November 13, 2013

Francis Bacon triptych $142,400,000 at Christie’s

As to the Bacon triptych price: The money is idle, stolen capital looking for a place to hide ... a fine demonstration of the flaws of slavery-capitalism. Does profit really fuel investment and progress or does it just mindlessly accumulate? That 'value' -- the price of the picture -- represents the work of our ancestors reaped over centuries and now tucked into an oil+canvas safe. It's odd. But don't blame the painting. Don't even blame the art world. Blame the system that allows the theft and mummification of our labor through economic exploitation and obscene inequities in income distribution.   

Still some bargains out there. At left, iPhone cover from the Bacon Estate gift shop.

August 15, 2013

Deloitte Art Investment Program in Worst-Best Logo Finals

What is a worst-best logo? It’s a logo that tells the truth without meaning to.  It’s a logo that self-deconstructs. Using Barthes' semiological analysis, a worst-best logo fails miserably at second order (myth) meaning. According to Barthes, the mythological content of a sign may be patently false, but the falsehood is shrouded, obscured, sugarcoated so it goes down without protest. A worst-best logo -- by virtue of ham-fisted design  -- triggers simultaneous comprehension of a third (truth) meaning that negates the pernicious falsehoods the artist meant to convey.  

The grand prize winner is still the (abandoned) logo of the US Chamber of Commerce (see below, Flag as Roadkill and the USCC). By appropriating an image of the US flag, the organization meant to associate its work with patriotism and the interests of US citizens. The clumsy design, however, depicted a desiccated, mangled looking flag and the words “American Free Enterprise. Dream Big.”  The unavoidable upshot was that USSC and its capitalist fantasies undermine the values the flag represents – a truth that the client and designer wished to conceal. For a runner up, see Maid to Clean.

Now comes Deloitte with its Art and Finance program. Though Deloitte promises thoughtful analysis and conservative investment in top tier markets, a more blatantly venal approach to aesthetic delectation is impossible to imagine. Trumpeting the unregulated nature of the art market, they are selling the idea of art works as safe and largely off-the-books placeholders for large amounts of cash. The potential for capital appreciation is a bonus. To convey all that in a logo requires finesse and subtlety. So, let's proceed ... If there’s a bull market in the arts, I guess Wall Street's bull should be represented. And, we should have something to indicate art. How about a picture frame? Let’s make it gold and ornate to suggest 19th century oil paintings. Next … how shall we connect the bull-and-frame dots? Obvious: Why not have the bull-symbol ramming its horn through the art-symbol?  After all, nothing whispers aesthetic intelligence, care and prudence like a fucking bull full on fatally goring the fragile surface of a prized work of art.

All the pretense, all the highfalutin’ conferences, the slicky catalogs, the efforts of the unctuous, compliant art historian-consultants are undermined, cancelled by a dreadful logo that wants to confess.

“We are vandals,” says Deloitte.

(image courtesy of Steve Wynn Branding and Design, Inc.)

July 21, 2013

Interference Archive, Brooklyn

I've been re-reading Steven Heller's Design Literacy and Design Literacy (continued) this summer in preparation for teaching a design theory class next year. Heller's works, among other things, underscore the huge contributions left-wing and counterculture publications have made to graphic design. In that regard, there's a good article in the New York Times today (Sunday, July 21, 2013, page 25) by Maya Lau about Brooklyn’s Interference Archive. The Archive collects and stores publications, posters and other documents and ephemera generated by left and labor politics in the US. Staffed exclusively by volunteers, it also hosts exhibitions, panels, screenings and other events.  The Archive welcomes visits, participation and donations. The Times article gives some interesting background on the organization's founders. 

July 20, 2013


Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric swirling around the Detroit bankruptcy. We get the sense that Detroit’s problems are a consequence of bungled public policy, bad schools, greedy public sector unions, etc., all conveyed with the usual racist undertones. Sorry, no … not the case. This is about vulture capitalists picking the bones they were never happy about leaving on the table in the first place … taxes and pensions. This is about Republicans snatching what’s left of the public sector to deliver it to their clients and cronies, who will sell it back to us in the form of privatized schools, security, bridges, roads and water. Detroit is an example of one thing only: business socializing the costs of production and keeping the profits. Modern cities didn’t sprout from the frontier like wild flowers. Detroit grew in order to serve the automobile and other industries. Every dollar the public sector and unions were able to wrench from business was marked by struggle. And, when other venues became convenient for the absorption of social costs without collective bargaining and modest contributions to the public sector, the corporations fled. Well, guess who’s back.

image: Detroit Industry Murals, Diego Rivera (1932-33) (detail)

July 12, 2013

Jay-Z, Kool Moe Dee, Performance Art and Picasso

As to Jay-Z’s July 10 performance of Picasso Baby at Pace Gallery, two pertinent quotes: the first, from Kool Moe Dee's 1987 How You LikeMe Now and the second, from Clement Greenberg’s 1956 David Smith review (where he says Smith is the best of his generation). 

Kool Moe Dee:
Rap is an art
And I'm a Picasso
But of course
Why else would you try so
Hard to paint a picture,
and try to get ya
Self in my shoes,
but they won't fit ya
I'm bigger and better,
forget about deffer
Every time I rocked the mic,
I left a
Stain in your brain
that will remain....

Clement Greenberg:
Modernist sculpture’s present malady, here and abroad, is artiness …  Artiness is usually the symptom of a fear lest the work of art not display its identity as art sufficiently....

Rap, as Moe Dee says, is already art.  It’s great to see Jay-Z still biting on old school masterpieces, but rap does not need the trappings of high profile art galleries or art world players and schmoozers (and certainly doesn’t need visual arts critics) in order to validate its quality or art status.  Rap that does require such embellishments is insecure about its quality and status.  We won’t quarrel about whether it is or is not art. Let’s just say it’s lame --- it displays an unsavory artiness.

BTW Kool Moe Dee could eat Jay-Z for breakfast and still be very, very hungry. Click on the lists from the indispensable Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists (St. Martin's/Griffin, 1999)

July 4, 2013

Cuban Movies

In preparation for my visit to Cuba last year, I watched a lot of great movies. Here’s some favorites in the great and growing tradition of post-revolutionary Cuban filmmaking. A few of these titles may be available online, but the best source is likely the public library (DC’s  has most of them). The list includes only narrative drama and comedy (no documentary).  It does not include films made in Cuba by international filmmakers (e.g., Agnès Varda’s 1963 Salut les Cubains, Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 Soy Cuba, or  Carol Reed’s 1959 Our Man in Havana … I guess that's  a separate list in the making) or any of the bizarre collection of US-made films about Cuba (e.g., John Houston’s 1949 We Were Strangers.) Director credits are in parens.

Retrato de Teresa (1979) (Pastor Vega)
Guantanamera (1995)  (Tomás Gutiérrez AleaJuan Carlos Tabío)
Barrio Cuba (2005)  (Humberto Solás)
Hasta cierto punto (1983) (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Hurricanes (2003) (Entre ciclones) (Enrique Colina)
Strawberry and Chocolate (1994) (Tomás Gutiérrez AleaJuan Carlos Tabío)
¡Vampiros en La Habana! (1985) (Juan Padrón)
Honey for Oshun (2001) (Humberto Solás)
Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
La muerte de un burócrata (1966)  (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Las doce sillas (The Twelve Chairs) (1962) (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Hello Hemingway (1990)  (Fernando Perez)
The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin (1967) (Julio García Espinosa)