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Artnet News
Sept. 10, 2009 

BILL VIOLA SAYS NO TO THE POPE
Pope Benedict XVI has announced an ambitious initiative to try to restore the "special historical relationship between faith and art," inviting 500 artists, actors, writers and musicians to a special culture summit. The soiree, described by the Catholic News Service (CNS) as "the first of many initiatives aimed at bridging the gap that has developed between spirituality and artistic expression over the last century or so," is to take place in the Sistine Chapel, Nov. 21, 2009, beneath Michelangelo’s famous frescoes -- the better to remind artists of the great art inspired by faith. The list of invited artists will not be revealed until shortly before the event, but names confirmed include U2 frontman Bono, Freedom Tower architect Daniel Libeskind, film composer Ennio Morricone and theater director Bob Wilson.

For the Vatican, this outreach effort seems not to be an academic question, but rather a recognition of the shoddy state of contemporary devotional art. At the Sept. 10 announcement of the culture summit, CNS said that Antonio Paolucci, head of the Vatican Museums, equated contemporary religious art with "bad taste." "Nowadays," Paolucci said, "many people live in the dreary outskirts of cities, in ugly houses. They go to church and it's uglier still!" Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi was, if possible, even more blunt, stating that modern churches "do not offer beauty, but rather ugliness."

One invitee who will apparently not be participating in this new Renaissance is video-art maestro Bill Viola, who CNS reports "was asked but has already said he won't be able to attend." According to a source at James Cohan Gallery, which represents the artist, more than just a scheduling conflict is involved. "Bill Viola doesn’t agree with many of the policies put forth by the Vatican and the Catholic Church and this is his reason for declining to participate."

Viola would otherwise seem to be a great fit. He is currently in Europe for the opening of a solo exhibition titled "Intimate Works" at the De Pont Museum in the Netherlands, which includes such spiritual-themed works as Observance, which explicitly attempts to synthesize "the devotional painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance."

For an update on this story, see "Artnet News," Sept. 17, 2009

WHO WILL SELL MADOFF’S ART?
The simmering art-and-finance story of the moment is probably the question of who will be selling off the art collection of convicted Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff. His company, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was ordered to surrender all of its artworks to bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard, to be sold off to repay debts owed to his many, many, many victims. Picard has been tight-lipped about what exactly the Madoff art collection looks like, but a rep from a New York nonprofit that lost money with Madoff told Artnet News that the scammer’s office in the Lipstick Building in Manhattan prominently featured a yellow triangular abstraction by Ellsworth Kelly. A much-noted New York Times photo of Madoff in his office features him mugging roguishly in front of a wall of Roy Lichtenstein bull prints. The bull was, of course, Madoff’s personal icon. As the Guardian recently noted, Madoff’s homes were full of sculptures and paintings of bulls, while his yacht was called the Bull.

In an amusing CBS news video, U.S. Marshall Barry Golden plays real estate agent, giving viewers a tour of Madoff’s Palm Beach mansion. "After the house is sold all the personal property will be sold separately at a separate auction, and hopefully some of the memorabilia and the items in this house" -- that would include the art -- "will bring some value," Golden says. But which dealer or auctioneer will get that plum? Madoff wasn’t a great collector, so who knows -- but Sotheby’s Realty has been retained to sell Madoff’s New York penthouse.

DOROTHEA ROCKBURNE MURAL FOR JAMAICA
The sleeper exhibition of the summer at the Queens Museum has been a mural-in-progress being painted right on the premises by famed Minimalist artist Dorothea Rockburne. The 40-foot-high work, titled Homage to Colin Powell, celebrates the U.S. statesman and retired four-star general Colin Powell, and is slated for the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica (Powell’s family came from Jamaica to New York, where Powell was born). A painting on canvas, the mural depicts the night sky over Jamaica on Powell’s birth date (Apr. 5, 1937). It has been in-process at the Queens Museum since May 18, 2009, when Rockburne began working on the mural in the museum’s Large Triangle Gallery. The work is slated to be officially dedicated in Queens on Sept. 16 and then shipped to Kingston and installed. It was commissioned by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies for its Art in New Embassies program, which is assisted by an advisory committee, chaired by Yale School of Art dean Robert Storr.

BRUCE NAUMAN, SKYWRITING AT LAST
An untitled work by Bruce Nauman originally designed for a 1969 "Land Art" exhibition is finally going to be realized this Saturday in the skies over Pasadena, Ca. In his typically contrary fashion, Nauman’s work involves skywriting the phrase, "Leave the Land Alone." The event is scheduled to take place over Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco "for a few minutes between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm" on Sept. 12, 2009.

The project is initiated by Andrew Berardini, adjunct assistant curator at the Armory Center for the Arts, and organized by Armory Center gallery director Jay Belloli. The event is part of "Installations Inside/Out," Sept. 20-Dec. 31, 2009, an exhibition that takes place both at the Armory and at sites throughout the city. The 20 participating artists include Kim Abeles, Edgar Arceneaux, Daniel Buren, Barry McGee, Ed Ruscha, Betye Saar and Pae White. For more info, see www.armoryarts.org

ARTISTS’ BILLBOARDS FOR TARGET
Just in time for New York’s "Fashion Week," the art-friendly people at Target have hired four artists to provide flashy designs -- featuring Target’s trademark red target image -- for the company’s giant billboards in Times Square. The artists are Laurie Rosenwald, Michael Anderson, Josh Goldstein and Charles Wilkin, all selected for the job by the New York ad company Mother. The ads stay up through October, then the vinyl is repurposed into totes designed by Anna Sui -- which are available for $29.99 each (click here).

The artists have all gotten into the spirit of things with their personal websites. Josh Goldstein invites people to upload their snaps of the billboard at his site, www.bodeganyc.com, while Rosenwald, whose website is www.rosenworld.com, invites everyone to "go to Times Square and gape." Wilkin can be found at Automatic Art and Design, while Anderson shows his work at Marlborough Chelsea.

PARTY DOWN AT MOMA
In today’s MTV culture, an unparalleled art collection just isn’t enough. Thus, the Museum of Modern Art has launched MoMA MiXX, a series of "dance parties" hosted by the museum’s young patrons group, the Junior Associates. The parties last from 8 pm to midnight, and use the lobby as a dance floor and the atrium for a mezzanine lounge. The parties enlist both artists and DJ acts to spin the records; the first party, on Sept. 26, 2009, boasts artists Mickalene Thomas and Derrick Adams, along with Hercules and Love Affair, a project of New York DJ Andy Butler. Admission is $75 per head, with proceeds earmarked for the museum exhibition program.

RICHARD MERKIN, 1938-2009
Richard Merkin, 70, New York painter, illustrator, teacher, author and all-around fashion plate, died of a heart attack on Sept. 5, 2009. Celebrated for brightly colored, R.B. Kitaj-inspired portraits of authors, jazz musicians and sports figures, Merkin was nevertheless a master of sophisticated pictorial space, whose grander compositions are present-day successors to  works by Braque and Matisse. Born in Brooklyn, he exhibited with the Terry Dintenfass Gallery in Manhattan from the 1970s until the dealer’s death in 2004. He taught at the Rhode Island School of Design for nearly 45 years, and was a contributor to Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and other magazines. He wrote a style column for Gentleman’s Quarterly (1988-91), illustrated Leagues Apart: The Men and Times of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1995) and authored The Tijuana Bibles (1997). His friendship with Peter Blake led to his picture being included on the album cover of the Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. His most recent exhibition was in 2007 at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, N.Y.


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