04/24/13 4:00am
04/24/2013 4:00 AM |

“Don’t move to New York,” I told an audience of young students at the University of Georgia last week. To my surprise, most of the students were already familiar with my thoughts on the matter—I’d forgotten about a conversation I’d had with local artist and MFA graduate Layet Johnson, who’d called to ask me if he should move to New York. That conversation became part of an installation in a hotel show. It’s a small town, so by the time I’d arrived, the entire student body had listened to the piece.

Still, the topic came up again and again during my stay, and part of it was my own doing. I’m sad that New York, the city I’ve lived in for more than 10 years, is now barely hospitable to those making the kind of art I love. It’s my job, though I don’t like it, to tell young artists thinking of moving that without connections, their job prospects are dim. The ugly reality is the cost of living is prohibitively expensive in New York.

Typical studio rent in Bushwick runs at $600 for 250 square feet, according to Stephanie Diamond’s Listings Project, a real-estate email service for artists. That’s more than $2 per square foot. Sunset Park is more affordable, but as I reported in the last issue, landlords are raising rents there by as much as 50 percent.

Given these numbers, most artists will need to secure a middle-income job to maintain an apartment and studio, which creates a catch-22: artists have to work all the time to pay for their studios and thus have a hard time ever using them. But they may be the lucky ones. I frequently hear about graduates who have been unable to turn their unpaid internships into paying positions. Only a few years ago such a fate was reserved for the particularly unskilled.

It’s bad out there for emerging artists and students know it. When I visited Baltimore last week, I heard from multiple sources that many MICA graduates are no longer moving to New York; instead, they’re finding cheap studio space in Baltimore and staying put. Students in Athens talked about moving after graduation, too. Although they were less likely to move to New York because of the distance, they did mention the appeal of larger communities like those in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

I can’t say I blame them. Spending a few months in New York to build connections and get studio visits isn’t a bad idea, but it’s possible to keep up with most art virtually, and art here has becoming increasingly lifeless anyway. The Lower East Side has become particularly stale lately; in the past four months, I’ve seen only two solo exhibitions that I thought were exceptional—Sara Ludy at Klaus Von Nichtssagend and Jaimie Warren at The Hole. Neither of those artists lives in New York.

It’s unlikely that there’s a single cause for this, but the city’s rising costs and diminishing benefits are certainly part of it. Given the number of emerging and mid-level dealers, curators, critics and artists in this city who work constantly and are just scraping by, we may be starting to see its toll.

04/10/13 4:00am
04/10/2013 4:00 AM |

Where artists go, rents will rise—that’s a story told over and over in New York. Sunset Park, a working-class neighborhood in southern Brooklyn, is the latest community to experience the effects of gentrification led by the creative class. Studio rates remain far lower than in well-known artist enclaves like Bushwick, but some artists and institutions are beginning to notice changes.

Noah Fischer, a New York-based artist who has leased out studios at the 18th Street waterfront since 2005, said it started in Gowanus, which blew up from 2002 to 2005. “I’ve seen a big shift in the culture,” Fischer told me. “Especially on 4th and 5th streets, but more on 5th. The hipsters are arriving and there are coffee shops. It’s creeping south.” When that small neighborhood filled up, tenants began moving toward Sunset.

“We were just about the first artists in this huge building,” he said. “The whole neighborhood was light industry, and for the next few years there was a steady stream of artists moving their studios here.” The artist reports that between 30 to 40 of his tenants now are artists—approximately half the building.

But Fischer hasn’t seen a huge jump in rents over the years. “Our studio prices have not risen that much” because of the zoning, he said, which is still industrial. It may also have to do with his lease, which is for 10 years. His is one of the “net leases” offered by many landlords in the neighborhood to appeal to artists. They’re long-term leases in which the tenants are responsible for everything from the electrical work to the lighting.

NARS Foundation, a non-profit that offers low-rent studios to artists, took on a net lease in 2006 but is now in a jam because of it. They spent thousands of dollars repairing the electricity and creating studios. But now, as their lease expires, they’re finding their landlords wanting to take advantage of the work they’ve already put into the building. “When the recession hit, we could not rent out 1,000 square feet to anyone,” Director of Programs Eun Young Choi said. They have not yet recouped their construction costs, and now their landlord, Industry City, wants to raise their rent by 47 percent. The landlords have been unwilling to negotiate. “We’re in a crisis at the moment. Our lease ends at the end of July, and our mission is provide artists with long term, affordable space. What do we do?”

When I called Industry City to talk about the changes in the neighborhood, I was transferred to the Director of Marketing Michael Kohan. I had only to mention the word “gentrification” before Kohan replied, aghast, that they had nothing to do with it. Industry City comprises 17 buildings and 6.5 million square feet of commercial space in Sunset Park, and its website boasts easy access to Manhattan via the D, N and R lines, the Long Island Railroad, and the BQE.

The brief conversation recalled Fischer’s last words to me. “I don’t see any end to the precariousness for artists in this zone,” he said, speaking to the financial realities for most artists. “There’s a definite ceiling.”

04/01/13 1:20pm
04/01/2013 1:20 PM |

Three people recently filed a class-action suit against The Metropolitan Museum of Art, alleging that the signs advertising the museum’s admission prices are unclear. For clarity’s sake: it’s free. Admission to public institutions in public buildings is legally required to be free of charge most days of the week, and the Met’s posted $25 admission price is a recommended donation. Visitors aren’t required to pay that price—you can pay 10 cents if you want—but the museum would like you to pay the full $25.

Filip Saska and Tomáš Nadrchal, of the Czech Republic, and Stephen Michelman, a New York City resident and retired lawyer, think that’s sketchy. “Instead of providing free and open access to art for the masses, without regard to economic status (as originally designed), the MMA has transformed the Museum Building and Museum Exhibition Halls into an expensive, fee-for-viewing, elite tourist attraction, where only those of financial means can afford to enter this publicly-subsidized institution situated on prime City-owned land,” reads the preliminary statement of the suit, before going on to allege that the admission policy “deceives and defrauds members of the public.”

But is the museum really defrauding its visitors when the fine print states the truth? It has after all provided information that lets visitors know that the cost of admission is recommended. The question is whether the fine print is a reasonable place to put such information; if we accept that the museum isn’t defrauding its visitors, we must also accept that fine print is a clear and honest place to communicate. We all know that’s not true. I recently saw an ad that promised LASIK eye surgery for $750; in the small print, it turned out that the price was $750 per eye. There are undoubtedly worse examples.

Given the frequency with which this practice is abused in the larger world, it might not be such a bad idea to take steps to curb it. But are museums the best place to start? The Met isn’t a private corporation seeking to fleece its customers; they’re a public institution looking for additional revenue streams in a climate of steadily decreasing government support. According to GuideStar, an online service that hosts nonprofit financial statements and reports, only 15 percent of its revenue in 2011 came from the government. That’s not insignificant, but it’s certainly small enough that the museum needs additional means of support.

Many have cited the Met’s $2.58 billion investment portfolio as a reason it shouldn’t charge an entrance fee, but I disagree. The Met houses one of the most important collections of art in the world. It’s essential that it have extensive resources to draw on should anything happen. In light of the recent devastation wrought by Sandy, that concern isn’t as farfetched as it might once have seemed.

All that said, concerns that the Met may not be reaching out to all members of the public with equal zeal aren’t unfounded. The museum has a mandate to reach out to all income classes, and it can’t meet that mandate with a recommended entrance price of $25. The Met needs to institute special programs for lower income families. The suit doesn’t specifically address this concern, but I do hope it will prompt better outreach.

For that to happen, though, the focus of this discussion would need to shift away from regionalism and toward the general question of how museums might better communicate with the larger public. The reaction to the lawsuit has generally hinged on the idea that the recommended admission exploits tourists while most New Yorkers have read the fine print. That doesn’t quite make sense; tourists plan what they do and when more than anyone who lives in the city. In truth, the recommended admission is more like a sliding scale based on how often you visit; as you go to the museum more frequently, you learn that the admission is “pay-what-you-can,” and you start to pay less as a result.

Even the suit frames the real issues poorly, describing the high recommended admission as a cost that transforms the museum into an “elite tourist attraction.” This language is meant to exploit the idea that art is enjoyed by snobs and elitists and is intentionally made inaccessible to the general public. The real issue here is that art requires free time, and poor people don’t have a lot of that. They’re busy trying to survive. It’s a real problem, and one museums can’t solve on their own.

03/27/13 4:00am
03/27/2013 4:00 AM |

At SXSW this year, Tina Roth Eisenberg—swissmiss on the Internet—spoke about her interactive and design projects by outlining the 11 rules and values she lives by. They’re pretty good, but, as an art critic who runs a blog, I had a few comments. Here are her rules with my annotations.

1. Invest your life in what you love
This is a good one. I spend my days talking about art and never get tired of it. That means I often like to spend my evenings working as well, though, which doesn’t make me the most well-rounded individual. That’s fine by me—I’ve never had a diverse range of interests—but it does make cocktail parties with people outside your own field a challenge.

2. Embrace enthusiasm
When you enjoy something, shout it from the rooftops! This is particularly important for critics to remember, because we easily identify weaknesses. Celebrating what you love in public is essential to the sanity of any writer.

3. Don’t complain, make things better
This is not a rule I subscribe to. I think it’s important to complain, because you can make things better. Write a letter! Tell a friend! Tweet the gripe! But be specific. If you don’t like what you see or experience, it’s important to identify why. Doing so will allow people to respond in a way that’s meaningful as opposed to defensive.

4. Trust and empower
Eisenberg loves her employees and wants them to feel ownership over the projects they run. And she’s right to want that. Ideally, the people who work with you will be better at their particular job than you are.

5. Value experience over money
Apply this rule on a case-by-case basis. I’ve spent enough time overvaluing my experience to know that sometimes privileging money isn’t such a bad idea. This is especially true in the art world, where very few of us seem to have the money to pay people what their labor is worth.

6. Surround yourself with like-minded people
In the workplace this isn’t a bad idea, but the journalist in me cringes as I write that. The fact is, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people has created a very uniform art world. Perhaps a better rule is to do the opposite: seek out diversity.

7. Collaborate
Or, it’s better to know 20 experts than to try to be 20 experts. You can’t know everything, and there’s nothing more exhilarating than talking to people about things they’re good at. In fact, it’s my definition of a good life.

8. Ignore haters
I’ve never been able to do this, but I’m always grateful for the moments when I can. It’s peace of mind.

9. Take time to breathe
Eisenberg told us in her talk she was trying to get better at that, and I suspect that many of us can sympathize. It’s important to take time off every once in a while, because that’s when the best ideas are born. Also worth mentioning: get a full night’s sleep. I know too many people who are sick all the time because they work too much.

10. If an opportunity scares you, you need to take it
I could never live by this rule. If an opportunity scares me, it’s usually because it’s not really an opportunity or I’m not ready for it. Real opportunities are exciting!

11. Be someone’s eccentric aunt
This was Eisenberg’s way of saying “be a mentor,” and I couldn’t agree more. As we get older we have a social responsibility to share what we know because it will make the lives of those younger than us easier.

03/13/13 4:00am
03/13/2013 4:00 AM |

A couple of Saturdays ago I had the honor of judging Flux Factory’s second or third Iron Chef Contest. The exact number isn’t important—Fluxers aren’t concerned with accuracy so much as getting the job done. Iron Chef judges (myself included) were told to look for “fluxiness” in the “Fluxers.” While it was never fully defined, the meaning quickly became apparent: it’s the creative cojones required to make do with what you have. When showcased effectively, as it was that evening, fluxiness is both terrifying and exhilarating.

Most of the night was a blur. Flux Factory residents Georgia Muenster, Aliya Bonar, Theodoros Zafeiropoulos, Stephanie Avery, and Nick Cregor competed for an absurd trophy: a yellow sponge with glasses, a fake nose, and a whisk for hair. They took the challenge seriously. Underneath a chicken disco ball, we watched a flurry of activity on countertops and stoves. Either to calm our nerves or to fuel the excitement, judges were supplied with drinks that tasted like hot sauce bathed in 180-proof liquor. Needless to say no one drank much.

Right away, Aliya Bonar, a sculptor who specializes in DIY costume design, promised to make some savory raisin cookies and tofu something-or-other. About 15 minutes in, we watched her drop the cookie dough on the floor in her hurry and toss it back in the bowl; “she’s a wild card for sure,” I thought. Then, scrambling for a food processor and not finding one, she just smashed a pile of almonds with a teapot.

Stephanie Avery, a graphic artist and designer, maneuvered the stove/counter/kitchen like a pro and announced she’d be making raisin cookies, Tsimmis (a stewy dish with a lot of carrots), and an apple-ginger chutney. Ambitious! Flux’s curatorial fellow Georgia Muenster presented just one dish: a banana cream pie with raisin reduction. I nearly forgot about her as she worked so quietly at the back of the kitchen.

Finally, land artist and sculptor Theodoros Zafeiropoulos lit his stove on fire while roasting eggplants (it was on purpose and extinguished quickly) and performance artist Nick Cregor said he had no idea what he was making before he hollered for a fork. Ultimately, he scraped together a flatbread dish topped with a black-bean-and-raisin mash and sauteed onions. With lowered expectations, I was pleasantly surprised to find the dish delicious.

I’m not sure I saw any actual raisins fly or dishes crash in the final minutes of the competition, but tensions were high and the words of an unidentified contestant during the fire earlier loomed large. “Be careful! We all have a lot of food around here!”

As some readers may have surmised from the quality of my descriptions, I’m about as much of a dining critic as these artists are America’s next top chefs. I was qualified to judge this contest because I’ve eaten food in the past, and the Flux chefs qualified to participate because they’ve made some. Expertise wasn’t as relevant to this competition as getting out of our comfort zones and exercising the muscles we use every day when making art or writing criticism.

And so, when the (painfully sober) judges Steven Stern, Harriet Taub, Tracy Candido and David Shapiro thought about what it might mean for a dish to be fluxy, we tried to award points to artists who had been the most creative in their problem solving. Dark-horse contestant Georgia Muenster came very close to winning for having the guts to present only a dessert. It didn’t hurt that her pie was delicious.

In the end though, Aliya Bonar went home with the trophy sponge, not just because she managed to make a savory oatmeal raisin cookie topped with cheese taste really amazing, but because she went the extra mile for it. Crushing whole almonds theatrically, with a small teapot, probably isn’t art. But the thinking that lead to that decision is certainly part of it.

Courtesy Flux

02/27/13 4:00am
02/27/2013 4:00 AM |

In 2013, The New York Armory Show (March 7-10), formerly known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art, celebrates its 100th anniversary. That’s a lot of history to look back upon, so we’re going to make things easy on ourselves and skip pretty much all of it. What follows is a comparison between the Armory that shocked and amazed audiences in 1913 and the Armory that shocks and amazes audiences today.

Two-thirds of the paintings on view at the first Armory show were by American artists who’d been inspired by Rembrandt and Titian. The other third were by Europeans—Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp—whose work would challenge audiences and critics across the country.

The Armory will show over 200 galleries from 30 countries, so I guess it’s as international as ever. Is it as challenging to art audiences, though? Not if you believe being challenged means being introduced to new, lesser-known artists. “Focus,” the invitation-only section of the fair meant to give exposure to under-recognized yet thriving communities, usually in other countries, will focus on the US this year. The world’s largest gallery, Gagosian Gallery, is among the invited participants, and will showcase Andy Warhol, the world’s best known artist. The Armory could stand to be a little more adventurous.

President Roosevelt reviewed the show and hated it! He complains about titles quite a bit, and seems particularly upset about Marcel Duchamp’s famous “Nude Descending the Staircase”: “Take the picture which for some reason is called ‘A naked man going down stairs.’ There is in my bath-room a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture. Now if, for some inscrutable reason, it suited somebody to call this rug a picture of, say, ‘A well-dressed man going up a ladder,’ the name would fit the facts just about as well as in the case of the Cubist picture of the ‘Naked man going down stairs.’”

No word from Mayor Bloomberg yet, but he usually reads a press release at the VIP preview. Here’s what he said last year: “The Art Show, Armory Show and all the fairs help underscore why the arts and our exceptional artists are so critical to our city every day of the year, and why we’ve made supporting the arts a top priority for our administration.”

Mayor Bloomberg is so committed to the arts that he threatened to cut the arts budget by nearly 40 percent. Sixty percent of that would come from the Cultural Development Fund, the money earmarked for new and emerging artists.

In sum, not that much has changed over the past 100 years.

For the first time, the phrase “avant-garde” was used to describe painting and sculpture.

No point getting your hopes up here. Those who still believe the avant-garde even exists have really warped its definition. See the following quote from a dealer, who recently spoke to the New York Observer‘s art blog on the condition of anonymity:

“The avant-garde now is about giving people what they want, wearing a $4,000 Prada suit, discovering that guy who’s going to make a ton of money at auction a year from now. Even the artists are market-driven. They see all their friends doing well, buying shit with all the money they make from dripping a little sweat on charcoal. So they end up wanting to take it to the source”—the Upper East Side, where the money is. “The avant-garde,” he said, “is about being with money.”

Photo Courtesy Art Institute Chicago

02/26/13 8:00am
02/26/2013 8:00 AM |

Those looking for a brief reprieve from contemporary culture may find solace in the New Museum’s “1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash, No Star.” The show surveys the New York art world in 1993, which as this show tells it, may not be much better than what we’ve got now, but was at least more open about its displeasure with the status quo. It is a raw, imperfect exhibition whose narrative is unusually informed by the route one takes through the museum, and it is worth every minute you can spend on it.

I began on the fifth floor, a level recently described as the “Info Annex” by Postmaster’s Magda Sawon in a tweet. Given the size of the exhibition space and education carpeting, pretty much everything assembled by show curators Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Jenny Moore, and Margot Norton is seen as secondary. That’s a real shame, because the arrangement of material was more thoughtful than it may appear. Here, a row of 12 CRT screen TVs line the gallery wall (one for each month of the year), flashing text blurbs about important pop culture, political, and world events, offering viewers a real sense of the dominant medium and issues at the time.

Nearby hangs a mildly grating suite of black-and-white celebrity-type portraits of artists in the show by Lina Bertucci. They offer a reasonable frame for the show and the time, a point also made by some smart bookending; at one end of the room we see the future, an early online art community on a computer screen—Wolfgang Staehle’s “The Thing” BBS login screen. On the other, we see the past; Alex Bag’s Untitled (Spring 1994), a 30-minute video that chronicles the life of a character obsessed with TV. It’s exactly the kind of concise visual statement about a time only art can make.

All this is a great entry point to the show, which one floor down, moves on to contemplating life and death. Here, Rudolf Stingel’s orange, room-sized rug covers the floor, its brilliant color marred as visitors tread across its surface throughout the course of the show. The piece is a lasting document of action, whereas Felix Gonzales-Torres’ string of light bulbs Untitled (Couple) are a fading monument to life and love.

A black-and-white print of a bird in the sky by Gonzales-Torres cover the walls on this floor and overhead Kristin Oppenheim softly croons “Sail on Sailor.” The original piece is an upbeat song about perseverance by The Beach Boys, but Oppenheim’s fragile voice, which repeatedly recites the chorus, transforms the pop song into a funeral. It’s poignant, beautiful, and impossible to forget.

Still more death lurks on the floor below; Gregg Bordowitz’s documentary on the AIDs crisis is the first piece one sees upon descending. “As a 23-year old faggot, I get no affirmation from my culture,” says Bordowitz at one point. “I see issues that affect my life—the issues raised by AIDS being considered in ways that will probably end my life.” Meanwhile, in a series of photographs by Nan Goldin, an image of a man’s arm so shrunken from illness you can see the bone—pokes out of a hospital bed in a nearby series of photographs by Nan Goldin. They document a couple, one of whom is dying from AIDs. In 1993, the world is terrible.

The following gallery transitions to art exploring the theme of values and power structures. Charles Ray’s Family Romance, a sculpture in which a nuclear family of four is nude, holding hands, and exactly the same height. Like many critics, I’ve seen this sculpture more times than I can count, but the lack of hierarchy between family members never stops creeping me out. The only distinguishing characteristic between the children and parents is pubic hair, breasts and a whole lot of baby fat.


It’s a great piece, and far more disconcerting than Paul McCarthy’s famed “Cultural Gothic,” which is on view in the next room. The kinetic sculpture depicts a boy dry humping a goat with the father looking on. Periodically, both the goat and the boy look to the father for approval. By description alone, the work sounds like a terrifying disruption of American values, but it hardly achieves any of that. Everyone is wearing blue khakis, and nothing bad actually happens. Ultimately, “Cultural Gothic” does little more than add decorum to an abject act, making the sculpture impossible to care about.

02/13/13 4:00am
02/13/2013 4:00 AM |

My nails have looked like bedroom wallpaper for the last week. I had them painted by Jessica Washick, one of four nail artists working at Rita Pinto’s Vanity Projects in the basement of PS1. The group of girls will be working there again on Saturdays through March 16 (excluding February 23) from 12pm to 6pm, and I plan to go back to change up my nails. Right now, two are coral-and-white striped, two are green with roses, and the rest are a flat coral color. I like them a lot more than is reasonable.

The project itself may live more in the realm of virtuoso fashion than fine art, a field that museums (or at least The Met) have established a tradition of showcasing. In 2011 the museum broke attendance records with its Alexander McQueen show, and in 2012 it debuted its Schiaparelli and Prada exhibition Impossible Conversations. With each of these shows, though, many of us get confused about how to describe the work—is it art or fashion? Washick opts for the latter. “What’s great about nail art is that the client determines its success,” she told me, before conceding she had trouble articulating her own criteria for success. “You just know it when you see it.”

Pinto, a Hunter MFA graduate, sees the aesthetics and evaluation criteria of nail painting as similar to those in the fine-art world. “Surprisingly enough, the same criteria for a good painting in some cases is the same for nail art,” she told me. “Good composition, clean lines, contrasting color combinations, and geometric gem placement are a few ways to decipher a great nail artist. There are a million different ways to approach the work, and it’s exciting to see where these talented artists take their inspirations.”

Both Pinto and Washick talk about the importance of Tumblr to this subculture of artists; it’s an easy way to share images of each other’s work, and there are a lot of nail enthusiasts on the social network. Washick’s Tumblr, U DON’T NEED A MAN, U NEED A MANICURE, is particularly impressive. On it, she pictures her own nails in plaid grunge, a Warhol-inspired Campbell’s Soup suite of nails, and a gold-and-fuchsia glitter gradient conceived for the holidays. I know I’m going to sound like a fashion magazine writing this, but they really are inventive, bold, and sexy.

Naomi Yasuda may be the best-known talent working with Vanity Projects: she did Madonna’s nails for last year’s Super Bowl and Alicia Keys’s nails for countless album covers and magazine spreads. El Salonsito and Astrowifey, two well-known nail artists, are also on the roster.

The big news for this group of women is that Pinto will open a nail salon on the Lower East Side this summer. “I hope to establish an artist-in-residence of sorts at the salon/atelier and will invite more international nail artists to come to New York and work with me for a few months at a time,”
Pinto explained.

That’s not the only instance of an art-world model being used in the store—the salon will also host video art. Clients who spend between 45 minutes and two hours waiting for their nails to dry may be a more captive audience for this work than those accustomed to passing through gallery spaces. “Generally, people do what I call a video art ‘drive-by,’ and they see moments if not snapshots of the work,” Pinto remarked. “Artists are increasingly adopting the video medium, and I think if people were to watch a work uninterrupted, in a space where they are a captive audience, they’ll cultivate a taste for the medium.”

Pinto makes a good point—and perhaps it’ll cut both ways. Artists and gallerists without much interest in nail art might easily cultivate a taste for it through a venue with such talented artists at work.

Photo by

01/30/13 4:00am
01/30/2013 4:00 AM |

I left Hauser & Wirth’s new space on 18th and 11th in late January feeling ecstatic. The gallery now occupies The Roxy’s old space, and the energy of the former dance club and roller-rink lingers. The press preview hummed with activity, and the art felt as though it were alive. That must have been by design; Dieter Roth. Bjorn Roth (through April 18) celebrates and reflects on 20 years of collaboration between Dieter Roth and his son Bjorn. Judging from this exhibition, a lot of that work was very large; the gallery is filled with enormous messy sculptures and expressionistic paintings. Every work in the show has a relationship to another and nothing feels complete. Like life, art perpetually changes and evolves.

That might sound a little more poignant than it should. While our lives may be driven by desire, the purpose and meaning behind those desires is often mysterious. For better and sometimes worse, that’s often the case in Dieter Roth. Bjorn Roth. The cavernous space is defined by two of Roth’s studio floors, uprooted from their original home and displayed vertically at the front end of the gallery. During a tour, Bjorn told us that one floor had a door on it because it’d been displayed at another gallery but would’ve blocked the entrance without the pathway. On the opposing vertical floor, we saw splatters from the making of a painting that was hanging on a nearby wall. Knowing this history adds to the narrative of the artist’s practice, which is defined by the performative impulse, but these aren’t necessarily connections a viewer would make on their own.

Unlike Roth, I don’t care so much for the idea that everything is connected—any illustration of that will seem obvious—but I do think simply knowing an experience is shared often resonates. And there’s a lot of that in the show. Even with the floors, which are positioned against each other so a viewer can walk through them as if in a tunnel, I had the feeling not just that the work would be lifeless without me, but also that many others had that feeling as well. It was uncanny. A large installation, “Grosse Tischruine (Large Table Ruin),” functioned similarly. It looks like a recreation of an incredibly messy studio, and while I was there, four art handlers sat around a table, drinking beer and waiting to be called upon. Once they turned on the projectors, they left and the piece felt empty.

Aside from the new permanent installation—a New York bar—the piece with the most life, “New York Kitchen,” lives in the center of the show. It was surrounded by Roth’s paintings. Assistants dumped chocolate into pots to make a tower of cast heads, and in other pots, sugar, to make towers of colored sugar heads. Right now, the exhibition looks a little sparse, but by the time it’s done the gallery should be transformed into a forest of candy.

I’m not convinced there’s any great meaning to that, but I like that the exhibition feels alive for it. That’s true of all of the art in the show, with one exception. On a far wall, an inert, untitled painting made of tubes, tape, wood, metal, and various bits of garbage seemed to suffocate behind its plexi. Roth had originally sent orange juice, milk, and a variety of other drinks down the tubes, as a means of ensuring that the piece would constantly change, but it was clear that hadn’t been done in ages. When I ask Bjorn about whether he’d let me throw some of the press champagne down the tubes he refused. “A collector sealed the holes the tubes came out of several years ago,” he said. Like any good salesman he neglected to add that in doing so, the interaction Roth intended for the piece was neutered, thereby destroying the work.

01/30/13 4:00am

Something has changed at ArtStack. Over the holidays, I noticed an uptick of users on the art social network, described by many as “Pinterest for artists.” People “stack” art in much the same way as they might “pin it,” which is to say they add, caption, categorize and reblog images. When I asked artist and ArtStack user Jennifer Chan why a lot of her friends had joined recently, her answer was simple: thanks to the break, “they had the time to hang out.”

That seems straightforward enough, but it doesn’t explain why people are sticking around, especially as the site has some problems. As artist and new user Gizelle Zatonyl pointed out, ArtStack isn’t a very good social network. “Comments are on the artwork information-pages and it discourages users from leaving much more than trivia about the work or artist,” she complained over email. “There isn’t a private messaging system or way of communication other than comments. I find this very frustrating; sometimes I just wanna thank someone for uploading something.”

But could these social shortcomings actually have a positive effect? “The detachment aspect does seem to keep it more about the work,” Zatonyl added, noting that the service seems to attract her friends who are most actively seeking art. This proclivity “doesn’t convince anyone to look at art, but it does make it easier,” she told me. Lorna Mills, a Toronto-based artist and longtime blogger, concurred. “I can see a lot of artists finding it to be another tool for promo, and why not,” she told me. “Early on in our own blog, Sally [McKay] and I were posting collections of other artists’ work, past and present, so it was a chance for me to revive those in another online venue.”

The idea that the site is “more about the work” seems to appeal to the ArtStack community. “Users tend to actually add the default information suggested when filling out upload forms: titles, years, galleries, exhibitions, etc.,” Zatonyl told me, adding, “I love that it groups all artworks by the same artist under the same tag or page; the catalogues keep growing and can be much more efficient than going to the site of whoever represents the artist or Google images. It’s surprisingly reliable in this sense.”

These qualities are very appealing to artists and other professionals, so it was not surprising to hear Chan say she initially joined to compare the site to Tumblr as a place to share art, and then noticed a lot of curators and gallerists used the site. In response to the countless “Picassos and Judds in the feed” she started uploading the emerging and mid-career work of her friends. “This is why I’m using it,” she told me. “Hopefully to turn the tables on [what] institutional people think is good taste and contemporary.”

Of the site’s more high-profile names, ArtStack recommends following Phillips de Pury, Serpentine Gallery, and White Cube among others, though none of them appear to be “stackers” themselves. Grazine Subelyte, an ArtStack user and curatorial assistant at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, has more than 17,000 followers, as does Rachel Ropeik, a museum educator at the Brooklyn Museum. As an outsider, I found it difficult to determine the level of their activity, though; the site never notes the date the image was stacked, though it does offer the names of “early stackers.” Neither user stacked much this past week.

This problem, though, won’t matter much to most users, relative to the number of redundant images one sees if the people you follow stack the same thing. “I wish there was an image mute option for work I’m sick of seeing or absolutely loathe,” Mills told me, then added, “The real, REAL downside is too much fucking Magritte.”