AI WEIWEI’S EARTHQUAKE ACTIVISM
Ai Weiwei is known for everything from sophisticated artworks using cast-offs from China’s rich cultural history to his work on the world-class "Bird’s Nest" stadium used for the Beijing Olympics. In 2007, for Documenta 12, he brought 1,001 Chinese citizens to Kassel, Germany, "to confront each other with their own lives."
These days, however, Ai is bringing his talents as a social activist to a project involving last year’s devastating Sichuan earthquake, which killed thousands -- including some 5,335 young students. The artist has organized a team of close to 50 volunteers to "investigate, record and account for what happened," researching the names, gender, age, school and class of children who died. He began posting the lists on his blog on Mar. 12, 2009, two months before the anniversary of the quake (which is today).
"Once you have the basic facts, you know who is responsible for those kids," Ai recently told CNN. "Thousands of people died in this earthquake and is it necessary for them to die, or is it caused by some mistakes or wrongdoings in the construction of buildings?" His volunteers have to date collected 5,161 entries, according to an article in the Global Times.
Ai’s blog also hosts "investigator diaries," in which the volunteers log their run-ins with local officials, among other things. (Ai says that his team made some 150 calls to Sichuan officials trying to get a list of the dead, to no avail.) One volunteer posted a transcript of a call in which a bureaucrat told him, "Why do you care about the list if you don’t have a special purpose? This is none of your business."
Despite such difficulties, Ai’s investigation seems to have hit a chord, attracting considerable attention both inside and outside China, and stoking the idealism of his volunteers. The Global Times quotes one volunteer who, when grilled by police as to the reasons for the project, responded, "The mother of a little girl killed in the earthquake said she just wanted the world to know her beautiful child had lived happily in this world for seven years."
Ai seems relatively laid-back about the possibility that he himself might run afoul of the law. Censors regularly delete the lists from his blog -- with one erasure coming as recently as May 3 -- "[b]ut every time it’s deleted, we just upload it again," he says. Ai is planning to incorporate the Sichuan research into his upcoming show at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Oct. 12, 2009-Jan. 10, 2010.
RESTRUCTURING AT PARSONS
What’s going on over at Parsons the New School for Design, where the administration has been under fire since a ham-fisted attempt at wholesale restructuring of the art department back in March? More restructuring! In a communiqué at the end of April, Parsons dean Sven Travis announced a new administrative structure for the School of Art, Media and Technology (AMT), the division of Parsons that includes its fine arts department. This new master plan for the arts eliminates the concept of an art "department" entirely, replacing it with various art "programs" -- and consequently also eliminates the position of department chair, which had been held by Coco Fusco, whose relationships with colleagues at Parsons were rocky, by some accounts [see Artnet News, Apr. 3, 2009]
What does this mean, concretely, for the school? "Fine Arts" has been split into two programs, the "MFA in Fine Arts" and the "BFA in Fine Arts." The former is now headed by full-time faculty member Anthony Aziz (of the experimental duo Aziz + Cucher), with Simone Douglas serving as interim director while Aziz is on sabbatical this fall. The BFA program currently has Mary Judge as head, with ongoing discussions "about the possibility of her continuing in the role," in Travis’ words.
Meanwhile, Fusco has been named "Director of AMT’s Intermedia Initiatives," a role that involves the study and development of what Travis calls "new curricular models." She is also tasked with expanding a fine arts lecture series to include presentations for the entire AMT department, as well as researching a project about "best practices in ‘cross-disciplinary’ programs across the United States." In the new scheme of things, Fusco has been removed from overseeing fine art faculty entirely.
The mishandling of changes at Parsons has been an ongoing embarrassment to the New School, adding another headache for unpopular president Bob Kerrey -- and may well have been part of what led Kerrey to announce recently that he would retire in 2011, when his contract expires. In the meantime, last week Kerrey issued new guidelines for reporting grievances, a move which might be a response to allegations posted on the Parsons Pink Slips blog that an unnamed administrator threatened to "spit in the face" of any student who "leaked news to the press" at a meeting with concerned undergraduates.
Finally: Save the date for "Pink Slip-Ups," a show scheduled for New York’s George Adams Gallery, June 4-July 2, 2009, featuring works by Parsons adjunct faculty members. Back in April, Parsons prof Laurence Hegarty told the New York Times that he was planning the show as a "tongue-in-cheek" response to the mass firings, for which visitors would be asked to pick "who should be fired and who shouldn’t be fired." Should be fun.
ART WORLD LEAVING LAS VEGAS?
The Las Vegas Sun announced two more departures from the local art scene, already rocked by the recent closing of the Las Vegas Museum of Art. Naomi Arin Contemporary Art, which the paper describes as the "only local gallery in town to feature internationally known early and midcareer cutting-edge artists," is closing shop on June 30. Owner Naomi Arin is heading to Laguna Beach, Ca., which apparently offers more hospitable climes for fine art.
"For a while, if I put up a show and nobody saw it, that was fine with me because I was doing what I wanted, but I’m putting up amazing shows and it’s gotten to the point where I want people to come," Arin told the Sun, adding that a recent, under-attended show of paintings by Mickalene Thomas was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Also decamping is Beate Kirmse, the executive director of Las Vegas’ Contemporary Arts Center, who announced plans to resign on May 31. Kirmse arrived in Vegas in 2007 from New York with the mission to expand the horizons of the 20-year-old nonprofit. She is also heading for California, where she hopes to start her own gallery.
Why all the brain drain to the Golden State? The Las Vegas housing bust can’t be good, but recent statements by Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman didn’t help, either. According to the Sun, Goodman reacted to the closing of the Las Vegas Art Museum by noting that his city didn’t need an art museum, and that locals could fly to Los Angeles to see art. Which is why, of course, Goodman has been so adamant about pushing funding for an attraction truly unique to Vegas, the Mob Museum.
ART DEALERS OPEN HOUSE IN NYC
Want a chance to peek into the inner sanctums of Manhattan’s classy private art dealers? You have your chance on May 20, 2009, with "Just Off Madison," an open house presented by 11 dealers specializing in American art. The galleries are all located off Madison Avenue within a half-mile stretch, from Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art at 13 East 69th Street to Hawthorne Fine Art and Kraushaar Galleries, both located at 74 East 79th Street. Other participants are Avery Galleries, Mark Borghi Fine Art, Conner Rosenkranz, Betty Krulik Fine Art, Martha Parrish & James Reinish, Franklin Riehlman Fine Art, Lois Wagner Fine Arts and Meredith Ward Fine Art. For more info and a map, see www.justoffmadison.com
GOETHE-INSTITUT NEW YORK IN TRANSITION
The Goethe-Institut New York, which has long presented exhibitions of German contemporary art as well as other events at its historic mansion at 1014 Fifth Avenue across from the Metropolitan Museum, is vacating the building to allow for renovations to bring the structure up to fire-safety code. In the meantime, the organization is in flux, in search of new quarters for its offices and library. Work continues on the renovation of the Goethe-Institute Wyoming Building at 5 East 3rd Street, and exhibitions are on view at Ludlow 38, the institute’s gallery at 38 Ludlow Street. At present, Ludlow 38 is hosting a show of works by four artists titled "Chance Encounters," May 3-June 21, 2009.
WEGMAN DOES TELLURIDE
Conceptual canine artist William Wegman has been selected as the official poster artist for the 36th Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 4-7, 2009. Wegman has designed two images for the film fest. An official poster depicts the artist’s Weimeraner Chip in profile with a gray velvet curtain draped across his head. A second, limited-edition Wegman work is based on "an original painting created for this year’s festival" that is being unveiled at the fest. An exhibition of artifacts relating to the posters also appears at Telluride’s Schilling Gallery during the event.
CATALONIA PRIZE TO BILL VIOLA
U.S. video artist Bill Viola has received the 2009 Catalonia International Prize from the government of the region of Catalonia in Spain. The annual award honors an individual "whose creative work has made a significant contribution to the development of cultural, scientific or human values anywhere in the world" (previous winners have included Harold Bloom, Vaclav Havel, Claude Levi-Strauss, Doris Lessing and Karl Popper), and comes with a cash purse of €100,000 and a sculpture by Catalan sculptor Antoni Tàpies. The jury lauded Viola as "the inventor of video art."
ALPERT AWARDS ANNOUNCED
Video artist Paul Chan and painter Paul Pfeiffer were among the five winners of the 2009 Alpert Awards, sponsored by the Herb Alpert Foundation and administrated by the California Institute of the Arts. Designed to honor innovators in the arts, the Alpert awards come with an unrestricted $75,000 purse. Chan won in the film and video category, while Pfeiffer was honored for visual art. Other winners were Rinde Eckert, for theater; John King, for music; and Reggie Wilson, for dance.
NAGLER FROM IMOCA TO IMA
In an unconventional move from the executive office to the trenches of fundraising, Katharine Nagler -- until recently the executive director of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA) -- has been hired by the Indianapolis Museum of Art as "manager of donor relations," a new position created for her. Nagler will oversee fundraising for major initiatives at the IMA. According to Indianapolis Business Journal, the announcement came less than a week after iMOCA announced that Nagler was leaving to "pursue personal passions and spend more time with her family."