Thursday, June 30, 2011 Abruptly Gives Offramp and Others The Axe

Yesterday I received an email from informing me that all California Associate Program contracts might be cancelled if the governor signed a bill into law requiring to pay sales tax on online sales. I woke up to another email from them this morning notifying me that the governor did sign the bill and that said contracts were terminted as of yesterday. They gave us less than 12 hours notice.

SO . . . As of yesterday, if you purchase anything using the links on this blog, Offramp Gallery will not receive a commission. I'll keep you posted on how this affects the blog.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Barnes Foundation: The End of an Era

On Sunday, July 3, the doors to the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, PA will close. Its priceless art collection will be taken down, wrapped and shipped to its new home in Philadelphia, a mere five miles away. Barring some last minute reprieve, the Sunday closing in Lower Merion marks the end of the Barnes Foundation as it was created and endowed by its founder to be, and another victory for greed, power and money über alles.

To fully understand the gravity and significance of what is about to happen in Philadelphia, Don Argott’s 2010 documentary, The Art of the Steal is a must-see. The film, as entertaining and suspenseful as any who-dunnit, maps out the complex machinations of what has been called the world's largest art theft since World War II.

Albert C. Barnes’ Post-Impressionist art collection is estimated today to be worth approximately $25 billion. The collection includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, and 7 Van Goghs. The Barnes Foundation was never intended to be a museum. Barnes' will left specific instructions that the foundation would remain a school and that the work would never be loaned, moved or sold after his death.

Vincent van Gogh, Joseph-Etienne Roulin, 1889, 66.2 x 55 cm, The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania
The Art of the Steal paints a vivid and convincing picture of an Albert Barnes who was infuriated by the ignorance of the cultural elite in Philadelphia, an elite who had publically ridiculed his art collection when it was first shown. Barnes is quoted as saying “Philadelphia is a depressing intellectual slum” and “the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a house of artistic and intellectual prostitution.” The film portrays Barnes' attitude as the driving force for creating his foundation in Merion, vowing that the "provincials” in Philadelphia would never get their hands on it.

In its rebuttal to the film the Barnes Foundation glosses over Barnes’ hatred of Philadelphia society saying simply: “Any suggestion that Dr. Barnes situated the Foundation in Merion in order to keep it away from the area's elite or conservative art establishment is entirely unfounded.”

I'm not convinced.

Barnes died in a car crash in 1951 and control of the foundation was left to Lincoln University, a small, under-funded, African-American school. The job of running the foundation fell to Barnes’ right-hand person, Violette de Mazia, who ran the school as Barnes had intended for the next 30 years. Upon de Mazia’s death in 1988, Richard Glanton, president of the board of Lincoln University, decided to take control of the Barnes. Understanding its revenue-producing potential, Glanton set out to get the Barnes the worldwide attention he felt it deserved.


Paul Cézanne, Nature morte au crâne, 1895-1900, 54,3 x 65 cm, The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania
Claiming that the building housing the collection had been neglected, Glanton proposed selling off some of the art to pay for the cost of the repairs. Objections were raised that selling the work was illegal and unethical according to the terms of Barnes’ will and the plan was abandoned. Glanton then came up with another plan, to tour the collection worldwide to pay for the repairs, also in direct opposition to the terms of the will. This time, however, Glanton prevailed and the first major attempt to chip away at Barnes’ will was a fait accompli.

With the entire world now clamoring to see the Barnes collection, politicians, huge charitable trusts, rich socialites and tourism boards (all of whom declined to be interviewed for the film) swarmed in and fought to gain control of the collection and move it to Philadelphia. Eventually, $150 million was raised to fund the new facility in Philadelphia -- more than enough money to address any problems that the Merion location presented.

Henri Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre, Oil on canvas. In the collection of the Barnes Foundation. 175 x 241 cm
Fighting these powerful forces were a handful of artists, Merion residents, historians and lawyers. Interviewed in the film are LA Times critic Christopher Knight; Julian Bond, whose father, Horace Mann Bond, was the first black president of Lincoln University; John Anderson, author of Art Held Hostage; former student Jay Raymond and David D’Arcy, correspondent for The Art Newspaper. D'Arcy states:

“My feeling about Philadelphia is that it doesn’t do itself justice saying ‘we need to be a world-class city’ by stealing an art collection and bringing it down to what I call a ‘McBarnes’ in downtown Philadelphia.”

Henri Matisse, whose large site-specific mural, The Dance II, 1932, is being moved to the new facility in Philadelphia is quoted as saying: “The Barnes Foundation is the only sane place to see art in America” . . . until Sunday.

Click here to buy the DVD from Amazon

Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week's survey, "MFA: Is It Necessary?" Click here to see the results. Be sure to look at the comments -- lots of interesting opinions and anecdotal information. As I mentioned last week, I've been invited to participate in a public debate on this topic as part of Artillery Magazine's debate series, Artillery Sets the Standard, here in Los Angeles. I'll be posting the text of my argument after the July 10 debate. (Hint: I'm arguing the "not necessary" side.)

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Mark Steven Greenfield: Doo-Dahz has been extended through Sunday, July 3.

Monday, June 20, 2011

MFA: Is it Necessary? Take the Survey

I've decided to take a week off from writing my regular column, in part to do research for an upcoming debate I've been invited to participate in. The debate is part of a series, Artillery Sets The Standard, presented by Artillery Magazine on July 10 at The Standard Hotel in Los Angeles.

My topic is "MFA: Is It Necessary?" To flesh that out a bit: Is it necessary to have an MFA in Visual Arts (or equivalent degree outside the US) to have a successful career as an artist?

As part of my research I've put together a brief survey and would love to know what you think. I'll post the results next week. Thank you in advance for participating!

Click here to take survey

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger by Jessica Yu

When does a documentary about an artist become a work of art in and of itself? When the documentary is Oscar winning director Jessica Yu's hauntingly beautiful In the Realms of the Unreal - The Mystery of Henry Darger. First released in 2005, Yu spent five years bringing this reclusive artist to life on film.

Henry Darger was born in Chicago in 1892 and spent much of his childhood in a home for feeble-minded children. As an adult, he lived a solitary life, supporting himself as a janitor, living in a single room. Upon his death in 1973, hundreds of paintings, many of which were over 10 feet long and double-sided, a 15,000 page single-spaced novel, an autobiography, and thousands of pages of journals were discovered in his humble room. Sadly, no one, except Darger himself, had known this work existed.

Fortunately, Darger's landlords, Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, recognized the value of the treasure trove they had stumbled upon, and took charge of his estate. Darger is now considered one of the 20th century's greatest self-taught artists.

In writing and illustrating his monumental novel, The Realms of the Unreal, Darger created a rich and complex imaginary world for himself. The novel tells the story of the Vivian Girls, seven sisters who are princesses of the Christian nation of Abbieannia who lead a child slave revolt against the evil Glandelinians.

Many of the paintings depict naked hermaphroditic girls, which at first glance makes their beauty disturbing. However, as filmmaker Yu paints her portrait of Darger's life and work, his innocence becomes apparent. Just as his Vivian Girls were virtuous, Darger strove to be like them, attending Mass and taking Communion every day. Yu leaves us not with lingering doubts about Darger's sexuality, but rather with a deep sense of mystery about who Darger really was.

176 part two. Jennie Richee waiting for the rain to stop as they cannot see Manleys headquaters through the rain shroud, Henry Darger, (1892 - 1973), Chicago, Illinois, Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper, 24 x 108 1/4", Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, Museum Purchase, © Kiyoko Lerner, 2001.16.2A,B, Photographed by James Prinz
Yu draws almost exclusively on historical and autobiographical information about Darger, letting viewers draw their own conclusions about him. There are no interviews with art historians or psychologists. Yu deftly weaves together parallel threads of Darger's life: readings from his autobiography, the scant documentary material from his real life (there are only three known photos of him) including interviews with the few people who knew him, and his life's work. Dramatic readings from his novel are brought to life by artful animation of his illustrations, sound effects, and music. The film features narration by Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine, as well as music by Tom Waits.

Parallel texts from Darger's autobiography and novel provide insight into the bleakness of Darger's real life circumstances and how he transformed them into the rich world of his inner life.

From the autobiography:

"I do not remember the length of time I remained in the Mission of Our Lady's Home, but one part of the last year I was taken to be examined by a doctor who said my heart was not in the right place. Where was it supposed to be? In my belly? I did not know it at the time but now I know I was taken to the doctor to find out if I was really feeble-minded or crazy. Had I known what was going to be done with me I surely would have ran [sic] away . . . During the cold, windy, threatening late November day, I was hustled on to the Chicago and Alton Unlimited train and brought to some kind of home for feeble-minded children outside of Lincoln, Illinois. If I had known the cause of me being sent to that children's nut-house, I sure would have never forgiven those at the Mercy of Our Lady home. I, a feeble-minded kid. I knew more than the whole shebang in that place."

176 part two. Jennie Richee waiting for the rain to stop as they cannot see Manleys headquaters through the rain shroud, Henry Darger, (1892 - 1973), Chicago, Illinois, Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper, detail, Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, Museum Purchase, © Kiyoko Lerner, 2001.16.2A,B, Photographed by James Prinz

From the novel:

"In this story, for more than 43 years, child slavery existed in the Calverinian country. Hundreds of thousands of children torn from their parents, made to work themselves to death without getting a cent, and horrors upon horrors, almost equal that of perdition. . . To free the children, the Christian nation of Abbieannia wages a four and a half year war against the godless Glandelinian slave owners. Leading the child slave rebellion are the seven Vivian girl princesses: Daisy, Hettie, Violet, Joice, Jennie, Angeline and Catherine . . . They shunned evil ways, not through fear of their parents but through fear of god. They were always willing to do as they are told, going to Mass and Holy Communion every day and living the lives of little saints. But their lives, for at least a number of years, were to be all of sorrow."

Since his death, Darger's work has been shown worldwide and commands huge prices at auction. The room where he lived was preserved by his landlords until 2000, when Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art  in Chicago took possession of the contents of the room and recreated it as an installation at the Center which is now open to the public. Darger is buried in a cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois. His headstone is inscribed "Artist" and "Protector of Children."

Click here to purchase from Amazon

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Mark Steven Greenfield: Doo-Dahz
May 15 - June 26, 2011

Closing Reception & Artist's Talk, Sunday, June 26, 2-5pm

Press for Doo-Dahz:

ArtScene Preview 6/1/11
Visual Art Source Preview 5/20/11
Huffington Post Preview 5/11/11
LA Weekly Preview 5/13/11
Artweek.LA Preview 5/9/11

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Artspeak Quiz: Real or Randomly Generated?

Wiktionary defines "artspeak" as "the specialist vocabulary associated with art and artists." I might add to that definition, ". . . characterized by intellectual posturing and meaningless, self-referential signifiers." Everyone claims to hate artspeak, yet it doesn't seem in any danger of becoming a lost language anytime soon. Art magazines, exhibition catalogs, artists' statements and grad school art departments continue to crank it out at a furious pace.

So I decided to have a little fun with it. I designed the quiz below to see if you can tell the difference between actual quotes from an art magazine and those from two random artspeak generators.

The Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator asks you to type in any five digit number, click "Create," and "enjoy your ready-made Critical Response to the Art Product (or CRAP). " The Market-O-Matic 1.0 [fine arts version] is more like a game of Mad Libs, letting you choose words or fill in the blanks and then hit the "Crank Out the Crap" button to generate an artist's statement.

The "real" art quotes I found by searching the online archives of a leading national art magazine using keywords from my randomly generated artspeak. See if you can tell the difference:

Which of the following pairs of quotes is from an actual art magazine? (Answers appear below after the video.)

a. With regard to the issue of content, the reductive quality of the figurative-narrative line-space matrix makes resonant the eloquence of these pieces.

b. Hancock's talent lies less in the originality of his tropes and more in his deft adulteration of our culture's organizing memes, presented here in an entertaining meditation on the relationship between creativity, sustenance, and asceticism.

a. As a consequence of the reductive parameters of these conservatisms, such as rigid canons, fixation on objects and absolute field demarcations, activist practices are not even included in the narratives and archives of political history and art theory, as long as they are not purged of their radical aspects, appropriated and coopted into the machines of the spectacle.

b. Helmut Kremling's work investigates the nuances of vibrations through the use of stopframe motion and close-ups which emphasize the mechanical nature of digital media. Kremling explores abstract and correlative scenery as motifs to describe the idea of cyber-intuitive artifice.

a. With the synergy of the electronic environment, the mind is reaching a point where it will be free from the body to transcend immersions into the parameters of the delphic reality.

b. His morphing forms, use of motifs, and flattened spatial dimensions bring to mind the stylized and reductive nature of classic cel animation and low-bit computer graphics.

a. ... but while prior explorations of the erotics of violence—and its larger cultural implications—have been the subject of both profligate veneration and generous satire, here the only complications to the libidinal theme are those supplied by irony and farce.

b. The mind creates, the body accentuates. In the trans-gender reality, art objects are calculations of the musings of the mind -- a mind that uses the body as an organism to deconstruct ideas, patterns, and emotions.

a. Work of Proto-Art in the Age of Artificial Reproduction contains 10 minimal dhtml engines (also referred to as "soundtoys") that enable the user to make morphing audio/visual compositions.

b. The disillusionment with the idea of “progress,” the stylistic promiscuity, and the correlative critique of “sincerity” that we associate with postmodern attitudes were up and running in him far in advance of the zeitgeist.

This video was created by Ivy Creek Stoneware for Clay Times Magazine.

quiz answers:
1. b, 2. a, 3. b, 4. a, 5. b


Congratulations to Offramp Gallery artist Anita Bunn. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art photography department recently purchased a series of her prints. The series consists of four photo-lithographs of selected stills from the digital video Measure (2008), which were made by Anita in collaboration with Francesco Siqueiros of El Nopal Press.

Ongoing at Offramp Gallery

Mark Steven Greenfield: Doo-Dahz
May 15 - June 26, 2011

Closing Reception & Artist's Talk, Sunday, June 26, 2-5pm

Press for Doo-Dahz:

ArtScene Preview 6/1/11
Visual Art Source Preview 5/20/11
Huffington Post Preview 5/11/11
LA Weekly Preview 5/13/11
Artweek.LA Preview 5/9/11