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conflicts

Post #352 • August 24, 2004, 6:12 AM • 18 Comments

I will not be writing again for Street any time in the forseeable future, a development I announce with a mixture of regret and relief. The questions regarding conflicts of interest in a piece of mine published in Street last Friday, explored at length in Friday's comment thread, arose coincidentally with complaints I had regarding the editorial handling of said piece. The intersection was disasterous. My interaction with Street's editors degenerated quickly, and for the time being, irrecovably. At this point neither they nor I feel inclined to work together.

For comparison, here is my final draft of the piece.

Samantha Salzinger and her curatorial daring have made the Art & Culture Center of Hollywood one of the livelier visual arts destinations in South Florida. Her latest effort exhibits the work of Gavin Perry and Mette Tommerup of Miami with Sue Irion of Basel, Switzerland in a show called "All You Can Eat," which is greater than the sum of its imperfect but formidable parts.

"All You Can Eat" is built around notions of consumer culture, but the art relates to this theme tangentially. Really, the work just looks good together. All three artists share a fondness for mechanical or industrial methods of manufacture.

Irion's work is the most problem-plagued of the show. She takes snapshot-style images of touristy areas (like South Florida) and renders them onto surfaces that have been covered with flourescent-pigment-infused photo emulsion. Where it works, it works well; black lights illuminate the images and make them look holographic, dimensional, and raw.

Where it doesn't, they're hard to see. The canvases, placed upright on the floor to form a maze of sorts, would appear stronger if they were hung at eye level. An installation at the end of the show has one of these photo-emulsion pieces applied directly to the wall, a pink street scene projected at an acute angle. It's attractive, but the mini-bar in the same room refuses to relate to it despite the artist's intentions.

Mette Tommerup composes photo-based images using digital tools, with which she warps, flares, and colors bubble-like shapes and copies them into repeating arrangements. The best of them, such as Under Light (Red), 2004, recall stage sets from '60s-era sci-fi shows, filled with bulging shapes that glow with weird computerized light.

A series of circular images, all titled Orb Passage, pictures decorative but uncomfortable geometric landscapes, some of which have been populated with figures that get elongated and twisted by the strange physics of their environment. Tommerup's work is interesting enough, but it seems to long to transcend its cuteness and digital dazzle, and the individual pieces would have more punch if there were fewer of them fighting for space on the wall. They otherwise show flair and potential.

The same goes for the recent sculptures by Gavin Perry. Perry knows auto-painting techniques, with which he creates seamless, irridescent surfaces crossed with automotive striping. His paintings combine the rigor of minimalist abstraction with the fun of playing with Hot Wheels cars. An excellent diptych entitled Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun features sparkly fields of white punctuated with bands of copper that angle slightly away from each other, creating a perspectival effect with the wall itself.

The sculptures, despite the same virile, meticulous craftsmanship, don't snap together like the paintings. Perry thinks like a painter, and has difficulty making an object that works convincingly from more than one or two viewpoints. The notable exception is Disarm the Sexes, a low, laminated box outfitted with a set of bull's horns and red neon lights, which is too strange to ignore.

Perry's work exemplifies what's best about this show: shaky but sometimes surprising artistic moves. "All You Can Eat" may not have arrived at the destination it set out for, but it ended up somewhere interesting.

Given the fact that I have so many interactions in the local art world - personal, social, professional - I have had to determine a standard for conflicts of interest that makes it possible for me to write. I have arrived at this: I become conflicted when factors extrinsic to the art cause me to make statements that can't be reconciled with the experience of looking at it by a neutrally inclined viewer. In my judgment, the above piece passes this test. (My comment about Salzinger herself finds agreement with two other writers about this show.)

The version that Street printed contains revisions that in my opinion altered the tone favorably enough to make conflicts of interest a concern. I believe that it still passes, but not by as wide of a margin. I did not consult Street regarding my former relationship with the curator; frankly, I didn't think that it was that big of a deal, and I maintain that in both pieces the presence of the relationship cannot be felt. Nevertheless I regret not informing my editor about it from the outset. Street abides by its own standards for conflicts and ought to have had all the information it needed to make the call about my article. I regret any problems this may have caused.

On the other hand, the revised version contains content that I didn't write and cannot identify with. Edits throughout caused the tone, in my opinion, to become unbalanced and inaccurate. Despite my working relationship with editor Mary Sutter, which has been consummately professional, the overall handling of this piece (and my subsequent concerns) by Street's editorial staff evinces a culture with which I feel disinclined to work.

I nevertheless want to thank Street for the opportunity to write for them, for which I will always remain grateful. I wish them the best and hope they find success in their endeavors.

Comment

1.

oldcrow

August 24, 2004, 3:24 PM

Too bad it went the way it did, but I'm sure you'll find another gig. You have a desire to write about art and South Florida is in need of an interested voice.

I agree with you about the tone of the review and how it changed from the editing. It seems altered not edited.

one note for your former editor: cattle horns would be more appropriate, not bull's horns. The ability for cattle to grow horns is not gender specific. (Hmmm, does this change the content of Mr Perry's piece?)

2.

Jerome du Bois

August 24, 2004, 3:46 PM

Franklin:

Good job. I personally don't think you owe us any explanation, even Street, but I appreciate the clarifications. And I like your original piece, which of course was better than the edited version.

A couple of points: where does disclosure end? Suppose Mary Sutter had a previous relationship with an artist with an upcoming exhibition. Does she still get to decide which critic to assign to the show? Or does she have to consult with someone? Who? And what about them? You know with you hedonistic Floridians -- like rabbits, I tell ya! -- anything could happen, so where does it stop?

You actually do criticize Ms. Salzinger severely if obliquely, since it seems your two major criticisms were about the installation: Irion's floor maze, and Tommerup's wall crowd.

Finally: If you didn't have a blog, you and Street could hide behind one or two snarky letters to the editor. But that's not you, and you let the fur fly, and you take the slings and arrows. I haven't seen a dead-tree publication do anything like that recently. Kudos.

Sincerely,

Jerome du Bois

3.

oldpro

August 24, 2004, 4:02 PM

As before, I go along with Jerome on this. Where does disclosure end, indeed? Making a fuss about probity often takes place among people who are aboveboard in the first place, because they are the only ones who take it seriously. Street and its readers are the losers here.

4.

N

August 24, 2004, 4:08 PM

This really pisses me off. There arent enough art writers in Miami as it is, much less good ones. I think this is a real loss for Street and its readership. I understand how the whole situation of writing a review of a former girlfriend is a problematic one, but couldnt the folks at Street just given you some kind of warning? If these conflicts of interest are indeed serious, shouldnt publications specify better guidelines regarding what defines these conflicts? Even MB stated that it all depends on where it's published and what it says, meaning theres lots of room for interpretation and it leaves it up to the writer to make judgment calls on what passes as acceptable. And you made a very well-informed, convincing argument in favor of your review. If anything, both the editors and publication also have a lot to work on if they seriously want to avoid such conflicts; the current solution doesnt really solve anything except rob the public of a really good art writer. Isnt there some other way to deal with this? It makes me very sad and very angry that your reviews will no longer be in Street. Cant we protest?

5.

Franklin

August 24, 2004, 4:53 PM

N, they actually did give me a warning over the conflict of interest. The decision not to work with them originates from my side. So, no protests, but I appreciate the offer.

6.

Phil Isteen

August 24, 2004, 5:01 PM

Protest by not reading Street.

In fact, Street and the Herald are just middle
men that can be eliminated.

Franklin: set up a payment area where
we can reward you for your good writing.
My guess is that you'll make just as much
if not more than what Street is paying you.

Reading a good review has got to be
worth, say, the price of a drink...

7.

otto

August 24, 2004, 5:22 PM

You buying phil?

8.

catfish

August 24, 2004, 5:23 PM

Phil: Click on "Birthday Deal" in the left hand column if you want to contribute something.

Franklin: About the editing they did on your original work, did they publish it with your consent (even if you disagreed), or did it just appear without your foreknowledge?

9.

oldpro

August 24, 2004, 5:24 PM

Phil: Payment might be logistically awkward, and would put Franklin on the spot, I think. it also, in a way, compromises the freedom of the blog.

But your idea suggests that reviews go up on the blog, and that is something we all can do and something which, with all of our esoteric hassling over the past few months, we have gotten away from. Jack used to report on the shows he had seen, for example, but we have heard nothing from him lately. If we could build up a coterie of contributors who saw shows and put their impressions down here, and a "blog culture" to support it, I think we could easily outperform the weak art reporting we have in this town, despite (or berhaps because of) all the chaos and variety of opinion that would be engendered.

10.

N

August 24, 2004, 5:59 PM

I like your attitude, Oldpro.

Having been a frequent contributor of esoteric hassling the past week, I vow to contribute less hassle and more local art discussion. I would love to hear more opinions on local shows, especially what aspects of miami shows are out there that people actually like.

Doesnt change my mind, though, that Id still want to see Franklins writing in print, though, too.

11.

Jack

August 24, 2004, 6:13 PM

Well, Oldpro, Jack is a recovering art masochist who's tired of going to any and all new shows as if it were a religious obligation, going to shows he KNOWS will do little or nothing for him, and then feeling vaguely empty and depressed. In other words, he's tired of putting out as if he were a paid art critic, when in fact he gets rather little in return. He knows his problem is hardly unique, but he's pretty fed up anyway.

Still, your idea is a good one. After all, when the official critic for Miami's main newspaper reviews a show ("Light and Atmosphere" at MAM) and fails to mention a wonderful, HUGE Sean Scully, which was not only the best piece in that show but also in the whole museum at the time, we have a significant problem. Somebody has to tell the public these things.

12.

oldpro

August 24, 2004, 6:32 PM

I understand the need for a 12-step program to deal with your advanced artaholism, Jack, but I am mean and selfish enough to wish for a relapse.

13.

Hovig

August 24, 2004, 6:32 PM

Franklin - I also liked your original more than the revision.
(Except possibly the first "Orb Passages" sentence).

14.

sad news

August 24, 2004, 6:35 PM

Bad news from this mornings herald:

Posted on Tue, Aug. 24, 2004
State briefs
MIAMI

Herald art critic hurt in Indiana car crash

Herald art critic Elisa Turner was in a coma and in critical but stable condition Monday at Terre Haute, Ind., Regional Hospital following a car accident.

According to The Tribune Star in Terre Haute, Turner, 51, suffered a head injury Friday when the car she was traveling in was involved in a three-car crash on Interstate 70. The car, driven by her husband, Dr. Eric Smith, was hit by a second car that hydroplaned in rain, then hit a tractor-trailer.

Turner's son, 21-year-old Grant Smith, suffered a ruptured spleen, Smith said. Their daughter, 17-year-old Margaret Smith, and Smith were cut and bruised but were not hospitalized.

Smith said the family was driving to Indiana after a visit with Turner's family in Illinois. Their son, Grant, was returning to school at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

15.

oldpro

August 24, 2004, 7:04 PM

That's terrible. I hope she's going to be OK.

16.

Mr. Mr.

August 24, 2004, 7:50 PM

What sad news about Elisa!

17.

Jack

August 24, 2004, 8:01 PM

Since I don't read the Herald I didn't know about the accident, but it sounds awful. I hope they're all going to be OK.

18.

tracy

August 25, 2004, 4:25 AM

for those who may be interested in elisa, this comes from an email forwarded to me from someone who got it from genaro ambrosino:

She has been in a coma for a week now but the
doctors have hope that she will be able to get out of it in 7 to 20 days.

Those who might want to send a "Get well soon" card can do it at the
following address:


Terre Haute Regional Hospital,
3901 S. 7th St.
Terre Haute, Indiana 47802...
She's in Bed 14/ICU.

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