SHOCKWRITE: Expanding the Discourse
Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles
Board Member of Art Historians of Southern California
Jens Hoffman, Director of CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art in SanFrancisco quotes Daniel Buren in this month’s Artforum. Buren stated “ an artobject only fully becomes an art work when it is exhibited and can create arelationship with the public. ” Taking some literary license, I suggest his quote is analogous to publishing an e-journal. An e-journal only fully becomes an e-journal, when once launched, it creates a relationship with its audience. This paper speaks to creating an audience beyond the realm of art history.
This relationship to a widened readership is based in Shockwrite’s mission to provide a forum with few filters for art writers, while providing a venue that preserves literary and scholarly standards and develops a distinctive voice for the writers.
Shockwrite is a hybrid, with the web-based connectivity functioning as a metaphor for its reader and writer outreach. Our vision is part art journal, part cultural affairs with a mix of contemporary art-scene. We have an avid interest in technology and how digital media plays a crucial role in advancing the arts within museums programs, gallery exhibitions, auction sales and educational curriculums. These old-fashioned disciplines of the traditional arts embrace new and expansionary technology in specific ways that I will outline.
In launching an e-journal, we at the Art Historians of Southern California have to be risk-takers. It’s my hope to illustrate some target areas of interest and how this relates back to how we wantto publish. Our site intends to be collaborative—allowing dialogue and creating discourse, facilitate access—quick publication and instant access, while offering peer review—the community of the art world. Shockwrite will take its form with your participation in the publishing house of the future.
First, I want to give a brief overview of some risky ventures in new technology taken recently by art institutions. These illustrate both the risk and reward components.
• The Bravo series with the help of judges Jerry Saltz, Art Critic for New York Magazine, sometime lecturer at Yale, kicked off it’s fine–art inspired reality competition titled: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist and offered fourteen aspiring artists a chance to win $100,000, a solo exhibit at Brooklyn Museum of Art, and national recognition. Work of Art was a risk on multiple levels, not the least of which was the reputation of Saltz and the Brooklyn Museum.
• One of MOMA’s challenging exhibitions was the work of filmmaker Tim Burton but the unacknowledged artists are the fabricators employed toreinvent his haunting but perverse celluloid characters to life size imagery, an exhibition that took 13 days to install. Youtube videos offer interviews with Milo Mottola and his team who successfully transformed Burton’s sketches into a surreal world within MOMA’s galleries. Unless you take the time to view these, you might think Burton’s images were off the Hollywood back lot.
• In the area of theater, Director Julie Taymor’s artistry focused on the nimble yet exotic art of puppetry setting box-office records and advanced ticket sales and drawing crowds back to the theater. Her original production of Spiderman, now on Broadway, weaves sensually textured backdrops framed by a cast of suspended and swinging “fiends” above your head headlining weekly controversy.
• When the success of one of the biggest box office draws in Los Angeles history is the Los Angeles Opera’s Ring Cycle by Wagner was owed in no small part to the daring costumes and visionary stage set designs by artist Achim Freyer, making his directorial debut from Berlin.
• The Guggenheim Museum launches a partnership with YouTube in aproject inviting unknown video artists – to upload their videos – with the promise that their work will be judged by museum film curators in addition to a possible debut at one of four Guggenheim locations.
• Los Angeles is the birth place of many of the most influential art movements of the second half of the 20th century, yet much is not well known about the role this city played in the development of Twentieth Century art. Through a partnership between the Getty Foundation and Getty Institute that will tell this story in an unprecedented collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Rim will attempt a complete re-telling of L. A. art from Oct. 2011 to March 2012.
David Hockney has announced he is putting brushes and palette aside to draw digital imaged portraits on his iPad – it draws our attention to the Age of Digital. It begs the question, what are other arts institutions doing to stay ahead of the curve in this digital age? The first responders are embracing the power and challenges of technology. Why? Because technology is guiding them in ways to meet the goals of maintaining their constituency, if not increase their audience,viewership, readership, and attendance.
The Demographic We All Seek
Shockwrite is particularly interested in these digital advances and state of the art technology. Gallery spaces, the hallowed halls of the museums, and Smartclassrooms on your college campus are embracing technology. We might inquire how has the digital age changed the way you are interacting as artists, ascurators, as collectors, as consultants, as students?
Freshman in college today were born in the early 90’s when the worldwide web was launched. In 1992, there were 50 sites on WWW, a year later 150 and so it grew. This is the social network generation. Our students grew up with cellphones, ipods and Macs. They are the first to embrace the Kindle, the iPad and the social networking sites of Facebook and Twitter. Embracing social networking, the students of today rely on cell phones as their watch, their calendars, their address book and phone number. Museums, galleries, and films, art fairs and et al want to reach this younger demographic.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
The controversy last spring at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is a case in point. Nancy Spector and Andy Berndt, video curators, threw their hat into the ring, June 2010 and announced The First Biennial of Creative Video in a partnership with YouTube. The director, of the museum, Richard Armstrong stated, “Creative online video is one of the most compelling and innovative opportunities for personal expression today ‘YouTube Play’ demonstrates this is within the reach of anyone who uses a computer and has access to the Internet.” Reuters
In a taped video by the curators, artists were invited and prompted about the do’s and don’ts (everything from plagiarizing to the format) and “how to’s” of participating in their newly launched project: You Tube Play. As Carol Vogel of The New York Times sited “anyone with access to a videocamera and computer will have an opportunity to catch the eye of a Guggenheim curator and vie for a place in a video art exhibition at all of the foundations’ museums in New York, Berlin, Spain and Venice.”
Conceived as a biennial event it is intended to discover inventive work from unexpected sources. Spector stated “we are looking for things we have not seen before.” She added that their process of selection looked for “incredibly creative, self-conscious work ….and that artists should always challenge the status quo.”
In their on-line promo Spector and Berndt emphasize that “It’s about access, communication, creativity, openness for the selection, 20 – 25 videos will be presented – you nominate yourself.” In the Digital Media experiment artists needed no means, no education, and no budget. In other words, they lowered the barriers in order to widen the net and avail themselves of the raw talent that the internet afforded them.
A distinguished jury of 10 experts included: Laurie Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Doug Gordon, Ryan McGinley, Marilyn Minter, Takashi Murakami and Shirin Neshat. This innovative approach by the Guggenheim recalls what university admissions refer to as blind admissions, designed to offer a fair field of play to all interested in submitting applications. Theoretically it sounded democratic; the challenges were many not the least was screening the 23,000 videos received. The winners’ work was streamed live from the museum in October 2010, in a ceremonious tribute to the digital camera.
The critics were harsh and to the point. Leading the charge was Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale University School of Art and former curator of Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, attacked the Guggenheim’s project in a New York Times article, stating that “It’s time to stop kidding ourselves. The museum as revolving door for new talent is the enemy ofart and of talent, not their friend – and the enemy of the public as well.” The New York Times, July, 2010
An additional concern about new mediums is what Niels Van Tomme termed “the fetishization of technology,” warning “that it often conceals the artist personality”. We welcome this debate and as an online journal we also will be tested as towhat to publish and not to publish, what to invite, how are we testing the boundaries? Our intent is to be as elastic as possible – and see what happens. I use this example as a comparison of risk-taking, not to compare an emerging ejournal with an established art institution but to make the point of our intent in staying true to our word that we will publish your work.
The Guggenheim led their curatorial colleagues in franchising their museums around the world—again striking out in new territory. Where might these innovation lead? Inviting artists and sculptors to share their work on line? Conversations with emerging artists in their studios while working? Circumventing the traditional curatorial, gallery, and white cube experience for a direct hit at the Biennial of Your Choice?
We at Shockwrite are interested in course curriculums in the field of art history that bridge other disciplines. One case in point is a course I developed last year in apartnership with the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles. This program is the very definition of hybrid – a cross between an art history course and an Integrated Learning experience for seniors at Otis College of Art and Design. The course was originally conceived as a one-semester course and soon grew to be a four semester-two year project. As fellow travelers you may have noticed the mounting art exhibits in airports both domestically and internationally. It has burgeoned into a competitive field where cities use terminal spaces to transmit their cities identity through art exhibits.
The title of the course is “LAX: Public Policy and the Arts” and the students are given an insight to the role of government in the arts. We look back at the history of government agencies supporting art particularly in the United States (Depression and New Deal Era) and, from a contemporary perspective, the long plight of artists fighting for financial support from national associations (NEA), local government, through government-sponsored grants.
Students are assigned four projects per semester. They must successfully respond to these assignments by building their own criteria as to what defines public art.The course is a collaboration on many levels between the government arm of the arts (CAD), an educational institution of the arts (Otis), and the private airport (LAWA) management located at Los Angeles Airport.
The course structure needs to meet Integrated Learning (IL) criteria as well as Art History. The Il mandates inter-disciplinary teams of students to conceptualize, analyze and define issues shared with them by the partner. It is up to the student to find creative solutions. To give some background on the Integrated Learning program. The IL established partnerships with community based nonprofits and industries within the community of Los Angeles. The program seeks to find real-life experience for Otis students working with the institution/company/or non-profit organization. The focus is learning collaborative skills and successful problem solving with students from other disciplines while maintaining a platform whereby students realize the challenges of the work place.
In the course, the students negotiate a diverse public sphere of national and localpublic works. The final project examines a specific space at the airport that they redesign. The Cultural Affairs Department manages over twelve art centerscounty wide, including three airports, and Watts Towers, and Barnsdale Center, which is a part of Hollyhock House built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Hollywood. The Department has vast resources, a permanent collection of art that is not properly archived and a small support staff to handle the grants, fellowships and exhibits citywide that they curate, plus artists in residency programs.
During the process of writing the curricula for this class, the Mayor of Los Angeles cut the city workforce by 15%. Luckily, the Director of Public Art within the Cultural Affairs Department kept her position and went on to play a crucial role in continuing her interest in our partnership. We are in the second semester this spring. In a 15-week semester we have three field trips to the airport. The manager of LAWA hosts students in their boardroom, gives them a history of the program, outlining the dynamics – the exciting and the pragmatic- to let them see first hand the challenges they face.
Within class students are treated to guest lectures, staff reports and behind the scenes tours of exhibits; they bring cameras and notebooks to judge what should be exhibited versus the present exhibitions. I also ask two speakers per semester to bring their expertise in the field of Public Art to the students. These speakers vary from artists who participate in public artor directors/curators of public art projects. (https://blogs.otis.edu/laxarts/)
Christie’s and the Internet
Auction houses have some strange items that sell transforming their interior sales rooms into masterful stage sets. One example is Roy Rodgers’ taxidermied horse, Trigger, who sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars. What really happens behind the scenes here? How is technology changing Christie’s Auction House? 2010 was the best financial year in the history of Christie’s Auction House. They sold 5 billion dollars worth of art, antique and artifacts. The difference from last year’s sales is that 27% of those worldwide sales were from on-line buyers. In a sign that fine art collectors are growing ever more comfortable with bidding online, Christie’s International reported the sale of an ancient wine vessel and cover, the Fangyi from late Shang dynasty, Anyang, from 12-13th century B.C. sold to an online bidder for $3.3 million setting a new house record for the most expensive item sold online. The sale price smashed the previous Christie’s online sales of $1.27 million, set in April 2008 for a Stradavari violin purchased using Christie’s LIVE™, the company’s proprietary online bidding platform.
Christie’s stepped up to the plate and developed their own proprietary technology to increase their audience before their competition. They are changing the paradigm of auction bidding—a win-win for their customers.
Galleries and the VIP Option
Galleries are forming alliances, collaborating on openings, and looking strategically to position their physical spaces within an arts community to survive in this economy. Access is everything. When you talk to gallery owners, as I have over the last few months, you learn that they are concerned with lack of foot traffic, and that they are not sure which direction to go to increase revenues. The owners realize their customers can often view the works they seek through gallery websites and that a new sales strategy needs to be created.
In Los Angeles we have vibrant arts communities from Silver Lake to Culver City, from downtown Los Angeles and NoHo to Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Bergamot alone hosts 600,000 visitors a year showcasing forty one galleries that physically surround the Santa Monica Museum, a small boutique non-profit museum. It offers parking, a restaurant and gallery openings that are collaborative ventures. On Saturday evenings it’s an active art walk. The dealers formed a close alliance to support each other’s business. Dealers are not only forming alliances in their community, they are forming alliances in cyberspace.
The answer to what direction to turn was answered by one such group who called their endeavor The VIP Fair. It was launched for one week and started in January 22, 2011. It provided a virtual tour of 138 galleries represented by 30 countries who their featured artists and works along with the technology to sit down and interview the director on a particular work and negotiate prices. They range from established shops like London’s White Cube and New York’s David Zwirner to relative newcomers such as i8 in Reykjavik.
The VIP fair was created by James and Jane Cohan, from New York, both art dealers who teamed up with two internet entrepreneurs three years ago when the art world was about to be hit by recession. As you might imagine their site is provoking some angst among the other dealers who did not join. We might ask does the world really need another international art fair? With ARCO Madrid in February, Tefaf in March, Art Basel in June, Frieze in October, Miami in December and a dozen fringe fairs in between. There is a mini-travel business built around the travel schedule of art and antique dealers and the annual costlycircuit they chase. The VIP Fair offers access, collaboration to top galleries for a fraction of the cost of attending the conventional fairs.
Gallery owners chose between three sizes of virtual booths for their wares, for about one-fifth of the charge of the traditional art fair. Mere browsing is free, although visitors must pay for access to an instant-messaging system, price lists and dealers’ private rooms. VIP ran for one week and the success of it is still being determined. The most expensive work purchased was for $336,000. According to critics the model is not perfected as yet. Between wait times to upload images and the non-invited guest—called Spam—the site experienced some glitches. Some viewers found it difficult to negotiate. However, the vision is set and we will follow the endeavors of such attempts to integrate the arts and the web at Shockwrite.
Shockwrite is here to be a catalyst, the catalyst of transparency. What do we wish to be transparent? The art world we inhabit. Not only the academic but the happenings in and around the art world. Our daily lives. Our gallery, museum, theater and classroom experiences. But just as rarefied air turns stale and inbreeding becomes toxic – we owe it to our generation and future ones to talk with our fellow travelers on an equal playing field to make our discipline stronger.
We invite the non-art historian to address and present the art world they see, they hear and they experience. We invite the untold narratives from the back scenes, the behind-the-scene activity – that takes place in the white cube, at the drop of a gavel at auctions worldwide, and within the hollowed structures of museums.
The conventional research paper is always welcomed but we stand as more than a journal – we are the new world of happenings within art research, art critique, art premieres, art collecting, art foundations, that normally go unacknowledged. We welcome the narratives you experience in your work place and play, as well as in your library.
We aim to lower barriers while maintaining a distinctive presence. Although we welcome the scholarly papers and essays published monthly and quarterly in mainstream art journals such as (October, Frieze, Art Forum, Art Papers) our schema is not to solely publish art history research and methodological essays but glean from your interests and your writing.
We offer you a stage to highlight your area of expertise and link to others via video, hyperlinks and alternative media. If you value other communities input this is your site. For those artists, art historians who create, install, experience, moderate, argue, critique, obey, or disobey the rules please join us in our new venture.
You Deserve to be Heard.
Niels Van Tomme in aconversation with Dirk Paesmans and Joan Heemskerk, published in Art Papers, Jan/Feb, 2011, “From Readymade to Ready bought: An Ongoing History of Computer Art” (JODI).