Category Archives: Politics

State of the Art

Leonard A. Lauder has given The Met a gift of Cubist works worth over $1 billion

Leonard A. Lauder has given The Met a gift of Cubist works worth over $1 billion

  • Obama’s proposed budget would increase arts funding by about $200,000. [The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Philanthropist and cosmetics tycoon Leonard A. Lauder gives his Cubist collection, valued at over $1 billion, to the Met. [NY Times]
  • MoMA will raze the former American Folk Art Museum building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, to complete its midtown expansion. “It’s unusual and it’s tragic because it’s a notable work of 21st century architecture by noteworthy architects who haven’t done that much work in the city, and it’s a beautiful work with the look of a handcrafted facade.” [NY Times]
  • Occupy Victory: New York City and Zucotti Park owner Brookfield Properties will pay $366,700 to Occupy Wall Street to cover damages and legal fees related to the destruction of the OWS People’s Library. [NY Mag]

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Filed under Art, business, Economy, Museum, Political Art, Politics

State of the Art


  • I had to check the date and make sure it wasn’t April 1st when I saw this: the Vatican will have a pavilion in this year’s Venice Biennale. The pavilion’s exhibition, “Encyclopedic Palace” will include works by Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman, as well as a show within-a-show curated by Cindy Sherman. This will be the first year that the Vatican will be participating in the prestigious contemporary art exhibition. [Bloomberg]
  • No MOCA Merger: the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has rejected an offer from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to acquire the financially struggling institution. Yesterday, a MOCA spokesperson  issued the following statement: “The Board is in agreement that the best future for MOCA would be as an independent institution.” [LA Times]
  • The FBI has announced that they know the identities of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist. Of course, since the statute of limitations has run out, they can’t be prosecuted, but anyone in possession of one of the stolen paintings could be held criminally liable. [ABC News]

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Capitalism Can Save Art! Down With Capitalism!

It’s difficult to craft a logical response to something as inconsistent and unreasonable as Camille Paglia’s recent Wall Street Journal essay “How Capitalism Can Save Art.” But, when links to the piece ended up in my Facebook feed this week, I knew I had to give it a shot. Paglia concludes that “our fine arts have become a wasteland”due to our country’s shrunken industrial base and the “routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists.” Continue reading

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Filed under Academia, Art, Controversial Art, Economy, Politics, Social Implications

Links List: Power to the people– Arts & Labor,Teamsters and Kickstarter

  • In a published letter, Occupy Wall Street’s Arts & Labor calls for an end to the Whitney Biennial in 2014. [ARTFORUM]
  • A false press release was circulated announcing the Whitney Museum’s break with corporate sponsors Sotheby’s and Deutsche Bank. [ART FAG CITY]
  • Kickstarter announces that it is on track to provide more funding to the arts than the NEA. [TPM]
  • Artists plan to take Sotheby’s union art handlers as dates to the Whitney Biennial VIP Preview. [ARTINFO]

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Artist as Small-Business Owner

On Monday, the NY Times reported that President Obama’s proposed budget includes an $8 million dollar increase to National Endowment for the Arts funding.

Not surprisingly, Republican presidential hopefuls have criticized the plan. Mitt Romney calls it “an insult to the American taxpayer.” In fact, in the Op-Ed that Romney wrote last November for USA Today, he calls for:

“deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.”

Culture programs always seem to be deemed “unnecessary” extras that should be the first to be cut during a recession. But in reality, we should think of agencies like the NEA as programs that support and advocate for small-business owners. Continue reading

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Increase Support for the Office of Museum Services

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter to encourage her fellow senators to ask the Senate Appropriations Committee for $50 million in funding for the Office of Museum Services, a branch of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This is a $14.8 million increase over the amount designated for the current fiscal year. In the House of Representatives, Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) circulated a similar request to their fellow congressmen, which 25 representatives signed.

The American Association of Museums (AAM) has created a form letter that you may use to urge your senator to sign on to the Gillibrand Museum letter. Another form letter has been generated to encourage Congress to support the $50 million in funding for the IMLS. Use the online fields to enter your contact information, which will then select your senator/ representative’s name and address. You can then download (as an .rtf) and print the letter to mail or fax, or choose the email option to send your letter right away. You can edit and personalize your missive before sending.

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The role of the NEA: Is there a place for controverial art in the government’s budget?

A piece about arts funding by David Smith, author of Money for Art: The Tangled Web of Art and Politics in American Democracy, was run in the Wall Street Journal today. The column discusses President Obama’s selections of Jim Leach and Rocco Landesman to head the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), respectively. Many in the arts community are disappointed with these choices, as they seem to signal that there will be no change from the somewhat conservative status quo. But Smith embraces these choices; indeed, he argues:

Privately funded art need not steer clear of controversy, but publicly funded art should. In addition to hurting the endowments’ standing in Congress, controversy undermines in the public eye the idea that the arts and humanities are important to civic life and are worthy of public funds.

What’s more, he distinguishes between grants made to individual artists, and grants made to programs:

On the surface there’s certainly nothing wrong with either cultural agency disbursing grants to individuals. But the debate over such grants highlights the question of who should be the real beneficiary of the endowments: artists and scholars or the public? In truth, the NEA functions just fine without making individual grants. In fact, absent this practice it’s easier to see the agency as its creators back in 1965 intended: one whose primary beneficiary is to be the American people as a whole.

The foundation for each of these positions is the belief that the American public as a whole does not benefit from controversial art. But is this assertion true?

In fact, some of the most valuable artistic contributions that have been made have also been controversial, in style, subject matter, or both. These include Goya’s Naked Maya and Los Caprichos, Turner’s The Slave Ship, the works of the Impressionists, Picasso’s Guernica, and Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans.

In literature, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Ulysses by James Joyce have all sparked debate and been banned or censored from various institutions.

In fact, one appeal of a lot of good art is its ability to provoke controversy, because this often indicates that it is also provoking thought. Certainly there is work that shocks gratuitously, but the fact that an artist presents something shocking or controversial does not make it gratuitous. Nor does it make it self-serving. I can think of no better way to benefit American society than to encourage and stimulate thought.

Smith trumpets such NEA sponsored programs as Shakespeare in American Communities and Poetry Out Loud because these programs foster a sense of appreciation for the arts, which he believes is in keeping with the spirit of the original NEA mission. But, the NEA’s stated mission is:

to foster the excellence, diversity, and vitality of the arts in the United States, and help broaden the availability and appreciation of such excellence, diversity, and vitality.

If we are to foster excellence, diversity, and vitality of the arts, then we are to encourage not just appreciation, but also actual making. And, to be fair, the NEA does do that, in the form of grants to organizations that then redistribute the grants to individual artists. The Vermont Studio Center, The Women’s Studio Workshop, Aljira Inc, Art in General, and Public Art Fund Inc are examples of organizations that have received NEA grants for “Access to Artistic Excellence,” in other words, money that they will pass along to individual artists, often to do a specific project.

I don’t know that returning to a system in which artists apply directly to the NEA for money would be the best way to promote and advance new work. However, I would be interested in exploring whether eliminating some of the middle-men could be a cost-saving measure that doesn’t undermine the integrity of arts funding.

Furthermore, Smith ignores the fact that grants for art appreciation could also spark contoversy. In fact, the poets whose work is included in the Poetry Out Loud program include Jimmy Santiago Baca, who spent 6 years in prison for drug possession and intent to sell, Allen Ginsberg, whose work Howl, was the catalyst for an obscenity trial against San Francisco book dealers, and Gertrude Stein, the lesbian author of one of the earliest coming-out stories, Q.E.D, and whose other works, like Tender Buttons, often commented on lesbian sexuality.

Indeed, many of the museums and arts institutions received NEA grants specifically for exhibitions that might be deemed controversial. The Williams College Museum of Art funded the exhibition of controversial African American artist Kara Walker with a $40,000 grant from the NEA. The recent Jenny Holzer exhibition at the Whitney, Protect Protect, which is highly critical of the Iraq war, was made possible with a grant from the NEA.

And that’s a good thing. The government should not deny funding to artists or organizations that promote artists simply because the artwork is critical of a societal institution. To do so is indirect censorship. That is, it encourages those in the arts community to abstain from riskier, controversial endeavors in favor of safer, less critical projects that will more readily receive funding. And if we do that, then what we are not “fostering a vitality of the arts in the United States,” but rather a degeneration of American culture.

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