In The Conversation’s latest Virtual Café (which took place on 9/24/21, on Zoom), special guest Rose Bricetti and participants talked about: how memes break down institutional critique; the Instagram account Jerry Gogosian, which was revealed to be run by Hilde (former guest of the podcast); The Dirtbag Left, defined, as well as their use of memes; how the image and meaning of Pepe the frog has changed over time, depending on who appropriates it and how the media covers those appropriations; Rose’s art-making process, which has been influenced both by memes and her prior work as a museum designer at a natural history museum; her consumption of Tik Tok vs. her consumption of Instagram, and how the two compare content-wise; and how the leisurely and the political are so intertwined in memes that they’re inseparable.
In part 4 of my conversations with sociologist Hannah Wohl (author of Bound by Creativity), we discuss:
Competing claims to expertise between artists and gallerists; the fiduciary responsibilities that some art advisors take on, which involves a very pointed analysis of artists’ pedigrees when choosing work for their clients; how art advisors and collectors operate in such a way that perpetuates systems of value based on status signals; how Hannah tries to strike a good balance as an ethnographer, in between being an objective, invisible researcher on one hand, vs. it being too much about the ethnographer’s ego on the other hand (and that balanced approach also applies to her take on the art world); and Antonio Murado, a painter who has produced highly-paid commissions for corporate banks, and in the process grappled with issues around selling out and compromising his work, or, in Hannah’s research terms, he was willing to trod on his creative vision and in the process potentially relegate his work to a lower status level, based on the perception of doing the commissions.
In digging into Hannah’s book, ‘Bound by Creativity,’ we talk about: the continued existence of the artist as bohemian (even as ‘enfant terrible’), as personified by the pseudonymous Simon Moser, whose gallerist and collectors affectionately boast about how crazy he is, and yet who occasionally goes to far, even with his cultural clout; the collector-artist dynamic in studio visits, where a power imbalance is the norm, and collectors are often hesitant to buy work by an artist who they haven’t already invested in; collectors’ light-hearted competition with each other, not unlike a catty teenager style of play; trust-fund kids, and how artists often adopt bohemian lifestyles (or at least appearances) so as not to be seen as having or coming from wealth, whereas collectors coming from wealth tend not to hide that fact; and the uneasiness artists often feel in their direct relations with collectors.
Here is a related discussion, about ‘the Anxieties of Affluence,’ with sociologist Rachel Sherman, from my other podcast How I Get By.
In part 2 with sociologist Hannah Wohl, we continue our conversation by talking about whether the terms ‘Creative Vision,’ or ‘Signature Style,’ are euphemisms for ‘brand’; how there was resistance (from artists in the book and others) to the prospect of Hannah using a sociological model to analyze patterns of creativity, something that struck them as anathema to their unique visions and processes; the relative importance of the art world, in that it moves the conversation(s) forward, even as an admittedly collector-supported system; how cultural consumption tends to reinforce the status of the elites, rather than undercut it; and what the big difference is between trust-fund baby collectors and trust-fund artists (hint: one gets to be more transparent, the other has to hide their background).
In the first part of a multi-part series, Hannah Wohl, sociologist and author of Bound by Creativity talks about: her general studies of the creative industries more broadly, in addition to her focus, for this book, on the contemporary art market in particular; her two-year ethnography of a ‘sensual figure drawing’ class at an erotic arts club in Chicago; how she earned entry into some of the inner sanctums of the art world, starting with artists but then eventually through the support and generosity of one legendary gallerist; the process of artists developing a signature style for which they become known; and the challenges for artists with a recognizable ‘creative vision’ who try to transition into another style and/or medium, largely because collectors want to buy the work that represents a given artist’s creative vision.
New York artist and writer Melissa Stern talks about:
Living in a large Chelsea co-op apartment where also has her studio, in a building she calls ‘a community in a box’; her joining an all-women-artist text group during the pandemic, which has been a great source of support and community; her shows that got canceled because of the pandemic, one of which got re-scheduled, and disappeared by ghosting; going down a dark rabbit hole with a couple of bogus dealers – one of whom was a meth-head – and how that led to, among other things, a great experience among a wide assortment of New Yorkers at Small Claims Court (it also led to a great article on Hyperallergic); her piece ‘The Talking Cure,’ which is a collaboration with 12 writers, 12 actors and 12 sculptors (and will be shown at the Fuller Museum in 2022), and has presented great opportunities to both interact and connect with audience members in parts of the country outside of her New York area bubble.
In addition to being a replay of episode 138, from May of 2021, art writer Ben Davis also provides an update on what he thinks about art and activism today, in conjunction with his new book, 'Culture Collapse.'
In this episode, Ben talks about:
His time in Australia at the (x) conference, and his meetings with artist Ben Quilty (also a social activist work); art and activism, and art & politics; the mutually incompatible art tribes that exist among the different 'art worlds;' how the fact that all the different complaints from various factions of the art world(s) can all be true at once, and how disorienting that can be (for Ben); how outside of the cities where there's a market, the conversation is almost always about social aesthetics (what Ben calls "social practice") instead, and how that's where government arts support tends to gravitate; how some of the most interesting art – art that's 'underground and weird' - is being made outside of the art world bubble, among them Fee Plumley, an artist based in Adelaide; sections from his book "9.5 Theses on Art and Class" -- the title and also a specific chapter of his book which was originally written as a pamphlet and intervention of an art show in NY on art and class – including trickle-down theories of both economics and art; and art education, and particularly what for Ben was a profoundly moving article: A Eulogy for Hope: The Silent Murder of Gallery 37 ; what explains the fact that grad schools are made up of 2/3 women, but galleries represent 1/3 women…what happened in between?; what the mechanisms are that make up the art world/how it works; his piece "Do you have to be rich to make it as an artist?"; how the conversation about the art market is a complete dead end; how cities with much smaller art markets, but much cheaper housing, are better for artists; and how without the writing, without the intellectual circulation around the production of art, art's just an overpriced piece of decoration.
Brooklyn-based artist Doug Beube talks about: his internship with photographer Minor White; photographing the circus, and later freelance gigs to make a living and support his art-making, including verité photos of John Kennedy, Jr.; doing cedar logging salvage in British Columbia; his journey from Ontario to New York, and eventually getting his Green Card; why he stopped doing commercial photography; buying the brownstone he now lives in, rents out, and Airbnbs in 1998 as a form of retirement; and the art of pulling apart books and repurposing them into objects.
Leaving a tenured teaching position in Connecticut so she could get back to the action in NYC; the origins of Two Coats of Paint, her illustrious blogazine, which was born out of her interest in painting and following painting-focused writers and bloggers around the country, and evolved from being an extension of her painting into a full-fledged digital magazine that involves multiple contributing writers; how she considers herself a lifelong DIY-er, and has made it a point to cover the galleries in Brooklyn, the types of spaces that don’t get coverage in the mainstream publications; the mini-art movement that Sharon wrote about and essentially coined, Casualism; and how much having a permanent studio (for her, a three-year lease was huge), versus being a studio nomad, affected the type paintings she made.
This episode is supported by the podcast Wireframe. Please check out their podcast- we think you’ll enjoy it, plus subscribing to Wireframe is a way for you to support The Conversation!
Los Angeles artist Jennifer Moon talks about: getting sober after a long string of drug use benders; navigating ambitions for revolution with a traditional artist career path, including her inclusion in the 2014 version of Made in L.A., which led to sales and accolades; how her commercial success – and the connection of an artist she was working for – eventually led to the security of a professorship at Otis, where she attempts to lobby for changes in the power structures; how, before her career broke, she thought she might give up art and become a therapist (she had been doing a lot of mediation with several organizations already; and a bit about her work with Revolution School, including the theory of ‘Scrooging’ and tackling collective trauma.
Los Angeles-based artist Rakeem Cunningham talks about: growing up in essentially a small town (Pacoima) within Los Angeles, where he still lives and works out of a custom-built studio under his bedroom (though he’ll be moving out soon); his day job as the gallery manager for Gavlak in Downtown L.A., work which he really appreciates, and where he especially enjoys being a warm and welcoming host to black visitors to the gallery; how he started working in self-portraiture in lieu of hanging out with friends, and how it became a form of self-love as well as a way put his work out there via Flickr and Tumblr, before the Instagram era; and how he navigates photographing himself nude while avoiding fetishism and objectification.
Law school professor, former general counsel for Pepsico, and novelist (most recently of The Forger’s Forgery) Clay Small talks about: visiting Amsterdam’s notorious Six Collection, which he was only able to do through creative means (largely through this article), and what the experience was like; art forgery, particularly European forgers of the 20th century- what they got away with, and how they largely avoided prosecution by cultivating charming personas, which ultimately led to their being forgiven in the public (and legal) arena; and his consequential and bizarre visit to Michael Jackson’s compound, in working on the contract negotiation for Jackson’s concert tour at the time.
Toronto-based conceptual artist Mitchell Chan talks about his epic “Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility,” a blockchain-based work which was inspired by Yves Klein’s late 1950s precursor, “Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility;” we talk about Klein’s legendary work The Void, the apex of his ongoing project of making invisible, or nearly invisible, artworks, and how his revolutionary work may have been interpreted at the time; and we talk about the NFT (non-fungible token) market- how it’s helped his Digital Zones work, how a lot of great conceptual work has been made on blockchain, even if it’s not dominating the marketplace… and his philosophical take on the NFT trend from the perspective of an artist who’s been working in blockchain for at least the last five years.
Artist, choreographer and former ballet dancer Madeline Hollander talks about her brief but dramatic professional ballet career and her subsequent transition into becoming a visual artist via choreography and performance; her project Flatwing, a search for the elusive silent/chirp-less crickets on the island of Kauai, which led to a deep dive into evolutionary biology and a video that’s being exhibited as part of an installation at the Whitney Museum; the turning points that led to her being included in the Whitney Biennial and now to have this solo exhibition at the museum; the pros and cons of working in the still-nascent niche of dance/choreography in contemporary art; and how the decision to invest in the Masters program at Bard College has already paid off.
Berlin-based artist Lee Wagstaff talks about his paintings and his recent career boost through his use of the Artist Support Pledge (#artistsupportpledge) platform-- how he learned of it, his strategies in using it, and how the smaller paintings he’s been making are an ideal format for it. The Support Pledge has also provided him with artistic/financial independence, without having to rely on networking (something he’s averse to), and how he’s turned it into a sustainable living; he also talks about how he makes his optical-yet-visceral paintings, which involve a proprietary process that even his painter friends can figure out.
In the 2nd of two parts, artist Katarina Wong talks about: her collective +1 +1, which fosters artist community serendipitously based on a non-competitive ethos, with sharing small works as an ice breaker; our shifting priorities since the pandemic, and our approach to FOMO and guilt when it comes to seeing, or not seeing, everything that’s out there; re-directing our focus on what we do throughout the day (including art making), so that instead of checking off boxes, we’re being intentional about our decisions, and not including the word “Should” as part of those decisions; working on her memoir about renovating an apartment she bought in Havana, which has brought her closer to relatives, while otherwise she struggles with feeling like an impostor for not fitting into any of her respective cultures, whether Cuban (her mom), Chinese (her dad’s Chinese), or even American, despite growing up in Florida.
Host Michael Shaw speaks with Katerina Wong, a New York City-based artist, curator, and writer (among other things), about working her way up to VP of Curatorial Engagement, a position she invented for herself at the corporate communications company where she worked for over a decade; getting good at managing her (limited) time in the studio with a full-time job; the pluses and minuses of teaching, in particular tenure-track positions; going back to school for a masters in theological studies at Harvard, and how she wound up there; how we’re conditioned to make work for an audience, as opposed to having, as Katarina calls it, “pure dialogue” with just the work itself; and we begin talking about the art scene in Cuba, including its misconceptions, which will continue in greater depth in part 2.
Curator, writer and museum director Laura Raicovich talks about the challenges she faced as director of the Queens Museum, particularly around actively addressing the vulnerability of many Queens residents during the Trump era, including meeting some resistance from some the museum’s board members. She also discusses issues around diversity and where museums need to be moving, topics she’s addressed in her upcoming book, “Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest.” We also discuss the controversy around the postponed Philip Guston retrospective, and the various projects she’s taking on as her run as a museum director winds down.
Artist, writer and art world worker Robin Kasier-Schatzlein talks with Michael Shaw and several listeners in the podcast's latest Virtual Cafe. Robin talks about his 'mini-memoir' from The New Republic titled "The Artist Isn't Dead: Eulogies for the creative class are premature. Art workers can organize—and survive," partially a book review of Shannon Clark's "The Making of The American Creative Class: New York’s Culture Workers and Twentieth-century Consumer Capitalism," and partly an introduction to Robin. In the Conversation via the Cafe, which features several listeners in the Q&A, Robin expands on his own experience being an artist, a writer (he has a newsletter, a twitter feed, and a Patreon page all worth checking out), and working in the art world as a preparator, and organizing with his colleagues at MoMA PS1, where he's the shop steward.
Michael Shaw talks to Miriam Basilio about her job at MOMA curating Latin American Art, helping to integrate the curatorial landscape as a woman from Puerto Rico, low curatorial salaries, her current work at NYU as a tenured professor, her annual 6-week stints in Spain and the Spanish art community, her forthcoming book, and the importance of representation in the art world.