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new arts writers panel discussion

Post #298 • June 14, 2004, 6:52 AM • 25 Comments

It's official, folks: June 24, a week from this Thursday, there's going to be a panel discussion at Frederic Snitzer Gallery of the new arts writers in town. Quoth the press release:

MIAMI'S NEW ART CRITICISM BANG - A PANEL

Triggered by Miami's arts growth and its "news" relevance, a fresh diversity of sources and opinions has emerged in our written media. Only five years ago our city had only one full time art critic. Today, younger voices with different takes on art have appeared in the Miami New Times and Street. What's the meaning of this development for our art scene? Is the art critic's job relevant? Can the critic be objective?

A panel that includes Vivian Marthell, Anne Tschida, Franklin Einspruch, Omar Sommeryns and Carlos Suarez de Jesus will discuss these and other topics. Alfredo Triff is the moderator.

Thursday, June 24th at 8:00pm
Fred Snitzer Gallery
2247 N.W. 1st Place
305.448.8976

See you there. In the meantime, feel free to suggest topics below.

Comment

1.

oldpro

June 14, 2004, 4:11 PM

You might want to discuss whether that "fresh diversity of voices and opinions" is anything more than a self-congratulatory fiction, and how objective you are when your panel is sponsored by a commercial gallery.

2.

M

June 14, 2004, 5:52 PM

I agree with oldpro that this likely to be (as so many such things are) completely self-congratulatory and self-serving. It's a safe bet that nobody will criticize Sintzer for his blatant conflict of interst between his connections to New World and his Gallery/business practices. In other fields it would be called "insider trading" or nepotism.

Also, this seems like an incestuous listing to me. It consists of people Alfredo Triff either uses to do his job for him under the guise of "other voices" or people who don't threaten him in some way.

There are some people left off. Where is Elisa Turner, for example: was she even invited?

3.

Franklin

June 14, 2004, 8:45 PM

Oldpro, your first topic is a valid one - be sure to bring it up if we don't. Regrading your second, Snitzer Gallery volunteered to host the talk but organizational credit goes to Alfredo Triff. Saying that Snitzer is sponsoring it is a little strong - he's lending his space. Speaking for myself, I'll be happy to hurt his feelings should the need arise.

Michael, the idea behind the panel is that it consists of writers who have started working for the two weeklies in the last year or so, so no, Elisa Turner wasn't invited. The only one missing, as far as I know, is Michelle Weinberg, who can't attend. Even though Joel Weinstein just started writing for Street, he won't be on it because he moderated the arts writers panel at Dorsch Gallery last year.

It's a little disingenous to say that the other writers are doing Alfredo's job for him - I did four pieces for the New Times last year and Alfredo never expressed any interest in controlling my content. And while no one on the panel is truly at odds with him, the audience certainly could be, so load for bear and come on down.

I'm glad you brought up the insider trading issue, because I've been thinking about it lately. What should Snitzer be prevented from doing, and what's the appropriate response to the fact that he's doing it?

4.

Kathleen

June 14, 2004, 10:07 PM

I see we're back to the "Snitzer is an insider trader" theme which is so tedious.

Are the other galleries in town also insider traders? Why or why not?

What about the collectors? Would it be considered insider trading as well if they were (as they often do) to employ or provide the opportunity for local artists to install, maintain, curate, pour wine, show portfolios to various curators, etc.?

Who in the art scene is not an insider trader, and what is it about them which provides such noble consideration?

Perhaps there are better terms one can use to describe the murky offense in question; price-fixer? Greenspanesque machinator? Lobbyist? Procurement specialist?

I really do not think that this insider trader thing sticks; I think it is both a poor assumption and a poor analogy.

I will try to keep up with the following comments, but it may take me a day or so; my workload is a bit cumbersome right now . . . .

5.

Franklin

June 14, 2004, 11:04 PM

I'm starting to think that Kathleen is right. I'm having trouble locating something that is unfair about Snitzer's business practices.

It relates because one of the items on the panel's agenda is conflicts of interest. Since I'm an artist represented at Dorsch gallery, should I not be in the art criticism business? I say I can be, for two reasons. One, problematic conflicts will eventually become apparent in my writing and I'm not interested in squandering my credibility. Two, I'm not sure that the unconflicted writer exists. To my knowledge, every arts writer in town has a professional connection to an arts entity (gallery, school, museum, or what have you), a relationship with a person working with one, or a history in the local art world that predisposes them to like or dislike an artist's work for extrinsic reasons. If I withdrew from criticism, someone else just as conflicted would take my place, so neither I nor my readership has any incentive for that to happen.

But if what I'm doing is acceptable, then so is what Snitzer does - teaching at New World and showing their graduates' work, representing the artwork of all of the proprietors of an self-described alternative space, and cultivating collectors on museum boards. So what's the trigger that finally makes any of this unacceptable?

6.

Hovig

June 15, 2004, 12:56 AM

How's this for an inside view? Francesca Fuchs reviews the new Santiago Cucullu exhibit here in Houston.

Okay, so maybe he deserved that $20,000 Artadia Grant. Santiago Cucullu's show at Barbara Davis' 11th floor Warwick space goes full-out. As one of the ten short listed artists who didn't get the money, I naturally look for an ax to grind, but find myself out of axes. This is no skimpy show: a virtuoso mix of sculpture, wall drawings, wall stickers and site-specific pieces, Cucullu pulls out all the stops. If he is trying to repay Houston its investment, he succeeds.

Ms Fuchs seems to be an honest and noble person. I happen to think that most people, given facts, can make suitable decisions for themselves. People can decide on their own whether a conflict matters.

Here in town, there's also a prominent artist/critic who's married to a local museum curator, who herself is the sister of a first-tier museum-collected artist, and has even exhibited his work at the prominent national museum she curated before coming here. (Franklin has attended one of her travelling exhibits recently, and reviewed it on these pages.) These relationships are almost entirely unpublished, especially as concerns the artist/critic (and given their surnames, also quite non-obvious), and as far as I can tell, unnotable.

7.

oldpro

June 15, 2004, 2:48 AM

In the art business implicit conflicts of interest are commonplace and trying to say or do anything effective about it is impossible and probably wrong-headed to begin with. The critic's position is more delicate than the artist or the dealer, however, because what a critic writes is presumed to be honestly stated without influence. "Corruption" in a critic, because of the low stakes in most of the art business, is usually not for fame or money, but comes about in a low-key way, through associations and friendships, and is expressed by glossing over and pulling punches and avoiding the hard call when it needs to be made. It appears to me that this is very commonplace in Miami and contributes mightily to the culture of mediocrity we perpetuate here.
That's why, in my opening statement on this page today, I mentioned "objectivity" and "diversity" together (and I mean diversity of opinion of course, not the P.C. kind). They are bound together. Without one we do not get the other, and without them we have a weak critical and visual culture. In Miami that's just what we have.

8.

Franklin

June 15, 2004, 3:42 AM

Sorry about the blank urls. My idiocy has been noted and corrected. BTW, now you can just enter "www.yoursite.com" on the comment form and the "http://" gets popped on automatically.

9.

clueless

June 15, 2004, 2:39 PM

panel is a good thing i guess. can i be in it? i'm pretty good at stirring the masses and hovig up there has a point about shady business in artland. can one talk about these isues or is it taboo in lahlah-land?

10.

M

June 15, 2004, 4:07 PM

Here are what I would regard as conditions for conflicts of interest:

(1) Writing reviews of a gallery that is showing the critic's work.
Plus, aside from the conflict of interest, IF the critic is negative it can be said they're trying to prove their objectivity; if the critic praises the gallery in any way, it can be said its because they are connected to ir. IF the critic doesn't mention their affiliation at all (and mention it every time) they can be accused of hiding it.

(2) Running a Gallery and being a Teacher.
The "school" then simply becomes a "boot camp" for commercially molding the students, thus rendering both their education and their later exhibition dubious.

(3) Employing artists as labor
Most artists are poor (given fact compared to, say, lawyers) so many galleries/museums will hire them as labor to help support their work. This allows collectors and galleries to have direct access to those artists--and later when they have left their "job" these connections serve to promote their work due to the established relationship between the collector and the artist. There are many artists who worked as curators, event organizers, or other similar jobs who are now full-time artists. When they were organizing shows etc. they created the network they are now using for their own gain.

(4) Dealer/Collector who uses their board position to improve their collection
Dealer is on a board for a museum and knows that under-valued artist X is about to be purchased for the collection, Dealer/Collector then goes and buys up as much of X as possible before the museum sale happens, thus getting it while it's cheap.

(5) Curator/Gallerist learns artist Y is going to be ina big show
Curator then hurredly sets up their own "retrospective" so they can take credit for "discovering" Y. I know of a museum director in Miami who has done this a few times in relation to the Whitney.

The key issue in all these cases is a clear-cut conflict of interest. In every instance in these examples (and there are plenty more) an individual has used their position and knowledge for purposes of personal gain--either later or immediately. While this may appear perfectly fine to somepeople in Miami (every thing down there seems to run like this) it is illegal in most industries and looked down on in every field except art. (This is not to say it didn't happen, just that it was not acceptable to be so blantant about it. Prior to about 1980, this was not acceptable behavior in the art world, with the shift towards privatization and a buisiness model, the acceptable behaviors changed.)

So yes, this means that under certain circumstances you have a conflict of interst in your writing Franklin (to answer your question)

11.

Jack

June 15, 2004, 4:53 PM

I think a lot has to do with putting the relevant cards on the table so that people know the score and can make up their own minds based on adequate information. If somebody praises/defends or criticizes/condemns out some personal and undisclosed ulterior motive, then whatever that person says is suspect and questionable. If, on the other hand, there is no attempt at hiding a potential conflict of interests, people are entitled to express their views, pro or con, and other people can judge for themselves as to credibility.

12.

oldpro

June 15, 2004, 4:58 PM

M makes a nice stab at particularizing the ethical traps on the art business - and this is the only way to do it if you are going to do it - but although it may be possible to work up a kind of code of conduct, as they have in the finacial business, for example, this code would have the built-in handicap of being unenforceable. The Art Dealers Association of America has something like it, I think, for dealers and museums, at least, and it would be interesting to try to work out something more comprehensive than what they specify. As an artist, however, I prefer the rough-and-tumble of the business as it is. I am very wary of thought police and moral watchdogs.

13.

Hovig

June 15, 2004, 5:20 PM

M - You make some excellent points, but I'm not in full agreement.

Number 1 is undeniably true, and can be expanded to include any personal relationships between critic and subject. Note, however, that Clement Greenberg not only accepted pieces of art from his various subjects, he was quite proud of the practice. See his rather extensive collection of "gifts" at the Portland Art Museum. Does that make him more an advocate than a critic? Maybe so. Does it lessen the value of his writing? Probably not.

Number 2 doesn't seem a conflict at all. You mentioned other industries. In most other industries, this would not only be legal, it would be encouraged, as a matter of real-world learning. Not every situation is right for everyone. One assumes that the gallerist and his students are right for each other. I don't see the difference between that and having as an art instructor someone whose theories are popular and well regarded by, say, museum directors.

Also, number 3 is similar to what co-op students, interns, and trainees might do in just about any other field. I'm quite confident that investing in a network of contacts is extremely valuable. In fact, it seems like contacts are the most important thing in art beside the work itself, especially since the art world does not conduct standardized examinations or issue licenses to practice in the field.

Finally, number 4 is also unassailably true, but number 5 strikes me as a relatively minor issue without many repercussions at all. All an artist needs to do is say "they didn't discover me at all." Since the art world turns on reputation, and is populated by people with sharp eyes and ears, any false claims will be detected and discounted soon enough.

In any event, it seems June 24 will turn out to be a great discussion.

14.

Franklin

June 15, 2004, 5:37 PM

That was an excellent rundown, M, but these crimes, for the most part, only create victims out of anyone unwilling to exercise independent judgment. If fashion victims want to lead each other around by the nose and make a buck off of it, hey, it's a free country. It's the responsibility of the rest of us to create our own market and exhibition venues, and we could do more to that end.

15.

D Light

June 15, 2004, 6:02 PM

I think most of the practices that may seem unethical are just good business. If public funds come into the mix, then a closer look is necessary, and different standards apply. Otherwise, a gallery is not a museum, and exists to make its owner a living, and/or for other intagible benefits like meeting interesting people or salvaging a failed art career. Gallerists are just shop keepers selling their wares...with attitudes that suit their target market...

16.

A question...

June 15, 2004, 6:07 PM

M: You are not suggesting that the conflicts of interest you outline above should be (or even could be) avoided completely?

Of course, I understand the necessity of being aware of the sometimes suspect relationship between social connections and professional networking. Awareness helps us find ways to keep undeserved partiality to a minimum The issue, I suppose, is creating an environment that is as fair as possible to all artists, collectors, curators, gallerists, etc. However, it seems that you are qualifying networking as an inherently dubious activity, and I just dont understand how that is so.

And I find your assertion that these conflicts of interest apply to the art world in greater measures than in other fields, well, a little silly. I know of no discipline at all where people actually work entirely from the bottom up without taking advantage of the resources, social and otherwise, to which they have access. Im not saying that it makes the situation fair at all it doesnt. But thats because not everyone has the same kind of access to all the resources available. We live in a society where privilege prevails.

At least the artists you mention in #3 are actually WORKING to make their connections. Name ANY profession, and you got people getting their start via the ever fashionable unpaid internship (the foot-in-the-door thats only possible if you can afford to work without pay) or by simply getting the leads from their well-to-do parents friends. Would you consider these highly popular -- yet really unfair when you think about it -- avenues conflicts of interest as well?

17.

M

June 16, 2004, 6:23 PM

Conflicts of interest occurr in any kind of endeavor (in fact they may be inevitable in most cases) this does not make them an acceptable way of doing business, and it does not excuse them when they do happen. To pretend otherwise is absurd.

The idea that "networking" is a dubious activity is an error. Yet, to have a curator whose job is to exhibit and prepare exhibitions of art later use those same connections -- created and established for a different purpose -- is a conflict of interest: the most famous example of this kind of conflict is between VP Chaney and Haliburton. Everyone is busy pretending there's nothing wrong in the US and the rest of the world can see whats happening here. Don't think that there is really any difference in kind between that conflict and the variety I described involving curators-turned-artists. (After all, you don't see these former curators bothering with curating anymore, do you?) Their activity is not networking its leveraging their position as curators into a "substantial" career as artist. Such conflicts happen constantly.

The important question when we confront this kind of situation -- in art or anywhere else-- is always very simple: are these conflicts atypical -- that is, do most of the people involved try to minimize them and their importance -- or are they the standard of "doing business"? (It is a question of are the people acting in "good faith" or out of personal greed.)

Reemember: the art world is provides more than just commercial rewards to those who "succeed" at any given moment, the issue of conflicts is double important. Art provides prestige for those who own and collect it, and to a lesser extent those who sell it. Art gets used in our culture for papering over PR problems by corporations, the hyper rich, etc. As a result most art and artists should be regarded as suspect (and I include my own art work in this).



THUS:

When the conflicts of interest dominate (as they do in the art world today) what we have is essentially a self-serving elitist cabal based upon financial might; in many respects this is a sign of a fundamental failure of Modernism: i.e. its democratic, utopian ideal.



(To recognize a situation is part of learning how to cope with it, and possibly do something radically different in response. Understanding the interlocking conflict of interst where a gallerist who selects from among his students those whom he chooses to allow to be successful in the local market is just a start.)

18.

Jerome du Bois

June 16, 2004, 7:32 PM

I'd like to add a couple of baby ideas to the shark tank, Franklin.

1. All the cringing handwringing about conflicts of interest reminds me of offended children at a game -- "He stepped out of the circle! Twice!" -- and they want some authority other than themselves to make it more fair. No, it's up to each one, curator, artist, collector, to look in the mirror for him and herself, and make it both more transparent and more fair. Confront each other.

2. "Objectivity" is a red herring and a dodge. For "objectivity," read, first and foremost, nonjudgmental acceptance of the artist's legitimacy. Once that surrender is out of the way, anything goes. So some grinning clown takes my arm -- "You're gonna love this!" -- and shuffles me into a filthy bathroom (Wynd's show at OBJEX) to enthusiastically point out all its pungent and vivid features. Well, I r-u-n-n-o-f-t, and I'll never let him take my arm again. But Miami will.

3. Nobody's talking about the art --it's careers, networking, chimeras like objectivity.

Kick ass up there, hermano.

Jerome

19.

Jerome du Bois

June 17, 2004, 4:22 AM

Oh, and if you want a comment thread on artblog shut down, just wait for me, apparently . . . but I'm used to it.

JdB

20.

Franklin

June 17, 2004, 7:13 AM

You just got a knack for summing things up, man. ;o)

No, really, why does that keep happening?

Anyway, thanks for the props, and those babies look like they swim to me.

21.

M

June 18, 2004, 3:11 AM

It's not a question of "fair" (which isn't a word I've used in this discussion in the sense that you mean it).

The real issue in any conflict of interest is harm to others-- or in the case of art, the prevention of dissent.

To follow your logic, business monopolies that use their position and might to block innovation and prevent change should not be told that they have acted inappropriately. Your claim that saying this is to act like "offended children at a game" is disengenuous.

Perhaps the stakes in the art world aren't (apparently) high enough to warant the same level of ethics we demand of business (a strange inversion of centruies of thinking about art. Art has long been the guardian of good ethics.) If you feel this way, I must say the arts are doomed and any further action may very well be pointless if your views are shared by a majority of people.

So I hope you like the pre-digested 5th grade level tripe pop culture provides (a popular media culture that supports the status quo -- what ever it happens to be at the moment), because that's what you just endorsed.

22.

Jerome du Bois

June 18, 2004, 8:53 AM

Franklin:

I guess you were mistaken about the end of the thread. But not as mistaken as Michael Betancourt is about me.

So I hope you like the pre-digested 5th grade level tripe pop culture provides (a popular media culture that supports the status quo -- what ever it happens to be at the moment), because that's what you just endorsed.

If you've ever read a single entry on my blog, you would know that this tripe is pretty much my bete noire. How you read that I would endorse it is mystifying.

To follow your logic, business monopolies that use their position and might to block innovation and prevent change should not be told that they have acted inappropriately. Your claim that saying this is to act like "offended children at a game" is disengenuous.

Again, where do you get this? I'm all about transparency and accountability at every stage, and prosecuting (did somebody say Cheney? fine -- Ken Lay, too) offenders to the fullest extent of the law -- without the law, it's all darkness -- but can we please begin with personal character? Remember the Enron tapes?

On another recent thread, Franklin referred to the "inner necessity" of an artist's motivations. That's exactly what I'm talking about.

Art has long been the guardian of good ethics.

I'm still on the floor on that one. Look closely at those three turds in those three jars at OBJEX, M. And then call up Fame Whore to get the Brit skinny on ethics. Better yet, talk to the gallerist who signed off on this rancidity.

JdB

23.

M

June 19, 2004, 3:14 AM

An implict endorsement can result from faulty logic. End of story.

And it is always useful to remember that the biggest gain in the 18th century (and early 19th) was that ethics =/= aesthetics, and the confusion of the two can result in some rather stupid claims about the beautiful (and other matters of pleaseing aesthetics) being ethically superior to those which aren't.

I don't know you, so please don't mistake comments on things you have said as being things said about you I see the two as being completely different.

It is tiresome to have to explain this. Ethics are enfored by communities who are in agreement about what is acceptable and what is not. The behavior of the community determines what is allowed. When something inappropriate happens, harsh criticism (something utterly lacking in Miami and most everywhere else) helps prevent recurrances. This criticism is not the same as the critique of art.

On those occasions when pointing out conflicts of interest arose, the response was always very much negative--of the person noting the conflict, not the conflict itself or the persons gaining from the conflict. (I know this from personal experience.) In fact, on one occasion I was criticised by Franklin for noting a confict and commenting on the way it halted discussion of the art. (I even explained why it was a conflict.)

I like the fact that Jide has these old articles on-line again. There is entirely too much amnesia in Miami about what has been said and done.

24.

Jerome du Bois

June 19, 2004, 5:01 AM

M:

It's also tiresome to point out again that nobody is talking about the art.

Ethics are enfored by communities who are in agreement about what is acceptable and what is not.

As if communities were monolithic. Does this means Miami eats shit? I don't know, but it sounds like it.

JdB

25.

Kathleen

June 22, 2004, 6:51 PM

So I revisited this thread after many days' passage only to find, upon my return, that the tone had so disintigrated as to seem a mudslinging.

I mean, M. -- I've always assumed from your writings that you value the philosophical, and certainly, to me, many of your positions are only valid in the vacuum of pure philosophy, but there is a strong aftertaste of bile in these latest comments. Bile!

And Monsieur Jerome du Bois, s.v.p., what is up with your complete disdain for Miami? Do you even live here? If not, then your assumption that Miami eats merde, is it based on what you read here in Artblog.net? Is it based on a show you haven't even seen? Or is it based on the fact that the show you are certain you don't like is even being exhibited?

There's some work I don't like, and more that I am convinced I either don't like or am not interested in, but I am not such an egoist that I would presume that the work is not worth exhibiting. Frequently, in fact, work which I do not believe I am interested in reveals itself to me as having merits which I selfishly never imagined.

I think you have relieved yourself of any credit with which I have been generously assuming on your part.

It seems to me that you are the only one trying to make Miami eat poop; you don't like the idea of Wynd, Wind's show, or the fact that Wynd's show was exhibited. Your disavowal of objectivity in art appreciation does not seem to recognize the corrolary recognition that subjectivity, or a judgemental evaluation of an artist's legitimacy, cannot be enforced across the board.

Basically, you have decided, without having even seen the work, that Wynd's show is worse than without merit, that Wynd's own character is suspect, that the gallerist is complicit in some kind of charade, and that Miami is one enormous dupe. The only unassailable truth here is that you don't like the idea of Wynd's show. Since you don't like the idea, every person and thing associated with its existence is wrong, offensive or stupid.

Your website writings suggests that you consider yourself to be a principled man. Principled solipsim is not very functional, however. That's why you shut the comments threads down. It no longer becomes worth anyone's time to respond to your statements as they are simultaneously irrefutable and indefensible.

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