The Brave New World of NFT art

Athenaeum Review just published a co-authored article “The Marriage of Art & Money” on the ubiquitous topic of digital art NFTs.

The relationship between art and money has always been symbiotic. It has been equally true with papal patronage in sixteenth century, and with the interwar European avant-garde whose fortunes, according to Greenberg, were inexorably linked to the market ‘by an umbilical cord of gold.’ After all, art and money are basically similar phenomena: both are valuable and significant systems of symbols. The twentieth century was replete with artists questioning the relationship between art and money. Their difference from Beeple was that they were looking for ways to uncouple the pair, rather than fuse them. As early as 1914, Duchamp’s revolutionary concept of the ‘readymade’ had undermined the process of commodification that had engulfed the artworld. Along with his Dadaist allies, Duchamp succeeded in redefining the fine arts, moving away from the given of physical painting and sculpture and towards serialized, de-commodified, temporary or even traceless performances and manifestos.

By insisting that a fictitious ‘R. Mutt’ had the right to anoint a urinal as art because ‘whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it,’ Duchamp initiated what the late David Graeber called the ‘aesthetic validation of managerialism.’ A lowly plumbing fixture can be art, as long as someone (who did not even create it) calls it art. The task of validation, and the creation of value, later devolved from artists to curators, who could throw ordinary objects into the mix along with bona fideartworks, confident that no one could legitimately object. Today this function falls to auction houses which, in Graeber’s words, use ‘money as a sacral grace that baptizes ordinary objects magically, turning them into a higher value.’ That is exactly what happened to Beeple’s opus on March 11, 2021 when the sale closed at $69,346,250.

Abstraction x 4

In early March, The New Criterion published “A Cleaner Slate”—my review of four exhibitions of abstract painting: “Paul Mogensen” at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, “Gerhard Richter: Cage Paintings” at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, “Stanley Whitney: How Black is That Blue” at Matthew Marks, Los Angeles and “Jim Isermann: Hypercube” at Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns”: exhibition tour

Last month, the Laguna Art Museum recorded my tour of Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns.” This exhibition includes over forty items that compose the painter’s latest circus-themed body of work. The show has been installed at the museum since early December 2020, but is yet to be opened to to public due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In this thirty minute walk-through I discuss a dozen paintings, drawings (including mixed media drawings), and etchings in the exhibition. LAM will re-open March 26. Until then, here is my modest contribution. Covid hair comes with. 🙂

Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns”: catalogue essay

I am delighted to have had a chance to contribute an essay for the catalogue of Wayne Thiebaud’s Clowns exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum. You can purchase the catalogue in LAM’s online store.

Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns”: Online Lecture

Art historian Julia Friedman discusses the great California artist’s work, including his latest paintings currently on view in the exhibition Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns.

LAM California Cool 2021 Auction Highlights: Virtual Tour

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 annual California Cool Auction at the Laguna Art Museum is entirely online. Here is my virtual tour of the auction where I highlight some of this year’s hidden gems.

Classicism by Decree: “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”

Athenaeum Review, Issue 5, Winter 2021

The Winter 2021 issue of arts and humanities quarterly Athenaeum Review is out on newsstands. Its Current Affairs section contains my essay “Classicism by Decree” (pp. 148–155) about an attempted change in the aesthetic direction of federal architecture in the US. Since 1962, the General Services Administration (the same governmental body that was recently in the news for not “ascertaining” the results of 2020 presidential race) has been relying on the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture with its two-fold requirement of practicality and symbolism in all federal buildings. These requirements were put in place  the aim of maximizing architectural innovation while upholding quality and longevity of construction. The new rules, if signed into law, would mandate that all federal buildings shall be erected in “classical architectural style.” In the essay, I discuss the pitfalls of promoting one specific architectural style at the expense of an open meritocratic competition. This is especially the case if the preferred style is a derivation of classicism, given the contentious history of association between classical architecture and totalitarian regimes in the past century. Mandating classicism by decree seems like a very bad idea.

Update: On December 22, President Trump signed “Make Federal Architecture Beautiful Again” Executive Order into law. Here is a link to the coverage of the Executive Order, across the political spectrum.