In a follow-up conversation I had with artist Cassie Thornton (of epis. 248), I share with her my interest in moving some of art-making into the socially engaged realm, in particular related to real estate development issues that I’ve begun to investigate. Cassie provides advice and strategy suggestions in addition to sharing some of her own experiences related to building development in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a writer whom she sees as invaluable resource, and an artist, the German Sibylle Peters, as an ideal role model. She describes art institutions as ideal access points – highways, even - to people in finance or real estate, particularly board members; and ultimately describes this type of (socially engaged) work as the opportunity to both make a difference and at the same time to create an ambitious practical – even grandiose – joke.
Artist and co-director of London’s Furtherfield (London’s longest-running arts organization dedicated to de-centralized network culture) talks about:
Her experience being a sculptor in London just as the YBA (Young British Artist) scene began to emerge, and the troubling effects she saw it having on the city as a livable community for artists; the early internet art projects she made and curated; the first trans-humanist project (that she knows of), produced by a Finnish artist she worked with, in which he recorded everything happening in his life to the point that his consciousness could be uploaded to the net; the origins of her gallery Furtherfield, which is London’s longest-running arts organization dedicated to de-centralized network culture; and her work with blockchain and cryptocurrency- how they work in relation to art and artists, and how in her (web-based) community, blockchain is a way to re-think the world’s social order – including live-action role play - as opposed to just being leveraged as another capital-focused tool (Bitcoin etc.).
It's mid-August of 2019, and while The Conversation takes a week off, we are re-releasing this Blast from the Past, Lisa Schiff from episode #99, which was originally released on Jan. 3rd, 2015. She is the president and founder of SFA Advisory.
We selected this episode both because it's one many listeners may not be familiar with (since it's too old to show up in podcast platform queues), and because we feel it's a nice counterpoint to the recent programming we've been doing that's tended toward way outside the mainstream art market...whereas Ms. Schiff generally operates very much inside of it.
Here are the original notes included with that episode:
The Conversation, Episode 99: Lisa Schiff of Schiff Fine Art in New York talks about: what she does as an art advisor; the art market, vis-a-vis the Miami fairs, being bullish and the biosphere; why she’s an advisor and not a dealer; and the artists she’s visited and is passionate about.
Thunder Bay, Ontario and Bay Area artist Cassie Thornton talks about:
Her origins in northern Illinois, where she mainly grew up with a mom who struggled financially and was at the cutting edge of the downside of the financial crash, which planted an early seed for Cassie to eventually make artwork about debt; how she applied to CCA’s (California College of the Arts) Social P-Word program 3 months after the deadline, in a fever dream, and went on to have a seminal experience there, including attempting to start an artist-in-residence in the school’s finance department, and other feats of radical imagination; the genesis of her seminal artwork, “Give Me Cred!,” which started with her and a colleague deciding to not pay their credit card bills, and eventually led to her creating alternative credit reports for people based on their wherewithal to survive ‘a financial system that’s trying to eat them alive,’ and then become a way for them to get jobs and apartments; exactly why she advertises on her website, thefeministeconomicsdepartment.com, that “if you steal my idea, tell me how it goes;” why she moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario (primarily to co-run the ‘Reimagining Value Action Lab’ with Max Haiven at Thunder Bay University, but also for other reasons); why she finally gave up living in the Bay Area, after having lived in a succession of 6 places over a very short period; her Oakland pop-up real estate project ‘Desperate Holdings,’ which was part spa, part faux real estate agency and total social engagement project, in which she got to know many of the residents, including becoming friends with a woman who was nearly a daily presence there; and her video “I trusted you I trusted you I trusted you,” a marginalized yet epic piece which is representative of the out-of-the-box work that has led to a very bizarre fan base, including a feminist hedge fund that reached out to her to be their artist-in-residence.
In the final episode with Art After Money author Max Haiven, we talk about:
The history of and the current fate of artist collectives, as prompted by a listener’s thoughtful question; Le Freeport, the ultimate art storage facility, a crypt-like structure which Max visited in Singapore, and describes his experience of being there, and subsequently we discuss what a Freeport, a crypt for rich people’s art and antiques, means for the greater world of financialization; the structural violence (systemic violence) committed by the global capitalist elite, and their tendency to morally insulate themselves from their actions, up to and including building escape hatches and bunkers from New Zealand to Mars; Debtfair and Strike Debt, collectives that formed out of Occupy Museums, which itself was spawned through Occupy Wall Street; the art world politics that led to the creation of Art Prize, and how its populist response to the secretive and collusion-oriented market art world has been a problematic response; how Debt Fair, which was included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, operates by calling out the institutions and sometimes even individuals whom participants are literally indebted to; what the future of debt in the U.S. and beyond looks like, vis-à-vis mainstream political support for eliminating debt; the Commons, as seen in collectives formed during the Occupy movement and also how they manifest in relation to art and the history of art; Max’s call for the abolition of art as borne out of the abolition of prisons, and in asking the question “what if were to abolish art?,” including museums, galleries and other institutions, what would creativity then look like?; and how everyone, not just billionaires, but even artists, create structures of avoidance to carry on with our work and not get into too dark of a place.
New York (and sometimes Europe)-based artist, internet activist and hacker Paolo Cirio talks about:
How he makes a living as an artist, mainly through commissions, workshops and guest appearances (and the occasional sale), and spread through several European cities as well as New York, and also how he keeps his expenses (including his rent in NY) low; his near future as an artist, as far as how sustainable his career is financially, should he choose to start a family; his activist roots growing up in Turin, Italy, which he describes as very working class and a lot of consciousness around politics, as well as early interest in computers and eventually the internet; his epic artwork, Loophole for All, in which he hacked into the General Registry of the Cayman Islands and published over 200,000 entities (many of them anonymous shell companies), then offered a certificate of ownership of those companies for $.99, and subsequently what it was like for him dealing with the fallout from that grand action, and how the piece tapped into complex logistics around how legislations are exploited by big global companies; why he chose the Cayman Islands for his project, as opposed to Delaware, which has a similar culture of offshore money laundering, according to Cirio; his contention that the art market is highly censored due to conflicts of interest on museum boards, including board members from tech giants like Google, in addition to his work not being ‘financially exploitable,’ thereby making it very difficult if not impossible for Cirio to exhibit his work in the U.S.; and why he isn’t going to be making an artwork that takes on Trump in conjunction wtih the upcoming election.
Samuel Harvey, Aspen-based artist and gallerist (Harvey Preston gallery) talks about:
How he initially settled in Aspen, through his various times working and teaching at the Anderson Ranch Art Center, as a ceramic artist; the many kinds of Aspen, including the 1%-ers and the regulars, and how he makes his way among them both, through his gallery, which he describes as a satisfying operation, but also very unpredictable in terms of what it provides to his income, in addition to the fact that he’s in a tenuous situation with the gallery’s commercial space lease; the “happy disaster” of his studio, which is a three-car garage just below his apartment, where the work that he makes as an artist brings him “endless joy,” something that we joke about because of our contrasting in-the-studio experiences; why his gallery is open seven days a week, which is an Aspen thing that has to do with the short on-seasons of sales activity; what he’s doing with his U.S Artist Assembly grant money; and the types of clients he has (people who really love the work, not speculative buyers).
Renny Pritikin, godfather of the Bay Area art community, veteran curator and author of the manifesto “Prescription for a Healthy Art Scene,” talks about:
Being a young poet who got into contemporary art via New Langton Arts, the pioneering San Francisco art non-profit that started back in the ‘70s; his close relationship with art critic, and poet, Peter Schjeldahl, who did a residency back in the early days of New Langston; his “Prescription for a Healthy Art Scene,” a document which he wrote back in the ‘90s, but his students starting putting out in the world a decade later, and then it got printed by galleries and he was finding it on the walls of artists he did studio visits with…; in ticking through the list of Prescriptions (there are 23 total), we discuss a few in particular, which lead to questions around: how realistic some of these points (such as there being plenty of teaching jobs at local art schools/universities) are now….whether graduate education has become something of a Ponzi scheme…why villains are important in an art scene, and more; some very practical things that he taught his curatorial students while at California College of the Arts, including assigning them to write wall texts directed at several different audience types, and how to collaborate as a group; his own experience as a curator, dealing with artists, embracing and coping with varying degrees of reception and critical feedback (including having his shows savaged by one local critic on more than one occasion), and the challenges and pleasures of working with varying artists; putting on the populist and the hit, first American museum show featuring Star Wars, which brought in 120,000 visitors; and the particular satisfaction of having viewers to your show read the wall text you wrote for your show.
In part 3 with Max Haiven, author of Art after Money, Money After Art, we talk about:
The influence (or lack thereof) of academia on the art market; the concept of writer Lauren Berlant’s ‘cruel optimism,’ which is something akin to a false sense of hope (Max uses the examples of using better light bulbs or taking shorter showers as being bogus solutions to climate change, which need to be addressed by the big corporations), and how it relates to art and artists, particularly young artists in anticipation of the type of career they envision; the importance of hype and confidence, not only in the art world but in the world at large (Max’s cites Uber’s fairly disastrous IPO); how confidence is performed, either tactically or non-tactically, which leads to a tangent previewing Max’s current book project about ‘Revenge,’ which features various far-right men’s groups (this conversation is in a bonus episode); artist/activist Paolo Cirio’s astounding 2014 piece, “Loophole for All,” in which he hacked the Cayman Islands’ Registry and published the names of over 200,000 firms, in turn selling forged certificates citing ownership of each of those companies for as low as $0.99; the distinction of an action or intervention being art, as opposed to just activism, and how that plays out in Cirio’s work in particular; Valentina Karga and Pieterjan Grandry’s “Valentina and Pieter Invest in Themselves,” a gold coin which is owned be a changing group of shareholders at different investment points, and how the piece sheds light on the exploitability of artists and their artworks in the market, and, how in their case, the ‘market’ is a proxy for community; Bay Area artist Cassie Thornton’s surprisingly effective “Give me Cred,” a project creating custom, alternative credit reports for housing and job applicants, an adaptation to a corrupt credit-scoring market; the artist in the book who inspired Max’s interest in financialization and in turn “Art After Money…” and how their relationship evolved; and finally, recommendations for learning more about Artivism.
In part 2 with Max Haiven, author of Art After Money, Money After Art, we dig into his book in earnest, including readings of and discussions about: his studies of social movements; how philosophers/theoreticians (mainly French) came to enter the discourse around contemporary art; Joseph Beuys’ work with bank notes (ie money); the radical imagination, which he derives from the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, but applies to the contemporary and in particular to financialization, but at its core is about taking a skeptical view of all the constructed institutions in our society that we are co-constructing all the time…including art; Hans Haacke, including his epis piece of institutional critique at the Museum of Modern Art (which led to the curator of the show he was in’s firing), and which leads Max to questions around what the ruling class wants from their art, and the contradictions therein; Lee Lozano, the pioneering conceptual artist and painter who did pieces including offering a jar of money to visitors to her studio, boycotting women, and eventually “Dropout Piece” which entailed her leaving the art world for the rest of her life, and martyred her, something Max suggests she would have railed against; the type of art world insider Max was able to speak with, and what his takeaways are from talking with them; Zach Gough’s participatory art experience/demonstration involving giving out an invented currency at levels respective to the hierarchies at conferences, and process of how those social hierarchies play out in real life (more or less); the incredible cognitive dissonance Max has experienced at art fairs, and his observation of multiple worlds co-existing simultaneously, and the act of their often ignoring each other (including him, since he was only a researcher); and finally, Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies’ 1967 intervention at the New York Stock Exchange, how contemporary iterations of that piece have been implemented, and how the spirit of the Yippies – both the best of it (community building, suffusing art into life), and the worst of it (contemporary art’s surface-y bombast and machinations) – very much exists in a lot of contemporary art, and why.
Natasha Degen, Chair of the Art Market Studies program at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, talks about:
Juggling both art market research (including attending art fairs and market-related panels) and teaching/administrative work in her role as chair; the current transition of the market, more towards the most visibly branded and in some cases most powerful galleries, and the greater interest of the public, including globally, in contemporary art; how the brand of Art Basel (Miami) has gained such visibility that people go to Miami for the buzz and the product launches, etc., as much as for the fair itself, which they may not even attend; the goal of increasing diversity in the Art Market program, and the challenge of reconciling class issues that limit the ultimate barriers for entry into the professional art world(s); her prior career as a journalist, in which she got better access but also recognized the extent to which she was swept into the promotional machinery of the art world; the challenges of covering the art market, in getting through/beyond its opacity; the panel about art and money laundering that she participated in; the historically unprecedented rise of China in the art market, whose largest market categories are old masters and decorative art before contemporary art (for now); and the case of one young Chinese artist Natasha visited in New York, who turned down a show at a Lower East Side gallery but had sold out all the work in her studio to a Chinese collector through jpegs only.
Lakehead University professor and Art after Money, Money After Art author Max Haiven talks about: the ‘Dark Matter’ of the art world (coined by Gregory Sholette); the myth of meritocracy in the art world, as well as in his own academia, and the myth that money follows a logic that it always lands in the right places; how he uses art and the art world as a hieroglyph to understand a broader societal set of trends; how he, both as a critic and activist and a private citizen finds artworks with a political, often radical bent, most compelling (and which inform the curation of the work in the book); how some art as we know it is bleeding into forms of activism or agitation that has potential to resist oligarchical politics and economics that are destroying our world and most people’s lives; how art and money (especially finance) have always been connected; how the corrosive results of ‘finacialization’ includes the sense of competition individuals have towards their fellow citizens, leading to a sense of alienation and loathing the Max things we’re only beginning to understand; the way that critics legitimate works as ‘art,’ for better or worse, and his contention that art has the ability to get under the skin of the economy in ways that almost no other approach does; and how artists can make their most important contributions to social movements and social change not as artists, but as citizens.
In the 2nd part of the conversation with Glasstire editor Rainey Knudson, she talks about:
The farewell tour leading to her departure from Glasstire in June, which is taking the form of a series of talks, covering social media, its power and expanding reach and influence, as exemplified by someone like Jerry Saltz, and its evils, particularly Facebook, which she’s gotten off of and says her life is so much better because of it; how museums have become experiences of commerce as opposed to venues of self-reflection, including the Broad, the long-lined Yayoi Kusama touring hit, and others; artists who are running away from, or not engaging in, the proper art world – including local Houston heroes Jim Pirtle (of the iconic notsuoH bar), and Rick Low of Project Row Houses; how she doesn’t buy into the traditional metrics for success in the art world; and how she’s surprisingly optimistic about the future, despite all signs to the contrary.
Rainey Knudson, the editor of Houston-based online art magazine Glasstire, talks about:
The evolution of Glasstire, including when she started making it her full-time job; her piece (a real “cri de coeur,” which I read from in a past podcast outro, “My Fears and Their Assuagements,” particularly the 1st one about becoming a more critical viewer of art over time, and her ever more challenging hunt for great art; Glasstire’s breakdown of their art reviews over a three year period as far as ‘negative,’ ‘positive,’ and ‘neutral,’ and what Rainey’s assessment of those numbers are in relation to the feedback they get from readers after a review; we do all sorts of comparisons between Houston and Los Angeles’s art scenes (shit-talkers vs. backstabbers) including the freedom Rainey believes Houston artists have as compared with the art capitals, and their being supportive as a whole; how overrated Mark Rothko is; and why artists should still make art.
Los Angeles-based artist Anna Schachte talks about:
Her (and her family’s) decision to leave New York for L.A., including about to have a 2nd child, the love-hate-love relationship with NY and the wildly changed landscape, having lived in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint section of Brooklyn for nearly 17 years; the identity crisis she struggled with after having her first child, when she felt as though she were losing her identity as an artist, especially when combined with her separation from her gallery, which she had worked with right out of grad school; her various day jobs, including “puppet doctor,” scene painter, bartender and bookkeeper, and how she and her husband navigated their earning dynamic when they had kids; how the artist-run gallery that she was part of, Regina Rex, was born, and who was a part of it (mainly grad school colleagues/acquaintances from Chicago); how the gallery moved from Bushwick to the Lower East Side, and how this group of around 13 artists navigated decision making, curating, and business (who of the group was able to sell work, to make it sustainable) as a gallery, and experience she called “a beautiful utopian experience, until capitalism took over and chewed it up and burned it out.”
Jeff Weiss, artist, former professor of art, and creator of the OLD NEWS email list (aka Weisslink), talks about:
How and why he started OLD NEWS (initially for his students), the size of the list, the rules for how he puts the list together each day/night (7 days/week, 365/year), what kind of feedback he receives from readers/consumers of his list, and how he sees it as art; his takeaways from doing OLD NEWS, including how he chooses articles and why--as Duchamp said, art and money shouldn’t be confused; the long, arduous process of making a physical version of OLD NEWS for its 15th anniversary, a 5475-page book (one page per email over 15 years) that is moved around on a wagon; and he talks briefly about a mysterious project involving a vending machine that he’s looking for a home for.
Nick Ravich, director of production for Art21 in New York, talks about:
His approach as both a producer and a director of Art21 artist docs, which are produced in both shorter form as well as longer form on their most well-known platform, Art in the 21st Century, which is broadcast on PBS; the variation in artists’ approaches and responses to being subjects of Art21, and how inevitably they’re often made to be vulnerable, at the least by having a camera on them in their studio for an entire day (if not more); how Art21 survives as an institution, particularly with all of the other video-about-contemporary-art platforms that have sprung up since they launched; the affirmative dynamic Art21 has towards its artists, and how the process of choosing artists works (the artists almost always say yes); a bizarre experience he had with the photographer Kay Grannan when they were on a shoot and staying at a Las Vegas motel off the strip; and Nick launches into an insightful analysis of the differences between podcasts and video in terms of to what extent someone (artists in particular) will open up.
Simon Leung, Los Angeles-based artist and head of UC Irvine’s MFA program, talks about:
His 25-year relationship with Warren Niesłuchowski and Simon’s film, “War after War,” which is about Warren’s nomadic life; Warren’s background as a child of holocaust refugees, thru his experience of May ’68 in Paris, being part of the experimental theater world, becoming a war deserter, to the realities of his moving from place to place and city to city, relying on the kindness of friends and acquaintances who host him; Simon’s circuitous route to becoming a professor, without getting an MFA; what he himself advocates for undergrads who are thinking about grad school; how he compares his status as a UC professor to being a Roman senator, in the sense of his feeling of security amongst the crowd; and his performance piece “Actions!,” which performed at MoMA and then re-performed with a new script at the Hammer Museum (Actions! Adjuncts!), both forms of worker’s theater borne out of Simon’s identification with the museum workers’ strike, and whose scripts came out of his conversations with them.
In part 3 of 3 from the Donum Estate winery in Sonoma, Kristen Haring, technology writer, Keith Haring Foundation board member and youngest sister of the late Keith Haring, talks about:
Her work with the Foundation, which was started in 1989, and how Keith came to set it up out of his involvement in charities, including making logos for several organizations; her relationship with Keith (who was 12 years older), which was emphasized by his wanting to be a big influence on her, and later his wanting her to have her own life, separate from his career and Foundation; her experiences going in and out of the art world (as a non-art person), which she often finds bizarre, and describes as feeling like an anthropologist, and which started as early as when she was 11, when the family would go into the city from Pennsylvania for Keith’s openings; Keith’s concerns about economic disparity generally, and specifically in the form of collectors who would own his work to the exclusion of the public, and in turn, his efforts to make his work available to as many people who wanted it as possible, including through his Pop Shop, which, as opposed to criticisms of his being a sell-out, was in fact only profitable 2 of its 19 years; Keith’s interest in becoming famous, which Kristen found unappealing…in fact, her exposure to celebrity through Keith’s access made her move towards a desire to have a private life; and Keith’s 25-foot-tall steel sculpture, “King and Queen,” installed at Donum Winery.
How they came to start their collaborative project Art Advice, which is physically the real-life equivalent of the booth Lucy helmed in the cartoon Peanuts, only in this case they specialize in serving artists; the reason they both wound up in Sacramento, and the many pros that outweigh the cons of living in a non-art capital, including its scalable community and navigability; the pros and cons of going to grad school, and a Do-it-Yourself program put together by artists in Oakland that prospective students could consider before paying hefty grad school tuition; how local artists have forged their own paths without grad school; how to handle rejection, via a handout that Gioia wrote, which mainly entails getting back on the horse and applying to more opportunities, and how important it is to pursue relevant and targeted ones; and the gratifying aspects of running the Art Advice booth in its democratizing of the art community, and how it’s an instant gratification alternative to the slowness of institutional bureaucracy.
Debi Wisch and Jennifer Blei Stockman, two of the three main producers of the documentary The Price of Everything, about art and money, talk about:
The breakdown of the sales system in terms of democratization; auctioneer Simon de Pury’s line: “you should buy with your eyes, not your ears,” and ignore the background noise, as Debi puts it; buying trends among collectors, and the pros and cons of those purchases; the complications of gifting collections to museums; resources available to artists on the film’s website; the producers’ goals in terms of pulling back the curtain on the art world and getting people thinking and asking questions, and how one personal motivation was not being able to collect a lot of contemporary art they’d been interested in because it was too expensive; how artists (including Jeff Koons) don’t make any money from their work when it sells at auction; the draw of contemporary art around the world that’s been made apparent to the filmmakers through the many countries that have shown interest in the film; the possible reasons why a German refugee, just prior to the Holocaust, owns a Maurizio Cattelan sculpture of an adolescent-sized Adolph Hitler on his knees; and the challenges and thrills of navigating the learning curve of filmmaking over a seven-year span for this ambitious documentary.
On the 7th anniversary of The Conversation, NYC-based art consultant and secondary market seller Daniel Oglander talks about:
His daily routine as an art advisor who works from home; a multi-person, four-month-long deal (involving a Warhol) that went wrong at the last minute, and how; how trust plays such an important factor in the highly unregulated marketplace that he works in, and functions to actually keep it together; the relationships he has with his younger collectors, for whom his objective is to get them to develop their own voice; the pros and cons of working on deals with high-priced art vs. low-priced art; why he’s tired of being asked about George Condo paintings; and speaking of Condo, he shares a harrowing story involving the delivery of a Condo painting to an impatient collector.
Madrid-based English sculptor Richard Hudson, onsite at Donum Estate winery, talks about:
The history of both the concept and production of his large-scale sculpture “Love Me,” completed and installed at Donum in 2016, which sits at the highest point of the winery, is 8 meters (26 feet) high, 8 meters wide and weighs 16 tons; his transition from property developer to world traveler- he went on a walkabout that lasted 4 ½ years – to deciding to become an artist at 42, and his quick career success; his sons, who are both artists; and his romantic philosophies about life and art-making.
New York-based artist and outdoor advertising interventionist Jordan Seiler talks about:
Being both an artist and an activist, titles which can be interchangeable, and his initial impulse to address public space taken over by advertising as a citizen of New York City; his origins as a billboard and ad poster interventionist, starting from when a teacher provoked him by saying that he wasn’t capable of doing it; how he realized one of his main objectives was to attempt to change people’s attitude toward advertising in public space, to ask questions including “why?” and “at what cost?,” and how part of that process involved taking over large-scale ad campaign platforms, particularly via illegally posted ads; and how to do your own billboard/outdoor advertising interventions without getting caught, and, if you do get questioned by the police, what to say to them.
Introducing Conversation Art Podcast listeners to Michael Shaw's new podcast, How I Get By.
Episode 1 features Julie R.
She works as a substitute teacher and a babysitter in Boulder, Colorado. She’s charming and funny, and doesn’t mince words when talking about how she gets by. The way she talks about her future challenges feel universal.