YALE’S ABORTION-ART CONTROVERSY
A two-week-long PR nightmare for the Yale University art department ended yesterday, sort of, with the closing of the 2008 "Undergraduate Senior Art Show." The exhibition, Apr. 22-May 1, 2008, was to have contained a controversial project by senior Aliza Shvarts that purported to document nine-month’s worth of her own repeated, herbally induced miscarriages. Shvarts proposed to hang a four-foot cube in the center of the galleries, clad with a multi-layered envelope of plastic sheeting that would contain a fluid that combined Vaseline with what she claimed was blood from the miscarriages. The sides of the cube were to have served as screens for footage Shvarts had taken of herself, naked in a bathtub, collecting her menstrual blood in disposable cups.
According to the Yale Daily News, Shvarts said that the work was designed to provoke "some sort of discourse," if not controversy. "I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity," Shvarts told the newspaper. "I think that I’m creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be."
Apparently already the subject of debate among her art-school peers when she unveiled the idea, the project caused an immense uproar once it had been reported by the Yale Daily News, with everyone from Fox News to pro-choice groups like NARAL piling on to condemn the stunt. This, in turn, touched off a strange "he said, she said" between the university and the young artist, with Yale assuring the public that Shvarts’ claims were a fabrication and Shvarts maintaining that they were accurate. The young artist further confused the question with a jargon-laden statement published on Apr. 18, in which she asserted that "the piece exists only in its telling" and that it "creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership."
The exchange led to an administrative Catch-22 for Yale. The art department censored the artwork and disciplined faculty associated with it on the basis of the potential health hazard the student had inflicted on herself. According to Yale school of arts dean Robert Storr, the university has a "profound commitment to freedom of expression," but it does not "condone projects that involve unknown health risks to the student," adding that he would have put a stop to Shvarts’ project had he known about it in advance. At the same time, the university insisted to the public that Shvarts had never been in danger at all, since the entire episode was "an art piece, a creative fiction." The school even sent investigators to Shvarts’ residence to declare that no traces of blood had been found.
The strategy the university hit upon was to refuse to show the work unless the student made a public statement that she had not induced abortions, adding the requirement that no actual blood could be shown in the galleries, on the basis that it was a biohazard -- a stipulation that, notably, would seem to foreclose a whole tradition of art that uses blood and biological matter as material, from Marc Quinn’s star-making 1991 sculpture self, a cast of his own head made from his own frozen blood, to Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, which incorporates dirty diapers in its exploration of motherhood.
Shvarts refused to comply with the department’s demand, and the "Undergraduate Senior Art Show" went on without her -- much to the disappointment of the many camera crews that showed up at the opening. (The Yale Daily News did report that on the final day of the exhibition, she submitted an alternative piece in private, thus fulfilling the graduation requirement of participation.)
Finally, one of the casualties of the controversy seems to be Shvarts’ advisor Pia Lindman, believed to be one of two unnamed faculty members that Yale says it has taken unidentified "appropriate action" against, and who has been MIA since the start of the controversy. Lindman’s work, notably, is about the kinds of issues Shvarts’ piece has raised, specifically the body and free speech. Her last exhibition in New York was at Luxe Gallery, Feb. 15-Mar. 15, 2008, where she displayed a variety of works involving attaching her own face to a robotic contraption that contorted it into uncomfortable positions, and filming the results. On Apr. 5, she presented a work called "Soapbox" at Federal Hall in New York, the first of a planned series of events in which participants were given one minute each to speak their mind in public on an actual soap box, sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. If Lindman manages to stage "Soapbox" again, it seems likely that there will be plenty of people with something to say.
JAMES FREY, ART WORLD DARLING
Ever wonder what James Frey -- the author who went through a very public shaming at the hands of Oprah Winfrey when it was revealed that his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, had been fabricated -- is up to these days? Well, among other things, he has moved aggressively into the art world. Along with Andy Spade and Bill Powers, Frey bankrolled the Half Gallery at 208 Forsyth Street in New York’s booming Lower East Side. The new space opened last month with a show of paintings by Matt Damhave, co-founder of the fashion label Imitation of Christ. According to an article in the New York Sun, Frey has also invested the earnings from his memoirs well -- that is, in artworks by the likes of Matthew Barney, Cecily Brown, Damien Hirst and Ed Ruscha.
Frey has a new book coming out from HarperCollins, this one a baldly fictional narrative collage about life in L.A. titled Bright Shiny Morning, and if he manages to resurrect himself it will be no small part due to sympathy from the art world. Among his champions are art-book publisher extraordinaire John McWhinnie, who is putting out a deluxe edition of Bright Shiny Morning, and artist Richard Prince, who is doing the cover for the book and who says he counts Frey as a personal friend.
McWhinnie’s collaboration with Frey is titled Wives, Wheels, Weapons, and pairs three sections of the new novel (including one about an adulterous affair that was deemed too hot for the American edition) with photo illustrations by fashion photographer Terry Richardson. The book is priced at $150 for the hardcover and $75 for softcover, both in an edition of 1,000. In addition, five copies of an even-more-exclusive "Wife / Girlfriend" edition, accompanied by art works from Prince and Richardson, are signed by all three men. These are priced at $30,000-$50,000.
PIANO EXPANSION FOR WHITNEY UNVEILED
The Whitney Museum of American Art has unveiled Renzo Piano’s design for its planned new facility in Manhattan’s "Meatpacking District" just south of the West Chelsea art district. The hulking, six-story-tall, stone-clad building -- New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff says Piano likes to refer to it as "a ship in dry dock" -- would provide 50,000 square feet, rather more than the 32,000 square feet of the museum’s current uptown space. Ouroussoff calls the project "a gentle critique" of Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist Whitney: "Like Breuer’s 1966 design, Mr. Piano’s building is a temple to culture; but here the relationship between inside and out -- high art and the marketplace -- is more fluid."
One notable design element: The Piano building features a multitude of terraces and rooftop decks, amounting to approximately 15,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space. The new structure also features a dramatically cantilevered entrance that shelters a public plaza that is situated at the beginning of the High Line. The relationship between the current Whitney and its much bigger satellite is still undefined, though one idea is that the new building would house the core of the museum collection with rotating and monographic exhibitions located uptown.BURDEN TOYS WITH NEW YORK
Famed performance artist Chris Burden has been tapped for the next public art project at Rockefeller Center, and it’s a doozy. Burden’s What My Dad Gave Me, which goes on view at the Rock Center garden at Fifth Avenue, May 28-July 13, 2008, consists of a 65-foot-tall skyscraper made entirely of Erector set parts. Featuring an estimated one million stainless steel parts, the piece is meant as an homage to New York’s towering profile (though it might also be seen as a comment on its fragility).
A.I.R. RETROSPECTIVE AT WERKSTÄTTE GALLERY
The groundbreaking feminist artists of A.I.R. Gallery, which opened in 1972 at 97 Wooster Street in SoHo, are the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the new Werkstätte Gallery at 55 Great Jones Street in Manhattan’s NoHo district. "The A.I.R. Gallery Retrospective: 1972-1979," May 2-June 14, 2008, features works by 29 artists and is co-curated by Werkstätte and Patsy Norvell.
Artists in the show include Dotty Attie, Judith Bernstein, Maude Boltz, Agnes Denes, Daria Dorosh, Loretta Dunkelman, Mary Grigoriadis, Anne Healy, Nancy Kitchel, Pat Lasch, Ana Mendieta, Patsy Norvell, Sylvia Sleigh, Clover Vail, Barbara Zucker, Rachel Bas-Cohain, Blythe Bohnen, Donna Byars, Sari Dienes, Sarah Draney, Mary Beth Edelson, Harmony Hammond, Laurace James, Louise Kramer, Rosemary Mayer, Kazuko Miyamoto, Howardena Pindell, Nancy Spero and Susan Williams.
Werkstätte was opened last November by Alexis Schimberg and Karyn Larkin with an exhibition of works by Robert Rahway Zakanitch. Since then the gallery has presented shows of paintings by Don Porcella and Carly Haffner; coming up after the A.I.R. survey is an exhibition organized by Eddie Martinez, followed by shows of David Malek and Clare Brew, Matt King, and Carson Ellis.
HARVARD CHANGES MUSEUM NAMES
In the most ground-breaking move since Parsons School of Design changed its name to Parsons The New School for Design, the three-museum consortium known as the Harvard University Art Museums has announced that it is henceforth to be known simply as the Harvard Art Museum. This change, along with a new "graphic identity," is the brainchild of the design firm 2x4.
The change isn’t all "brand massaging," however. The original name reflected the fact that Harvard includes three separate art institutions: the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Now, while maintaining these distinct entities, Harvard is consolidating its collections into a single new building, designed by Renzo Piano, to be located at 32 Quincy Street (the current home of the Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger) and set to open in 2009. During the redesign, selected works from all three Harvard collections are on view at the Sackler.
NEW AT DIA:BEACON FOR THE SUMMER
The Dia Art Foundation celebrates the fifth birthday of Dia:Beacon with four new projects, all opening on May 17, 2008. These include a multi-projection film homage to Merce Cunningham by Tacita Dean; the exhibition of Imi Knoebel’s monumental 24 Colors -- for Blinky (1977), not seen in its entirety since Dia founder Heiner Friedrich exhibited it at his Cologne gallery in 1977; and a reinstallation by American artist Helen Mirra of Knoebel’s Room 19 (1968), the 77 wooden and fiberboard parts of which can be arranged in multiple configurations. Also on the schedule: two performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on May 18, 2008. For more details, see www.diaart.org
ILLY CUP AT LOUVRE
As part of his performance at the Louvre titled "Art kept me out of jail (and out of museums)," the Flemish artist Jan Fabre designed a new cup for the Illy Art Collection. The red cup and saucer set, printed in black with the title of the performance, is being produced in an edition of 1,000. It can be purchased at the Louvre shop for €49,50 during the run of Fabre’s show there, "Angel of the Metamorphosis," Apr. 23-July 7, 2008 [see "Artnet.de Digest," Apr. 30, 2008]. Should any remain after Fabre’s exhibition closes, they will be available at www.illyusa.com for $76.
"RECYCLING" AT SOCRATES SCULPTURE PARK
Socrates Sculpture Park, the sprawling bit of art-dotted greensward on the Brooklyn side of the East River originally founded by Mark di Suvero, opens for the summer with "Waste Not, Want Not," May 4-Aug. 3, 2008, an exhibition devoted to the politics and practices of recycling. Organized by Robyn Donohue with Alyson Baker and Marichris Ty, the show includes works by Jonathan Allen, the Canary Project, Tony Feher, Lars Fisk, Miwa Koizumi, Rainy Lehrman, Carole Frances Lung, Julian Montague, Macrae Semans, Austin Shull, Courtney Smith, Shinique Smith, Jade Townsend & Michael Petersen, Paul Villinski, Letha Wilson, and Randy Wray.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art announced that Israeli artist Talia Keinan took the 2007 Gottesdiener Foundation Israeli Art Prize. Awarded annually since 1995, the prize is open to Israeli artists under 40, and comes with a purse of $10,000 and a show at the Tel Aviv Museum.
RINDER TO BERKELEY ART MUSEUM
Curator and critic Lawrence Rinder has been appointed director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA). Rinder currently serves as the dean at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland, but previously served at BAM/PFA from 1988 to 1998 in various positions, including curator of 20th century art. Among his duties at BAM/PFA is to oversee expansion plans -- the museum has hired Japanese architect Toyo Ito to design a new building, which should play a central role in Berkeley’s burgeoning arts district.
Rinder succeeds Jacquelynn Baas, who has been interim director since the retirement of Kevin E. Consey in October 2007. He assumes his new duties this summer.
SHESTACK RETIRES AT NGA
National Gallery of Art chief curator and deputy director Alan Shestack is retiring after a 43-year-long career, including the last 15 at the NGA. A New York resident, Shestack was director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1987-83), director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1985-87), director of Yale University Art Gallery (1971-85), curator of prints and drawings at Yale (1968-71) and curator of graphic art at the National Gallery (1965-68).
The new NGA deputy director and chief curator is Franklin Kelly, currently senior curator of American and British paintings at the museum, a post he has held since 2002. Kelly has been a curator at the NGA for more than 20 years, but also served as curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1988-90) and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1983-85).
CAY SOPHIE RABINOWITZ OUT AT ART BASEL
The triumvirate didn’t work that well for the ancient Romans, and it doesn’t seem have worked for Art Basel, either. Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, appointed as artistic director of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach last summer, has abruptly resigned without explanation. Art-world observers note that whatever the problem was, it must have been a serious one to prompt such a high-profile departure only a month before the upcoming installment of the fair, dubbed Art 39 Basel, June 4-8, 2008.
A former editor of Parkett, Rabinowitz was one of three people hired in 2006 to replace long-time director Samuel Keller. While Rabinowitz was given the title "artistic director," Annette Schönholzer was put in change of organization and finances, and Marc Spiegler was to oversee strategy and development. Going forward, Schönholzer and Spiegler share the title "co-director."
JULIEN ROBSON TO PAFA
Julien Robson has become curator of contemporary art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Robsen had been curator of contemporary art at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., a post he held for eight years. He succeeds Alex Baker, who left Philadelphia late last year to join the curatorial staff at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia.
CHIEF CONSERVATOR FOR YALE
Ian McClure, director of the Hamilton Kerr Institute and assistant director for conservation at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, has been named chief conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery.
GALLERY WEEKEND BERLIN ON ARTNET.DE
The third annual Gallery Weekend Berlin kicks off this weekend, May 2-4, 2008, with exhibitions at 34 Berlin galleries -- a virtual art fair that draws collectors around the globe. The editorial team at Artnet.de, led by Gerrit Gohlke with Kristin Schwenzer and Sonja Neuber plus more than dozen freelancers, has already posted reviews of all 34 shows in the German version of Artnet Magazine.