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Artnet News
Aug. 20, 2008 

Does art have a role to play in the upcoming Democratic and Republican political conventions? Considering the anemic state of political art in general, and with the conventions themselves widely viewed as empty spectacles with limited real news value, it should come as no surprise that the high-profile art activities attached to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Aug. 25-28, 2008, and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sept. 1-4, 2008, are what an International Herald-Tribune headline writer referred to as "gentle."

Emblematic, perhaps, is installation artist Ann Hamilton’s choral presentation in Denver of three choirs "sounding the vowel O," a work that refers to "the culturally relevant tradition of lullabies." The soporifically poetic work is one of a dozen or so projects sponsored by Denver mayor John Hickenlooper’s office of cultural affairs as part of a custom-designed $370,000 program called Dialog: City, which also boasts such amusements as karaoke performances of presidential speeches in local bars, a project overseen by RISD prof Daniel Peltz, and a 70-minute musical slideshow about Antarctica by DJ Spooky presented at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.   

The situation up in Minnesota appears similar, even though one would think that the Republican gathering would encourage a more outspoken reaction from the presumably radical art world. Instead, we have the sprawling UnConvention, which allows "nonpartisan" projects only, or so organizer Steve Dietz, former Walker Art Center new-media curator, told the New York Times. A lack of specificity seems to rule the day in general. Back in Denver, even practiced polemicists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, celebrated in 1995 for putting Newt Gingrichís picture on the crotch of a pair of menís underwear, have gone a little soft, so to speak, promising to exhibit a melting ice sculpture of the word "democracy" in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, starting at 2 pm August 27.

In truth, the scene isn’t completely hopeless. One notable UnConvention web project is My Yard Our Message, which invited artists to design political yard signs. Conceived by Scott Sayre and sponsored by the Walker Art Center and the online Minnesota art organization, the project is offering 50 of the designs for sale for $20 each. Most are vanilla "get out the vote" efforts, though a few have real political sentiment, such as one that reads "Paying Halliburton over there so we don’t have it to pay teachers here."

A few political artists are raising more challenging issues in the convention cities. As part of Dialog: City, long-time art provocateur Krzysztof Wodiczko is producing The Veteran Vehicle Project, a specially tricked out Humvee parked on the street and projecting interviews with some 40 homeless Denver-area war veterans.

And New York-based artist Sharon Hayes is staging distinctly queer activist performances in both Denver and St. Paul, in which as many as 100 "lesbians, gay men, bisexuals" and other "alien sexualities" speak as a chorus a text Hayes has written about "love, politics, gay power and gay liberation." Hayes says that the event, which is sponsored by Creative Time, is inspired by the 1970s Gay Liberation slogan, "An army of lovers cannot lose." For more details, see her page on MySpace.

The most salient art commentary at the conventions is likely to come from anonymous guerrilla artists acting either independently or as part of mass street demonstrations. One such action has already appeared, a large-scale graffito on the Hiawatha Avenue footbridge in Minneapolis that translates the GOP initials with the phrase, "Greed Over People." For an image, see Matt Desmond on Flickr.

Whether capitalist or communist, people in power like censorship, and so it is with the Chinese government, which has reneged on its agreement to lend almost 100 artworks to the Asia Society’s upcoming exhibition, "Art and China’s Revolution," Sept. 5-Jan. 11, 2008. One of the highlights of the fall museum season, the exhibition promises a survey of both official and unofficial art during the Maoist era [see "Artnet News," July 17, 2008]. According to speculation in the New York Times, Chinese authorities decided that the show focused on an aspect of the country’s history that would better be forgotten. Not all is lost, however; Asia Society museum director Melissa Chiu, co-curator of the exhibition, said that it is proceeding with loans from Western collections. "To some extent, it’s better," noted Asia Society president Vishakha N. Desai. "We don’t want ever to be seen as being sanctioned by the government."

The 264-page September 2008 issue of Interview magazine, under the editorial direction of Glenn O'Brien and Fabien Baron, features a slightly larger size (10 x 13 in.) and a redesigned, "sharper" logo script. The refurbished mag also recaptures the original Andy Warhol spirit of a hedonistic mix of art, film and fashion. Behind a glamorous silver-foil cover featuring a red-and-black-toned portrait of Kate Moss in an S&M cat mask are several notable art, fashion & Hollywood collaborations, including an email interview between the Joseph Kosuth studio and Maison Martin Margiela.

Artist profiles go to painters James Nares, whose rather sophisticated interview is conducted by O'Brien himself (who also talks to cover girl Moss), and Damien Loeb, whose new show opens at Acquavella Galleries in New York in September. Loeb, who takes his imagery from movies, tells interviewer Mike Meyers that he started out drawing scenes from Star Wars and became, in Meyers' words, "the master of the pause button" on the VCR.

Shorter features go to the Parisian street artist Zevs, who paints drippy versions of corporate fashion logos, and Norwegian punk artist Gardar Eide Einarsson, a veteran of the 2007 Whitney Biennial. Best of all, perhaps, is the long interview with Woody Allen, where the 72-year-old comic admits to occasionally buying paints and canvas and making little pictures of "autumn fish."

Celebrated Viennese actionist Hermann Nitsch celebrates his 70th birthday on Aug. 29, 2008, with the inauguration of a new museum devoted to his work: the Museo Nitsch in Naples, Italy. Officially titled the Museo Archivio Laboratorio per le Arti Contemporanee Hermann Nitsch and officially opening on Sept. 13, 2008, the museum is headed by Giuseppe Morra, an Italian art dealer and Nitsch’s longtime friend and patron. The Museo Nitsch collection features relics, paintings and installations, as well as a video archive and a music archive, from Nitsch’s OM Theatre performance actions, staged since 1974 in cooperation with the Fondazione Morra. For more details, see

The Vered Gallery in East Hampton unveils its new exhibition, a two-person show of works by Samy D and Peter Maier, on Friday, Aug. 22, 2008, with a special private preview and champagne reception. The gallery made headlines in May after the local constabulary shut down a gallery opening for photographer Steven Klein for serving liquor to guests, hauling the unrepentant art dealer Ruth Vered off to the hoosegow [see "Artnet News," May 27, 2008]. Now, the opening is "by invitation only," a private affair with a guest list, so as to circumvent the draconian State Liquor Authority rules requiring a special license for such cocktail parties. No undercover officers are allowed. For more details, see

Add a new stop to your midtown Manhattan gallery rounds: the Ana Tzarev Gallery, which opens a new 14,000-square-foot showcase on the first and second floors of 24 West 57th Street, the gallery building that is home to Marian Goodman Gallery, Galerie St. Etienne, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery and several other dealers. The new space is devoted to the paintings of Ana Tzarev herself, who was born in Croatia in 1937 and later moved to New Zealand, where she helped launch a successful fashion chain of department stores, Robert Chandler.

Tzarev, who reportedly began painting at age 56, now keeps studios in Cap Ferrat in France and Phuket in Thailand. According to Bloomberg reporter Lindsay Pollock, as much as $4 million in start-up costs for the New York gallery are being underwritten by billionaire investor Richard Chandler, Tzarev’s son and head of Orient Global. Prices for Tzarev’s works range from $20,000 to $500,000. The official opening date, not yet set, is expected to be in October or November 2008.

MANNY FARBER, 1917-2008
Manny Farber, 91, figurative painter and film critic whose sophisticated essays on Hollywood classics appeared in Artforum magazine in the 1970s, died at his home in Leucadia, Ca., on Aug. 18, 2008. Retrospectives of his paintings, bird’s-eye-views of tabletops filled with plants, ephemera, toys and a range of other items -- sometimes allegories of famous movies -- were held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1985 and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2003.

PAUL EDLIN, 1931-2008
Paul Edlin, 77, artist known for his collages made with fragments of postage stamps, died at his home in New York on Aug. 16, 2008, after a long battle with cancer. He exhibited his works at galleries and museums, including at the Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York’s Chelsea art district (operated by his nephew) and at Colgate University’s Longyear Museum, where he had a solo show in 2007.

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