First Priority: Buy Art that Raises Questions and Makes You Think

The Other First Priority: Buy Native American or First Nations Art

Or maybe I got those in the wrong order

The official “market” part takes place on the streets on Saturday and Sunday, but people began gathering in town in the early part of this week. More artists, curators, scholars, writers, filmmakers, educator, non-profit employees, grantors, community organization representatives, art fans, skateboarders, clothing designers, reporters, bloggers, and socializers, arrive each day. Most everyone is a collector, too, even if we don’t always see ourselves that way. For example, I don’t know a single artist who doesn’t own work by other artists. Sometimes the works were acquired by trade, gifted, or purchased with cash. If you’re a collector not sure what to buy and want something that is “quality” art, look at what artists acquire from each other. What do artists tend to buy from each other? Scale is often a factor. Most artists don’t  have a huge amount of space unless they have been wildly successful. Room to display/store artworks, the likelihood of having to make frequent moves, all factor into the choices we make about what to collect. From casual discussions with artists, I hear that we usually buy pieces that are smaller in scale for exactly those reasons. Anyone who can “go big,” should, of course. Over the past year, I’ve steered a number of casual conversations with artists in the direction of what they themselves have collected from other artists.

SWAIA would prefer we spend all our art dollars inside the confines of the official Indian Market booths, for a number of reasons. From remarks at a series of public talks held at Collected Works Bookstore over the past few weeks, it is clear that there are still a large number of touristy shops (about 60!) in the vicinity of the plaza that claim to be selling “Native American” work but aren’t. Their prices are terribly low and it’s because the jewelry, pots, tchotchkes, etc., are made overseas, usually mass-produced. Some dealers from outside the region also set up trunk-show-type events. In these cases, the money spent on the art doesn’t benefit Native artists, and usually leaves the region or the country entirely. First priority: Buy Native American or First Nations. The Other First Priority, Buy Something that Raises Questions and Makes You Think, is a good piece of advice for art collecting in general. I heard Dorothy and Herbert Vogel speak about their collection of minimalist and conceptualist art years ago. Their story is very interesting; a librarian and a postal service employee in New York city managed to acquire an amazing collection of art over the years and they did it on a budget, buying directly from artists, sometimes in installments. They had a general guideline that the work had to fit into a taxi. The couple donated their collection of over 4000 works of art to the National Gallery of Art in 1992. In 2008, they started a program which donated 50 works to a museum in each of the fifty states. I attended a public talk by the Vogels at the Portland Art Museum in 1997. When they were asked what advice they would give aspiring collectors, Herbert Vogel said people should buy what they like. The couple with the enormously valuable collection advised people not to buy an artwork as an investment, but because they like the art and want to live with it. Their advice made sense to me. If it doesn’t go up in value, at least you can enjoy looking at the artwork and thinking about it for years to come.

Well over a thousand artists are in Santa Fe this week. There is an amazing diversity of kinds of art available. Some of the art is about experience and cannot be purchased at all: performances of music and dance, live paint events, temporary public art, performance art and performance poetry, and free film screenings. We can live with the memories. Other art is work you can take home much more literally, as jewelry, pottery, sculpture, clothing, basketry, textiles, paintings, drawings, photographs. You can take home work that speaks about the past and the future, happiness and sadness, anger and acceptance, wealth and poverty, silliness and seriousness, facts and fictions, boredom and fear, love and hope.

“Zombie Skins: Salon a Vie Morte” opening on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So Many Artists in One Place

The artists with booths at Indian Market are required to remain in their booths while their booths are open. That makes for a long, tiring day, with no opportunity to visit with other artists during the actual event. Group shows with openings at other venues in the days leading up to market are one way that artists have been making sure they have chances to get together and see each other’s work. Two notable examples of this are the Zombie Skins: salon de la vie mort exhibition and Low Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art. The zombie-themed exhibition is located in the studio of artist America Meredith, who kindly made space available for work by more than twenty artists. Zombie Skins is on exhibition through August 19th, 2012 and is open from 2pm-6pm each day. It is operating something like an artists’ collective, with artists sharing in gallery-sitting duties at 2889 Trades West #E (just off of Siler near Cerillos. It’s an industrial space at the back of the row.) The Low Rez exhibition is at Eggman and Walrus at 131 W. San Francisco. The opening is Friday, Aug 17 from 5:30-9pm. The work will be on exhibit through September 1st. Some of the artists in these two shows also have booths at Market. Here is a handy graphic:

 

Artists in Low Rez: Jamison Chas Banks, Nani Chacon, Brent Greenwood, Amber Gunn Gauthier, April Holder, Topaz Jones, Randy Kemp, Linda Lomahaftewa, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Daniel McCoy, Jr., America Meredith, Chris Pappan, Keith Secola, Jeremy Singer, Monty Singer, Ryan Singer, Hoka Skenandore, Micah Wesley, Debra Yepa-Pappan.

Artists in Zombie Skins: Bryon Archuleta, Roy Boney, Lara Evans, Robert Garcia, Sam Atakra Haozous, Topaz Jones, Daniel McCoy, Melissa Melero, Mary Beth Nelson, Ji Hae Pappan, Colin L. singer, Monty Singer, Julius Badoni, Jamison Chas Banks, Tom Farris, Jeremy Gimmey, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Marlon Melero, America Meredith, Chris Pappan, Joseph Sanchez, Jerrel Singer, Ryan Singer, Natasha Wagner.

Another “A” Word: Aesthetics

The panelists from SWAIA’s July 12th discussion of “Quality” in Native American Art.

Panel Discussion at Collected Works Bookstore – Thursday, July 19, 2012 – 6pm

Quality in Native American Art

This Thursday brings a continuation of SWAIA’s public panel discussions about the subject of quality in Native American art. Last week’s panel discussion started the task of pulling apart what “quality” might mean when the subject is Native American art. One of the first considerations is authenticity. Last week’s panel complicated what it might mean to make authentic work, from an artist’s perspective and a community perspective. Any discussion of quality in art will eventually bring in another “A” word: AESTHETICS. I put together a brief list of sources that specifically address the concept of “Indigenous Aesthetics” in case the topic interests other readers. This list is a work in progress. Again, this list is limited specifically to “Indigenous Aesthetics.” Aesthetics (in general) is an enormous subject with thousands of possible sources.

Do you have a favorite source not listed here? Add it in the comments section or send me an e-mail.

Ahtone, Heather. “Designed to Last: Striving toward an Indigenous American Aesthetics.” The International Journal of the Arts in Society 4, no. 2 (2009): 373-385.

Heather Ahtone (Choctaw/Chickasaw Nations) is a curator and scholar. She earned a Master’s degree from University of Oklahoma. This journal article analyzes ideas from Steven Leuthold’s book, Indigenous Aesthetics, which focuses on aesthetics in relationship to video and film, and works on adapting his consideration of indigenous aesthetics to address other art forms.  Ahtone’s essay identifies and describes four concepts that may be useful for defining Indigenous Aesthetics: materials, metaphors, cultural reciprocity, and symbolism. Artist America Meredith wrote a post on her blog about Ahtone’s scholarship: Heather Ahtone Reads Beneath the Surface.

McMaster, Gerald and Bruce Bernstein. “The Aesthetic in American Indian Art.” In First American Art: the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, edited by Bruce Bernstein and Gerald McMaster, pp. 37-56. Seattle: University of Washington Press and NMAI Smithsonian Institution, 2004.

Gerald McMaster is an artist, curator, and author. He is Plains Cree and Blackfoot and currently lives in Toronto, Canada. He earned a Master’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Bruce Bernstein earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from University of New Mexico. Both authors have worked extensively within museums that exhibit Native American and First Nations art. This chapter, “The Aesthetic in American Indian Art,” was written by Bernstein and McMaster, particularly centered around works collected by Charles and Valerie Diker over a thirty-year period. Their collection intermingled historic-period American Indian works with American and European painting and sculpture. The collectors appreciated their American Indian collection based on their aesthetics, as art objects, rather than ethnographic artifacts. Bernstein and McMaster set out to define a framework for thinking about objects in this collection in terms of indigenous aesthetics. In consultation with a number of other scholars and artists,[1] they defined seven principles of an indigenous aesthetic: idea, emotion, intimacy, movement, integrity, vocabulary, and composition.[2] Other chapters in this book are also useful for considering indigenous aesthetics.

Leuthold, Steven. Indigenous Aesthetics: Native Art, Media, and Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

This book examines documentary film and video by by Native filmmakers, including Victor Masayesva, Jr. and George Burdeau. The book jacket description says: “What happens when a Native or indigenous person turns a video camera on his or her own culture? Are the resulting images different from what a Westernized filmmaker would create, and, if so, in what ways? How does the use of a non-Native art-making medium, specifically video or film, affect the aesthetics of the Native culture?”

Haberland, Wolfgang. “Aesthetics in Native American Art. In The Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in Evolution, edited by Edwin L. Wade, pp. 107-131. New York: Hudson Hills Press and Philbrook Art Center, 1986.

Wolfgang Haberland wrote this book chapter during his time as curator for the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg, Germany. It focuses on historic-period objects, 1400s-1940s. It provides some research, history, and analysis of particular southwest and northwest coast works (mostly textiles), but the author’s approach to the subject of “aesthetics” assumes the art objects were produced by a primitive and non-literate population.  It is useful as an example of a particular stage in the development of non-Native scholars’ attempts to merge anthropological/ethnographic approaches with art criticism, including brief references to Warburg, Panofsky, and Gombrich.


[1] Bruce Bernstein and Gerald McMaster, “The Aesthetic in American Indian Art,” in Bruce Bernstein and Gerald McMaster, eds., First American Art: the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, (Seattle: University of Washington Press and NMAI Smithsonian Institution, 2004) 39. Participants in discussions leading to the seven principles of an indigenous aesthetic included the following: Arthur Amiotte (Lakota), Janet Berlo, J.J. Brody, Robert Davidson (Haida), Frank Ettawageshik (Odawa), Harry Fonseca (Maidu), Emil Her many Horses (Lakota), Tom Hill (Seneca), Mary Jane Lenz, Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk),Peter Macnair, and Ann McMullen.

[2] Bernstein and McMaster, 40.

The “A” Word

Anna Tsouhlarakis, “Aesthetically Speaking I”, 2011. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist.

“Whenever the term ‘ authentic’ is used in aesthetics, a good first question to ask is, Authentic as opposed to what?” –Denis Dutton[1]

SWAIA is hosting a series of panel discussions this summer on the subject of quality in current Native American art. How is quality discussed in relationship to art in general? What additional aspects of “quality” come to light when the conversation is about quality in art created by Native American artists? How can we talk about quality sensitively, collaboratively, and productively?

In a fundamental manner, talking about quality involves talking about how we make critical judgments – assessments of value, of the degree of excellence of an art object. The description of the first session, which takes place tonight (Thursday, July 12, 2012) at Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe, sets up “authenticity” as one of the first determinants of “quality.”

A discussion of “authenticity” could go in numerous directions. I will use a passage from philosopher Denis Dutton to identify some distinctions in the use of the term authenticity: “Despite the widely different contexts in which the authentic/inauthentic is applied in aesthetics, the distinction nevertheless tends to form around two broad categories of sense. First, works of art can possess what we may call nominal authenticity, defined simply as the correct identification of the origins, authorship, or provenance of an object, ensuring, as the term implies, that an object of aesthetic experience is properly named. However, the concept of authenticity often connotes something else, having to do with an object’s character as a true expression of an individual’s or a society’s values and beliefs. This second sense of authenticity can be called expressive authenticity.”[2]

Nominal authenticity therefore involves verifying the identity of the artist, and in the case of Native American art, the tribal affiliations of the artist. Expressive authenticity includes consideration of cultural authenticity, though interest in this this type of authenticity has potentially negative ramifications when analysis of cultural authenticity is influenced by racism, nationalist narratives, and/or cross-cultural misunderstandings.

From the point of view of artists, we might consider the assertion that artistic value is dependent upon whether or not an artwork expresses the authentic values of its maker, especially when those values are also shared by the artist’s immediate community.[3] How “immediate community” gets defined is absolutely crucial for Native artists.

I started this essay with the artwork Aesthetically Speaking I by Anna Tsouhlarakis[4] because it very graphically communicates the experience of carrying on a dialogue about art. The complex visual patterns in the speech balloons convey both more and less to us as viewers than conventional text-filled speech balloons. The body language of the figures indicate one person is speaking earnestly and the other is listening, perhaps with some confusion or skepticism. The contents of their speech balloons appear to be somewhat in opposition, implied by the strong diagonal lines and the hierarchical placement of the two speech balloons. The differences between the contents of the balloons may initially leap out at a viewer, but the two patterns share some features in common. Both are organized in bands of parallel lines and contain repeated geometric patterns. The patterns take up the totality of the field for speech. Each elliptical form shows that the women are discussing a symbol arranged into a pattern, a specific context, not just a symbol in isolation. I am using this artwork to tease out relationships between discourse, interdependent complexity, formal relationships, and categorical distinctions we attempt to make around indigenous art.

Nancy Blomberg, curator for Denver Art Museum wrote in her introduction for the book [Re]inventing the Wheel, “If we accept American Indian art as a valid category for scholarly study, then it must no longer be studied solely in isolation––for it was never created in isolation. American Indian art did not develop in a vacuum. There were many, many influences among different tribes––and from non-Indians. We have all been complicit in a false narrative of purity, immutable tradition, and isolation. We must acknowledge and celebrate the complexities of cross-cultural exchange, because the Taos School, the Hudson River School, and the Santa Fe Studio School of artists did not develop in isolation. Our segregation of American Indian art has not raised awareness; instead we have unwittingly fragmented a common narrative to the detriment of the narrative.”[5]

On that note, SWAIA is bringing together panels of speakers to address “quality” in art. The first panel includes the following: Deborah Jojola (Isleta), Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), America Meredith (Cherokee),  Alex Pena (Comanche) and Cannupa Hanska (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, Norwegian).

 ——

Event Announcement from SWAIA:

Authenticity in Native Arts, Lecture Series: What does “quality” mean?

July 12, 2012 6:00 pm, Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse 202 Galisteo St. Santa Fe

Free Admission. From its state flag and license plates to the romanticized ideology of the southwest, New Mexico is immersed in Native cultural influences; indeed, Native art is its central identity. With such a broad platform and visibility, the ubiquity and sale of Native art has the potential to be highly lucrative. SWAIA is producing a series of lectures that address these issues directly. As the producer of the Santa Fe Indian Market, SWAIA is the authority on authenticity issues in the Native art world. With panelists including artists, art dealers and experts, the lectures provide a broad and up to date view of the dialogue surrounding these controversial topics.


[1] Denis Dutton, “Authenticity in Art,” in The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed. Jerrold Levinson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Also available online at www.denisdutton.com/authenticity.htm

[4] More works from Tsouhlarakis’s Aesthetics series on can be seen in the catalogue We Are Here: The Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, 2011, pp. 84-89. Additionally, an installation work, titled “Edges of the Ephemeral,” is on exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe until September 15th, 2012.

[5] Nancy J. Blomberg, “Advancing the Dialogue,” in [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art, ed. Nancy J. Blomberg (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2005) pp. 19-24.


History of Native American Fashion

Here is a 45 minute video of Jessica Metcalfe speaking about the history of Native American high fashion. She provides an excellent background on recent history of Native clothing and Native designers in fashion. She has done ground-breaking work on the topic and her presentation in the video is excellent. even if you are primarily interested in fine art or Native American material culture, you will find her presentation relevant and interesting. Some designers/artists featured in the lecture:Lloyd Kiva New, Margaret Wood, Wendy Ponca, Patricia Michaels, Virgil Ortiz, and more.

Jessica Metcalfe’s work, as shown in the video above, addresses gender issues, formal and symbolic elements, materials, and intersections between fashion, art, and technology. Jessica Metcalfe holds a doctoral degree in American Indian Studies from University of Arizona and currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She also writes a successful blog about Native American fashion, called Beyond Buckskin. The lecture took place January 19th at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM. Having her lecture available on the web is a great resource!

Megaphone? What Megaphone?

Drawing based on photo of Belmore's performance "Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to their Mother," from 1991.

AND now I have more to say about the recent trouble swirling around esteemed artist Rebecca Belmore, all a result of the lawsuit brought against her by her former art dealer, Pari Nadimi Gallery. Just in case you don’t already know the details, please see my previous posts(all links open in a new window):

Rebecca Belmore Quits Being an Artist?

UPDATE: Rebecca Belmore Quits?

Is it Really Possible to QUIT Art?

I’ll assume that you already know that one of  the big monetary claims against her by the gallery is that she nixed the sale of a particular piece of artwork(identified as Megaphone) to a major Canadian museum – something that Nadimi would have made a huge profit from. I have spent some time thinking about the piece that newspapers keep calling Megaphone. If it’s the piece that I’m thinking of, I don’t think it is actually titled “Megaphone.” It could be described as a megaphone, but the actual title on the occasions where it has been put to use, to my knowledge, is Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother.  The sculpture is actually an object used in a series of performance artworks. I can understand why the artist might have second thoughts about turning it over to a museum. I tried to write about this particular work in my dissertation and ended up deciding that this work had crossed over from art world territory and into ceremony. It didn’t feel right to write about it strictly as a work of art, but I know I’m not qualified to write about it as a ceremonial object.  But since this piece is now at the center of a controversy, I think it needs to be talked about one way or another, even if I feel uncomfortable about it.

The first performance of Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother, occurred in Banff, Alberta (1991) and consisted of thirteen First Nations speakers addressing the earth through the use of this large megaphone constructed of wood with exquisitely sanded and painted surfaces.  This is “talking back” on an entirely different order than envisioned by post-colonial theory, and a very different synaesthetic relationship between subjects.  The audience in this case consists of the thirteen people (who are also the performers) and an entity (the earth) that does not hear in a conventional sense. The two-and-one-half meter wide megaphone is a beautifully crafted object and the trumpet-like form can be compared to the form of a flower executed in gigantic scale.  Out of the thirteen addresses delivered to the earth in the initial performance, only a partial transcript of Belmore’s address through the megaphone is available:

My heart is beating like a small drum, and I hope that you mother earth can feel it.  Someday I will speak to you in my language.  I have watched my grandmother live close to you, my mother the same.  I have watched my grandmother show respect for all that you have given her…Although I went away and left a certain kind of closeness to you, I have gone in a kind of circle.  I think I am coming back to understanding where I come from…[1]

            Taken as a prayer, as such an oration performed in a group of elders must be considered, it is a customary formula.  The pattern, rhythm, and words chosen are those of oratory prayer.  I originally thought this to be the reason only a portion of the address has been reproduced in print.  I thought it possible that the orations of the elders were not recorded or are considered protected, confidential, and arguably ceremonial in nature, thus making it inappropriate for reproduction in an art catalogue.  I found out more about the situation during the INDIANacts conference in 2002.  Belmore explained that during the first performance using this trumpet-like device, a hiker some distance higher up the hill slipped on the loose shale and fell to his death.  There was no literal connection between the hiker’s death and the use of the sound-producing sculptural object used in the performance.  Even so, Belmore spoke of this event as devastating and seriously affecting the performance.  She had some question at the time as to whether they should continue with the performance at all.  But acknowledgement of that death became part of the performance.  The trauma of the event – the loss of a life – transformed a performance into something more akin to ceremony.  The death required acknowledgement, lest the trauma of that event harm those present.  This is not a performance; it is not any sort of play, not even deep play or dark play.  Out of absolute necessity, a collaborative performance that held traditional meanings and incorporated the sacred became a very serious and necessary impromptu ceremony.  The direction that this performance unexpectedly took is something Belmore said she had not been able to publicly discuss for more than ten years.  She seemed reluctant to discuss it still, and it is a reluctance I share.  However, what happened to that performance makes an important point about the ethics of Native and First Nations performance art practices.  Performances have power.  There are consequences that must be dealt with, not just for the artist, but for the participants, the audiences, and for the very ground upon which they stand.

            Documentation of this performance has been somewhat sketchy, which is certainly understandable under the circumstances.  It is important to note that the performance format using this sculptural megaphone was utilized subsequently without ill effect. 

            After this initial address to the earth, the megaphone was put to a clearly political use as part of a formal protest by the Assembly of First Nations directed against the First Minister’s Conference held in Ottawa in June of 1996.  Charlotte Townsend-Gault describes this movement of the work into an overtly political context as “the ultimate vindication of the work.”[2] Conceptually for those involved in future performances using this means of address, the ceremonial honoring of the death on the mountain adds to the power perceived to be inherent in the trumpet-like form.

            Speaking to Their Mother, in its various incarnations is less about the body than about the word, and being heard.  It is a means of communicating with each other as well as communicating with something larger than ourselves.  Conceptually, each address delivered through this means carries with it the power and meanings of the addresses preceding it.  Now knowing more about the history of this performance and its permutations, I find it more and more difficult to write about it as art, even though it incorporates an incredibly beautiful sculptural form.  I also am not qualified to write about Speaking to Their Mother in ceremonial terms because it is not my place to do so.  To know when to be silent is sometimes more important than to know when to speak.

I wrote that paragraph above in 2005. Now that this work of art is at the center of the lawsuit by Pari Nadimi Gallery, I think it is important to imagine that Belmore’s “personal artistic reasons,” for not turning the piece over to the control of a museum may be very complicated and are not entirely personal, either, but are collective. This artwork blurs the lines between performance art and ceremony. It’s more a living object than a relic for a museum. What if it is needed for future use – spiritually or politically? Negotiating the sale of an object that the artist (and her community) might need to “borrow” back for use in a performance, ceremony, or a protest would complicate the conditions for sale. Really, it’s probably better not to sell it at all.

I think any art dealer with a basic understanding of (and respect for) aboriginal culture and who knew the history of the “megaphone” would understand that this piece could only be sold under very special circumstances and with substantial rights reserved for the artist in the event that the artist needed the work for a performance (or a ceremony). In addition to pressing questions about how on earth an artist can change gallery representation without getting into a pickle, this case also raises the question of how on earth indigenous artists can maintain control over sensitive cultural material in such an unequal financial relationship? Does this lawsuit sound like another instance of cultural appropriation?

And is the media’s failure to use the full title of the work with its aboriginal language, Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother, an attempt to erase the cutlural authority of the artist and the work?

Donations to Rebecca Belmore’s legal expenses can be made at this website: http://rebeccabelmorelegalfund.com/how_to_help.html

You can also find the Rebecca Belmore Legal Fund on Facebook.


[1] Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Kinds of KnowingLand Spirit Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada.  Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1992.  p. 97.

[2] Charlotte Townsend-Gault.  Hot Dogs, a Ball Gown, Adobe, and Words: the Modes and Materials of Identity.   Native American Art in the Twentieth Century. W. Jackson Rushing III, ed. New York: Routledge, 1999. p. 122.

UPDATE: Rebecca Belmore Quits?

Rebecca Belmore in her performance "Worth" on Sept 11, 2010

I am posting this announcement made by Glenn Alteen on Facebook. Not everyone uses Facebook, which is why I am reposting it here on Not Artomatic. I have desperately searched for information on this situation and it has been hard to find – well, here are the details:

by Glenn Alteen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 14, 2010
Vancouver

On Saturday September 11, 2010 Anishnaabe artist Rebecca Belmore performed her new work WORTH (– Statement of Defence) outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). A small audience of artists and curious onlookers gathered as witnesses to the per…formance. (Belmore also donated an earlier work, Wild, (2001) to the VAG.)

‘Witness’ is appropriate in this context, as is the setting of the VAG, a former courthouse building. The performance and the video memorializing it, are Belmore’s response to law suits filed in the Ontario courts involving her former art dealer, Pari Nadimi of Toronto. The work demonstrates the artist’s public commitment to vigorously defending herself, her art practice and more broadly, the rights of all artists against those who seek to exploit them.

WORTH (– Statement of Defence), may be viewed at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv9DfVAzok4

Belmore is an acclaimed artist with an international reputation. She has practised in various media, including performance, sculpture, video and photography for over 20 years. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally since the 1980s, most notably, representing Canada at the biennials held in Venice, Sydney and Havana. She also holds an honorary doctorate from the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD). In spite of the artist’s significant and broadly-recognized contributions to contemporary art practice, this ongoing litigation, threatens Belmore’s future.

WORTH (– Statement of Defence), which features the sign, “I AM WORTH MORE THAN ONE MILLION DOLLARS TO MY PEOPLE,” speaks directly to the value of artists and art production in the 21st Century. The sign also references the amount of ‘damages’ being claimed by Pari Nadimi, an amount the dealer claims she has ‘invested’ in Belmore’s career. Nadimi’s allegations are unproven.

The legal battle began over 4 years ago, when Belmore, after deciding to leave the Pari Nadimi Gallery, requested the return of her artworks, related documentation and the payment (and an accounting) for artwork sold by the dealer. These basic, legal rights are still being violated. Belmore recognizes the importance of the case for herself and others: “If Pari Nadimi is successful in this claim against me, it would mean no artist would ever be free to choose to leave. Artists would be slaves to their galleries. This is a horrible precedent.”

Litigation is expensive. Belmore needs to raise funds to travel to Toronto and to continue to defend herself in this action. While claiming to be impecunious and unable to pay, Nadimi has hired a top Bay Street law firm, Heenan Blaikie. Ironically, the firm’s founder, Roy Heenan, has been a consistent supporter of Canadian art.

WORTH (– Statement of Defence), is therefore an appeal to the public to defend and support “the Artist” and the rights of artists to decide how and where their work is presented. Organizations such as CARFAC < http://www.carfac.ca/> and others do valuable work to create conditions to ensure rights are protected and respected. However, they lack the mandate and resources to support individual artists in these cases.

Call To Action: A growing number of prominent Canadians in the art world have voiced their support for Belmore, see our website or Facebook for these names. In addition to the moral support, Belmore is seeking donations to defend herself in this litigation. To support her and artists right generally on Facebook

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rebecca-Belmore-Legal-Fund/156231281070631?ref=mf

A site is being set up currently and will be linked here when its onlineFor more information about Rebecca Belmore, please see: http://www.rebeccabelmore.com/home.html

How does art-writing happen?

 

Newspaper reviews, journal articles, exhibition catalogues, gallery guides…art criticism blogs? How does art-writing happen? Who pays for it? How does anyone make a living doing it? For the most part, we don’t make a living writing about art. For example, I make my living teaching. When I help my students with guidance about doing research on artists and artworks, I guide them to journal articles and give them a caution about the beautiful picture books on the library shelves. Most of the exhibition catalogues take a very conservative approach – controversies are usually glossed over. Exhibition catalogues exist to improve the reputation and value of a museum’s collection. If you want dirt, try for journal articles from academic journals. Drawback to journal articles: it can take a while for work to get published… maybe a couple years. And nobody really gets paid for publishing in academic journals. Good art-writing is hard to find… and especially hard to find if you are interested in Native American art (historic period, traditional, or contemporary – there’s a lot of rubbish, and then there are gems mixed in with it).  I bring all this up because I just read an interesting post on the blog wittily called Bloggy

Here is the text of the post:

“Given my lack of time for blogging, and knowing more people would see it and discuss it there, I shared my notes from my rant on the last night of #class with Art Fag City. Don’t miss the comments.

Part of the point of #class was to propose solutions, not just whine, so here are my thoughts. As the number of culture critics and writers decline in the printed media, the online world is replacing them, but getting paid enough to write is a big problem, even for relatively well-known writers such as Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City. As the co-founder of Culture Pundits and Idiom, it’s something I worry about quite often, and both were founded to find some support for good writing.

My proposal: arts organizations such as The Art Dealers Association of America and the New Art Dealers Alliance should use a portion of their membership dues to fund arts writing. I’m sure similar groups exist for theater and dance as well, but the area I know best is the visual arts. In the long run, they need people to write about art, including their artists and exhibitions, and if people are too broke or busy freelancing to do so, no one wins. For a fraction of the cost of attending even a single art fair, the pooled resources could make a big difference in the quality and quantity of art criticism. Heck, perhaps some of this money could even fund some good editors to work with bloggers and other writers who would like that assistance!

Implementation details, such as an advisory committee for handing out the money, can be discussed. I would strongly recommend against a big proposal process, as I think that takes away from the time writers could use for better purposes. Writers who are interested in being considered could fill out a simple web form with a link to some samples of their writing for a committee to consider. In the interest of smoothing cash flow for all parties involved, the awards could even be monthly payments rather than lump sums. PayPal works very nicely for that.”

The Comments that follow the Bloggy post were also interesting. You should check them out.

The main objection to Bloggy’s proposal is that if those organizations are paying the writers, then the authenticity of the writing is corrupted…we turn into a bunch of gagged yes-men(and women), because what funder is going to risk having us give them BAD reviews about the artists and exhibitions they have an interest in? This argument overlooks one important fact: any press is good press. Randy Gragg, an art critic in Oregon, once told me that when he gives a show a bad review, MORE people go see the exhibition. For some reason, we are fascinated to go see what BAD art looks like. It’s not like going to a movie that you read a bad review about. Going to a gallery is usually free. Going to an art museum can be free or cheap depending on when you go. You’re also not held captive for 1.5 hours. You can leave anytime you like. Mr. Gragg said that he got thank you letters from artists, even for a bad review, because at least it was free advertising, and the artist knew more people came to see the work for themselves.

But back to Bloggy’s idea of trade organizations pooling funds to support art writing… I think it’s an interesting idea and I have been thinking about it for the last month or so, independently, but in regard to art-writing specifically about contemporary Native American art. We in the US have been operating under a handicap in comparison to the kind of support our counterparts in Canada have.  When a Native art institution in the US is looking for Native writers about Native art, they run out of writers if they are looking for more than 10 or so, and have to turn to Canadian First Nations writers. This is because we don’t have institutional support to make a living, develop our careers, or even hang on by tooth and nail here in the US (see my picture above). If IAIA,  MoCNA, the Denver Art Museum, NMAI, the Heard Museum, the Southwest Museum, SWAIA, and other institutions with a stake in Native American art pooled their funds, they could support a number of independent arts-writers, without having to start their own publishing houses. I’m just planting a seed here… someone with a better head for business could figure it out. Me, I’m here for the art, and the blogging.