
The exhibition begins in 1944, the year he joined the French communist party. He remained a member until his death in 1973, and Lynda Morris, the curator, said the legend that he was the party’s largest individual donor is probably true.
He rarely gave money, but gave innumerable works to be reproduced as fund raising calendars, Christmas cards, silk scarves or limited edition prints, so many that the Communist journal l’Humanité had a full time staff member working with him on producing them.
She found dozens of boxes of political correspondence in the archives of the Picasso Museum in Paris, showing that he was in constant touch with peace groups, refugee aid schemes and women’s groups, in Europe, north and south America, and Israel. He also supported hospitals and homes in France sheltering refugees from the Spanish civil war.
In a narrow swath along Manhattan’s Hudson River, stone walls and beautiful arched bridges set off with trees disguise a buried railroad and entwine a six-lane highway.
This is Riverside Park, and it’s an infrastructure masterpiece.
Congress and President Obama shouldn’t commit themselves to spending billions for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects before examining every inch of the park, which was built during the Depression.
Regrettably, we can’t create its contemporary equivalent today. Great ossified bureaucracies make it all but impossible to unite highways, rails, transit and appealing walkways.
I fear that “shovel ready” means boondoggles like the E- 470 beltway, a six-lane, 46-mile arc through empty high-desert grasslands dotted with new subdivisions east of Denver. Cars cruise the wide-open toll road at 80 miles per hour.
Touted as essential to the metro area’s growth, this land developers’ delight hasn’t lightened loads on more centrally located highways. It’s just rearranged growth patterns, scattering splotches of development over an unimaginably large landscape. New residents depend on long beltway commutes by car.
We can’t do better now, the lobbying legions say, we need to start the bulldozers fast. Translation: No bridge to nowhere will be left behind.
What’s wrong with America’s way of building transportation has long been known. We segregate roads, mass transit, railways and air. Each has its own pot of money. It’s no one’s job to assemble a transportation system that offers the right travel mode for the task at hand.
Aside from the odious earmarks, most transportation funding decisions are made by Metropolitan Planning Organizations. Never heard of MPOs? They’re supposed to set priorities based on real needs, though instead they operate in obscurity and allow the political horse-trading to go on unimpeded by real oversight.
So much is made of the nation’s neglect of infrastructure, yet the U.S. actually is spending record sums on it.
We don’t make progress because the nation fails to lay out new communities so they can be efficiently served by means other than the auto. A start would be to group people-intensive colleges and commercial centers as hubs along corridors served by transit and walkable streets.
While the bureaucracies (state and federal) get overhauled, officials can easily cross off much on the wish lists, like all those beltways that are really land-development schemes posing as congestion relief. (Charlotte, North Carolina, killed an outer- beltway plan some years ago and has done fine, thank you.)
Next, knock out the fourth, fifth and sixth expressway lanes. When roads get that big, there’s enough demand to support high-quality transit. The six rail tracks that tunnel into New York’s Penn Station haul as many people as 45 freeway lanes.
What should Obama support? Lots of innovation has been trickling up from municipalities. Beltway suburbs like Bellevue, Washington, turned their parking-lot acres into high-value suburban downtowns. Focused on transit, they’re appealing as places to walk, shop, work and live.
Some metro areas are aligning roads and rails (both freight and passenger) in corridors to support these emerging urban hubs. The San Francisco Bay Area could use some cash to finally finish a rapid-transit extension linking Oakland and the East Bay to San Jose and Silicon Valley. Without additional aid, underfunded and overburdened big cities will soon have to stop long-planned, often-deferred projects like New York’s Second Avenue Subway.
Express bus lanes and bikeways sharing “green streets” with cars can reduce auto dependency. In the best cases, each mode is physically separated from the others by planted buffers. These little Riverside Parks aren’t just pretty. They make pedestrian crossings safer and sop up storm water — essential in an increasingly flood-prone era.
Dollars spent that get Americans out of cars will ease traffic, save money, reduce pollution, slow global warming and make us less vulnerable to volatile oil oligarchs.
Road projects do little more than rearrange the traffic jams. Look for freeway spectaculars among the proposals, like the 23-lane extravaganza touted for Atlanta’s suburbs. Mark them “D” — for delusional.
Four months ago the architect Daniel Libeskind declared publicly that architects should think long and hard before working in China, adding, “I won’t work for totalitarian regimes.” His remarks raised hackles in his profession, with some architects accusing him of hypocrisy because his own firm had recently broken ground on a project in Hong Kong.
Since then, however, Mr. Libeskind’s speech, delivered at a real estate and planning event in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has reanimated a decades-old debate among architects over the ethics of working in countries with repressive leaders or shaky records on human rights.
With a growing number of prominent architects designing buildings in places like China, Iran, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where development has exploded as civic freedoms or exploitation of migrant labor have come under greater scrutiny, the issue has inched back into the spotlight.
Debate abounds on architecture blogs, and human rights groups are pressing architects to be mindful of a government’s politics and labor conditions in accepting commissions.
The ideological issue is as old as architecture itself. By designing high-profile buildings that bolster the profile of a powerful client, do architects implicitly sanction the client’s actions or collaborate in symbolic mythmaking?
Or in the long run does architecture transcend politics and ideology? If the architect’s own vision is progressive, can architecture be a vehicle for positive change?
For the most part, the issue is not a concrete one for the field’s top practitioners; no architect interviewed for this article except Mr. Libeskind has publicly rejected the notion of working for hot-button countries. Yet the debate underscores the complex decisions that go into designing architecture — from the basic financial imperatives, to public access, to the larger message that a building sends — and is prodding architects to reflect on their priorities.
“It’s complicated,” said Thom Mayne, the Los Angeles architect, whose projects include a corporate headquarters in Shanghai. “Architecture is a negotiated art and it’s highly political, and if you want to make buildings there is diplomacy required.”
“I’ve always been interested in an architecture of resistance — architecture that has some power over the way we live,” added Mr. Mayne, who said he had recently been interviewed for projects in Abu Dhabi, Kazakhstan, Russia, the Middle East and Indonesia. “Working under adversarial conditions could be seen as a plus because you’re offering alternatives. Still there are situations that make you ask the questions: ‘Do I want to be a part of this?’ “…
Some architects argue that architecture is more important to them than politics. “I’m a guy who has on my wall a picture of the guy in front of the tank,” said Eric Owen Moss, a Los Angeles architect, referring to the famous photograph from the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. “But I’ve never turned down a project in Russia and China”…
Architects like Steven Holl cast their decision to build in China as a way of promoting a connection between East and West. “Certainly I question working anywhere,” Mr. Holl said. “But my position as an architect is to work in the spirit of international civilization and cooperation. You have to make a contribution.”
He cited his two-million-square-foot Linked Hybrid housing complex in Beijing, which will be heated and cooled by a 660-well geothermal energy system. “We are making the largest green total community in the history of Beijing,” Mr. Holl said. “This is an example for many kinds of urban work.”
Others go even further, arguing that their projects will be an emphatic force for social change. The Swiss architect Jacques Herzog has asserted that by supplying acres of public park space to city dwellers in the long term, his Olympic stadium in Beijing, designed with his partner, Pierre de Meuron, “will change radically — transform — the society.”
“Engagement is the best way of moving in the right direction,” he said.
New York Times
Decades before Marjane Satrapi drew the first frame of her celebrated comic book memoir “Persepolis,” the Iranian satirist Ardeshir Mohassess, now 69, was making black-and-white drawings whose blend of humor and reportage made him a cult figure for artists and intellectuals in his country. With rich allusions to Persian miniatures, Western artists like Goya and episodes in Iranian history, Mr. Mohassess has depicted life in Iran before, during and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The drawings have a fanciful yet descriptive line quality, comically exaggerating facial expressions while giving full weight to bullet holes and severed limbs. Some of the meanings may be lost on American viewers, but the artist’s deep suspicion of religious and political authority comes across clearly…
Unlike a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammed, Mr. Mohassess’s drawings have not inspired any riots. But they did attract the attention of the shah’s dreaded secret police in the 1970s. After receiving several warnings from the Iranian authorities Mr. Mohassess relocated to New York in 1976. The move was intended to be temporary, but the revolution of 1979 prompted a change of plans…
Artists, writers, teachers and free thinkers are among the oppressed. Ironic captions — “The convict’s execution coincided with the king’s birthday ceremonies,” for example, or “Members of a birth control seminar take a memorial picture” — pick up where Mr. Mohassess’s pen leaves off.
In one of the largest and most powerful works, a wedding has been interrupted by an oil truck crashing through the wall. The guests, some in chadors and others in Western clothing, seem to have been immobilized by this turn of events. The scene is farcical except for the bodies of the toppled bride and groom and the nooses dangling overhead.
Mr. Mohassess often works from photographs, lending his scenes of executions and “accidents” a grim authenticity. In an interview in the small exhibition catalog he admits to collecting “photographs of murderers and murdered people, a habit I have had since I was 7 or 8 years old.” He also collects images from the Qajar period, a source for the feathered and jeweled headdresses and embroidered tunics worn by the loutish royals and lackeys in his art.
Several drawings that Mr. Mohassess made after the revolution imbue single figures with disturbing symbolism. In “A Letter From Shiraz” (1982) a turbaned figure draws a picture of his own amputated feet; the upturned stumps of his legs serve as pedestals for them. The garden setting signifies “paradise on earth” in traditional Persian miniature painting; here it unites creation with self-mutilation…
Given that his work is found in newspapers and magazines as well as on gallery walls, Westerners might tend to think of Mr. Mohassess, in the simplest terms, as Iran’s answer to Saul Steinberg. His drawings have been published in The New York Times as well as in the Nation and Playboy. Yet they are more ambiguous than typical op-ed illustrations and more subtle than most political cartoons. In Mr. Mohassess’s works, the coded beauty of traditional Persian art comes face to face with the ugliness of successive autocratic regimes.
New York Times
There are three galleries around which curator Douglas Fogle’s Carnegie International revolves. One features nine intense Vija Celmins paintings of starscapes. The Carnegie’s Hall of Sculpture features Mike Kelley’s take on a grade-school science fair run amok. And finally there’s Richard Hughes’ room of human abandonment, a hint of what, say, a steel town might look like if the locals suddenly went Anasazi. [At left, Hughes’ 2007 The Big Sleep and a 2008 untitled wall-piece.]
The theme of Fogle’s more-or-less triennial — there’s so much art production around the world that macro-surveys are no longer have authority or integrity, and Fogle has wisely chucked that concept — is humanity, contact. As Fogle told me two weeks ago, his idea was to make a show about “this human desire to connect with another person or another world in a way… I ended up thinking it should be a show about humanity and have a human quality, that it should be about connections, about the idea of trying to connect with someone else.”
But what Fogle didn’t mention was that his idea wasn’t to show art that was about connecting in a romantic, fuzzy, Match.com kind of way, but a show in which contact is a survivalist imperative born from dystopia. Fogle’s International, subtitled “Life on Mars,” is the smartest bleak museum show I’ve seen in years. It is not a warning of what will happen if humankind doesn’t respond to global warming, AIDS, famine, or any one of numerous global problems: It’s too late for that. Instead Fogle presents artwork after artwork portraying a world far gone, a world beyond preservation. Sometimes people have left, sometimes they’re disfigured, and sometimes the reference is more abstract.
Modern Art Notes
During the recent Association of Arts Administration Educators conference here in Madison, the increasing proficiency and professionalism around our collective conversation was both a source of pride, and a cause for pause. As a field of educators, researching and teaching cultural management and leadership, we’re clearly growing in reflection, connections, and success. But what if we’re doing so at a time when the profession, as we’ve defined it, is changing rapidly? What if we’re all getting increasingly proficient at a decreasingly relevant part of the ecosystem?
Consider, for example, the three-word phrase that often crops up at such conferences: ”professional arts organization.” This phrase captures, in shorthand, the specific category of cultural endeavor we tend to be discussing. Professional arts organizations require professional management, aesthetic integrity, curatorial control, and stable but responsive structures to hold them together while moving their mission forward. These are the standards that drive our teaching and learning about the field.
But each of those three words — ”professional,” ”arts,” and ”organization” — is in radical flux at the moment. That suggests that a phrase (and an assumption) combining all three could mean less and less in shorthand form.
This concern may come from my current reading matter, Clay Shirky’s new book Here Comes Everybody, about the increasing opportunities for collective action without traditional organizational structures — think Flickr or Wikipedia or iStockPhoto. But there’s something rumbling in the world that questions our basic assumptions about arts and cultural management. Let’s take a look at each word in the phrase, in reverse order:
The formal organization (social, commercial, political, etc.) evolved in response to a set of structural barriers to collective action. Work that required more than one or a few people to complete — highway systems, national defense, mass-produced goods, save-the-spotted-owl initiatives, performing arts touring networks, museums — created large problems of coordination, alignment of resources (enough money in one place under one decision system), and high transaction costs (everyone having to agree every time…exhausting). The organization resolved these challenges through formalized decision structures, consolidated resources, and persistent identity (for example, a corporation lives separately from its founders, and is endowed with many/most of the rights of an individual). There was a cost to this structure, to be sure. A significant portion of any organization’s energy is consumed by self-maintenance rather than delivering on its purpose. Since the option was to not do the thing at all, we figured the costs were acceptable and necessary.
With the evolution of digital communications networks and software, however, many of the original challenges that required an organization are gone or significantly reduced. Collective action is increasingly available to distributed groups who don’t even know each other by name, and may convene around a cause only to disburse thereafter. The cost of production and distribution has dropped to almost zero for many goods and services. Organizations are still necessary and essential parts of the mix, but they’re not the only (or even the optimal) solution to every question, as they once were.
There’s little need to go on about this particular word, which we all would agree is a fast-moving, increasingly amorphous creature. When we talk about ”arts” in the context of ”arts management” or ”arts organizations,” we still generally mean predominantly Western forms of expression, with an assumed emphasis on technical or aesthetic excellence. We don’t always mean this, of course. But if you nudge most conversations by professionals, you’ll find this assumption just beneath the surface. Evidence comes from the fact that we still add qualifiers to the word when we mean something other than the above: ”community arts,” ”amateur arts.”
Specialized organizations in specialized industries require specialized professionals — trained in the task by formal process or apprenticeship. Professionals earn the term when they are paid for their specialized work and when the nature and frame of their efforts are defined and evaluated by their peers rather than by their customers. Professional writers define what professional writers do. Professional doctors and realtors define the parameters and certifications for their peers.
But, again, what happens to the word ”professional” when works of comparable quality and skill can be conceived, produced, and distributed without expensive or centralized means of production? Flickr has millions of exceptional images, many shot by individuals with no formal training, expecting no pay, and unfiltered by a traditional gatekeeper (curator, publisher, agent).
When reproduction, distribution, and categorization were all difficult, as they were for the last five hundred years, we needed professionals to undertake those jobs, and we properly venerated those people for the service they performed. Now those tasks are simpler, and the earlier roles have in many cases become optional, and are sometimes obstacles to direct access, often putting the providers of the older service at odds with their erstwhile patrons.
So, am I suggesting that we abandon our foundational phrase ”professional arts organization”? Of course not. As long as there are complex processes, specialized physical requirements of expression (theaters, museums, even on-line forums), and a recognition of the value of extraordinary skill, vision, and voice, we will need organizations, professionals, and filtering systems to find, foster, and connect expressive works to the world.
But we may want to recalibrate our underlying assumptions as an industry (and as educators who hope to advance that industry and its goals) about the specific role of what we now call ”professional arts organizations.” These are a subset of a massive ecology available to us to achieve our larger purpose. If we stick too rigidly to our terms, we may become obstacles to the missions we claim to have.
The Artful Manager
The following comment by Dary appeared on Taylor’s posting and is a worthwhile continuation of the argument:
I actually just saw this guy speak at a… ahem… super-dorky “Web 2.0” Conference in San Francisco. He was really, really engaging and had some pretty cool viewpoints. One of his hypotheses is that our society as a whole is coming out of an age of collective intellectual inebriation much like society did prior to the Industrial Revolution. He told a story about how rampant gin was in 19th-century England – to the point where there were gin pushcarts like our current-day ice cream carts – and how society as a whole was just drunk and lazy for decades. And then it went out of fashion, people starting doing stuff, and we got the Industrial Revolution.
He makes the analogy of that gin-soaked drunkeness to the TV-soaked stupor of the past 50 years or so. He says now people are watching less television (which I haven’t checked the numbers on) and are spending more time applying actual brain power to such things as updating Wikipedia articles, tagging sites on del.icio.us and ma.gnolia, writing blogs, and twittering (brain power optional on that one).
His views are, of course, open to debate and there’s some intriguing counter-arguments to the seemingly pristine virtues of collective intelligence.
Anyway, in terms of how Shirky’s theories and the new communal web apply to Professional Arts Organizations, I’m not exactly sure what exactly you’re getting at. With “Organizations” the web makes it easier to schedule things and get in touch with people. Of course. You don’t really redefine anything with “Arts” in terms of this new landscape except to touch on the fact that Professionals think Amateurs are lame. And with “Professional”, you argue Web 2.0 makes it easier for non-professional artists to have their material discovered? Yes, of course, again. I dunno.
What’s more interesting to me is how a larger pool of available pieces of media changes society’s collective agreement on what is worthwhile and valuable in the arts and in general. Colbert jokes about “truthiness”, but it’s actual a valid point of philosophical debate within this new worldwide, social move to open up human knowledge. It’s especially pertinent to music I think, not just in terms of what a society consumes, but how they consume it. And I go back-and-forth between whether these new aspects are wonderful and free or troubling and insulting.
Ask someone how many concerts they’ve been to vs. how many YouTube videos of concerts/pieces they’ve watched in the past year- my ratio is deplorable! And the idea that it’s now easy to create music – for $500 you can build a moderately decent home studio and create recordings of moderately decent quality – so professionals aren’t as necessary anymore is worrisome.
It’s all happened so fast I don’t think people in general have really stopped to think about what this means for our society’s appreciation of the arts and value system for judging works.
So I’m thinking out loud, but clearly this is a contentious point for me. Thoughts?
Filling the boards of arts companies with business appointees has been a dismal failure that has stifled creativity.
That is the view of the international arts entrepreneur Justin Macdonnell, who wants a radical rethink of the way arts companies are run.
For too long arts companies had been urged by funding bodies to simulate the business sector, he said yesterday at the first in a series of breakfast forums, Arts And Public Life, held by the arts organisation Currency House.
“Who has not been told that they need to get more people with ‘business skills’ on their board, more people with financial, legal, marketing prowess to guide and restrain the wilful artist – as though it were the arts that regularly had the corporate crashes, bankruptcies and shady dealings?” Macdonnell said.
This move had restricted the ability of arts boards to make informed judgments. Ironically, the funding agencies that had pushed their clients in that direction were now questioning whether the boards had the capacity to choose good artistic leadership.
“Throughout the English-speaking world, the board system of governance in the not-for-profit sector has been a miserable failure,” he said.
Macdonnell, who returned to Australia this year to establish the Anzarts Institute as an advocate for the arts, told the Herald credentials for appointing board members were often questionable.
“The pendulum has swung so far in the direction of appointing people to arts boards whose primary skill is to be business people and who are appointed on the grounds that maybe they’ve been a subscriber or an audience member or they’re described as a lover of the arts,” he said.
“Well, I’m a subscriber to Telstra but that doesn’t mean anyone would put me on [its] board or put me in charge of communications policy.”
Macdonnell, who has spent the past five years in Miami as artistic director of the Carnival Centre for the Performing Arts and who has worked extensively in South America, said the appointment of board members was taken seriously in the US. Potential board members received guidance there.
But he did not believe that simply including more artists on boards was a solution. What was needed was a way for artists and their boards to work more collaboratively and a rethink of the way arts companies were structured.
“Are we so limited in our thinking that we can come up with no better way of doing business than a company limited by guarantee with a board of seven and an uneasy diarchy of general manager and artistic director?” he said.
Many art forms around the world were in crisis, particularly classical music, which had raised the worship of the past to cult status. Theatre companies seemed to be in better shape because they were presenting current work as well as past.
“But they, too, seem to rely more on celebrity than substance in their quest for renewal,” Macdonnell said.
His five years in Miami had taught him that arts organisations had few skills in fostering and managing innovation.
Arts centres in the US were essentially presenters, not creators, of work.
“They take their shopping cart to the arts mall – also known as the booking conference – and buy pre-packaged shows off the shelf, like frozen peas,” he said.
“And they thaw them out for touring. To me, however, a presenter ought to present not just the pre-packaged but the fresh food as well – work made by our own artists.”
Sydney Morning Herald