How The New Museum Committed Suicide With Banality

by Art Fag City on November 3, 2009 · 18 comments Events

POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
art fag city, New Museum, william powhida
William Powhida, Brooklyn Rail cover, Image detail, (click on the image to see the full piece.). Image via: William Powhida.

The Brooklyn Rail commissioned the right artist to do their cover feature on the questionable curating practices of New Museum. William Powhida, an artist known for donning fictional personas in order to critique the art world, this time played an artist he imagined would be in collector and New Museum trustee Dakis  Joannou’s collection to put together the sprawling narrative. Of course, it’s unlikely anyone but Reena Spaulings activist Merlin Carpenter would feel comfortable publicly criticizing the show were they in it, but the criticism is clear nonetheless. The New Museum should not be showing the collection of a trustee member, nor is their mandate to showcase emerging art being filled. Art world figures such as James Wagner, Gavin Brown, Lisa Phillips, Marcia Tucker, and many others (including myself) are featured prominently in the cartoon.

I spoke to Powhida about the ongoing debate Friday afternoon, noting the spaces they relagate to emerging artists: The icky glass-walled space behind the cafeteria, the alcove in the stairway, and their education department. If the New Museum really wanted to dedicate some space to emerging artists, they’d give Rhizome some physical space every once and a while, switch up the programming so emerging artists receive floors to themselves (I’m sorry, but blockbuster group shows like Younger Than Jesus can’t be the only venue for the new), and promote their talks a little more. I don’t mind seeing Elizabeth Peyton at the Museum, but I’d at least like to see an attempt to balance out the programming a little for the artists who really need the exposure.

Related: Countless posts by James Wagner.

  • http://www.crywalt.com/ Chris Rywalt

    Somewhat disingenuous to lump yourself in with “many others”, isn’t it? You could’ve mentioned you’re in the cartoon, it’s okay.

  • http://www.crywalt.com/ Chris Rywalt

    Somewhat disingenuous to lump yourself in with “many others”, isn’t it? You could’ve mentioned you’re in the cartoon, it’s okay.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Is this a problem you find regularly plagues this blog? I’m wondering because it seems like there might be a way to mention this without immediately calling a self promotion foul. It is possible it was simply an editorial oversight. Speaking of which, I updated the blog.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Is this a problem you find regularly plagues this blog? I’m wondering because it seems like there might be a way to mention this without immediately calling a self promotion foul. It is possible it was simply an editorial oversight. Speaking of which, I updated the blog.

  • http://www.crywalt.com/ Chris Rywalt

    Just seemed somewhat disingenuous, that’s all. Not sure how it could be an editorial oversight, honestly. I assumed you were uncertain of how to handle it — “I want to link to a cartoon, but I’m featured in it rather prominently, yet I don’t want to seem incestuous about it” — and figured I’d say I thought it’d be okay to mention your appearance there. If Powhida featured me in a cartoon I’d be all over it.

  • http://www.crywalt.com/ Chris Rywalt

    Just seemed somewhat disingenuous, that’s all. Not sure how it could be an editorial oversight, honestly. I assumed you were uncertain of how to handle it — “I want to link to a cartoon, but I’m featured in it rather prominently, yet I don’t want to seem incestuous about it” — and figured I’d say I thought it’d be okay to mention your appearance there. If Powhida featured me in a cartoon I’d be all over it.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    This is true.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    This is true.

  • Some Painter

    Gee, the art world is a game of who you know and not a democratic proces? I’d have never guessed.

    When is the last time a major museum in New York, or even the new Museum had a show of a truly “emerging artist.” The New Museum was never supposed to be Artists Space.

    Even P.S.1’s Greater New York show had lazy and bullshit curating. Many of the artists visited by the curators were recent grads of Columbia’s MFA program or whatnot, who then recommended other friends to the curators. That is no less democratic.

    As a side note, the publisher of the Brooklyn Rail, Phong Bui, did an interview with Frank Stella in the May 2007 issue of Art+Auction magazine and what was Stella holding in a photo in the contents page? A copy of The Brooklyn Rail, published by Bui!

  • Some Painter

    Gee, the art world is a game of who you know and not a democratic proces? I’d have never guessed.

    When is the last time a major museum in New York, or even the new Museum had a show of a truly “emerging artist.” The New Museum was never supposed to be Artists Space.

    Even P.S.1’s Greater New York show had lazy and bullshit curating. Many of the artists visited by the curators were recent grads of Columbia’s MFA program or whatnot, who then recommended other friends to the curators. That is no less democratic.

    As a side note, the publisher of the Brooklyn Rail, Phong Bui, did an interview with Frank Stella in the May 2007 issue of Art+Auction magazine and what was Stella holding in a photo in the contents page? A copy of The Brooklyn Rail, published by Bui!

  • Tyler Green

    FWIW, I didn’t mention it either for the same reasons.

  • Tyler Green

    FWIW, I didn’t mention it either for the same reasons.

  • clafleche

    Maybe this has been said or is completely wrong but I honestly believe the main problem with the New Museum is it’s architecture. The ground-floor glass room hidden behind the bookstore and cafeteria tables is a good example but I think it extends to the rest of the building. It’s well-understood that the N.M. cannot be and is not the Met–sprawling and web-like rather than vertically directed–but the New Museum spaces are so confined that you can’t do much other than large installations of single artists or giant group shows with too much going on (or, at least, that’s all they’ve seen to do so far). Because of the elevator restrictions you can’t really separate spaces within each floor and I think the shows suffer from that. I also hate the staircases with the little side rooms that get crowded and make the experience of walking through the shows a pain.

    These limitations make it too risky to put up, well, risky shows. They’re so short on space that if they handed over the museum to someone totally ‘New’ and it turned out to be a flop (which could either be because the work was bad or simply because nobody knew who the person was and therefore under-judged it–and, a sidenote: when they put up shows of ‘new, young’ artists and these artists are culled by polling a group of leading curators, critics, and artists, you’re not really going to get ‘new’ work, are you? You’re going to get semi-established artists… but anyways…) they’d lose a lot of credibility in the other direction. They’re between a rock and a hard place.

  • clafleche

    Maybe this has been said or is completely wrong but I honestly believe the main problem with the New Museum is it’s architecture. The ground-floor glass room hidden behind the bookstore and cafeteria tables is a good example but I think it extends to the rest of the building. It’s well-understood that the N.M. cannot be and is not the Met–sprawling and web-like rather than vertically directed–but the New Museum spaces are so confined that you can’t do much other than large installations of single artists or giant group shows with too much going on (or, at least, that’s all they’ve seen to do so far). Because of the elevator restrictions you can’t really separate spaces within each floor and I think the shows suffer from that. I also hate the staircases with the little side rooms that get crowded and make the experience of walking through the shows a pain.

    These limitations make it too risky to put up, well, risky shows. They’re so short on space that if they handed over the museum to someone totally ‘New’ and it turned out to be a flop (which could either be because the work was bad or simply because nobody knew who the person was and therefore under-judged it–and, a sidenote: when they put up shows of ‘new, young’ artists and these artists are culled by polling a group of leading curators, critics, and artists, you’re not really going to get ‘new’ work, are you? You’re going to get semi-established artists… but anyways…) they’d lose a lot of credibility in the other direction. They’re between a rock and a hard place.

  • mike

    A-Fucking-Plus, William Powhida

  • mike

    A-Fucking-Plus, William Powhida

  • clownfart

    Was this intended as the cover of the October issue? I want to plaster it all over the place, but so far have only been able to appreciate it in the blogosphere.I second the A fucking plus to William Powhida!

  • clownfart

    Was this intended as the cover of the October issue? I want to plaster it all over the place, but so far have only been able to appreciate it in the blogosphere.I second the A fucking plus to William Powhida!

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