Required Reading

by Hrag Vartanian on January 12, 2014

New York artist Michael Mapes creates works that look like they could be part portrait and part science. His latest series is a take on Golden Age Dutch portraiture using specimen boxes. "Dutch female specimen: J," (2013),  28″w x 34″ h x 3.5″ d. photographic prints, insect pins, pinning foam, gelatin capsules, glass vials, test tubes, paint samples, cast resin, magnifying boxes, plastic specimen bags, cotton thread (via Colossal)

New York artist Michael Mapes creates works that look like they could be part portrait and part science. His latest series is a take on Golden Age Dutch portraiture using specimen boxes. “Dutch female specimen: J,” (2013), 28″w x 34″ h x 3.5″ d. photographic prints, insect pins, pinning foam, gelatin capsules, glass vials, test tubes, paint samples, cast resin, magnifying boxes, plastic specimen bags, cotton thread (via Colossal)

This week, how the government is accessing your data, a Richard Serra takedown, the failure of open concept office space, when a tweet becomes an ad, US military street art in Afghanistan, people who prefer modern art over ancient art, and more.

 ProPublica has published an extensive (and very clear) piece exploring how the US government can get your data, even if you’re an American citizen. They write:

The government isn’t allowed to wiretap American citizens without a warrant from a judge. But there are plenty of legal ways for law enforcement, from the local sheriff to the FBI to the Internal Revenue Service, to snoop on the digital trails you create every day. Authorities can often obtain your emails and texts by going to Google or AT&T with a simple subpoena that doesn’t require showing probable cause of a crime. And recent revelations about classified National Security Agency surveillance programs show that the government is regularly sweeping up data on Americans’ telephone calls and has the capability to access emails, files, online chats and other data — all under secret oversight by a special federal court.

 Since the 1950s, modern offices have been obsessed with the idea of open space, but now research is suggesting that an open office may not be the best idea:

In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation.

 New York Times film reviewer A.O. Scott discusses the controversy over his tweet that became an ad, and this passage about criticism today is spot on:

To be a critic is to offer up subjective judgments — well defended and cogently argued, if you’re doing it right — that enter into public discourse. That’s one of the great satisfactions of the job, but it has its absurd and uncomfortable aspects. Quite a lot of public discourse is devoted to publicity and marketing. Criticism, which is supposed to be proudly independent of such grubby matters, often finds itself sullied by their touch. To be a movie critic is, at least sometimes, to see your cogent arguments and subtle points reborn as advertising copy. Adjectives are wrenched out of context, exclamation points are stapled to quiet observation and nuggets of luminous prose are often embedded on a page full of stars, nonsensical superlatives and inflated letter grades.

 Critic Martha Schwendener rips into Richard Serra’s latest show at Gagosian:

The problem, if there is one, could be the context. “Inside Out” is a gorgeous piece of engineering and design, but Mr. Serra’s work reminds you of where abstract modernism ended: in corporate spaces rather than liberated utopias, as many proponents, even in the ‘60s, envisioned. Mr. Serra has continued to make ever-larger objects — “tonnage” is his byword — rather than “doing away” with them …  He has succeeded by clinging to the precepts of modernism, but it is a modernism on steroids. In that sense, his marriage of art, technology and entertainment, and its bewildering emphasis on gigantism and spectacle, is a perfect emblem of our age.

 Though art blogger Greg Allen reminds us that Schwendener has propagated one major mistake, which is her characterization of Serra’s “Tilted Arc” controversy as a controversy started by office workers and neighbors. Allen writes:

The campaign against “Tilted Arc” was started by a judge in the building, and it became an ascendant conservative rally that pulled in the likes of Rudy Giuliani. Public opinion, even the opinion of the workers in the Federal Building was not opposed to the sculpture. The commission assembled to judge the work, fate was stacked, and its recommendations went against the evidence it assembled.

 A look at US military street art in Kandahar, Afghanistan:


 Britain’s populist philosopher Julian Baggini was walking around a contemporary art exhibit and thought “I could do that,” so he tried to and he wrote this piece about the process of submitting a work to an art exhibition:

Looking at many photographs in galleries over the years, I wasn’t so sure. Immodest though it sounds, I did think that some photos I had taken were at least as good as the ones on the wall. I thought this again at last year’s Open Exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. The very nature of the show invited me to try to prove my point. As with the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, anyone can submit a work for a small fee. It was irresistible. It didn’t take hubris to believe I stood a chance.

… The main difference between dilettantes and the dedicated is that the former will often find themselves unable to exercise the degree of control necessary to achieve the desired result.

 The fascinating story of a second-rate novelist in the United States who became a major sensation in Japan:

At the airport, I was met by my editor and a TV crew, which, I assure you, had never happened before. I was put up in a hotel where James Bond might have stayed, with a remote-controlled tub that filled automatically and a giant button that opened the drapes — futuristic, but a ’60s kind of future. As requested, I put on a black suit and a tie (mind you, I can barely tie a tie, because in my real life I have no need for one) and went to the premiere, where each member of the cast, including the woman who sang the theme song, bowed and thanked me.

 Every wonder why some people like to go to modern art museums while others prefer to explore ancient art or archeological institutions? New research suggests it is because of what we’re seeking: sensation/pleasure or cultural enrichment:

“More [modern art museum] … visitors expressed the desire to see artworks in the original and thepleasure that they felt during the visit, compared to … [ancient art museum] visitors whose most frequently chosen option concerned the interest for the artist/s and the desire of cultural enrichment.

“People who go to modern art museums are willing to go in search of sensation more than people who go to ancient art museums.”

 Tyler Green is suggesting that more art museums will soon be free and the reason is data:

It’s a business in which American art museums are becoming interested. Data accumulation is already beginning to change what museums offer visitors on-site, but the biggest impact it will have might be this: It won’t be long before many institutions find that accumulating visitor data can generate more revenue than admission fees. Think of it as an Internet bargain: Provide a little data,get into the museum for free.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning EST, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts or photo essays worth a second look.

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  • In response to Baggini’s piece… I actually curated an art show based on this very issue. Titled “I CAN DO THAT,” it was an interactive show in which viewers could go up to the displayed artwork and physically change the art if they thought they could improve it (the original art supplies were provided in front of each piece) or try to copy the piece onto adjacent blank canvases (or whatever surface the artist had used) to see if they could, indeed, do that. It was quite an experience. Here’s more information about the show and here are photographs from the opening night

    • Brian Fernandes-Halloran

      It is different though because the premise, materials and context of those works were chosen by the artists. Deciding how a piece or a body of work is produced from the start is the hard part. And then there is the perspective that develops from producing all the work; that says something in itself. If the word “THAT” means making marks, then anyone can do THAT, but if THAT refers to being an artist then maybe anyone can but they would have to make a lot of hard choices and give up a lot of time.

      • Right, this was one of the questions I wanted to raise with the show; I’m an artist myself.

        • Brian Fernandes-Halloran

          sorry to assume otherwise without being there, I just did not see that in the text or the pics.

  • Regarding Serra: The Judge’s motivation in the Tilted Arc controversy may have been political. Political types have a habit of piling on, or appropriating popular opinions for their own ends. But that does not diminish the public’s dislike for the piece. Nor does it discredit the main complaint, which was that Tilted Arc’s in-your-face aesthetic was a conscious
    aspect of Serra’s approach. A sizable minority ought to be enough to question
    the use of a public space. I studied the piece at length when it was up and I found it to be purposefully intrusive in a way that would have been interesting in a gallery. One accepts the premise that a gallery space is the artist’s for as long as their pieces are there. Serra has since flourished in gallery and museum spaces while he has been removed more than most sculptors from public spaces, precisely because he is so uncompromising. An interesting side note: his ambition to get away from the pedestal (the draw of public spaces) has been defeated by the fact that he now requires an “art” environment. Without its protection and a priori context, his work is, not surprisingly, seen as a public nuisance. And I agree with Schwendener that his tonnage is an empty gesture of power that comes exclusively from his patrons. It’s too bad he insists on this macho hyperbole, because his work is genuinely compelling.

    • Thanks for mentioning that, Peter. That’s a very interesting angle. Which other Serra public works are you thinking of when you write “he has been removed more than most sculptors from public spaces.”

      • He had a piece on Franklin Street, near the subway entrance in Tribeca that had to be removed. And I remember reading of a piece in a town square in Europe where the trolly drivers disliked how close it was to their paths. Both were large pieces. I’d be grateful if some one could fill in the details. And if this does not put him at the top of the list I’ll back off the claim that he was the greater offender.

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