Who will win $150K tomorrow? Not an emerging artist…

The new Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, at $150,000, is the largest juried prize in the world, and it is supposed to go to an individual emerging visual artist.

Philadelphia banker and real estate mogul Jack Wolgin is a very generous man who wants the prize to be awarded annually, and he wanted it to be “intended for an artist who has not yet received widespread recognition outside of the art world and whose work breaks new ground by crossing traditional boundaries.”

Words count. When I first announced the establishment of this new art prize in this blog back in 2008, I wrote:

This is great news for visual artists all over the world and even greater good news for the Philadelphia art scene. I will immediately comment that I am hoping that their selection panel will have the cojones to look truly to nominate artists at “a critical professional juncture” and not just xerox out a bunch of names of the usual suspects.

I remember fondly the days when museums like the Whitney and others would take chances on “new” artists, and as a result in the 80s they would give artists their first museum show ever (from memory I think both Fischl and Schnabel got their very first museum show, both while in their 30s, at the Whitney).

The days when museum curators want to be “first” are long gone, and seldom do we see a major museum take a chance with a “first” anymore. The same lack of cojones seems to have infected the major art prizes of the world, and I for one hope that Tyler and its selection jury get some brass into their system and make a statement with this new and generous prize.

Wishful thinking on my part!

The initial award set of jurors picked to award Mr. Wolgin’s money: Ingrid Schaffner, Senior curator at Philadelphia’s Institute for Contemporary Art, Paolo Colombo, adviser to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, and Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society in New York, have all taken the expected lazy interpretation of the focus of the competition and have selected Ryan Trecartin, Sanford Biggers, and Michael Rakowitz from a larger pool of only 14 nominees.

The nominees were selected by “a group of nine prominent international art world figures from museums and educational organizations, representing the range of media eligible for consideration. The 14 nominees were then invited to submit an application, which was reviewed by the three-person jury.”

Ryan Trecartin, Sanford Biggers, and Michael Rakowitz are all terrific and highly accomplished artists, but in my opinion are all artists who have exhibited far too widely (I think that by the time you get to exhibit in London’s Whitechapel alongside Shahryar Nashat, you’re waaaay past emerging) and are too well known to fit into the category envisioned by Mr. Wolgin.

Remember this prize is supposed to go to “emerging artists.”

“There was a great deal of discussion about the term ‘emerging artist,’ ” said Ingrid Schaffner, referring to the competition’s main criteria. But after the lazy jurors had defined their terms, she admitted that they “surprised everyone by coming to a consensus fairly quickly.”

Very lazily if you ask me. I hope that Temple University’s Tyler School of Arts, who hosts the prize, is as pissed off at paying jurors that don’t do the expected work, and that Temple has learned a very valuable lesson from this initial go around and realizes that seldom does a museum curator or an advisor to any museum (whatever that is?) is really at the leading edge of knowing who is really an “emerging artist.”

In fact, one of the criteria if a museum curator is ever selected for the jury pool again should be: “Have you ever given an artist his/her first museum show?” And maybe even: “How many artists’ studios have you visited in the last five years”?

Back in the 80s museums such as the Whitney in NYC used to give artists their first ever museum show. That was the last time that most museum curators actually were deep in the weeds of who was really an emerging artist.

Let’s hope that this outrageous failure to focus Mr. Wolgin’s initial prize money on the intended pool of emerging artist recipients will put this generous prize back on its intended path. And 2010 jurors, the intended recipients are supposed to be emerging fucking artists!”

The three finalists’ work is on view at at the Temple Gallery through Oct. 31, 2009. The prize will be announced tomorrow; personally I am rooting for Ryan, so that at least the $150K loot stays in Philly.

My hopes for 2010 remain grim. Unless Temple learns this lesson, this $150K will continue to go to the usual suspects because it takes a lot of work to do the job right.

How hard? An independent survey sponsored by The International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) and American Artist magazine recently reported that there are 4.4 million active artists in the United States alone (600,000 professional artists, 600,000 college art students, and 3.2 million active recreational artists). That’s a lot of artists, 99.9999999999999999% of whom are emerging artists, and at least 16 of them (more than 14 anyway) I bet are breaking “new ground by crossing traditional boundaries.”

I hope that Mr. Wolgin is as upset as I am; I intend to mail him a hard copy of this post, and then call him, and I hope that he then picks up the phone and tells Temple to get their act right with his prize money in 2010.

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Itsuki Ogihara steals the “Paper” show at Projects

A few days ago I dropped by Projects Gallery in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood in order to deliver some of my artwork, as they are taking my work to a couple of fairs in Miami this weekend.

Hanging at the gallery was their “Paper” show, in which I actually have a few pieces of my own work.

When you first walk into the gallery you see this:
Projects Gallery

The wallpaper like artwork all the way on that far wall, seemingly a sort of artist wallpaper at first sight, is one of the most amazing conceptual pieces with a powerful delivery mechanism and one of the most innovative and intelligent works of art that I have ever seen.
Itsuki Ogihara Population Series
Itsuki Ogihara. Population Series. 17”H x 17”W. Digital prints

Like all of you, I was initially fooled by the subject matter macro visual, and it wasn’t until I zoomed in and understood what I was seeing, that this young Japanese-born artist (and a student at UPenn I believe) struck me with the powerful punch of that ellusive artistic goal: something new.

Itsuki Ogihara is her name, and this is her latest project (see earlier projects here) and after I describe it for you, I think you will see why I came away so impressed.

Each one of those 17″ x 17″ digital prints represents an American city. Each “city” has a different design.
work by Itsuki Ogihara, image by Roberta Fallon
Ogihara has taken data from the US Census to determine that city’s racial and ethnic demographics, and using an artistic algorithm, she then designs each print to represent that city. The macro design in each city is made up of 100 tiny silhouetted figures in various poses and activities. As an example, in the Salt Lake City print, there are 83 white silhouettes, 2 black, and so on to describe that city’s racial and ethnic make-up.
from Itsuki Ogihara Population Series - image by Roberta Fallon
Pretty interesting so far. And then when you study each figure, you realize that they are each individuals. That’s right, each individual figure is a separate and distinct image on its own.

What she has done is actually taken hundreds of portraits of people; real people and real photographs, and shrunk them down to the tiny size seen in the prints, and then colored them to represent each race (white for Caucasians, black for African-American, red for Native Americans and yellow for Asians) and one ethnicity (brown for Latinos).

It is such a labor intensive endeavor that it leaves me tired just to think of it. And it is also one of the rare conceptual ideas where the art actually delivers on a par with the idea or wall text about the concept.

Itsuki Ogihara’s demographic wallpaper is an unexpected treat delivered in a superbly professional and unique delivery mechanism, which employs concepts of mass production generalization to delve deep into our shared consciousness about race and ethnicity and art.

I see great things in the future of this young artist.

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Trenton Doyle Hancock at the ICA, Philadelphia


Trenton Doyle Hancock, \

“Go Vegan” (detail) by Trenton Doyle Hancock


Trenton Doyle Hancock

Wow That’s Mean and Other Vegan Cuisine

Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

April 25-August 3, 2008

A solid two-thirds of me thinks the Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition at the ICA is pretty funny, while one-third of me is mildly insulted. That one-third of me is interfering with the pleasure I should have at seeing Trenton’s glow-in-the-dark and 3-D wallpaper that adheres to the wall of the ICA’s ramp space and begins to wonder if I should be that interested in art that seems like a massive inside joke that’s gone on for far too long (ten years now. . .). You see, TDH has been developing a body of work around a self-made mythology that evolved from an argument he had with his very vegan roommates back in graduate art school. I guess these roommates were pretty militant about their veganism and gave TDH a hard time so he started an “epic tale of mortal struggle between the Mounds, a gentle human-plant hybrid, and their inbred half-cousins, the evil mutant-ape Vegans.” (from the ICA’s Gallery Notes). 

Detail of TDH’s wallpaper “Flower Bed II: A Prelude to Damnation”

The reason I’m kind of mad is I’m a vegan (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat any products produced from an animal, including eggs, cheese, etc.). I’m not a very good one (like, I took a “break” yesterday and ate some ice cream) and I don’t try to convince others to become a vegan or preach about how “evil” animal products are, but I am what I call a “lazy vegan”. I have been one for five plus years, and I plan to try to remain one. I can’t help thinking that although I like TDH’s hand-style and some of the drawings look cool, and a connect-four game and an Atari system is set up for playing in the gallery, and you get a free-pair of 3-D glasses to look at TDH’s wallpaper with. . . that Trenton Doyle Hancock is making fun of me. When someone is making fun of you it is very hard to like them.

I have been insulted and yelled at by people who eat meat and dairy many times in my life, being a vegetarian in High School was especially not easy, but I didn’t vilianize meat-eaters, creating grotesque caricatures of them. I understand that what lead Trenton to this path were no-doubt some terribly idealistic extreme young vegans, I have met such people and they can be scary, but they are no scarier then the occasional meat-eater that won’t leave you alone about being a vegetarian. Most of these extremists mellow-out with age and realize that people’s personal diets are really not all that important.  

So I have to end this review with some advice to Trenton Doyle Hancock: 

Trenton, everyone seems to really like this body of work and you obviously have talent and some great ideas, but to me, someone who actually enjoys being a vegan with occasional lapses (hey, I’m only human and very lazy) it sort of is the visual equivalent to a hate crime. I want to like you and your art but I cannot. Hate is ugly. So my advice to you is to forgive and forget and move on. You could be WAY better then this. 




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A major exhibition, under the interstate


A man views one of 231 photographs exhibited under the interstate by Zoe Strauss.

Zoe Strauss Under I-95 PHILADELPHIA

Sunday May 4th-Sunday May 4th (one day only)

Photographer Zoe Strauss has mounted a major exhibition on the support beams under Interstate 95 for the past 8 years. Though she was a part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial and has a book coming out she still considers her annual public installation to be the most important work she does. This was the first year I was able to make it out to the event, even though I’ve lived in Philadelphia (also Ms. Strauss city of residence) for five-ish some years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted such bitter regret; I should have made it a point to be going all this time. 

231 (67 never-before-seen by the public unless you count her blog) were hung in a very professional manner, if you didn’t know that you were under an interstate you might imagine you were in an actual art-space. . .perhaps some hip industrial warehouse gallery in London or New York. The photographs rose their humble surroundings to their level, structures created to skateboard on became little sculptures, beer and water bottle trash looked like art, and shelters created by the homeless could have been art installation.

There is also the wonderful concept of taking photos of a community (the majority of Zoe’s photography is of Philadelphia) and giving them back to the community you took them from. It doesn’t get any more public then under the interstate, audience members perused the photography with their bikes in one hand, on roller blades, or while skateboarding. Each print was available at a price anyone could scramble to afford; $5. It was beautiful, totally wonderful, and probably the best thing I have ever seen. 


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