There are so many good reasons to buy this book, which came to us via Virginia Eichhorn of the Tom Thomson Art Gallery. (Thank you!) It is beautifully produced, on a fascinating if somewhat esoteric topic (collage), addresses in several ways the important role art plays in people’s lives (for artists but also non-artists, the seasons of an artist’s career, art in relation to life-experience and aging) and is well-written despite being a bit quirky (speculative, almost fictional while also being a biography).
It is exactly the kind of book that can change how you think and inspire new directions.
THE PAPER GARDEN
An Artist (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72
By Molly Peacock,
Illustrated. 397 pp. Bloomsbury. 2011 $30.
[buy it in the Amazon]
Lest we forget.
The Canadian literary magazine Descant is a gem. Not only are the writing and art generally good, but the distinguished crew that produces it are given space each issue to sound off on a special topic. The winter 2012 issue (Descant 159, Vol. 43, No. 4), themed “A writer’s guide to melancholia,” carries excellent essays by contributing editors Kay Armatage and Mark Kingwell. Both follow the melancholy theme, Kingwell on grammar, Armatage on arts funding. Kingwell mourns the passing of the serial comma, while Armatage laments the passing of the serial donor.
Armatage has been studying the Metropolitan Opera’s investment in high definition broadcasting to movie theatres and in so doing, uncovers some important aspects of the new art economy.
The Met broadcasts further the innovation of their famous Texaco-sponsored radio broadcasts, which, though highly successful in reaching audiences (11 million listeners in 42 countries), actually cost the Met money, buying air time on many stations.
By contrast, the cineplex broadcasts (cinecasts) are ticketed events, revenue generating for the theatres and for the Met. But, Armatage points out, the Met’s motivation can’t only be to make money because after five years and 45 broadcasts costing about $1.1 million each, the Met has just begun to make a profit and a very modest one at that ($11 million in 2011), a “drop in the bucket” according to Armatage.
If it’s not about the money then, Armitage asks, are they perhaps striving after some ideal of democratization; bringing art to the masses, eliminating the distinctions between high and low? Closer to the mark, she says, but still not a bull’s eye. Radio is truly free, whereas the cinecasts, while not ultra expensive like attending the opera, are still far from free.
Armatage concludes the grail the Met is after is not exactly to be more inclusive so much as to find altogether new audiences. The need to do so is urgent: The average age of Met subscribers is 65, she notes. Moreover, the regulars are not like you and me; they are rich, really rich, ponying up big bucks for box seats and making substantial donations to boot.
So the question the Met’s cinecasts are posed to answer seems to be how to replace this aging audience and their old-fashioned type of patronage. Armatage has to admit that the cinecast initiative shows promise: already reaching 2.4 million people through 1,500 theatres in 46 countries, and poised to expand into Russia and China.
And the money isn’t just in the ticketing. Donations have correspondingly increased, by 50% in 2012. Although half of that still comes from the Met’s board of directors, according to the Met’s CEO Peter Gelb, the new millionaire donors are going to be found in those new audiences.
A similar change in audience-economies can be seen in the film business. According to an article in The Economist (February 23rd-March 1st, 2013), Hollywood movie revenues are stagnating while TV is more popular and profitable than ever. This summer, for the first time in as long as I can remember, networks are introducing new programs and not just playing reruns.
To make up for lost theatre revenues, Hollywood has come to rely on downstream revenue from DVD rentals, sales and now downloads through digital subscription services. But like with the Met’s cinecasts, this diversification doesn’t pay as much or as consistently as the old revenue models. According to analysts,”people are still watching the same amount of movies that they did a few years ago, They’re just spending $6 billion less a year to do it.”
Lower rates of return are endemic to the new media environment. In the same way that digital advertising rates for online magazines do not produce returns the way print advertising did, or ebook sales don’t yet make up for losses in hard copy book sales, movie distribution deals in new markets like Russia and China pay producers lower rates than the domestic standard percentage.
So here is the rub for the new art economy: new audiences promise to replace the disappearing, smaller but richer ones who paid more for tickets and donated more, but those new audiences typically pay less for digital delivered media. How much bigger the new audiences need to be, how much they’ll pay to be served and whether they will donate significantly all remain to be seen.
For the time being, producers, whether in the movie business or the opera business (or publishing for that matter) have little choice but to gamble on the new digital media: risking more, taking less profit while pushing their products further into unmapped territory.
While the revenue models are uncertain, there’s little doubt the wider audience is there. It’s just a question of how to wring the right amount of money out of them. In 2012, Lionsgate, an independent movie studio and distribution company, made one of its movies available in theatres and on video-on-demand at the same time, with the happy result that it produced three times as much revenue as it would have done otherwise, because, in the words of Lionsgate chairman Michael Burns, it “found two different audiences”.
To follow this topic on Twitter, search the hashtag #artecon.
Co-published by the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario, Tactile Desires: The Work of Jack Sures, is sumptuously illustrated with the complete works from the traveling exhibition of the same name, most recently at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. The book features essays by Sandra Alfoldy, Virginia Eichhorn, Julia Krueger and Matthew Kangas.
Softcover with French flaps, 216 pages, full colour
Read the review here.
This book is not just very hard to find online, I can’t find it anywhere. But I do have a number of copies on hand if you are interested: 44.95 CAD plus shipping. Please enquire via the contact page.
Evaluations of the previous year at the turn of the new year are generally popular, refreshing memory and promoting sober reflection. 2012 was, after a promising start, a miserable year by all accounts, including that of Maxwell Anderson, as expert and independent a thinker on the subject of art museums as one can find in the US of A.
Writing in the December issue of Artforum, Anderson observes an untoward over confidence and release of extravagance after years of measured caution and terrified parsimony brought on by the financial crisis of 2008. Anderson decries the financial short sightedness of museums, whose boards churn through directors while ignoring their fundamental missions and chasing trivial (and largely unattainable) goals like attendance to justify their institutiions.
Anderson usefully lists the criteria by which he believes boards should be evaluating their museums’ work: “the extent to which they care for our cultural heritage past and present and advance research, understanding, and awareness of the value of aesthetic endeavor.”
Anderson spends a lot of column inches on the most sensational news of 2012, how Jeffrey Deitch was challenged after his appointment to the directorship of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art when artists on his board abandoned ship after Deitch sacked veteran curator Paul Schimmel and dumped already scheduled projects for his own. Anderson’s piles on with the others, but his complaints sound shrill. If museums are stuck in various malaise, who better than Deitch, with his outsider status and dealer experience, to throw open the gates of privilege or try to develop more open and interesting relationships between museums and the market?
Acquisitions are another thing that make headlines in the museum world. Anderson notes a few of what he calls marquee art acquisitions, transformative gifts and bequests, including 405 Picasso prints donated to Saskatoon’s civic gallery by the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, a gift substantial enough to bring the respectable, regional Mendel Art Gallery (now renamed the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan) to the attention of the international art world.
Most interesting are Anderson’s compliments to the city of Detroit for instituting tax-based (mill rate) funding for the Detroit Institute of Arts, following a grassroots campaign that argued the extrinsic benefits to the community, including the multiplier economic effect, programs for the disabled and safer streets. Solid municipal support like that is more common here in Canada but needs to be even more universal, and at consistent funding levels.
In conclusion, Anderson appeals for more thoughtful and substantive support for art museums’ intrinsic activities: research, collections care, publishing and conservation. But looking hard at those programs may turn up problems just like the equivocal attitude to museum leadership and the preoccupation with attendance, like the looming collections crisis: vaults over-crowded with indifferent works acquired in boom times, with no room left, or budgets to support, the art being made today, or the on-going problem of donations that look good in annual reports but saddle institutions with costs they can ill-afford, in perpetuity.
Similarly, publishing continues to be fraught with contradictions, as Anderson notes earlier in the article: Why do museums persist in spending lavishly for exhibition catalogues that sell few copies to only the very narrowest segment of museum patrons?
There are answers to that question (e.g. publishing contributes in a fundamental way to the integrity of an institution by manifesting its commitment to, and capacity for, top notch research), and to others that address the core of the museum. Overall, Anderson’s year-end review calls for a refocusing on things that really matter. He has created a useful agenda to guide discussion and work in 2013.
Maxwell Anderson is a highly respected thought-leader within the art museum community, former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, and currently the director of the Dallas Museum of Art.
Amy Verner, writing in the December 19th Globe & Mail (What your $700 coffee-table book really says about you), calls attention to the fact that the market for big and beautiful art books is undiminished despite retractions in the economy and the seemingly-ever-collapsing book market. In fact, it may be growing.
Of course, she is talking about the world of international publishing, not our domestic one where even the most sumptuous, prestige art books are rarely if ever priced over $100. After the automatic discounts Amazon applies automatically to even new books, the prices of Canadian art books appear slightly ridiculous. Take just three examples:
Polaroids, a huge (34 x 44 cm), full colour, coffee table book of preparatory pictures taken by the internationally recognized Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs, beautifully designed by artist Michael Morris, is available for the preposterously low price of $37.62 from Amazon.ca. Even the publisher’s retail price of $60 is probably less than half what a book of this quality about an artist of Lukacs calibre is worth, and should command in the marketplace.
Another fabulous book, published on the occasion of a museum exhibition of the work of fashion designer Jean Paul Gautier, exquisitely produced (including an amazingly clever, optically vibrating plastic sleeve) by the very talented team at the Musée des beaux-art de Montreal, comes in at under $100 if ordered from Amazon, despite the fact that Gautier is an international celebrity and this was a world-premier event, his very first recognition by the art museum world.
Only when we get into the realm of “historical treasures” does price even begin to reflect value, or investment, e.g. the catalogue raisonée of David Milne is $360.36 on Amazon.ca, discounted egregiously from a still very reasonable $572.00, a price that barely reflects the estimated $1 million invested in this project (which produced, in addition to the catalogue raisonée, a CD version, and a companion biography written by David Silcox).
Are Canadian art books priced so poorly because Canadians are a naïve and unassuming people afraid to stand up and be counted? Or is it because the costs of production are covered by government subsidies regardless of sales? Or is it that Canadian publishers do not have the distribution reach and marketing resources to really compete in the international marketplace?
These are questions that deserve answers.
Canada’s public galleries are using a new service called Catalist for promoting their books. A spin off from Booknet Canada, Catalist allows subscribing publishers to create their own online catalogues. Designed as a shopping tool for retailers and libraries, the site gives an excellent overview of the remarkable art book publishing being done in Canada. Visit the site to see for yourself.
Illustrated at left, a 2012 book about the literary post-punk short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, a collection of stills, award-winning scripts, creative writings and critical missives by scholars, video legends and animal experts weighing in on why Vey Duke and Batttersby matter. Edited by Mike Hoolboom.
Vision is one of the faculties by which we experience the world. It is increasing in importance as tools for presenting information and representing the world become more powerful. Digital technology in particular has made it as easy, possibly easier, to send a picture as text. We are surrounded everywhere with images, from billboards, to magazines to television, and now of course, the Internet. Learning something without pictures is becoming rare.
The visual arts are, not surprisingly, surging. More people are aware of the visual arts and have a better grasp of what the visual arts are than perhaps ever before in history. The rising popularity of art schools and the corresponding increase in art school graduates has meant that most cities in Canada with a population over 50,000 have at least one university educated artist living and working there. You are as likely to find a work of public art in a small city as a large one. Ask almost anyone if they know of any public art nearby, and they’re likely to give you directions.
This comes at a time when other disciplines are facing serious challenges. Digital media and the efflorescence of rich media it so effortlessly produces, and freely distributes, is challenging the performing arts, music and publishing. But for the visual arts, more visuality has the opposite effect, building literacy and promoting the importance of art as a kind of key to deciphering the world.
Visual art has become the philosophy of the 21st Century.
The visual arts have also been more adept than other media at capitalizing on the opportunities presented by new media, not merely using new technologies but incorporating them fundamentally into how artists conceive of, and produce, art. There is, of course, media art – visual art in the form of film or video (now digital moving images) – but more profoundly, all visual art has become predominantly conceptual. Hardly a painting or drawing today does not declare its idea first, its ironic or historical references from pop-culture comics to the Renaissance, from historical re-enactment to sit com.
Of all the arts disciplines, visual art is easily the most diverse or hybrid. Visual artists combine not merely concepts but also media, crossing boundaries without license, beg, borrow and stealing as they go, appropriating text, moving images and still, three dimensional objects, old and new, manufactured and raw, all with equanimity. A good example of hybrid visual art is this year’s Turner prize winner, Elizabeth Price, whose archive-oriented media artwork can be glimpsed here, at the 3:05 mark: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19793480 …
In this context, it has become almost imperative that other arts disciplines embrace the methodologies of the visual arts. It is not so much a question of whether and how to cross-over conventional boundaries, mix, match, blend, etc. as how to catch the wave of visuality in culture, to multiple the strengths of disciplinary specialization, history and expertise rather than be trapped by them.
Of course, it’s not all La Vie en Rose for the visual arts either: there are challenges, particularly for institutions. With the free flow of images online and throughout culture generally, there is an enormous opportunity for art museums and art galleries to become better known, understood and used. But to capitalize on the zeitgeist, they need to free up their image resources, an argument thoroughly and convincingly made here by Beth Harris & Steven Zucker of the Khan Academy.