Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Ancient World Meets Contemporary Society

11 Books Illustrated By Famous Artists

The 13 Most Overused Words in the Art World in 2016

The 13 Most Overused Words in the Art World in 2016

Exercise with caution.
The definition for the word
The definition for the word "Surreal" in a copy of Merriam-Webster's Desktop Dictionary. Donald Trump's upset win in the US presidential election astonished people so much that they rushed to the dictionary to look up the word everyone was using to describe the event: surreal. Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Words, like many other items of exchange, swoop in and out of fashion. Some become useful staples. Some flourish and become over-familiar. Others are plundered from one arena and deployed in another, bringing with them worrying associations (as a friend recently messaged the fashion world at large: “stop launching and dropping things in 2017”).
Below is a shortlist of words that we feel have endured overexposure, and even abuse, in the art world in 2016.
Here’s to a happy retirement, one and all!
1. /activist
(As in: actor/ activist; musician/ activist; artist/ activist…)
Changing your Facebook status to reflect the cause du jour may well suggest that you are engaged with current affairs and possibly even a lovely human being, but it does not make you an activist (or even an “/activist”). It’s notable that the most long-term, politically engaged artists we’ve spoken to this year have tended to reject the term for themselves, instead reserving it for those who make activism their life’s work. Dishonorable mention here goes to all those in the British art world /activists who took to social media to counsel peace and love as reasons to #remain in Europe, and then filled the same feeds with bile and invectives the morning after #Brexit.
Swizz Beatz. Courtesy No Commission
In the press material, Swizz Beatz’s “No commission” art fair sought to “activate” artworks, audience, and space. Courtesy No Commission
2. Activation
We’re not even sure what an “activation” is, but we’ve been invited to attend a few this year. While we imagine it’s meant to sound dynamic in a kind of Tracy Island way (“It’s time to activate the art world Scott!,””Roger that, Virgil! Thunderbirds are go!”) it somehow makes us think of those packs of activated seeds and nuts sold for $20 a pop to raw food vegans. Do you want an art world populated with the human equivalent of a small, overpriced pack of moistened almonds? No, you do not.
3. Carefully
As in “carefully selected,” “carefully put together,” “carefully curated.” If you’ve been given the job of selecting, putting together or curating something, we’d say that doing it carefully is pretty much the bare minimum, expectation-wise. Telling us that you’ve done it carefully is like soliciting praise for not wolfing hash brownies on the job, or failing to drop a vase on the floor. Also, we’re reasonably confident that “carefully curated” is a tautology.
Donna Huanca, "Surrogate Painteen" (2016). Courtesy Peres Projects. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu, Berlin.
Donna Huanca, “Surrogate Painteen” (2016). Courtesy Peres Projects. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu, Berlin.
4. Continuously
“The installation changes continuously.” “Participants continuously attended workshops.” Does it? Did they? Or did the installation change a few times over the course of the show, and the participants attend a series of workshops? Cheese, wine, and humans change continuously: not always for the best.
5. Emerging
You can see the appeal here. Fair play: it’s a non-ageist way to describe an artist whose work is starting to receive noteworthy attention. Yet “emerging” brings attendant suggestions of darkness and light, as if said artist had hunkered down in a dank cave halfway up a cliff and was finally planning to step out into the radiance of art world attention.
Moreover, it makes art world attention sound like some kind of nourishing benediction. Rather than, for example, the neon glare of the beachfront sports bars that lured confused turtle hatchlings to their sticky doom on a busy coastal strip at the end of Planet Earth II, which some might argue is closer to the truth.
Jeff Koons and Larry Gagosian at the French Institute Alliance Francaise's Trophee des Arts Gala. Courtesy of photographer Sylvain Gaboury, © Patrick McMullan.
Jeff Koons and Larry Gagosian at the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s Trophee des Arts Gala. Courtesy of photographer Sylvain Gaboury ©Patrick McMullan.
6. Famous
If an artist is genuinely famous, it’s likely we’ll have heard of them. Ditto an artwork or piece of writing. This is not boasting: we’re more or less oblivious to reality stars, can’t identify famous YouTubers, and more or less unlikely to trouble celebrity sportspeople with selfie requests, but artists? If we’ve not heard of them, it would suggest that they’re probably not that famous. They might be acclaimed, respected, award-winning, unfairly overlooked, or even, god-forbid, emerging. They might even be popular, or endorsed by celebrities. But fame? That brings its own proof. If you feel the need to mention it, you’re already over-egging the pudding.
7. Iconic
It’s fine: we get that “iconic” no longer pertains to religious paintings. But when applied to people, it should suggest that they are in some way representative of their time or an idea: something larger than themselves. Rather than meaning “person who has allowed themselves to be photographed a lot,” “artwork that has received many likes on Instagram,” or “popular consumer item.”
Eliza Douglas in Anne Imhof, Angst II (2016) at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin. Photo ©Nadine Fraczkowski.
Eliza Douglas in Anne Imhof, Angst II (2016) at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin. Photo ©Nadine Fraczkowski.
8. Immersive
Overexposed. If you’ve used this twice in a paragraph, you’re probably using it too much. Pull back. Grab a thesaurus.
9. Interrogate
The use of artworks to interrogate ideas seems cruel and unnecessary to both parties involved. Just think of all those poor, beautifully-formed concepts being forced to sit through looped three screen video installations with binaural sound until they crumble and ‘fess up. It makes us come over all snuffly.
10. Intervention
Seems to have become a more forceful alternative to “site specific installation.” Just as “activate” feels like it was borrowed from a paleo diet plan, “intervention” has a whiff of therapy to it, as if the artwork were a concerned family trying to come between an alcoholic and a bottle of cash-and-carry whisky. Whether than makes the audience the whisky or the auntie about to be placed in a residential twelve step program, we leave you to decide.
A visitor views a series of works by Helen Marten at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo courtesy: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.
The work of 2016 Turner Prize winner Helen Marten has been described as “poetic” by the jury. Photo Danny Lawson/PA Wire.
11. Poetic
Poetry—that stuff that can haunt and tease and trouble your soul—is a natural ally to visual art, (see: Etel Adnan, Marcel Broodthaers, Dante Gabrielle Rosetti et al.) As an adjective, however, “poetic” has become lazy critical shorthand for “it looks great, I don’t understand it, and I can’t really be bothered to try.”
12. Transformative
The process of developing an exhibition or body of work may very well have been transformative for the artist, but to describe that work in itself as transformative is heady stuff. It suggests the visit to an exhibition as perhaps akin to undertaking a pilgrimage: a journey of change and self-discovery. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Usually in the case of exhibitions that describe themselves as “transformative,” it’s the latter.
Hans Ulrich Obrist attends the Swiss Institute launch celebration of his book Ways Of Curating on November 13, 2014 in New York City. Photo Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Surface Magazine.
Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is a fan of the word “urgent.” Photo Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Surface Magazine.
13. Urgency
Remember how people used to describe things as “relevant” in the 1970s? Urgency seems to have taken its place, denoting something very “now” and worthy of your attention. “Urgency” inevitably seems to be applied to –ologies and –isms, which is grammatically irksome. Also, in this month of icy northern winds, “urgency” makes us think of needing to pee.
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The 8 Biggest Forgery Controversies of 2016

The Year of the Fake: The 8 Biggest Forgery Controversies of 2016

The most ridiculous—and expensive—fake art scandals and spats of the year.
French painting expert Eric Turquin poses on April 12, 2016 in Paris with Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes, presented as being painted by Italian artist Caravaggio (1571-1610), while experts are still to determine its authenticity. Photo courtesy Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images.
Fakes and forgeries in the art world are the stuff of legend, the subject of books, films, and television series the world over. In real life, they land people behind bars. 2016 brought us many unwanted things, but it also appears to have been a year when a huge amount of authenticity disputes took place. The spats took shape from contested provenance, to painters faking their own work, to a multimillion dollar Old Masters scandal. From farce to tragedy, we’ve compiled the highlights of this year’s biggest art forgery scandals below.
When a painting that appeared to be the long-lost second version of Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio turned up in an attic in France, the world was watching. Before the authenticity of the painting was even established, an unnamed American institution tried to put in an offer for the potential Baroque masterpiece.
The painting was claimed to be a fake by Caravaggio expert Mina Gregori, but in light of some recent mistakes on her part, judgement was still reserved. Then, expert Eric Turquin stepped in to authenticate and value the painting at €120 million.
While the authenticity of the painting remains unconfirmed, the “yeses” were enough for some. The work went on view to the public on November 10 at Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, to some outcry from the art community.
Lee Ufan poses near one of his artworks entitled "L'arche de Versailles" ('The arch of Versailles'), on June 11, 2014. at the Chateau de Versailles, during the exhibition "Lee Ufan Versailles". Painter and sculptor Lee Ufan, 77, has created a variety of artworks made of stone and steel for an exhibition at the Chateau de Versailles, outside Paris. Photo courtesy Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images.
Lee Ufan poses near one of his artworks entitled “L’arche de Versailles” (‘The arch of Versailles’), on June 11, 2014. at the Chateau de Versailles, during the exhibition “Lee Ufan Versailles”. Photo courtesy Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images.
The forgery scandal surrounding the work of minimalist South Korean artist Lee Ufan was puzzling at best. In the first instance, the accused forger, known as Hyeon, confessed to police—only to have Ufan himself contradict him, verifying that thirteen alleged fakes were, in fact, genuine.
In an added twist, new charges were brought against a second Korean forgery ring. This involved a master forger known only as Park selling forgeries to a Seoul gallery for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The gallery, run by a husband and wife known as Kim and Ku, then sold them on for millions. Park confessed to forging a total of forty works.
The scandal led the Korean government to introduce new legislation to prevent the eruption of any more similar scandals. In the aftermath, however, all owners of Ufan’s work are undoubtedly checking their provenance.
Alexander Liberman, Agnes Martin with Level and Ladder (1960). Photogrpahy Archive, Getty Research Institute. Photo: © J. Paul Getty Trust.
Alexander Liberman, Agnes Martin with Level and Ladder (1960). Photography Archive, Getty Research Institute. Photo ©J. Paul Getty Trust.
The London-based Mayor Gallery launched legal action against the estate of Agnes Martin in October, after they refused to authenticate 13 works that the gallery had already sold. The potential costs were both the gallery’s reputation, and around $7.2 million in refunded sales.
The works in question were Night and Day, an untitled work, and eleven more works on paper. 
In an added twist, Pace Gallery‘s Arne Glimcher was named in the suit because, as both the founder of the Agnes Martin Foundation and the owner of Pace, Glimcher could be involved in a conflict of interest, which could void the estate’s rejection of the works.
If the case finds in favor of the estate—which is the most common result in cases such as these—the works will be rendered valueless. The gallery, which has already refunded two of the three clients involved, would have to refund its third client in this matter to the tune of millions.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus (1531). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus (1531). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The image of the dapper crook knocking out Raphaels in a garret, secretly making millions, is fodder for many a Hollywood script, but it’s most fascinating because it really happens. This summer, a multi-million dollar forgery scam came to a head around the first iteration of TEFAF New York.
In a hot mess that drew in everyone from European Royalty to London’s National Gallery, forgeries of work by 25 Old Masters totalling an estimated $225 million were brought to the market by the French dealer Giulano Ruffini.
The scandal kicked off with the high drama of French authorities seizing Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder—owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein—from the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix, and spread through the art world like wildfire, taking Orazio Gentileschi’s David with the Head of Goliath, and Velázquez’Portrait of Cardinal Borgia with it, calling the authenticity of the Old Master works into question.
The original source of the suspected forgeries is a mystery, although they were of such a high standard that they passed muster at such prestigious institutions as Christie’s, The Met, and the aforementioned National Gallery.
Ross Bleckner, Sea and Mirror (1996). Courtesy Artnet
Ross Bleckner, Sea and Mirror (1996). Image courtesy Artnet.

This has all the elements of a classic New York art world spat. From celebrity and art world royalty, to in-court name calling and accusations of interstate tax evasion, this case had it all.
The crux of the matter is that Alec Baldwin claims he thought be was buying the original work Sea and Mirror (1996) by Ross Bleckner, whereas Boone claims he always knew the work would be a copy, painted for Baldwin by the artist.
The case rumbles on, but pinnacles so far have included Baldwin likening Boone to a bank robber in a court of law, and Boone trying to have the case thrown out of court on the grounds that Baldwin had the work shipped to LA, and then New York, to avoid paying sales tax. The saga continues.
A suite of four Louis XVI gilt-walnut armchairs stamped by Louis Delanois that sold at Christie's Paris in 2015.
A suite of four Louis XVI gilt-walnut armchairs stamped by Louis Delanois that sold at Christie’s Paris in 2015.
These pesky forgers don’t limit their scams to painting, and are capable of turning their hands to many types of fakery. In the case of this set of six Louis XIV chairs—sold by highly-respected Parisian antiques dealer Kraemer Gallery to the Palace of Versailles itself—it emerged after the sale was made public that there just were not as many chairs in the court of Versailles as there are currently in circulation. The natural conclusion would be that some of the presumed authentic chairs must indeed be fakes.
The authenticity of the chairs is still under investigation by the French authorities, but the scandal attached to the story led the respected Kraemer Gallery to drop out of of the Biennale des Antiquaires.
Lawrence Ulvi. Photo: Multnomah County Sheriff's Office
Lawrence Ulvi. Photo courtesy Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
Lawrence Ulvi spent years running a tidy little business in fakes of the Northwest School, including works by Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and Kenneth Callahan.
Ulvi had been knocking out and selling these works to galleries in Canada and the US since 2008, netting himself a cool $66,232 in the process.
Once caught, the artist’s lawyer pleaded for no prison term on the grounds of ill health. Facing a maximum sentence of twenty years, the presiding judge did offer some leniency to the forger, sentencing him to one year and one day in prison, and encouraging him to bring his paintbrushes and artistic talent with him behind bars.
Drawing signed Francis Bacon Photo: Herrick Gallery
Drawing signed Francis Bacon. Photo courtesy Herrick Gallery.
8. Fakon
Fakon: Fake Bacon. Francis Bacon made it notoriously difficult to authenticate his work, by refusing to take part in the compilation of his catalogue raisonné or speak to those entrusted with the task.
That being said, when these gems (see above) came onto the market via an ex-boyfriend of Bacon, they were rejected from the catalogue raisonné before going up for sale at a London gallery. Just looking at these loose sketches, one is forced to consider—even if Bacon himself did make them—whether he would ever want them to see the light of day.
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