On pompous franglais ‘art speak’ so as to appear an informed, authoritative expert

Work about this type of misuse of English has been dealt with here –

http://canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/international_art_english

International Art English

by Alix Rule & David Levine

On the rise—and the space—of the art-world press release.

“International Art English” was produced by Triple Canopy as part of its Research Work project area, supported in part by the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Of this English upper-middle class speech we may note (a) that it is not localised in any one place, (b) that though the people who use this speech are not all acquainted with one another, they can easily recognise each other’s status by this index alone, (c) that this elite speech form tends to be imitated by those who are not of the elite, so that other dialect forms are gradually eliminated, (d) that the elite, recognising this imitation, is constantly creating new linguistic elaborations to mark itself off from the common herd.

—E. R. Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure, 1954an13

I work, intentionally, in the painting genre of the Western Discourse or tradition of Visual Art.
If I wished to express myself verbally I would have done that by writing poetry, literature, philosophy,
etc.

Please never  attempt to re-express my visual work in terms of words, especially of the art speak variety. That bizarre way of verbal expression employed in the English speaking world since roughly the 1960’s, a kind of franglais obtained from French and German. One finds this in other disciplines as well, for example ‘sociology’ and ‘philosophy’, especially when the authors are influenced by work from France and Germany (such as the Frankfurt Schule). An example of this appalling way of writing, using franglais and neologisms, so as to appear educated, informed and an expert is that of Strydom, Piet in his books on ‘sociology?’.

Melbourne Art Trams; Sydney fosters cultural hubs

2-253079-Main-476x357-2Callum Croker Melbourne Art Tram from 2014. Image: courtesy of Melbourne Festival

Public art should stop you in your tracks. Now in its third year, Melbourne Art Trams does just that, bringing to life the work of eight artists as their winning designs glide past commuters on the body of the city’s iconic trams.

A partnership between Melbourne Festival, Creative Victoria and Yarra Trams, the public art project is part of Melbourne Festival’s 2015 visual arts program.

This year’s creative focus for Melbourne Art Trams was conceived in association with MPavilion. Reflecting on the theme of ‘Architecture and the City’, artists have been inspired by the architecture, urban planning and interiors of Melbourne

Selected from over 145 proposals across Victoria, selected artists include Bird & Adams (Matthew Bird and Phillip Adams), Louise Forthun, Stephen Banham, James Voller, Kathy Temin, Amanda Morgan, Martine Corompt and emerging artist, Tom Vincent.

Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley  described the project as a ‘celebration of Victorian creativity’

‘This year’s selected designs reflect the diversity of our local creative industries – from a collaboration between an architect and a choreographer to works by a typographer, a street artist and a student designer,’ he said.

From koalas posing as commuters, to the familiar exteriors of Melbourne homes, we share a sneak peek of what is sure to delight commuters when Melbourne Art Trams grace our streets.http://visual.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/visual-arts/madeleine-dore/sneak-preview-melbourne-art-trams-2485612-253045-Main-476x357-2

The Walter Burley Griffin Incinerator. Image courtesy City of Sydney. 

While Sydney is brimming with creativity, it can sometimes be difficult for creative practitioners and cultural initiatives to find a foothold in the harbour city. As Cultural Projects Manager Marni Jackson explained, ‘The City of Sydney recognises that it’s a challenge for arts and creative practitioners to find affordable spaces in the city. We also recognise the value to the community of having artists, cultural organisations, creative enterprises, and creative activity operating at the heart of the city and contributing to its flavour and life.’

Through its policies and strategies, including the Cultural policy and action plan adopted in 2014, the City provides opportunities for artists and creatives to live, work, and operate in Sydney. Under the Accommodation Grants program, The City of Sydney leases community facilities, or space within facilities, at no charge or at a reduced rate. The grants support community groups, organisations and services that encourage community development, enhance social, cultural and environmental programs and services, and address community opportunities and needs.

Available facilities include a diverse range of buildings and spaces that vary in size, location and function. Depending on the program, retail, administrative and studio activities can be accommodated. Jackson explained that some properties ‘may have been used for civic use in the past but are no longer needed operationally. These go back into community use for cultural or social uses.’ This includes four properties being offered as part of the next round of Accommodation Grants which opens on 6 July.  ‘All of these four could be available to groups who are undertaking creative practice, or want to benefit the community through creative and cultural uses,’ Jackson said.

The Walter Burley Griffin Incinerator on Forsyth Street in Glebe is one such property. Ideal for an experienced group of up to 20 people operating a community-focused service, the flexible, open-plan 70 square metre space could be used by a community, cultural or environmental organisation. The distinctive modernist building sits in landscaped surrounds close to public transport on the Glebe foreshore, overlooking to the north the Anzac Bridge and Blackwattle Bay.

In the heart of the same suburb, on St John’s Road about 400 metres from Glebe Point Road, sits the heritage-listed Glebe Town Hall. Organisations with a community focus will be excited by the opportunities presented by the spaces here. A 36 square metre workshop suitable for wet and dry use, and a 10 square metre storage room, are available for an organisation intending to engage with the local community. Activities can be undertaken in the Hall’s three different facilities that can be booked for use. With other current accommodation grant tenants in the Hall including the Glebe Community Development Project and the Glebe Early Childhood Centre, there is great potential to bring artistic or other cultural activities into the mix.

South of the CBD another Town Hall is opening its doors. The Waterloo Town Hall, a two storey Victorian-Italianate building on Elizabeth Street, houses the Waterloo Library. Here, two 36 square metre spaces are on offer for those keen to engage with the Library’s public programs. With potential to be transformed into offices, writing workshop spaces or learning labs, these spaces in this landmark building present an exciting opportunity for literature-based or other cultural programs working in tandem with the local community.

Another wonderful opportunity to engage with local community is on offer in a harbourside setting. The Abraham Mott Activity Centre, located close to the Walsh Bay arts precinct on Argyle Street in Millers Point, has available a multi-purpose 61 square metre space ideal for workshops, art classes and meetings, and is accompanied by office and storage areas. If you can see your organisation using these as a base for programming events for the Millers Point community in the Activity Centre, this site could be for you.

Jackson explained that the benefits of the Accommodation Grants Program are felt by the community as well as by the creative and cultural practitioners themselves. ‘One of the things the programs allow people to do is test ideas. They may want to do one thing, but once they start they realise there’s benefit to doing things a different way, collaborating with different people, bringing a different model into play.’

Applicants to the Accomodation Grants Program can apply for up to 100% rent subsidy. ‘Because they’re in a subsidised space and don’t have demands to make really high rent for example, there is more room to experiment and test. The benefit to that process has been very important to some of the people who’ve participated in our programs over the years. You can adjust what you’re doing along the way, try out new things and benefit from that.’

So if you or your collective have a great idea, and all you need is a space to get your dream off the ground, make sure you check out these four spaces on offer through the City of Sydney’s Accomodation Grants Program – you never know, you might come across your new creative home.

Applications for the next round are open from 6 July, and close 3 August 2015.

For more information, visit the City of Sydney Accommodation Grants Program. 

For property inspection times and to book viewings, visit the following links:

The Walter Burley Griffin Incinerator, Glebe

Glebe Town Hall, Glebe

Waterloo Town Hall, Waterloo

Abraham Mott Activity Centre, Millers Point

About the author

Chloe Wolifson is a Sydney-based independent art writer and curator who works across artist-run, commercial and public domains.

chloewolifson.com

International Art English: appearing informed, expert, sophisticated

http://canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/international_art_englishPP-abcberlin-630x315

Of this English upper-middle class speech we may note (a) that it is not localised in any one place, (b) that though the people who use this speech are not all acquainted with one another, they can easily recognise each other’s status by this index alone, (c) that this elite speech form tends to be imitated by those who are not of the elite, so that other dialect forms are gradually eliminated, (d) that the elite, recognising this imitation, is constantly creating new linguistic elaborations to mark itself off from the common herd.

—E. R. Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure, 1954

The internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated.

In what follows, we examine some of the curious lexical, grammatical, and stylistic features of what we call International Art English. We consider IAE’s origins, and speculate about the future of this language through which contemporary art is created, promoted, sold, and understood. Some will read our argument as an overelaborate joke. But there’s nothing funny about this language to its users. And the scale of its use testifies to the stakes involved. We are quite serious.

Hypothesis

IAE, like all languages, has a community of users that it both sorts and unifies. That community is the art world, by which we mean the network of people who collaborate professionally to make the objects and nonobjects that go public as contemporary art: not just artists and curators, but gallery owners and directors, bloggers, magazine editors and writers, publicists, collectors, advisers, interns, art-history professors, and so on. Art world is of course a disputed term, but the common alternative—art industry—doesn’t reflect the reality of IAE. If IAE were simply the set of expressions required to address a professional subject matter, we would hardly be justified in calling it a language. IAE would be at best a technical vocabulary, a sort of specialized English no different than the language a car mechanic uses when he discusses harmonic balancers or popper valves. But by referring to an obscure car part, a mechanic probably isn’t interpellating you as a member of a common world—as a fellow citizen, or as the case may be, a fellow traveler. He isn’t identifying you as someone who does or does not get it.

When the art world talks about its transformations over recent decades, it talks about the spread of

biennials. Those who have tried to account for contemporary art’s peculiar nonlocal language tend to see it as the Esperanto of this fantastically mobile and glamorous world, as a rational consensus arrived at for the sake of better coordination. But that is not quite right. Of course, if you’re curating an exhibition that brings art made in twenty countries to Dakar or Sharjah, it’s helpful for the artists, interns, gallerists, and publicists to be communicating in a common language. But convenience can’t account for IAE. Our guess is that people all over the world have adopted this language because the distributive capacities of the Internet now allow them to believe—or to hope—that their writing will reach an international audience. We can reasonably assume that most communication about art today still involves people who share a first language: artists and fabricators, local journalists and readers. But when an art student in Skopje announces her thesis show, chances are she’ll email out the invite in IAE. Because, hey—you never know.

To appreciate this impulse and understand its implications, we need only consider e-flux, the art world’s flagship digital institution. When it comes to communication about contemporary art, e-flux is

the most powerful instrument and its metonym. Anton Vidokle, one of its founders, characterizes the project as an artwork.1 Essentially, e-flux is a listserv that sends out roughly three announcements per day about contemporary-art events worldwide. Because of the volume of email, Vidokle has suggested that e-flux is really only for people who are “actively involved” in contemporary art.

There are other ways of exchanging this kind of information online. A service like Craigslist could separate events by locality and language. Contemporary Art Daily sends out illustrated mailings featuring exhibitions from around the world. But e-flux channels the art world’s aspirations so perfectly: You must pay to send out an announcement, and not every submission is accepted. Like everything the art world values, e-flux is curated. For-profit galleries are not eligible for e-flux’s core announcement service, so it is also plausibly not commercial. And one can presume—or at very least imagine—that everyone in the art world reads it. (The listserv has twice as many subscribers as the highest-circulation contemporary-art publication, Artforum—never

1 “In its totality, e-flux is a work of art that uses circulation

the most powerful instrument and its metonym. Anton Vidokle, one of its founders, characterizes the project as an artwork.1 Essentially, e-flux is a listserv that sends out roughly three announcements per day about contemporary-art events worldwide. Because of the volume of email, Vidokle has suggested that e-flux is really only for people who are “actively involved” in contemporary art.

There are other ways of exchanging this kind of information online. A service like Craigslist could separate events by locality and language. Contemporary Art Daily sends out illustrated mailings featuring exhibitions from around the world. But e-flux channels the art world’s aspirations so perfectly: You must pay to send out an announcement, and not every submission is accepted. Like everything the art world values, e-flux is curated. For-profit galleries are not eligible for e-flux’s core announcement service, so it is also plausibly not commercial. And one can presume—or at very least imagine—that everyone in the art world reads it. (The listserv has twice as many subscribers as the highest-circulation contemporary-art publication, Artforum—never

1 “In its totality, e-flux is a work of art that uses circulation both as form and content,” Vidokle told Dossier in 2009, after an interviewer asked whether e-flux—by that time quite profitable—was art or a business.

mind the forwards!) Like so much of the writing about contemporary art that circulates online, e-flux press releases are implicitly addressed to the art world’s most important figures—which is to say that they are written exclusively in IAE.

We’ve assembled all thirteen years of e-flux press announcements, a collection of texts large enough to represent patterns of linguistic usage. Many observations in this essay are based on an analysis of that corpus.

Sketch Engine Module 1: Concordance

In order to examine the stylistic tendencies of International Art English, we entered every e-flux announcement published since the listserv’s launch in 1999 into Sketch Engine, a concordance generator developed by Lexical Computing. Sketch Engine allows you to analyze usage in a variety of ways, including concordances, syntactical behavior, and word usage over time. We invite you to follow our analysis by using Sketch Engine to do your own searches. Click on the blue dates to see original articles, and the red words to see sentences.

Vocabulary

The language we use for writing about art is oddly pornographic: We know it when we see it. No one would deny its distinctiveness. Yet efforts to define it inevitably produce squeamishness, as if describing the object too precisely might reveal one’s particular, perhaps peculiar, investments in it. Let us now break that unspoken rule and describe the linguistic features of IAE in some detail.

IAE has a distinctive lexicon: aporia, radically, space, proposition, biopolitical, tension, transversal, autonomy. An artist’s work inevitably interrogates, questions, encodes, transforms, subverts, imbricates, displaces—though often it doesn’t do these things so much as it serves to, functions to, or seems to (or might seem to) do these things. IAE rebukes English for its lack of nouns: Visual becomes visuality, global becomes globality, potential becomes potentiality, experience becomes … experiencability.

Space is an especially important word in IAE and can refer to a raft of entities not traditionally thought of as spatial (the space of humanity) as well as ones that are in most circumstances quite obviously spatial (the space of the gallery). An announcement for the 2010 exhibition “Jimmie

Durham and His Metonymic Banquet,” at Proyecto de Arte Contemporáneo Murcia in Spain, had the artist “questioning the division between inside and outside in the Western sacred space”—the venue was a former church—“to highlight what is excluded in order to invest the sanctum with its spatial purity. Pieces of cement, wire, refrigerators, barrels, bits of glass and residues of ‘the sacred,’ speak of the space of the exhibition hall … transforming it into a kind of ‘temple of confusion.’”

Spatial and nonspatial space are interchangeable in IAE. The critic John Kelsey, for instance, writes that artist Rachel Harrison “causes an immediate confusion between the space of retail and the space of subjective construction.” The rules for space in this regard also apply to field, as in “the field of the real”—which is where, according to art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty, “the parafictional has one foot.” (Prefixes like para-, proto-, post-, and hyper– expand the lexicon exponentially and Germanly, which is to say without adding any new words.) It’s not just that IAE is rife with spacey terms like intersection, parallel, parallelism, void, enfold, involution, and platform. IAE’s literary conventions actually favor the hard-to-picture spatial metaphor: A practice “spans” from drawing

all the way to artist’s books; Matthew Ritchie’s works, in the words of Artforum, “elegantly bridge a rift in the art-science continuum”; Saâdane Afif “will unfold his ideas beyond the specific and anecdotal limits of his Paris experience to encompass a more general scope, a new and broader dimension of meaning.”

And so many ordinary words take on nonspecific alien functions. “Reality,” writes artist Tania Bruguera, in a recent issue of Artforum, “functions as my field of action.” Indeed: Reality occurs four times more frequently in the e-flux corpus than in the British National Corpus (BNC), which represents British English usage in the second half of the twentieth century.2 The real appears 2,148 times per million units in the e-flux corpus versus a mere 12 times per million in the BNC–about 179 times more often. One exhibit invites “the public to experience the perception of colour, spatial orientation and other forms of engagement with reality”; another “collects models of contemporary realities and sites of conflict”; a show called “Reality Survival Strategies” teaches us that the “sub real is … formed of the leftovers of reality.”

2 Using Sketch Engine’s parts-per-million calculator, we can measure the frequency of words in IAE relative to their usage in other corpora. For instance, the website of the BNC, which is searchable on Sketch Engine, describes the corpus as “a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources.” Searching for “reality” in the e-flux corpus returns 1,957 hits, which represents 313.7 hits per million; searching for “reality” in the significantly larger BNC returns 7,196 hits, which represents only 64.1 hits per million. In other words, reality plays a much more prominent role in International Art English than in British English.

Occurrences of reality in the e-flux corpus.

Occurrences of reality in the British National Corpus.

Syntax

Let us turn to a press release for Kim Beom’s “Animalia,” exhibited at REDCAT last spring: “Through an expansive practice that spans drawing, sculpture, video, and artist books, Kim contemplates a world in which perception is radically questioned. His visual language is characterized by deadpan humor and absurdist propositions that playfully and subversively invert expectations. By suggesting that what you see may not be what you see, Kim reveals the tension between internal psychology and external reality, and relates observation and knowledge as states of mind.”

Here we find some of IAE’s essential grammatical characteristics: the frequency of adverbial phrases such as “radically questioned” and double adverbial terms such as “playfully and subversively invert.” The pairing of like terms is also essential to IAE, whether in particular parts of speech (“internal psychology and external reality”) or entire phrases. Note also the reliance on dependent clauses, one of the most distinctive features of art-related writing. IAE prescribes not only that you open with a dependent clause, but that you follow it up with as many more as possible, embedding the action

The structure of a typical IAE sentence.

deep within the sentence, effecting an uncanny stillness. Better yet: both an uncanny stillness and a deadening balance.

IAE always recommends using more rather than fewer words. Hence a press release for a show called “Investigations” notes that one of the artists “reveals something else about the real, different information.” And when Olafur Eliasson’s Yellow Fog “is shown at dusk—the transition period between day and night—it represents and comments on the subtle changes in the day’s rhythm.” If such redundancies follow from this rule, so too do groupings of ostensibly unrelated items. Catriona Jeffries Gallery writes of Jin-me Yoon: “Like an insect, or the wounded, or even a fugitive,

Yoon moves forward with her signature combination of skill and awkwardness.” The principle of antieconomy also accounts for the dependence on lists in IAE. This is illustrated at inevitable length in the 2010 press release announcing the conference “Cultures of the Curatorial,” which identifies “the curatorial” as “forms of practice, techniques, formats and aesthetics … not dissimilar to the functions of the concepts of the filmic or the literary” that entail “activities such as organization, compilation, display, presentation, mediation or publication … a multitude of different, overlapping and heterogeneously coded tasks and roles.”3

3 Similarly, White Flag Projects describes Daniel Lefcourt’s 2012 exhibition, “Mockup,” as “a storage room, a stage set, a mausoleum, a trade show, a diagram, a game board, a studio, a retail store, a pictograph, a classroom, a museum display, an architectural model, and a sign-maker’s workshop.”

Reading the “Animalia” release may lead to a kind of metaphysical seasickness. It is hard to find a footing in this “space” where Kim “contemplates” and “reveals” an odd “tension,” but where in the end nothing ever seems to do anything. And yet to those of us who write about art, these contortions seem to be irresistible, even natural. When we sense ourselves to be in proximity to something serious and art related, we reflexively reach for subordinate clauses. The question is why. How did we end up writing in a way that sounds like inexpertly translated French?

Genealogy

If e-flux is the crucible of today’s IAE, the journal October is a viable candidate for the language’s point of origin. In the pages of October, founded in 1976, an American tradition of formalist art criticism associated with Clement Greenberg collided with continental philosophy. October‘s editors, among them art historians Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, saw contemporary criticism as essentially slovenly and belle lettristic; they sought more rigorous interpretive criteria, which led them to translate and introduce to an English-speaking audience many French poststructuralist texts.4 The shift in criticism represented by October had an enormous impact on the interpretation and evaluation of art and also changed the way writing about art sounded.

Consider Krauss’s “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” published in 1979: “Their failure is also encoded onto the very surface of these works: the doors having been gouged away and anti-structurally encrusted to the point where they bear their inoperative condition on their face, the Balzac having been executed with such a degree of subjectivity that not even Rodin believed (as letters

4 IAE is rarely referred to as writing, much less prose, though on occasion art people want to write, or claim to have written, an “essay,” which at least has its etymological roots in the right place. The choice of text—fungible, indifferent, forbidding—says much about how writing has come to be understood in the art world. Texts, of course, are symptomatic on the part of their authors, and readers may glean from them multiple meanings. The richness of a text has everything to do with its shiftiness.

by him attest) that the work would be accepted.” Krauss translated Barthes, Baudrillard, and Deleuze for October, and she wrote in a style that seemed forged in those translations. So did many of her colleagues. A number of them were French and German, so presumably translated themselves in real time.

Many of IAE’s particular lexical tics come from French, most obviously the suffixes -ion, -ity, -ality, and -ization, so frequently employed over homier alternatives like -ness. The mysterious proliferation of definite and indefinite articles—“the political,” “the space of absence,” “the recognizable and the repulsive”—are also French imports. Le vide, for instance, could mean “empty things” in general—evidently the poststructuralists’ translators preferred the monumentality of “The Void.”

Le vide occurs 20.9 times per million in the French Web Corpus; the void occurs only 1.3 times per million in the BNC, but 9.8 times per million in the e-flux corpus. (Sketch Engine searches are not case sensitive.) The word multitude, the same in English and French, appears 141 times in e-flux press releases. A lot appears 102 times.French is probably also responsible for the prepositional and adverbial phrases that are so

common in IAE: simultaneously, while also, and, of course, always already. Many tendencies that IAE has inherited are not just specific to French but to the highbrow written French that the poststructuralists appropriated, or in some cases parodied (the distinction was mostly lost in translation). This kind of French features sentences that go on and on and make ample use of adjectival verb forms and past and present participles. These have become art writing’s stylistic signatures.5

French is not IAE’s sole non-English source. Germany’s Frankfurt School was also a great influence on the October generation; its legacy can be located in the liberal use of production, negation, and totality. Dialectics abound. (Production is used four times more often in the e-flux corpus than in the BNC, negation three times more often, totality twice as often. Dialectics occurs six times more often in the e-flux corpus than in the BNC; at 9.9 instances per million, dialectics is nearly as common to IAE as sunlight to the BNC.) One press release notes that “humanity has aspired to elevation and desired to be free from alienation of and subjugation to gravity. … This

5 The release for Aaron Young’s 2012 show at the Company, “No Fucking Way,” reads: “This blurring of real and constructed, only existing in the realm of performance, speculation and judgment, implicates the viewer in its consumption, since our observation of these celebrities will always be mediated.”

physical and existential dialectic, which is in a permanent state of oscillation between height and willful falling, drives us to explore the limits of balance.” Yes, the assertion here is that standing up is a dialectical practice.

October’s emulators mimicked both the deliberate and unintentional features of the journal’s writing, without discriminating between the two. Krauss and her colleagues aspired to a kind of analytic precision in their use of words, but at several degrees’ remove those same words are used like everyday language: anarchically, expressively. (The word dialectic has a precise, some would say scientific, meaning, but in IAE it is normally used for its affective connotation: It means good.) At the same time, the progeny of October elevated accidents of translation to the level of linguistic norms.

IAE channels theoretical influences more or less aesthetically, sedimented in a style that combines their inflections and formulations freely and continually incorporates new ones.6 (Later art writing would trouble, for instance, and queer.) Today the most authoritative writers cheerfully assert that criticism lacks a sense of what it is or

6 It’s hard to pinpoint the source of some of IAE’s favorite tics. Who is to blame for the idle inversion? Chiasmus is at least as much Marxist as poststructuralist. We could look to Adorno, for whom “myth is already Enlightenment; and Enlightenment reverts to mythology.” Benjamin, in his famous last line of “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” writes about fascism’s aestheticization of politics as opposed to communism’s politicization of art. David Lewis, reviewing a George Condo exhibition in Artforum, writes that the artist’s “subject matter, ranging from whores to orgies and clowns, is banal but never about banality, and Condo does not seem to really ‘play’ with bad taste—it appears instead that bad taste plays with him.”

does: Unlike in the years following October’s launch, there are no clearly dominant methodologies for interpreting art. And yet, the past methodologies are still with us—not in our substantive interpretations, but in the spirit and letter of the art world’s universally foreign language.7

7 IAE conveys the sense of political tragedy: Everything is straining as hard as it can to be radical in a context where agency is perennially fucked, forever, for everyone. Art must, by lexical design, “interrogate” and “problematize” and “blur boundaries” and even “highlight blurred boundaries.” But the grammatical structures make failure a foregone conclusion. (Thinking of these structures as social structures conjures up a world—borrowed vaguely, and wrongly, from Marx—in which thinkable action is doomed.) Of course, not all art is actually working to make revolution, and neither are art institutions that provide “platforms” for such work. But once artists themselves start making work that is expressed in these terms, such statements do become trivially true: Art does aim to interrogate and so on. Even the most naive attempts at direct action are absorbed by this language. An artist turns his museum residency into a training camp for activists, which the museum’s press release renders as “a site for sustained inquiry into protest strategies and activist discourse” that “attempts to embody the organic, dynamic processes of the protest in action.” The activity dies in language—the museum, on the other hand, “emerge[s] as a contested site.”
Sketch Engine Module 2:
Word Sketch

Sketch Engine permits you to get a global picture of a word’s behavior by doing a “Word Sketch.” Here you can see the various ways in which a word is deployed and the frequency with which it is paired with other words all at once. Select “Word Sketch” in the sidebar, enter the word you’re looking for in the “Lemma” field, and then select the grammatical form of the word for which you’re searching.

Authority

We hardly need to point out what was exclusionary about the kind of writing that Anglo art criticism cultivated. Such language asked more than to be understood, it demanded to be recognized. Based on so many idiosyncrasies of translation, the language that art writing developed during the October era was alienating in large part because it was legitimately alien. It alienated the English reader as such, but it distanced you less the more of it you could find familiar. Those who could recognize the standard feints were literate. Those comfortable with the more esoteric contortions likely had prolonged contact with French in translation or, at least, theory that could pass for having been translated. So art writing distinguished readers. And it allowed some writers to sound more authoritative than others.

Authority is relevant here because the art world does not deal in widgets. What it values is fundamentally symbolic, interpretable. Hence the ability to evaluate—the power to deem certain things and ideas significant and critical—is precious. Starting in the 1960s, the university became the privileged route into the rapidly growing American art world. And in October’s

wake, that world systematically rewarded a particular kind of linguistic weirdness. One could use this special language to signal the assimilation of a powerful kind of critical sensibility, one that was rigorous, politically conscious, probably university trained. In a much expanded art world this language had a job to do: consecrate certain artworks as significant, critical, and, indeed, contemporary. IAE developed to describe work that transcended the syntax and terminology used to interpret the art of earlier times.

It did not take long for the mannerisms associated with a rather lofty critical discourse to permeate all kinds of writing about art. October sounded seriously translated from its first issue onward. A decade later, much of the middlebrow Artforum sounded similar. Soon after, so did artists’ statements, exhibition guides, grant proposals, and wall texts. The reasons for this rapid adoption are not so different from those which have lately caused people all over the world to opt for a global language in their writing about art. Whatever the content, the aim is to sound to the art world like someone worth listening to, by adopting an approximation of its elite language.

But not everyone has the same capacity to

approximate. It’s often a mistake to read art writing for its literal content; IAE can communicate beautifully without it. Good readers are quite sensitive to the language’s impoverished variants. An exhibition guide for a recent New York City MFA show, written by the school’s art-history master’s students, reads: “According to [the artist] the act of making objects enables her to control the past and present.” IAE of insufficient complexity sounds both better and worse: It can be more lucid, so its assertions risk appearing more obviously ludicrous. On the other hand, we’re apt to be intimidated by virtuosic usage, no matter what we think it means. An e-flux release from a leading German art magazine refers to “elucidating the specificity of artistic research practice and the conditions of its possibility, rather than again and again spelling out the dialectics (or synthesis) of ‘art’ and ‘science.'” Here the magazine distinguishes itself by reversing the normal, affirmative valence of dialectic in IAE. It accuses the dialectic of being boring. By doing so the magazine implicitly lays claim to a better understanding of dialectics than the common reader, a claim that is reinforced by the suggestion that this particular dialectic is so tedious as to be interchangeable with an equally tedious synthesis. What dialectic

actually denotes is negligible. What matters is the authority it establishes.

Sketch Engine Module 3:
Histogram

To generate your own histogram, do a concordance search for the word of your choice. Then, in the sidebar, select “Frequency.” In the new window, select the type of analysis you want to do (e.g., by year or by institution) in the “Text Type Frequency Distribution” panel, and then click “Frequency List.”

Implosion

Say what you will about biennials. Nothing has changed contemporary art more in the past decade than the panoptic effects of the Internet. Before e-flux, what had the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to do with the Pinakothek der Moderne München? And yet once their announcements were sent out on the same day, they became relevant—legible—to one another. The same goes for the artists whose work was featured in them, and for the works themselves. Language in the art world is more powerful than ever. Despite all the biennials, most of the art world’s attention, most of the time, is online. For the modal reader of e-flux, the artwork always arrives already swaddled in IAE.

Because members of today’s art world elite have no monopolies on the interpretation of art, they recognize each other mostly through their mobility. Nevertheless, the written language they’ve inherited continues to attract more and more users, who are increasingly diverse in their origins. With the same goals in mind as their Anglophone predecessors, new users can produce this language copiously and anonymously. The press release, appearing as it does mysteriously in God knows whose inboxes, is where attention is

concentrated. It’s where IAE is making its most impressive strides.

The collective project of IAE has become actively global. Acts of linguistic mimicry and one-upmanship now ricochet across the Web. (Usage of the word speculative spiked unaccountably in 2009; 2011 saw a sudden rage for rupture; transversal now seems poised to have its best year ever.)8 Their perpetrators have fewer means of recognizing one another’s intentions than ever. We hypothesize that the speed at which analytic terms are transformed into expressive, promotional tokens has increased.

As a language spreads, dialects inevitably emerge. The IAE of the French press release is almost too perfect: It is written, we can only imagine, by French interns imitating American interns imitating American academics imitating French academics.9 Scandinavian IAE, on the other hand, tends to be lousy.10 Presumably its writers are hampered by false confidence—with their complacent non-native fluency in English, they have no ear for IAE.

8 For how to interpret Sketch Engine histograms, please consult this gallery.
9 We should not suppose that because of their privileged historical relationship to IAE, the French have any better idea of what they’re saying. “[Nico] Dockxs [sic] work continually develops in confrontation with, and in relation to, other actors,” reads an e-flux press release from Centre International d’Art et du Paysage Ile de Vassivière. “On this occasion he has invited [two collaborators] … to accompany him in producing the exhibition, which they intend to enrich with new collaborations and new elements throughout the duration of the show. The project … is a repetition and an evolution, an improvisation on the favourable terrain that is time.”
10 Consider the relatively impoverished IAE of this announcement for the 2006 Helsinki biennial: “Art seeks diverse ways of understanding reality. Kiasmas [sic] international exhibition ARS 06 focuses on meaning of art as part of the reality of our time. The subtitle of the exhibition is Sense of the Real.” The vocabulary is correct if unadventurous, including both “reality” and “the Real.” But the grammar is appalling: The sentences are too short, too direct; the very title of the exhibition surely includes at least one too few articles. The release suggests that its authors are not consummate users of IAE, but popularizers, reductionists, and possibly conservatives who know nothing about “the Real.”

The London collective BANK’s Press Release (1998) invited the public to join in combating the “particular linguistic manifestation” that had come to characterize exhibition press releases and gallery texts. Click here to view the corrected releases.

An e-flux release for the 2006 Guangzhou Triennial, aptly titled “Beyond,” reads: “An extraordinary space of experimentation for modernization takes the Pearl River Delta”—the site of a planned forty-million-person megacity—“as one of the typical developing regions to study the contemporary art within the extraordinary modernization framework that is full of possibilities and confusion. Pearl River Delta (PRD) stands for new space strategies, economic patterns and life styles. Regard this extraordinary space as a platform for artistic experimentation and practice. At the same time, this also evokes a unique and inventive experimental sample.” This is fairly symptomatic of a state of affairs in which the unwitting emulators of Bataille in translation might well be interns in the Chinese Ministry of Culture—but then again might not. The essential point is that learning English may now hardly be a prerequisite for writing proficiently in the language of the art world.

At first blush this seems to be just another victory over English, promising an increasingly ecstatic semantic unmooring of the art writing we’ve grown accustomed to. But absent the conditions that motored IAE’s rapid development, the language may now be in existential peril. IAE has never had a

codified grammar; instead, it has evolved by continually incorporating new sources and tactics of sounding foreign, pushing the margins of intelligibility from the standpoint of the English speaker. But one cannot rely on a global readership to feel properly alienated by deviations from the norm.11

We are not the first to sense the gravity of the situation. The crisis of criticism, ever ongoing, seemed to reach a fever pitch at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Art historian and critic Sven Lütticken lamented that criticism has become nothing more than “highbrow copywriting.” The idea that serious criticism has somehow been rendered inoperative by the commercial condition of contemporary art has been expressed often enough in recent years, yet no one has convincingly explained how the market squashed criticism’s authority. Lütticken’s formulation is revealing: Is it that highbrow criticism can no longer claim to sound different than copy? Critics, traditionally the elite innovators of IAE, no longer appear in control. Indeed, they seem likely to be beaten at their own game by anonymous antagonists who may or may not even know they’re playing.

11 If IAE is taken to be inclusive precisely because it is not highbrow English, then it is no longer effectively creating the distinctions that have driven its evolution.

Guangzhou again: “The City has been regarded as a newly-formed huge collective body that goes beyond the established concept of city. It is an extraordinary space and experiment field that covers all the issues and is free of time and space limit.” This might strike a confident reader of IAE as a decent piece of work: We have a redundantly and yet vaguely defined phenomenon transcending “the established concept” of its basic definition; we have time and space; we have a superfluous definite article. But the article is in the wrong place; it should be “covers all issues and is free from the time and space limit.” Right? Who wrote this? But wait. Maybe it’s avant-garde.

Can we imagine an art world without IAE? If press releases could not telegraph the seriousness of their subjects, what would they simply say? Without its special language, would art need to submit to the scrutiny of broader audiences and local ones? Would it hold up?

If IAE implodes, we probably shouldn’t expect that the globalized art world’s language will become neutral and inclusive. More likely, the elite of that world will opt for something like conventional highbrow English and the reliable distinctions it imposes.

Maybe in the meantime we should enjoy this decadent period of IAE. We should read e-flux press releases not for their content, not for their technical proficiency in IAE, but for their lyricism, as we believe many people have already begun to do.12 Take this release, reformatted as meter:

Peter Rogiers is toiling through the matter
with synthetic resin and cast aluminum
attempting to generate
an oblique and “different” imagery
out of sink with what we recognize
in “our” world.

Therein lies the core
and essence of real artistic production—the desire
to mould into plastic shape
undermining visual recognition
and shunt man onto the track
of imagination.
Peter Rogiers is and remains
one of those sculptors who averse from all
personal interests is stuck
with his art in brave stubbornness
to (certainly) not give into creating
any form of

12 A nod to Joseph Redwood-Martinez, who, as far as we can make out, was the first to note the poetic possibilities of the IAE press release.
languid art whatsoever.
His new drawing can further be considered
catching thought-moulds
where worlds tilt
and imagination
chases off grimy reality.

We have no idea who Peter Rogiers is, what he’s up to, or where he’s from, but we feel as though we would love to meet him.

Liam Gillick, Rescinded Production, 2008.

Sketch Engine Module 1: Concordance

In order to examine the stylistic tendencies of International Art English, we entered every e-flux announcement published since the listserv’s launch in 1999 into Sketch Engine, a concordance generator developed by Lexical Computing. Sketch Engine allows you to analyze usage in a variety of ways, including concordances, syntactical behavior, and word usage over time. We invite you to follow our analysis by using Sketch Engine to do your own searches. Click on the blue dates to see original articles, and the red words to see sentences.

10 new words to fake it in the art world

We take a look at new art language trending to set up you up to talk “art” – or not? You be the judge. 2-236851-Main-476x357-2

‘O’ used to be the way to go – ontology, oeuvre, ostensibly, objectification, not to mention the compulsion to use the pronoun ‘one’ in an objective manner, standing in for the writer with a kind of aloof elitism – authoritarian and undoubtedly artificial.

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We then moved to add “ality” on everything: spaciality, performativity, visuality, potentiality, and experientiality. We were no longer looking but rather had moved into the realm of interrogating, encoding, subverting, displacing and imbricating… No wonder we are a little confused where language is taking us.

While there has always been a level of backlash against artspeak, in recent years it has ramped up against the über-fashionable lingo that has been favoured by sectors of the arts world, in particular the visual arts.

In 2012, social theorists Alix Rule and David Levine published a paper in the online journal Triple Canopy, assigning the term International Art English (IAE) to artspeak as an attempt to scientifically prove the art world was driven by meaningless buzzwords in a style important from French theory. They ran 13 years of press releases through a computer to support their theory, which was received heavily and debated heartily.

The zeitgeist had shifted from using artspeak, to lampooning artspeak.

In August last year, the American apparel company Old Navy produced a cutting satire of artspeak to advertise its latest line of jeans, casting comedian Amy Poehler as the clichéd art dealer.

10 new words to fake it in the art world

Gina Fairley

We take a look at new art language trending to set up you up to talk “art” – or not? You be the judge.
10 new words to fake it in the art world

A screen grab of Old Navy (USA, 2014) television advertisement satirizing the pretentious language of the contemporary art world. Source Ottawacitizen.com

‘O’ used to be the way to go – ontology, oeuvre, ostensibly, objectification, not to mention the compulsion to use the pronoun ‘one’ in an objective manner, standing in for the writer with a kind of aloof elitism – authoritarian and undoubtedly artificial.

ADVERTISEMENT

We then moved to add “ality” on everything: spaciality, performativity, visuality, potentiality, and experientiality. We were no longer looking but rather had moved into the realm of interrogating, encoding, subverting, displacing and imbricating… No wonder we are a little confused where language is taking us.

While there has always been a level of backlash against artspeak, in recent years it has ramped up against the über-fashionable lingo that has been favoured by sectors of the arts world, in particular the visual arts.

In 2012, social theorists Alix Rule and David Levine published a paper in the online journal Triple Canopy, assigning the term International Art English (IAE) to artspeak as an attempt to scientifically prove the art world was driven by meaningless buzzwords in a style important from French theory. They ran 13 years of press releases through a computer to support their theory, which was received heavily and debated heartily.

The zeitgeist had shifted from using artspeak, to lampooning artspeak.

In August last year, the American apparel company Old Navy produced a cutting satire of artspeak to advertise its latest line of jeans, casting comedian Amy Poehler as the clichéd art dealer.VIDEO

Old Navy’s spoof on the art words, gets the help of commedian Amy Poehler to see jeans. Source: YouTube.

Not convinced? Then maybe the antithesis to Old Navy’s television ad, in terms of production levels, is  The Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator, again another stab at art language going back to a kind of pseudo scientific algorithm.

Author Robert Atkins launched the latest edition of his book, ArtSpeak (Abbeville Press, October 2013), to lukewarm responses; its 146 categories and jargonistic banter explained – to stick with our use of ‘O’ – words that by their very inclusion had become outdated, overriden and devoid of overtures with the speed of communication and linguistic trending today.

And, it goes without saying, the Twittersphere is the constant watchdog; it’s bark is loud and persistent.

Clearly, we have all become aware of the futility of artspeak. Our times demand that we communicate regularly, quickly, and often. Simply, there is no longer time for such experlatives.

So, then, how do you fake it in the art world today? How do you subtly indicate that you are abreast of the trends, have your eye on the market, and have a pulse for all things art…now?

We arm you with ten words that are guaranteed to make you sound like a pro.

1. Flipping

Flipping is a term assigned to collectors who chase works by up-and-coming artists with the intention of reselling them quickly, playing the art market in a speculative manner as one would with more traditional commodity trading. Some have said they art flipping has fueled the creation of a bubble in the contemporary art market. From 2011 through 2013, the number of works three years old and under that sold at auction topped 7,300 annually, compared with 4,023 in 2007 when the art market was peaking, according to research firm Artnet Worldwide. ArtsHub recently spoke with Wall Street Journalist Kelly Crow on this phenomenon.

2. Biennihilism

As biennales and triennials internationally have become increasingly formulaic – an elite club of super curators offering their next idea parachuted in for largely a tourism exercise – there has been a swelling feeling of Biennihilism against this exhibition model.

3. Fairtigue

With the number of art fairs now in triple figures, it was only a matter of time before we started suffering from Fairtigue. This term started to gain traction around 2012, and like art fairs themselves, has grown globally popular. It can be heard brandished by dealers and collectors alike, and will be sure to be on many’s lips this week as Art Stage Singapore kicks off.

4. Sharking

No – this is not about appropriating Damien Hirst.Sharking has been used by dealers to describe their own activities at art fair – hunting fresh collectors.

5. Bid Rigging

This term is not exclusive to the art market, but it is one that is whispered quietly. What does it mean? It usually refers to the collusion and price fixing among art dealers buying at auction. The New York Times explained it as: ‘It has long been rumored in the art world that some dealers try to buy on the cheap, by forming rings of dealers who agree to refrain from bidding against one other. The practice, called ”bid pooling” or ”bid rigging” inhibits prices from reaching their fair value at auction. Then the dealers resell the work at an exaggerated profit’

6. FOBOFF

An acronym for “fear of being ostracised by fair folk”, it is an art world spin off of the more popular version FOMO, or “fear of missing out”. Well we all know the art world is plagued by insecurities, but this term again refers to the art fair bandwagon – and fear of not being in the club by not dishing out the dollars to be part of it.

7. Cultural entrepreneur

Usually self-anointed with the term, a Cultural Entrepreneur (yes they would prefer capitals), is a person who advises individuals and institutions on purchases of contemporary art, presenting their personal savvy across the market, art history and social connection.

8. Foundress

It has nothing to do with metal work or a foundry. It is a self-appointed term, and one I recently came across in the United States, used to describe a philanthropist (female in this case) who has set up a foundation to support the arts.

9. Dribblite

A term used to describe a person who is blinkered by, and proliferates, the social dribble of the art world, that they have forgotten how to filter what they see and what they hear.

10. Social Practice

This one is getting a lot of “air play” lately, perhaps given that it so delightfully ticks the boxes of accountability for funding and institutions. The origin of the term social practice is somewhat mysterious, but Artnet describes it as a synonym for the following: public practice, participatory art, dialogical aesthetics, and relational aesthetics (a term coined by French theorist Nicolas Bourriaud). This term has become so embedded in the system that some university now offer a degree in social practice, the first being California College of the Arts in San Francisco, which established the first MFA program in social practice in 2005, ahead of the celebrated SPARC (Social Practice Arts Research Center) at the nearby University of California, Santa Cruz.

About the author
https://www.youtube.com/embed/_OJDHOGULKA“>VIDEO

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley.

Nine ways to build a career as a curator

2-253022-Main-476x357-2From internships to diversifying your work experience, four prominent arts curators share how passion and persistence are essential to developing a career as a curator

A screen grab of Amy Phoehler in Old Navy (USA, 2014), a television advertisement satirising the contemporary art world. Source Ottawacitizen.com

Carving out a career as a curator is not a straightforward journey. When a panel of four curators shared their experiences at the first of four Creative Careers seminars at Sydney’s Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on Saturday, they described doing extensive voluntary work, creating their own opportunities, strong mentors and ultimately passion and persistence to fulfill their curatorial dreams.

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Introducing the four panellists Roy Marchant, producer, public programs, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre said the aim of the Creative Careers series is to ‘open up and demystify how you break into creative careers’ such as writing, theatre or design. ‘It’s not like they have a specified career path,’ he said.

On the panel were Emily McDaniel, assistant curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) and freelance consultant; Miriam Kelly, curator, Artbank; Talia Linz, curator, Artspace Sydney; and Sian McIntyre, practising artist and director of Verge Gallery at the University of Sydney.

Their stories highlighted career paths that didn’t always run smoothly. There were wrong turns (Kelly and McIntyre started fashion design studies before realising the cut-throat fashion world wasn’t for them); false starts (Linz didn’t follow-through on an internship in London when it wasn’t what she was led to believe it would be) and times when change was necessary (after two years driving the volunteer-run The Paper Mill McIntyre said the people behind it were all burnt-out).

Here are their tips for people wanting to develop a career as a curator.

1. Seek out internships

Linz stressed the value of internships but advised people to choose them carefully. ‘The structure of them is so variable from organisation to organisation. I think a lot of the time people are just making it up.

‘There are organisations like the AGNSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the Biennale, that have set internship positions and they have callouts and application procedures. A lot of places don’t.’

She suggested targeting particular organisations and people that you want to work with. Or having a concrete idea of the experience you want to gain from a project and putting a cap on the time spent in an intern position.

2. Get voluntary experience

McDaniel first volunteered at the AGNSW when she was at 18 and studying at university.  That led to her becoming an educator at the AGNSW and the MCA.

‘I’ve never had an internship in a formal way but I have volunteered a lot and I’ve done a wide variety of things as well: everything from public programs to education, curatorial and all in between.’ She saw that as an important way to learn about the complexities and the types of jobs that exist in the arts.

‘It isn’t just artist and curator. There are many things in between that. There’s conservation, there’s media, there’s public programs, there’s visitors’ services,’ she said.

Kelly continues to volunteer by joining as many boards as she can most recently the board of Runway magazine. ‘It’s a wonderful way to expand my networks outside of Artbank and keep learning,’ she said.

Like Linz, McIntyre emphasised being selective about voluntary positions, saying: ‘Make sure that they are relevant and make sure that people aren’t taking you for a ride. With my volunteers I always make sure that we have projects where they can get proper professional practice experience,’ she said. ‘That was what I was able to do at the The Paper Mill and if I hadn’t been able to do that then all of those volunteer hours would have just been a waste.’

3. Create your own opportunities

‘What I would really recommend is if you’re not finding the opportunities you want, make your own opportunities,’ advised McDaniel, who turned her interest in electronic art into a series of audio-visual performance nights called Refraction when she was at university. ‘It’s not easy but actually the harder it is the better it is and the more you learn from that.’

McIntyre, too, said of her experience with The Paper Mill: ‘The beautiful thing about doing it yourself is that no-one is there to slap you over the wrist when you make a mistake.’

Linz deliberately chose a curatorial degree at the University of Toronto in Canada because the outcome wasn’t a thesis it was an curated exhibition on your own.

4. Be willing to do it all

Be prepared to do everything. Kelly confessed to being horrified on her first day volunteering with the ACT’s Megalo Print Studio and Gallery when she was asked to change a printer cartridge. She decided not to say anything because she felt she could learn a lot from the organisation and that decision paid off. ‘I got wonderful experience cataloguing their archive and then quite quickly after university a job came up there and because I’d had that experience working with them, they knew who I was, I got that job so thankfully I hadn’t made a fuss about the printer cartridge at the time.’

5. Build and maintain networks

As Linz pointed out the arts industry is relatively small in Australia and it’s important to ‘honour your networks’. ‘People move around a lot so it’s important to keep that network alive and be in touch with people,’ she said.

McDaniel, too, said the diversity of experience she gains from working one day a week as a freelance consultant and four days in her AGNSW role keeps her connected: ‘You can’t just sit in an organisation. You need to be connected to everyone and be connected with the current writing and exhibitions that are happening.’

6. Know when it’s time to get paid

McDaniel there comes a time when you have to be paid for your skills.

‘We volunteer and volunteer but there’s got to be a point where you become quite certain that you have a service that you’re offering people and I think that’s when you have to start being quite firm about getting a contribution towards what you’re doing.’

7. Don’t specialise too soon

It was only after building a wealth of experience through casual teaching at the AGNSW; creating Refraction; and volunteering that McDaniel began to specialise, working in a full-time position for a year at the Biennale of Sydney as the Aboriginal emerging curator. ‘It’s important not to get too specialised too quick. Do a lot, but after you’ve done your time, take a moment and curate your own career, pick what you want to do and what’s probably most beneficial.’

Linz agreed, adding a lot of organisations don’t have the resources to have specialist curators. ‘So versatility is important.’

8. Value mentors

All four panellists talked about the importance of mentors. ‘The biggest thing for me in my career trajectory is having strong mentors,’ said McDaniel.  ‘They have been very, very supportive of my career and I’ve certainly gotten positions through my affiliation with them and their strong recommendation of the work that I do.’

Kelly said she worked with her honours supervisor on a volunteer basis two years ago developing an exhibition in Australia that was then put together in India. ‘He was one of those people that I felt I needed to glean more from in terms of his skills.’

9. If at first you don’t succeed…

You won’t always get the job you want first time round. McIntyre applied for the job at Verge Gallery about three years before she was actually successful in getting the position. Linz applied for the role she had at the Biennale a year before she was successful in getting it. ‘In retrospect the year that I got it was the year I was supposed to get it,’ she said. ‘I think a lot of it is trusting that you’re on the right path. Sometimes it’s about creating your own opportunities but sometimes it’s about recognising which are opportunities you should take and which you just have to succumb to the fact that you missed out on that one.’

The next Creative Careers seminars at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre will be held on July 18 (writing and publishing); August 22 (design) and September 22 (theatre and film).

About the author

Christine Long is a Sydney freelance journalist

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For artists and designers, the days of having to schlep all their artwork to brick-and-mortar galleries, just to sell a few prints, are long gone. Today they can meet buyers from all across the world in virtual marketplaces to sell their creative work like digital art, photography, film, animation, comics, anime, stock images and more. They no longer have to invest huge amounts of time and money building their own stores as e-commerce websites have flourished which allow them to reach a wider market and sell their designs in a variety of products. It’s mostly free to set up, and the products are produced, shipped, and managed for artists – leaving them with only the designing to do.

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Art Markets,Collecting, Flipping, artworks I’ll buy Bert Kreuk

fotos-bert-7-2-2013-016-300x200

Rarely does an art collector find himself at the center of global gossip, or suddenly discover controversy about his collection spilled across the Internet and the press. But that’s exactly what happened to Dutch collector Bert Kreuk, who woke recently to find his name scrawled in the headlines: Artnet.com’s Alexander Forbes described him as an “art flipper,” Artforum deemed him “controversial,” and on his popular Twitter feed, Belgian collector Alain Servais called him “toxic.” (The tweet, which also referred to Kreuk as an “art flipper,” subsequently found its way into Forbes’ Artnet story.)

At issue: Kreuk’s $1.2 million lawsuit against Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo, who failed to deliver an artwork Kreuk commissioned for an exhibition of works from his collection at the Hague Gemeentemuseum last year.  (Kreuk came under fire as well after the exhibition, when he sold several of the works at Sotheby’s: many accused him of using the museum to add value to the art – a claim Kreuk vigorously denies.)

The situation, however, as well as its handling in the press, raises questions beyond the Vo lawsuit itself.  What does it mean to be a so-called “art flipper”? At what point can a collector reasonably divest from his collection without being accused of “flipping” the work: a year later? Five years? Does it really even matter? Even Servais himself acknowledges in the July issue of  ARTnews that he plans to sell a Frank Stella and a Gerhard Richter from his own collection.

The truth about art collecting is: tastes change. New artists emerge.  In the absence of infinite capital, sometimes you makes choices, selling works you no longer find as exciting in order to afford the ones you do – works that fit better with an organically growing collection.  Friends of mine, for instance, recently divested most of their collection, selling (among others), a Van Dongen and a Metzinger, and acquiring (among others) a Fontana, two Plensas, an Albers, and a Balkenhol.

Art collections – like most collections – are living things. They grow, evolve, morph into new collections; change rooms, change homes, and, on occasion, change owners. As Kreuk himself said when I interviewed him for Sotheby’s, “I am a very active buyer, which means that I have to constantly refine and update the collection, otherwise it gets unfocused. Selling is part of refining.”

But there’s another part of this story, and it was actually the main reason I wanted to address it myself: the sloppiness with which the press – and that includes the art press – has handled it. Neither the initial coverage by Holland’s RTL News nor Alexander Forbes’ summary of that report included statements from Kreuk or Vo.  In fact, Kreuk told me, no one even contacted him for confirmation – a simple matter of basic fact-checking.  (RTL did, he says, amend the original piece online after he complained to them, adding statements from his attorney.)

And so I contacted Mr. Kreuk, who sat down to speak with me again, this time about the allegations of “art flipping” and the situation with Danh Vo – and to talk a bit about what art collecting is really all about.

Abigail R. Esman: I was a bit surprised by the Artnet story, as perhaps you were as well. It seems to be about your lawsuit against Vo, but somehow it then turned into a name-calling game, attacking you as a collector — or in the article’s terms, “art-flipper.” I’m not sure how those two things are connected. Was there a part of the story that somehow wasn’t covered there? Has Vo accused you of “flipping” art?

Bert Kreuk: Of course he did, and so did others with little knowledge of my collection. It is too easy to label somebody as an art-flipper by ignoring the facts or not knowing how he or she is managing the collection; every collector manages his or her collection differently.

Yet I also think it is weird that Danh Vo is using the sale of some part of my collection at Sotheby’s in November 2013 to justify non-compliance to an agreement which was made 11 months before that!

ARE: What exactly was the agreement, and what happened when you asked Danh Vo to make good on it?

BK: First of all,  a decision to sue an artist is not lightly taken.  As a collector you will never win the sympathy contest with this. This is the first time in 20 years that I sue an artist in court, but I simply cannot accept the flagrant breech of an agreement.

What happened was: Danh Vo was selected as one of the artists to make an installation piece for the exhibition “Transforming The Known” [held at the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague in 2013].  He selected (and got) the best hall in the entire exhibition. Early January 2013, we extensively discussed his contribution – a commissioned work, which I would buy for $350,000 and add to my collection,  due before the opening in June 2013. Vo confirmed that this gave him more than enough time.

Yet just before the opening, and after having made all arrangements for five days of installation, Vo decided not to show up. So just one day before the opening, I had to completely rearrange the space. I can only speculate on the reasons, but a similar installation was shown and sold in the show at Kurimanzuttu in Mexico shortly after my exhibition.  To my mind, he should have been forthright if timing was an issue or if he had any problems with his gallery schedule or even if he had reached the conclusion that he now could sell it for more in Mexico. Whatever the reason, at least stay communicating. I could then have given the space to another artist and we would not be in the position we are in now.

ARE: How do you explain the amount of the suit, though – over $1 million? The work you purchased was only $350,000.

BK: In the last 12 months I have donated works, financed exhibitions and contributed to non-profit organizations, far in access of the amount in question. So it is not about the money, but about the principle of abiding by an agreement. That applies to collectors as well as to artists. One cannot try to justify a default by an event (selling some of my works at auction in November 2013) that took place more than 11 months after the fact.

In fact, in the interim, Danh Vo has already been ordered by the courts to finish another, different work in my collection, backed by an immediate due and payable fine of 40,000 euros and 2000 for each day of delay.  The remaining demand is simply for executing of the agreement from the Gemeentemuseum show – that is, delivery of that artwork —  or if for some reason he is not able,  then for me to be able to acquire a similar work on the secondary market. I want to make clear that the claim is a reflection of the value in the secondary market and has zero to do with profit losses.

ARE: To set the story straight, can you explain the chronology of events from when you decided to create the Gemeentemuseum exhibition and when you first contacted Sotheby’s about selling the works in that exhibition?

BK: During the almost two years of preparation that went into the exhibition “Transforming The Known,” I did extensive research into all of the  artists in the collection — not only for the exhibition narrative, but also in relation to other works in my collection. It was a great educational  journey. This additional knowledge taught me that some works were not, perhaps, the best examples of an artist’s work, , or were no longer relevant to the collection.  Plus, during the time it took to create the exhibition I had already added another 200 works of art, and the collection had started to get unfocused.

Meantime, Sotheby’s and I began discussing the possibility of doing something similar for S2.  The final decision for that, though, was not taken until after the Gemeentemuseum show.

I know that many have accused me of using the exhibition in the Hague  to increase the value or get an institutional seal of approval. But frankly, if that had been the case I would have shown my emerging collection in New York not The Hague. Most of the artists have never even been shown in the Netherlands before.  The fact is, in the end, you have good art and bad art. Bad art does not become good by showing it in a museum.

ARE: Much of the discussion here seems to be about whether you are a “bona fide collector” (whatever that is) or someone who is using art as a commodity, with a focus on money and value.  Where would you say you fall here?  Do you live with and enjoy your collection, and try to be involved in the art world itself, or is it, indeed, mostly an investment project for you as a businessman?

BK: Honestly, I couldn’t care less whether I am seen as a “bona fide collector,” especially by those who base their opinions on preconceived notions. Of course art has become an asset class: that reality is also reflected in the prices and I do not see any problem with that. Ironically, those in the art world who do object to this notion often profit from it at the same time.

Besides, almost every collector sells.. The difference is that I am open about it.  I do try to honor relationships by offering works back to the galleries that sold them, but sometimes they’re just not interested.    But buying and selling around 5000 works of art in the past 20 years has enabled me to build a great collection of about 800 works of the highest quality, from the Impressionist period up to the present.

That quality is the result of my way of collecting: I first and foremost buy art because I like to live with it. But yes, of course I look to the price next; it should have benchmark and make sense.  I constantly navigate between price and principle and ask myself for instance; do I buy one word painting by Christopher Wool, or 10 others on the list?

When you are such an active collector like I am, you cannot avoid the fact that you buy works that may later no longer seem relevant to the collection. It is a matter of constant refining, choices, education, evaluation and selection. Contemporary art is made every day, so as a collector I am continuously making choices.  And since I do not have a museum, I cannot collect all of the artists in my collection in depth. In the end, it is all and only about my vision for the collection.

ADDENDUM: The editors of RTL contacted me with the following update:

For the record: the fact checking for the initial coverage by RTL Nieuws was done with documents and a confirmation of Vo’s sollicitor. Mr Kreuk’s sollicitor was also asked for a statement, but didn’t return calls. Only after publication, she did. Her remarks were then added. A complaint of Kreuk was not made. The next week, Kreuk himself contacted us with new information on the case. This resulted in a follow up on the story.

In the updated story, which can be found here (in Dutch), Kreuk observes: “A collection like mine is the result of conscious, careful planning. I’ve sold works in order to make room for Vo’s work. Because he failed to deliver, I now have a gap in my collection.”

Additional update, September 11

I confess I had no idea that this was going to become such a he said, she said situation; but below is a response from Vo’s galleries to this article, which deserves, too, to be aired. Mr. Kreuk denies the statement, however.

Over the past few decades, a US-based Dutch businessman, Bert Kreuk, has assembled one of the most impressive collections of contemporary art anywhere in the world. It includes works by big-name artists such as Christopher Wool, Jeff Koons, Luc Tuymans and Damien Hirst, as well as more recent stars such as Matthew Day Jackson, Theaster Gates, Danh Vō, Klara Lidén and Kaari Upson. This month a selection of works from the collection goes on display in The Hague, so Artreview caught up with the collector to find out what motivates him and what he thinks a public showing of all this art can achieve.

Mark Rappolt

What made you want to show works from your collection in public?

Bert Kreuk

At a certain moment you have so many works that you say, ‘OK, what’s the fun of storing it all?’ – you can have only so much space in your own homes, even if you change it regularly. You can never see it all in one spot. Even here with this exhibition, it’s just a very small part of the collection. Many years ago I had this idea that I needed to show my art in order to make sense of it in a framework where everything flows, and that’s the ability that I have now, and that’s the reason I’m thinking, maybe slowly, but in the years to come that I will have my own space, to tell the whole story of the collection. Now it’s just bits and pieces.

How did you select which artists to include in this exhibition?

BK That’s the tough part. It is basically those artists who are really most intriguing, and I think can tell in their own unique way – an authentic way – what they’re trying to reveal in their art. There are a couple of young artists working now who can do that excellently, like Latifa Echakhch. All her art is about women’s rights, free speech and awareness in the Muslim world, but it also leaves room for interpretation. She guides you, but then it’s up to you to find what’s in your mind, what you like to see, and it’s this kind of artist that basically intrigues me. I have work by a lot of established artists – like Christopher Wool, Rudolf Stingel and Sherrie Levine – so I do want to show them as part of this show. I’m most interested in really conceptual art, because I started out collecting those artists.

How did you first start collecting contemporary art?

BK That’s a long time ago. At a certain moment I was involved with impressionist art. When you have collected that, and been involved in that collection, and you have the best, you start to be intrigued about what else is out there. And then I got in touch early on with work by Christopher Wool. He is basically an extension of the abstract and minimalistic ways of painting. He always says in his art, ‘It’s not about what I paint, but how I paint,’ and that’s important. That’s where I started to make the switch. If you look at Andy Warhol, he uses the screenprinting process, but it’s all about the image, what he wants to present – Christopher Wool was the other way round: he used the screenprinting process, but for him it’s not about what he’s presenting, the image, it’s about the process, and there is where it started to become interesting.

Is that connected to you being in America?

BK Yes, I think so. I was often in galleries in New York, where you are confronted with those artists. I come back regularly to Holland, but those artists who are really well known and shown in New York, like Stingel and Wool, were almost not recognised in Holland. That’s part of the reason behind this exhibition: I haven’t seen something like it before. It has to do with the fact that in New York the whole environment breeds talent. I always say a flower blooms better in full sunlight than in darkness, and all the right circumstances are there in New York, where those people can enhance each other. I don’t think you have that in Holland. They have initial talent in Holland and they bloom, but there’s not a group where you have lots of people talking to each other, enhancing each other and making good art, like you have with say the Brooklyn group that includes Matthew Day Jackson in New York. That’s why a great number of artists in my collection are American.

In your collection generally, are there Dutch artists? In terms of the contemporary part of it?

BK I almost bought a Marlene Dumas; she is a great artist, but I’m waiting for the right work. There’s so much offered to me which I don’t think holds up to the quality of the collection. Before I buy something I really have to research it, I really have to understand the art. I’m thorough. I’m not somebody who’s following the herd. I have to determine a purchase based on my own experience and knowledge of art. I have to understand what I’m buying, and it has to make sense. No, not many Dutch artists, but then again, I’m not really Dutch any more, because I’m living most of the time in America.

So what is it that makes you want to acquire a work of art?

BK I’ve owned a business for the last 30 years, and in business it’s all about money, and it’s all about working, and at a certain moment you come to a realisation that there’s more to life. It’s not about only chasing goals of business and money, so for me it’s like an educational process, trying to enhance your life with nice things around you, and to open yourself to the idea that people can make great works of art, and try to reveal ideas. Most of the time I’m very attracted to tough conceptual art with some political or social message. It’s about life. It’s about expanding your mind, to keep your brain working in a different way than just about commercial ways of thinking or doing things. I always said that the art was a counterbalance to what I was doing in business.

Are there kinds of works you wouldn’t buy? Do you have limits in terms of sex or violence?

BK No, when art is done for the right reasons, and it is uniquely done, and the artist is very truthful to what he is thinking, and he wants to communicate that in an artwork, then I don’t have a lot of limits. But it needs to be done for the right reasons. If he or she has done it only to shock, or to do something out of the ordinary because they think they can become more popular or get the conversation going, that doesn’t work. That’s why I’m doing a lot of research, because I’m trying to understand if they do it for the right reasons. If they don’t, I don’t buy it.

Are you similarly open about the work you have in your own house?

BK Yes. Very much so. There are skeletons in my home by Matthew Day Jackson. It’s eerie, but it tells the story of life and death, and as I said, when that is done for the right reasons, I don’t have a problem, because if I see it, it intrigues me, and it tells me the story about the artist, not about the skeleton. It’s not about anatomy but about the concept, and the intent of the artist.

I guess to some extent when people come to visit your exhibition, they will be forming a portrait of you through it.

BK Yes. If they look at the art, it is a very tough, social, political philosophy, and I always try to ask questions about what the world presents to me. Take Luc Tuymans. I was so intrigued about his painting called Studio, which I own, because it is all about manipulation of media. And we are living in a world where that kind of thing happens. It doesn’t really mean I agree or subscribe to their ideas fully, but you know, at least they are presenting an idea that keeps your mind working. If you look at my exhibition, it is about those artists who have a unique way of communicating. Most of the subjects interest me, but do I subscribe to the conclusion? That’s a different question.

What would you like people to take away from it?

BK You know, what I’d like them to take away is that art is not only about a nice two-dimensional picture. Art is also very much about learning, and about an educational process. People should look at an artwork, not because they think it’s ugly, or it’s beautiful, because ugly is a very subjective word. Something beautiful might be very superficial – somebody came up with an idea, made it commercial so that people buy it. That’s easy. It’s always easy to buy an artist who is clever enough to present something which is attractive, but staying truthful to the concept of their own ability and their own ideas, that’s something else. Ugly is maybe even nicer. It’s about the educational process, and helping people on their way to think differently about art. That’s what I’d like people to take away from it, that they have to think for themselves.


Do you ever find that you’ve bought a work that made complete sense at the time you bought it, and maybe five years later saying, ‘Oh my God, what was I thinking?’

BK Yes, there are works like that. I make mistakes. It’s all part of the learning process.

What was the first piece of art that you bought, and do you still have it?

BK I still have it, yes. It was an oceanic picture, but it’s somewhere in the guest room. I have an emotional connection with it. I don’t sell a lot of art. I try to keep those works, because it tells me about where I’m coming from; it tells me about the emotional value when I bought it, under what circumstances I bought it, so in that sense it doesn’t fit in the collection but it does fit in my story.

Do you commission much work?

BK No. I have a very big problem with the commissioning of work, because I don’t think you can push a button from an artist and expect a great work. It’s inspired by what, by you as a collector? OK, you can inspire them, but before you know it there is always this influence from the collector. There is always some kind of instruction. Inspiration’s good, but instruction… That’s why I don’t do it, I just buy it because I like it, but I hate when people say, ‘I have a nice space above my couch and I need something there’ – it doesn’t make sense. That’s nothing to do with art, that doesn’t have to do with art collecting in general. That’s not how I collect. I don’t think you get the best collection by doing that, honestly speaking.

What’s the attraction of political art?

BK Maybe it’s not to do so much with the politics, but I am a little bit rebellious, in the sense that I like artists to question the status quo. Usually people’s lives are configured in a certain way – that you have to have a job, you have to do this, you have to do that. It’s always within a structure, and that structure is basically laid upon us from society. But there are these artists who are questioning, why this, why that? I don’t subscribe to the conclusions from different artists, who are far left or far right or whatever, but I think it’s about the uniqueness, and the questioning that attracts me.

Do you think about what will happen to your collection in the future? About whether the works in it will endure?

BK I always wonder myself, about my collection, will this art really matter many years from now? How transformative is this art, really? And if it’s in a historical context, what does it do? These are some important questions, because so many people buy art without even asking themselves the simple question of whether they want to have it in their homes. Then it becomes speculative, it has nothing to do with art collecting, so if you collect for the wrong reasons, you’ll never end up with those artists that matter in the long run. I always consider that when I buy something.

How can you tell that an artwork is going to meet these expectations?

BK If I can associate a piece of artwork or a concept directly with another artist, another contemporary artist of today, I will not buy it. It needs to be unique. Of course, it can have references to other artists and artistry, but art is a revolution, it must not be a one-on-one copy, and so much of what you see today is.

Do you work with art advisers?

BK I listen to people whose opinions I respect, but I’m not going to be led by advisers, because you never know if there’s a second agenda or what is behind it. On the other hand, if you have 20 years of experience in art collecting, then at the end of the day, nobody can really advise you any more. It’s in your complex process of thinking as to what you like or what you don’t like. Nobody can say to me, ‘You need to collect this, or you need to collect that.’ I mean, I collect what I collect based on certain rules for myself, but at the end of the day, it’s your collection, it’s not the collection of your advisers.

Transforming the Known: works from the Bert Kreuk Collection was at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, from 8 June to 29 September 2013.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue

Works from the Bert Kreuk Collection
Jun-08-2013 until Sep-29-2013

The story of US-based Dutch collector and entrepreneur Bert Kreuk (b. Capelle a/d IJssel, 1964) is one of a true American dream.  Over the last fifteen years, Kreuk’s passion for collecting has taken him on an endless voyage of discovery and the resulting collection is at once daring, spectacular and highly personal. This is a collection of global ambition, created in order to be shared. It tells the story of the development of art over the last twenty  years.

In the summer of 2013, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag will exhibit a selection of works from the Bert Kreuk Collection that express the personal and social engagement of contemporary artists in a wide range of materials and media. While Bert Kreuk lends art works to museums worldwide, this is the first time that a substantial part of his collection will be on public display in a single institution. The Gemeentemuseum is delighted that the collection will have its first showing here in The Hague and warmly welcomes Bert Kreuk as a guest curator.

Bert Kreuk about the exhibition: ‘It is a liberating feeling once you discover that art is more than a mere reflection of reality. Collecting art for me is an educational journey of exploring, observing and under – standing, without learned assumptions. The artists in my collection have the ability to give a personal, intentional and authentic expression to their concept. They should have the wish to communicate an idea beyond the illustration of a scene or an instant identifiable mood. They extend boundaries and disrupt conventional ideas about art, and as such they are ‘transforming the known’.

Contemporary art opens new worlds, in which ideas, concepts and intentions are as important as form, execution and technique. The meaning of simple objects do not represent a less profound or less inferior conceptual background than complex works.

Inspired by traditional painting, the exhibition starts with a more conventional idea about painting and, through contemporary sculpture, concludes with painting as a conceptual performance. Many featured artists have never before shown work in the Netherlands. I warmly thank the Gemeentemuseum for the opportunity to introduce these artists for the first time and their vision that made this exhibition possible.’