Quick study

Credit: Boston Public Library via Maine Public Marketplace

This edition of “Quick study” includes good news about how the arts drive economic growth and bad news about MoCA curator Helen Molesworth. Also: Grant Wood’s retrospective at the Whitney, Russian collectors’ hankering to join in the global art world, the future of art fairs, a mural in Parkland, Joan Baez is a painter, and one of my latest pet peeves about the  Trump coverage. 

“Woman & Plant”, 1929 oil painting by Grant Wood, approx. 24″ high, collection of The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 4×5 transparency, Fuji Quattro scan. Painting is behind glass. Note: face and eyes painted “soft”, not out of focus. / Label text: Wood used his mother as the model for this portrait, highlighting what he called the “bleak, far-away, timeless” quality in her eyes that suggested to him the “severe but generous vision of the Midwest pioneer.” Taking his cue from the practice in Northern Renaissance art of depicting portrait subjects against a landscape background with symbolic objects, Wood presented this half-length figure holding a sansevieria plant, known for its ability to survive under the most inhospitable growing conditions, in front of a backdrop of rolling Iowa hills.

Peter Schjeldahl writes in the latest New Yorker about the wonderful Grant Wood show at The Whitney: “The politics may be deemed prescient, since the show was planned before the election of Donald Trump, but it feels right on time. I have in mind the worries of urban liberals about the insurgent conservative truculence in what is often dismissed—with a disdain duly noted by citizens of the respective states—as flyover country. Parallels between reactionary trends now and those of the thirties are inexact, of course, and can be untrue to the facts of both eras, at least in America. In the thirties and forties, in ways that became art-world conventional wisdom, some critics equated regionalism with the blood-and-soil mystique of Nazism and/or socialist realism. But Wood, Benton, and Curry were sturdy Roosevelt liberals.” Read more.


Philippe Vergne, Kerry James Marshall, and Helen Molesworth at the opening of Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at MOCA. Courtesy of MOCA via Instagram. Via artnet News.

Helen Molesworth, chief curator at MoCA in Los Angeles, has been ousted by director Philippe Vergne. According to a report in the LA Times, it sounds as though Vergne wanted to continue mounting  retrospectives that embrace the white-male-dominated status quo while Molesworth was more interested in curating shows by traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and people of color. “Most museums still maintain a commitment to an idea of the best, or quality, or genius.” Molesworth said in a 2016 interview in The Art Newspaper. “And I’m not saying I don’t agree with those as values. But I think those values have been created over hundreds of years to favour white men. One of the things you have to say as a curator is ‘We are not going to present the value that already exists; we are going to do the work to create value around these woman artists and artists of colour that would just come ‘naturally’ to the white male artist.” Read more.

At artnet News, Julia Halperin reports that “Molesworth’s personal priorities, progressive politics, and constitutional aversion to flattering donors put her on a collision course with the museum’s director and board….She was not interested in the diplomacy and statecraft practiced by many chief curators, who approvingly tour private collections and lead donors around art fairs. If she was not excited by a particular collector’s holdings or an artist’s work, she did not hide that fact.” Read more. 

Cary Leibowitz pie chart at Invisible-Exports, Independent Art Fair, 2018.

If your program or arts organization is looking for data that proves how important the arts are to the economy, check out the new study from the National Endowment for the ArtsNew data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) offers an insightful picture of the impact the arts have on the nation’s economy. The arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing. The arts employ 4.9 million workers across the country with earnings of more than $370 billion. Furthermore, the arts exported $20 billion more than imported, providing a positive trade balance.” Read more.

Anya Zholud’s “Schematic Space of Elementary Happiness,” an installation in the Institution of Culture project presented by Art4 at Cosmoscow 2018.

Russian art world integration: The Art Newspaper reports that the Kremlin , which used to tax art at a 30% luxury goods rate, has approved a new, less onerous tax rate for art importing and exporting. “The previous, prohibitive legislation was created in the chaotic 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to prevent the mass exportation of cultural treasures. But it also made it virtually impossible to import art, levying huge tariffs on important works of art and offering no re-export guarantees to private collectors. Russians have, therefore, tended to base their private collections in Europe.” In other words, the oligarchs are in charge, and they want more freedom to exhibit and loan the artwork they have amassed both in Russia and the West. Perhaps artists and art workers might find more opportunities as new private art organizations grow.  Read more.

Jakob Kolding’s solo booth at the Frieze Art Fair in London in 2008. Photo courtesy of Team Gallery.

The era of the art fair might be coming to a close. In a two-part conversation with artnet, Team Gallery director José Freire suggests the model isn’t working for most of the galleries that participate. “If you’ve been around for a while, it’s very difficult to meet new collectors. I did used to think of art fairs as promotion for the gallery, and, in the early days when the gallery had no brand, they were very important. The things we did very early on—whether it was Banks Violette’s solo at Liste, Ryan McGinley‘s first-ever debut with the gallery at Frieze London, Carol Bove’s “Statements” at Basel in 2002—made a big impact in terms of meeting curators and collectors, and the kind of curatorial shorthand that would happen at one of those fairs was astonishing. I no longer feel a curatorial presence at fairs. I used to feel that curators went to fairs to look for new artists, but now I feel that they go to fairs to walk their trustees around….Also, at this point, I think if you show a work in your gallery and you don’t sell it, it somehow accrues value, because all of a sudden it has an exhibition history. If you show a work at a fair and it doesn’t sell, the value is gone. It’s burned.” He has plans to do Art Basel Hong Kong, but after that Freire is plans to stay home.  Read more.

Manuel Oliver painting the  mural.  (via CNN)

Manuel Oliver painted a  mural to honor his son Joaquin, one of the 17 victims slain at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas on February 14. The creation of the mural was  recorded for “Parkland 17,” an art exhibit organized by Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade and created by artist Evan Pestaina in Wynwood, Miami. According to CNN, the installation includes empty desks with students’ names and a phone booth where visitors can “Call Your Rep” to talk about gun control. Last week, Oliver and his wife founded Change the Ref, a nonprofit organization that will help empower young activists. Read more.

Joan Baez, “Mischief Makers” at  Seager/Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, California. (Via CBS News)

Singer-songwriter-activist Joan Baez has been painting. “The whole story about this exhibit really stems from my relationship with Marilyn Youngbird and her relationship with the man who’s the chairman of a tribe nearby. And he owns and runs a casino. There’s lots and lots and lots of money. He knows casino owners, who have lots and lots and lots of money, and I called him to say, ‘Well, I’ll give you a heads up, if you want to get the Marilyn picture.’ And he said, ‘Don’t sell anything else. I’m on my way to a tribal council meeting. I think they’re gonna wanna buy everything.’” Yes, they bought them all.  Read more.


Pet peeve this week: Stop calling Stormy Daniels a “porn star.” She’s a writer, director, and producer as well–in short, an adult-film-industry entrepreneur. And she appears to be smarter than the president. Let’s give her some respect.  Read more about Daniels’ career here.

Stay tuned for art fair images later this week.

Related posts:
Links: Musicians who paint
Quick study: David Bowie and art
Part I: Adira Thekkuveettil and the defaced murals in India
Peter Dudek: Challenging murals in North Adams
Part 1: An art handler’s experience in Miami

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