Help Desk

Help Desk: Ghost in the Art Writing Machine

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I’m a young curator and an arts writer with a museum job, but like everyone in the world, I can always use extra money. I’ve been approached before about “ghostwriting” for more established curators who get asked to write catalog essays for galleries and small exhibition projects. In general, I feel weird but not too weird about this—after all, I like the practice and the opportunity to think about an artist’s work that I might not otherwise consider or know of. Oftentimes, it’s not work I’ve seen, and my main point of contact with it is via the internet and whatever the gallery can send, which is in and of itself a problem. I guess my question is two-pronged. On the one hand it’s an ethical quandry: I’ve done a few of these now, and I appreciate the practice and the cash, but sometimes I feel odd about the whole masquerade (though not as odd as other people seem to; I guess that’s the money talking). On the other hand, it’s practical: as someone building a writing career, I would like to indicate these projects somehow on my CV, but of course if someone wanted to actually look, they wouldn’t find my name associated in the subsequent print publications, etc. What are your thoughts?

Pierre Huyghe. The Host and the Cloud, 2009-2010; Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

Pierre Huyghe. The Host and the Cloud, 2009-2010. Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

Let me run this down very simply: Your questions are, “Is this practice unethical?” and “Can I find a way to claim this on my CV?” My answers are a correspondingly straightforward yes and no, respectively. But let’s explore this matter, and its potential consequences, in more detail.

To be honest, I was shocked by your dilemma—fifteen years in the art world, and I’d never heard of such a thing! To me, a curator is someone who loves art and artists so much that he or she would not perpetrate a fraud in order to avoid writing about them. Wide-eyed and scandalized, I emailed quite a few friends and acquaintances to see if they shared my amazement; most respondents did. One of them, a curator who has had a long career with many institutional appointments, told me, “Your email makes me feel naïve, as I’ve never heard of such a practice. The honorarium for a catalog essay is so modest I can’t imagine how this could be lucrative for both the curator and the ghost, but that’s a different question. Taking inspiration from “The Ethicist” in the New York Times, I’d say your writer is a professional cheat and liar who is asking for your blessing to deceive the commissioner of the writing, and the public that reads the piece believing it to be the work of a noted writer, and to get paid for it, and to get credit for it. To use a word that has migrated from Yiddish to English, that’s chutzpah.” These are perhaps stronger words than I would have used, but the basic sentiment is the same: You can have the money, or you can have a clean conscience and a decent CV, but not both.

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Shotgun Reviews

The Black Radical Imagination II at REDCAT

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Noé Gaytán reviews The Black Radical Imagination II at REDCAT in Los Angeles.

Jeannette Ehlers. Still from Black Bullets, 2012; 4:33 min.

Jeannette Ehlers. Black Bullets, 2012 (video still); 4:33.

The notion of the black radical imagination stems from the writing of Robin D.G. Kelley, in which he argued that “before we can come together for [revolutionary] movements, we must use our imagination to conjure new ideas.”[1] Taking that as a starting point, curators Erin Christovale and Amir George brought together a series of experimental films that explore the ideas, images, or concepts that are necessary to create a paradigm shift within the black diaspora. Many of the films echoed the work of Luis Buñuel and Maya Deren. During the Q&A, the curators mentioned the influenced of D. Scot Miller, who claimed that to introduce Afro to Surrealism means to add an element of the mystical or metaphorical.[2] The Black Radical Imagination II explores how that concept is manifested in experimental cinema.

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Interviews

The State in Which You Find Yourself: Mamela Nyamza and Meryem Jazouli

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you an excerpt from a conversation between artists Anna Martine Whitehead, Mamela Nyamza, and Meryem Jazouli. At the end of an interview that spans geography, race, performance, and limited resources, Jazouli notes, “If you are an artist [here], it’s as though you are different than everyone. But an artist should be talking about the world and what’s happening in the world in an artistic way.” This article was originally published on November 17, 2014.

(Left) Mamela Nyemza leading a workshop at the 2014 TBA Festival. Image: Courtesy of TBA Festival. (Right) Meryem Jazouli. Photo: Agnes Mellon.

(Left) Mamela Nyemza leading a workshop at the 2014 TBA Festival. Image: Courtesy of TBA Festival. (Right) Meryem Jazouli. Photo: Agnes Mellon.

Mamela Nyamza lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with her son, where she draws on her international and township training in ballet to make dances about women, mothers, and South African life. Meryem Jazouli, also a mother, lives in Casablanca, Morocco, where she is the founder and director of a cultural center (Espace Darja) and a choreographer investigating the social and geopolitical landscapes of Casablanca. Both choreographers were invited to this year’s Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival in Portland, Oregon, through the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium (ACAC). One would be remiss to think that their affiliation with the ACAC implies a common practice. Indeed, Nyamza and Jazouli come from opposite ends of the world’s second-largest continent. They arrived in Portland with vastly different worldviews, political alliances, and importantly, relationships to the state of Africa and to the world beyond. Rather than being easily apprehended as “African” artists, the two are in dialogue—with one another and with the wider dance world.

Performance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s description of the “Africanist presence” located in contemporary American performance is a useful entry point to thinking about the artists’ practices, collectively. Gottschild posits the process-oriented, postmodern, and polyrhythmic turn in contemporary American performance as particularly influenced by the same motifs in African life and culture, both contemporarily and historically. Gottschild identifies an Africanist aesthetic that originates in Africa and is reiterated throughout the continent and the United States. I would further complicate and extend Gottschild’s term to reflect Nyamza’s and Jazouli’s economic and cultural specificity as working mothers as well as African subjects.

Read the full article here.

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Haverford

The Female Gaze at the Atrium Gallery at Haverford College

The Atrium Gallery at Haverford College is a smaller venue than the works of Diane Arbus and Carrie Mae Weems have seen in the past year; their works have appeared in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, respectively. Yet here they are in the periphery of Philadelphia, along with the likes of Nan Goldin, Vivian Maier, and Tacita Dean, in the exhibition The Female Gaze: A Survey of Photographs by Women from the 19th to 21st Centuries.

Carrie Mae Weems. Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make-up), 1990; silver gelatin print, black and white; 10.24 x 10.24in. Courtesy Haverford College, Haverford PA.

Carrie Mae Weems. Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make-Up), 1990; silver gelatin print, black and white; 10.24 x 10.24 in. Courtesy of Haverford College, Haverford PA.

Centered on the premise of female photography from the past 150 years, the show yields an interesting spectrum of established, canonical artists aside mid-career artists such as Rachel Papo and Jessica Todd Harper as well as those known better for photojournalism, like Sue Sojourner-Lorenzi. The question figuratively hanging in the brightly lit atrium is: What does it mean for a woman to look at something, and to record her observations? Does she impart her supposed womanliness onto said views, and if so, how would we know? Given the historicity of the exhibition, it’s impossible not to imagine the constraints women photographers faced, as well the freedom a lens might grant.

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New York

Chris Ofili: Night and Day at the New Museum

Night and Day at the New Museum is the first retrospective of the artist Chris Ofili in the United States. While the show incorporates sculptures and drawings, it unmistakably showcases the artist’s bravery, skill, and reinvention in painting over the past thirty years. The six bodies of work that span three floors are fearlessly distinct; clearly this is an artist who has no interest in repeating himself or sticking to a singular style. What unites all these works, however, is the cohabitation of conceptual rigor and an unwavering commitment to beauty. Each work is accessible and visually engaging to anyone willing to look. Longer contemplation unearths Ofili’s rich and ambivalent meditations on black identity, consciousness, and representation.

Chris Ofili. The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars (Third Version), 1998; oil, acrylic, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins, and elephant dung on linen; 96 x 72 in. Courtesy of the Artist; David Zwirner, New York/London; and Victoria Miro, London.

Chris Ofili. The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars (Third Version), 1998; oil, acrylic, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins, and elephant dung on linen; 96 x 72 in. Courtesy of the Artist; David Zwirner, New York/London; and Victoria Miro, London.

One of the artist’s strategies for striking a balance between content and form is to enforce constraints upon his process. Afromuses, a series of over 100 small watercolor portraits of imaginary black individuals, provides one example. From afar, these same-size works on paper look almost identical, rendering the same criteria: the hair, face, neck, and chest of a figure seen frontally or in profile. Within these parameters, however, is tremendous experimentation with color, pattern, and technique. These are quick studies, each done in fifteen to twenty minutes, but they reveal the freedom, improvisation, and inspiration Ofili finds within his self-imposed restrictions.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Psychopaper at Piktogram

Today we bring you a look back at a small but remarkable exhibition in Warsaw that sought to expose the psychological effects of martial law in Poland in the 1980s. Though the political, intellectual, and emotional conditions that produced the artwork have a complicated background, author Bean Gilsdorf notes that, “viewers of this work needn’t have all the historical details to know that something is terribly wrong.” This article was originally published on November 20, 2013.

Installation view of Psychopaper at Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw, 2013.

Installation view of Psychopaper at Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw, 2013.

At 6 a.m. on December 13, 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski appeared on Polish television to declare martial law in effect throughout the country. Following his edict, for the next two and a half years citizens were stripped of their civil liberties: All borders and airports were closed, public gatherings were banned, independent organizations were declared illegal, and travel between cities required permission.* Curfew was imposed, and postal mail was subject to scrutiny and censorship. In one ABC news broadcast from that day, Peter Jennings quotes Jaruzelski’s televised speech, saying, “Poland has come to the end of its psychological endurance,” but in fact a terrible period of psychological endurance had only just begun.

Psychopaper at Piktogram in Warsaw presents an answer to the question of what must it have been like to live and make art during this period. Scattered over the walls of the gallery space are more than fifty works on paper (and one video) produced by Polish artists during and immediately after the years of martial law. Most of the works have never been exhibited before, and although they share a basic materiality, there is little in the way of unifying style or subject matter. The drawings stand, according to the gallery materials, “as a document to the mental state engendered by an overdose of reality, which was in a chronic state of crisis.”

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San Francisco

Transformations – Death, Breakage, and the Unexpected

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a recent installment of “Notes from di Rosa,” a column produced in conjunction with Art Practical’s yearlong residency at the museum. In this edition, author Terri Cohn explores the collection and its legacy. This article was originally published on October 8, 2014.

David Ireland. Angel-Go-Round, 1996; fiberglass, cast concrete figures and motor; 180 x 191 x 191 in. Courtesy of di Rosa collection, Napa. Photo: Israel Valencia.

David Ireland. Angel-Go-Round, 1996; fiberglass, cast concrete figures, and motor; 180 x 191 x 191 in. Courtesy of di Rosa collection, Napa. Photo: Israel Valencia.

Beautiful, bucolic, and quiet, di Rosa stretches out over its 200 acres with obvious and discoverable wonders. Di Rosa’s physical charm and the eccentricities intrinsic to its collection are deeply engaging, and the scope of the grounds and collections make a lasting impression. Yet the opportunity to spend some time at di Rosa this summer provided several unique and thought-provoking experiences.

To his great credit, Rene di Rosa (1919–2010) had a tendency to collect bodies of work by the artists that interested him—notably Beat Generation artists (Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Joan Brown, George Herms, Wallace Berman); Conceptual artists (Paul Kos, David Ireland, Tom Marioni, Lynn Hershman, Jim Melchert); and many of the artists affiliated with the Bay Area Funk movement, including Robert Arneson, William T. Wiley, Roy De Forest, and Robert Hudson. He was also passionate about various mixed-media sculptors, photographers, and printmakers, including David Best, Deborah Butterfield, Viola Frey, Mark Alice Durant, Ray Beldner, and Enrique Chagoya. These “collections within the collection” provide a sense of the breadth and depth of di Rosa’s vision and his expansive interest in California art.

Read the full article here.

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