What is the sound of one blogger yawning?

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/08/vuitton-thumb.jpgI wasn’t going to blog about MOCA’s oh-so-audacious curatorial decision to sell overpriced handbags in the middle of their forthcoming Murakami exhibit if only because here at blogging.la we have no “Who the Fuck Cares” category with which to classify such a post. But having received the latest issue of Artkrush this week and seeing that they too have joined the ranks of Marshall Astor and Kevin Roberts in covering said audacious curatorial decision, I feel compelled to pipe up.

First of all, there’s the “wtfc” factor I mentioned above. Is there anyone who still believes in a rigid art/commerce binary anymore? (Certainly not in LA, methinks.) Haven’t most of our proscenium arches fallen long ago? Is the commodification of high art still shocking or even newsworthy? Tomato soup anyone?

I know that my too-many years in grad school overexposed me to post modern theory but c’mon people. You don’t need a PhD for this one. It’s so tired I’m boring even myself here, so I’m going to move on to my second grouse about the handbag extravaganza and that’s the centrality of the curator figure in all of this. The LA Times piece that inspired the Artkrush coverage as well as the blog posts quotes Paul Schimmel, MOCA’s chief curator, but nowhere does the article quote Murakami, the artist himself. [Ironically, the article is now available in-full only for paying customers, but the abstract is still free.] Of his own daring-do, Schimmel says, “People have touched base with the play between the commercial arena and high art, but this is a little more confrontational.” And I say, “Don’t be so quick to believe your own press, Paul.” Not only is the concept not that darned exciting, but the curatorship shouldn’t overwhelm the art it’s trying to present. Maybe that sounds dreadfully conservative, but what can I say; I’m old school. And lately I feel like LA’s curation is often like a bad case of msg poisoning: it’s supposed to bring out the flavor of the food, but instead it just gives you a headache.

Last week I was in San Francisco and went to see the Hiroshi Sugimoto exhibit at the de Young. Now that was some good curating. The lighting was good. The photographs were not crowded. The signage was all Sugimoto’s words on his own work. One room devoted to mathematical works had a mirrored wall. Lovely. On the other hand, who remembers the Magritte exhibit at LACMA earlier this year? Oy vey. It was too busy (clouds on the floor, freeways on the ceiling) and at the same time had too little useful interpretation. And again, look at LACMA’s page about the exhibit. What’s the focus here? Magritte? Oh no, the focus is the curator, John Baldessari, who just happened to have two works in the show.

Maybe the centrality of the curator is an inevitable approach in a town where everyone is seemingly a “producer,” but I find it both tiresome and annoying. I went to the Magritte show because I am interested in Magritte, not Baldessari. And if I go to the Murakami exhibit it will be because I’m interested in Murakami not Schimmel.

Or maybe I’ll just go to pick up a new handbag.

(The photo comes courtesy of robertpaulyoung, who has some really lovely shots posted.)

7 Replies to “What is the sound of one blogger yawning?”

  1. There has never been a division between art and commerce. Any illusions that art is not a business, and that being an artist is not a profession are the result of the same kind of modern delusion that gave us the ridiculous image of the “starving artist.” The increasing interrelation between art and commerce is a resurgence of a more traditional industry model.

    The Hiroshi Sugimoto exhibition was beyond good – but don’t forget, just upstairs is the Nan Kemper “estate sale.”

    I still feel that the curatorial question about the Takashi Murakami retrospective is “Why now?” The guy is only 45, and I really think that it would be a smart decision to wait a decade or so to see the lasting effects of his works, and the artists in his circle, before entombing his legacy with a retrospective. I love Murakami’s work, but the whole show just makes MOCA look desperate to get the Superflat magic back, or to nail down the big Murakami show before a competing museum does.

  2. Part of me wants to run screaming down the aisle saying you can’t set up a functioning retail space in the show space. Keep them seperate, let the gift shop do its thing and let the art stand for itself.

    Certainly every artist needs to sell a few pieces along the way if they are to survive. None I know are happy forever as the “starving artist”.

    The concept as a whole when you step back is interesting. This installation is an about a snap shot of pop culture, one designer doing what he does best, producing consumable designs, art in itself, customised and used by his collectors. Taking his retail environment and making it a piece of functioning art, changing with each person passing through and buying it. It won’t be a static exhibit. I get it.

    It’s a novel idea but one I think would get tired with the public pretty quick. Art’s always been a way of an artist documenting what they saw, the emotions and communicating it to the viewer. I kinda like the blur between static exhibits and blatant consumerism. Just not as a regular practice.

  3. But here’s my thing–if this is a bold and confrontational blurring of the boundary between commerce and art isn’t that because Murakami has blurred those boundaries not because Schimmel is such a genius? As for the art/commerce division or lack thereof, even if we say there isn’t a real division, there’s still a distinction between an artist and say a designer or ad guy who works for the Gap right?

  4. I understand your point and very well stated. I guess I’m just a bit more willing to give a little wiggle room with this experiment. I’m not so certain the ad guy and designer aren’t artists. They are creating things to get our attention not necessarily for good nor evil but commerce. Their creativity until they make it big is limited by the boundary’s imposed by the client.

    This isn’t so much a bold confrontation but a blurring of boundary’s. Like I said before, its interesting but I think the publice will get bored and it will end soon.

    BTW…thanks for the post I love things that make me step back and think a bit.

  5. The is a division between art and commerce, and the ad guy and the designer aren’t artists. There. I said it. Is it actually controversial to say those things now, at least in Los Angeles? How deeply sad, if true.

  6. Sorry Daniel – the ad guy and the designer are artists. The divisions between “Fine Art” and “Craft” and “Fine Art” and “Commercial Art” serve little real purpose other than reinforcing the self important elitism of the “Fine Art” community.

    Obviously our society places higher value on the works of “Fine Artists” and ascribes all kinds of hyperbolic descriptors to their work and to the artists themselves, but that doesn’t make the vast bulk of artists working in nearly every industry, touching upon every aspect of human commerce not artists. Even if you want to ascribe to the silly hierarchy that elevates one type of artist over another, that does not rob millions of hard working individuals of their status as artists.

    Even the most obscure or academic artist exists within the commercial scope of industry. Look at the huge collector’s market for the works of “outsider artists” or the system of public support and grants that supports seemingly “non commercial” projects like Farmlab.

  7. Part of me wants to run screaming down the aisle saying you can’t set up a functioning retail space in the show space. Keep them seperate, let the gift shop do its thing and let the art stand for itself.

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