Is Hirst’s Currency ‘community art’?

Our third article on Damien Hirst’s ongoing NFT project The Currency (co-authored with David Hawkes) is out in Whitehot Magazine one year after it published ‘The Currency’ referendum in November 2021, and four months following the second article that addressed the aftermath of July vote that pitted physical artworks against their digital avatars. Part three focuses on the role of the community, and the shift away from the outmoded omnipotent artist paradigm. We argue that The Currency turns the consumers of the artwork into full-fledged participants of the project, breaking down the wall between the creator and their audience. On the face of it, The Currency fits the definition of “community art.” It also fits the paradigm of what anthropologist David Graeber called “human economies,” which operate through collective social practices, rather than through the mind of an individual genius. 

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Smackdown 101

Quillette just published my article about Ben Sakoguchi’s spectacular smackdown of literalist curators.

Sakoguchi was invited to participate in the revived California Biennial, to be held at the Orange County Museum of Art, which was reopening with great fanfare in a brand new $94 million Morphosis-designed building. The curators had selected a his 16-panel polyptych titled Comparative Religions 101, but But with all the paperwork completed and the artwork ready to ship, Sakoguchi was informed that OCMA’s Education Department had “raised questions about the content of his submission.” The painting contained images of swastikas. Sakoguchi was handed a list of 17 questions the museum wanted him to answer.  Three days after submitting his written responses, Sakoguchi was informed that Comparative Religions 101 would not be included in the show “because the museum will not show any work that depicts a swastika.” Having accused an 85-year-old survivor of a Japanese internment camp of hate speech, the curators’ ensuing scramble to save face was tragicomic.

Matt Stromberg’s comprehensive account of the exchanges between the Biennial curators, museum staff, the artist’s studio and his dealers reconstructs the drama that played out between the September 12th rejection and the opening of the Biennial two weeks later. Stromberg recounts the predictable shifting of blame between museum administrators and exhibition curators, the bid to secure a different work by Sakoguchi (declined), the attempts to go behind his back to obtain work from his dealers (unsuccessful), and finally a groveling email imploring the artist to re-enter the offending painting into the exhibition (denied). The California Biennial debacle was a face-off between pedants and poets, and this time the poet won.

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On the limitations of A.I.-generated art

A gonzo, and now veteran (established in 1992), art journal Coagula seemed like a perfect venue to throw well-deserved shade on the newly fashionable A.I.-generated art. In this short essay, I contrast the limited capabilities of computer algorithm with the emotional nuance of analogue human-made art. To read the full article, click on the image below.

The “Boho Dance” goes on

Exactly one year ago Christie’s procured a sale of a non-fungible token for an eye-watering sum of US$69,346,250. Since then, my friend and former colleague Professor David Hawkes and I have co-authored a series of articles on the subject of NFTs: their relationship to other currencies, their lack of aura, and their use for art history.

Over the winter break, as I was preparing to teach my usual Spring course on later 20th century art, I reread The Painted Word—an oldie-but-goodie little book by Tom Wolfe originally published as an article in 1974. I was struck by how well the model of modern art’s de-materialization Wolfe constructed (and raged against) fits our current NFT predicament. Wolfe’s astute social comedy that caused outrage among critics and especially artists turned out to be eerily accurate in its predictions of trivialization and monetization of culture that started decades ago, but picked up pace recently.

The resulting analysis “Against De-Materialization: Tom Wolfe in the Are of NFTs” is our fourth article on the subject. It just came out in Quillette (which bravely published my article on the relationship between art history and pornography last summer). In it, we apply Wolfe’s ideas to the new, Twitterfied, reality.

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In Memory of Wayne Thiebaud

My tribute to the great Wayne Thiebaud is out in the February issue of The New Criterion—a magazine he had subscribed to for decades. I had the privilege of working with Wayne for the past few years, so the text below contains my insights into this man of impeccable integrity, strong will, and unwavering dedication to painting. Click on the image below to read the article.

During the time of our collaboration (Wayne’s words), I wrote three magazine articles—all published in The New Criterion—and three catalogue essays about his work. First, came the “Hour of the clown,” an article that dealt with social and artistic contexts, as well as the reasons for the timing of his circus-themes series. It was followed by “There ought to be clowns”—a piece on the historic background of the series. An in-depth essay on the topic, titled “Nothing is Unimportant,” was included in Wayne Thiebaud 100 centennial catalogue. Shortly after this essay was published, I took part in a panel discussion “Three Takes on Thiebaud” organized by the Crocker Museum of Art.

The third article on the circus series was “Past continuous.” It explored the parallels between Thiebaud’s direction and T.S. Eliot’s theory of artistic influence. I also contributed an essay “A Masterwork: Thiebaud’s One Hundred-year-old Clown” to the catalogue for the Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns exhibition held at the Laguna Art Museum in 2020-21. As part of the programming for the LAM exhibition the museum recorded my video tour an online lecture on the evolution of the series.

My latest monographic essay on Wayne’s work “Anyone Can be My Protagonist: Wayne Thiebaud’s Unrepresented Spectator” is forthcoming in the volume titled People. The book contains a selection of paintings and drawings of the human figure from the entirety of the painter’s career. This was Wayne last project before his passing on Christmas Day 2021.

In memory of Dave Hickey

I wrote this piece following Dave’s passing November 12, 2021. It was published in the January 2022 issue of The New Criterion magazine. Click on the image to read the full text.

I met Dave in 2012, and three years later we embarked on a project based on his Facebook writings. The result was two pendant volumes, Wasted Words and Dustbunnies, which explored Hickey’s mood over the eighteen months he engaged in debates on social media. It also gave a rare glimpse into what could best be called his verbal ephemera—bon mots and musings that would not necessarily make it into the critic’s honed writings. Times Literary Supplement published a review of the books. A series of in-conversation events in Las Vegas CAC, Site Santa Fe and the UCLA Hammer Museum followed.

Contemporary Arts Collective in Las Vegas, NV, 03.05.2016, Photo Credit Check Salgado
Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM, 04.15.2016
UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, 05.12.2016

Damien Hirst, art history and crypto art

Our third essay on crypto art (co-authored with David Hawkes). The first one “The Marriage of Art & Money” dealt with the financial nature of the digital art NFTs, while the second “The Afterlife of the Aura” took up the thorny subject of materiality in contemporary art. This article explores the significance of Damien Hirst’s NFT project “The Currency” which recently entered its second phase—the redemption—when the owners of NFT tenders can exchange them for physical art. Once the painting is collected (in person, or via a shipping courier), its NFT is destroyed. This process cannot be reversed. We will not know how the experiment ends until late July 2022. To read the full text click on the image below.