Saturday, September 19, 2020

Richard Avedon


Richard Avedon
American, 1923–2004

Although Richard Avedon’s celebrated fashion photographs have graced the pages of Harper’s BazaarVogue, and Life, the artist primarily referred to himself as a portrait photographer. Avedon’s fashion shots are profoundly dramatic and dynamic, often capturing the model in motion. Along with his own acquaintances and various ordinary people, Avedon took photographs of celebrities, politicians, and other public figures ranging from Bertrand Russell to Marilyn Monroe. In both his commercial assignments and his portrait work, Avedon’s meticulous approach and penetrating gaze sought to capture the essence of each unique subject and moment in time.

Blue chip
Represented by internationally recognized galleries.
Collected by major museums
Tate, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Selected exhibitions
God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin, 
David Zwirner
Richard Avedon, 
Pace Gallery
Richard Avedon: Murals & Portraits, 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

why wildfires are worsening


What Wildfire Archaeology Tells Us About the Burning American West

Archaeologists in New Mexico are studying past wildfires through tree rings and pottery sherds.

Orange pin flags indicate the location of ceramic pottery sherds collected for analysis after a prescribed burn in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico in 2012.
Orange pin flags indicate the location of ceramic pottery sherds collected for analysis after a prescribed burn in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico in 2012. CHRISTOPHER ROOS

This work first appeared on SAPIENS under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license. Read the original here.

AS I TYPE, THE AMERICAN West is ablaze with more than 100 devastating wildfires. Many of these are record-setting in both size and intensity. Several, including one in my home state of Colorado, have been so intense they’ve created their own thunderstorms.

Science shows that wildfires have been getting more destructive over the last several decades. The question is: Why? Are they getting worse due to climate change? Or is it due to human encroachment on once-remote forests?

Or, counterintuitive as it may seem, are federal wildfire suppression policies to blame?

In the U.S., forest fire management policies date back to the 1880s, shortly after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872. After a roughly 50-year period in which some wildfires were allowed to burn, in 1935, the U.S. Forest Service formally adopted the “10 a.m. policy.” All forest fires were supposed to be put out by the morning after they were first spotted. To enlist Americans in these efforts to suppress forest fires, in 1944, the U.S. Forest Service introduced Smokey Bear, who would go on to become one of the most iconic cartoon animals of all time.

For over 75 years, Smokey has taught generations of Americans to be responsible environmental stewards with his admonishment, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” But Smokey’s message is predicated on a faulty assumption—that forest fires are inherently bad for people and the environment.

Smokey's slogan portrays forest fires as inherently bad for people and the environment.
Smokey’s slogan portrays forest fires as inherently bad for people and the environment. PUBLIC DOMAIN

This assumption goes against the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of many Native American tribes who have long used fire as a crucial part of land stewardship practices. In recent years, even the U.S. Forest Service has come around to this understanding and now supports the use of prescribed burns to return forests to a healthier state.

Innovative research by archaeologists working in New Mexico points to the same conclusion: Forests across the American West are desperately out of ecological balance, and federal fire suppression policies are partly to blame. But how have these archaeologists actually gone about providing convincing evidence for this claim?

THE STORY STARTS AT WABAKWA, an archaeological site in northern New Mexico that dates to around 1140 to 1470. Wabakwa was a large village consisting of 800 to 1,000 rooms, located on a high ridge top in a fire-prone ponderosa pine forest in the Jemez Mountains. The inhabitants, Ancestral Puebloans, grew maize and other crops in the fertile soil, hunted, and gathered wild plants. Their descendants now live in Walatowa (a.k.a. the Pueblo of Jemez) and other northern New Mexico communities.

For archaeologist and “human pyrogeographer” Christopher Roos, Wabakwa provided an ideal site to explore the unintended consequences of fire suppression. Roos studies ancient fire regimes, or the historical patterns, frequencies, and intensities of fires in a particular area, in order to understand the role Native Americans have played in forest management through time. In a recently published study, Roos and his colleagues looked at how different fire management styles have affected the health of the forest ecosystem at Wabakwa over the past 900 years.

Using dendochronology, or tree-ring dating, the team examined fire-scarred trees in and around Wabakwa and found three distinct patterns. From around 1100 to 1650, small, patchy fires were common in the area. These fires, which often affected only one or two ponderosa pines, would have been set by the inhabitants as part of their subsistence and cultural practices, probably to manage plant resources and maximize agricultural productivity.

Scientists cut slabs out of fire-scarred ponderosa pines to collect tree-ring samples, which are used to precisely date when wildfires occurred in the past.
Scientists cut slabs out of fire-scarred ponderosa pines to collect tree-ring samples, which are used to precisely date when wildfires occurred in the past. CHRISTOPHER ROOS

Once Native Americans left the region, those patchy fires stopped, and nature took over again. From the late 1600s through about 1880, according to the fire scars in the trees, there were widespread, low-level wildfires that affected larger numbers of ponderosa pines. This pattern is consistent with other ponderosa pine forests across North America, where wildfires occur naturally every 15 to 20 years or so.

Finally, from the late-19th century up until today, coinciding with the period of federal fire suppression, as well as livestock grazing and logging activities (largely by Euro-Americans), the team found evidence of significant changes to the forest structure. With low-intensity fires no longer passing through the area, the forest became denser and overgrown, with lots of trees having germinated since the last recorded wildfire in 1893. The amount of combustible materials, such as leaves, needles, and branches—what scientists and forest managers call the “fuel load”—also increased significantly due to the lack of fires during this period.

In 2012, after 119 years of suppressing fires in the Jemez Mountains, the U.S. Forest Service allowed a fire to move through Wabakwa once again. This prescribed burn, part of the Jemez Mountain Restoration Project, was designed to carefully remove the unnaturally heavy fuel loads that had built up because of fire suppression practices since the 1890s.

With all these different fire management styles at one place, Roos and his team had the perfect set of conditions to test their hypothesis. In doing so, they used a remarkable technique for dating pottery sherds that had never been used for quite this purpose before: optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. Bear with me—the details of this technique are cool but complicated.

OSL dating works on pottery and other objects that contain certain sediments. That’s because the grains of quartz sand found in these sediments contain a record of when they were last exposed to extreme heat or light. Quartz crystals have flaws, or traps, built into their crystalline structure. When exposed to ionizing radiation, which is naturally everywhere in our environment, stray electrons become embedded in these quartz traps at a rate that is reasonably consistent over time. Once trapped, the electrons accumulate in ever greater numbers. The electrons remain trapped until a blast of light or heat energy—from, say, an intense fire—allows them to escape, thus resetting the quartz crystal’s internal clock (as it were) to zero.

With OSL dating, scientists provide a blast of resetting energy by applying light (hence the term “optically stimulated”) to the quartz under tightly controlled conditions. When they do, trapped electrons burst free and give off light (or “luminescence”). Scientists measure the light that is emitted after the blast and use it to calculate the amount of time since a quartz crystal’s clock was last reset.

Usually, when archaeologists use this method on pottery, they are trying to find out when the vessel was manufactured; the quartz clock gets reset when prepared clay is fired in a kiln that reaches between 300 and 500 degrees Celsius. But Roos and his team used this dating method for a different purpose: To figure out the last time a fire moving through the forests near Wabakwa had been intense enough to reset the quartz clocks of sherds found in the area. By doing that, they figured, it would be possible to determine if modern fire suppression practices have led to stronger, longer-lasting wildfires.

Smokey Bear remains a symbol of forest fire prevention.
Smokey Bear remains a symbol of forest fire prevention. LANCE CHEUNG / USDA / CC BY 2.0

The team collected 32 pottery sherds from Wabakwa. Roughly one-third of these had been exposed to intense heat in the 2012 prescribed burn. Another third had been put through wildfires historically but were missed by the recent prescribed burn. Yet another third were buried deep within the rooms of the pueblo and had not been exposed to prolonged heat since they were first manufactured.

The team then submitted these samples to OSL dating. As predicted, the quartz clocks of all the sherds that had been burned in 2012 had been reset. Others, which had been exposed to wildfires prior to the era of fire suppression but not to the 2012 fire, did not have their clocks reset, nor did those that had remained buried.

In other words, the prescribed burn in 2012 was indeed more intense than any fire in the region during the last 900 years, almost certainly due to federal fire suppression policies and resulting fuel buildup.

I REMEMBER A TV COMMERCIAL from 1970, the year I turned six years old. That 30-second spot shows a wooden match igniting, then burning in slow motion. After an excruciating, mesmerizing few seconds, the narrator sternly reminds viewers: “Matches don’t start forest fires. People do. Next time, think before you strike.” The message was clear: It was up to people like me to protect the forests.

I was too young then to understand the concept of irony and the law of unintended consequences. But it’s clear to me now that more than a century of fire suppression in the American West has created a very dangerous ecological imbalance. Thanks to the work of archaeologists at Wabakwa, we now have convincing evidence that ponderosa pine forests that were once effectively managed by humans and natural wildfire cycles have become flammable tinderboxes.

It’s going to be exceedingly difficult to rectify this situation. That said, collaborative research between various federal agencies, universities, and Native American tribes suggests that a return to Indigenous fire management practices can indeed prove effective in mitigating our current situation. I hope we’re not too late.

Monday, September 14, 2020

alliance of mega-dealers


    The Gray Market: Why an Ongoing Alliance of Mega-Dealers Suggests the Gallery System Is Still in Its Infancy (and Other Insights)

    Our columnist explains why a joint venture between Acquavella, Gagosian, and Pace means gallery consolidation is only just getting started.

    Glimcher. Photo © Axel Depuex.
    From left to right: Arne Glimcher, Bill Acquavella, Larry Gagosian, and Marc Glimcher. Photo © Axel Depuex.

    Every Monday morning, Artnet News brings you The Gray Market. The column decodes important stories from the previous week—and offers unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the art industry in the process

    This week, going back to the future—or maybe ahead to the past…



    On Wednesday, Michael Shnayerson served up a scoop in the midst of an in-depth Wall Street Journal profile of Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher. Just over six months after shaking up the art world with the announcement that his gallery would team up with fellow apex dealers Larry Gagosian and Bill Acquavella to place the collection of the late Donald Marron, Glimcher revealed that the Three Musketeers of high-end private sales would ride together again. Here’s Shnayerson:

    So lucrative was the Marron sale that it’s bred a new business. “Our company is called AGP, for Acquavella, Gagosian and Pace,” Arne Glimcher says. “And it’s independent from our galleries.” The galleries will still face off but will come together for certain collections. 

    For clarity, what Shnayerson means by “certain collections” is “certain estates,” i.e., those of a scale and value that conventional thinking would conclude only Christie’s or Sotheby’s could handle. Expanding on what Bill Acquavella says in the piece, AGP’s existence improves the prospects of heirs and estate executors by providing more options, more competition, and maybe a better deal than they might get from the gavel gang alone. 

    The same day the WSJ published Shnayerson’s profile, the Canvas swooped in with some follow-up reporting on the nature of the AGP arrangement. The most important points clarified by the publication, via a Pace spokesperson, were that the collaboration exists as a separate entity that was founded in February 2020 for the sake of servicing the Marron collection; that there are “currently no plans” to staff it in a dedicated way; and that the question of whether other estates had already been approached by the troika was answered with the ever-enticing “no comment.”

    I checked in with Pace myself on Friday to try to make sure I fully understood some of the other details mentioned by the Canvas. A gallery spokesperson confirmed that the collaborative entity is officially called AGP Ventures (“AGP” is internal shorthand) and that “future pitches to estates will be presented under AGP on behalf of the galleries.” (The Canvas also relayed that Pace president and CEO Marc Glimcher would likely represent Pace in these scenarios, but that a heavy hitter from Acquavella or Gagosian could be the entity’s main liaison to upcoming clients, as Glimcher was to the Marrons, depending on whose relationships are strongest.) The Pace spokesperson again demurred on the question of new estates, confirming only that AGP is still handling “ongoing business between the galleries related to the Marron collection.” 

    Although I don’t question for a moment that AGP Ventures will once again make its presence felt in the art market of the (near) future, there is a sense in which its continued existence pushes back against one of the key narratives of the trade’s recent developments. In fact, history even tempts me to wonder if, instead of signifying how professionalized the gallery sector has become, AGP actually underscores how embryonic the industry remains in the broader context of global business. 

    Cy Twombly, <i>Camino Real</i> (2011) © Cy Twombly Foundation. Courtesy the Donald B. Marron Family Collection, Acquavella Galleries, Gagosian, and Pace Gallery.

    Cy Twombly, Camino Real (2011) © Cy Twombly Foundation. Courtesy the Donald B. Marron Family Collection, Acquavella Galleries, Gagosian, and Pace Gallery.


    I’ve written as much as anyone about how we’ve entered a “winner takes all” era in the art economy (and much of the larger economy) during the past generation. But the AGP collaboration proves that the reality is somewhat more complex than that vivid phrase implies. 

    Is it meaningful that three high-end dealers saw fit to join forces and successfully woo away the Marron estate, and potentially others to come, from the two biggest auction houses in the industry? Absolutely. But as I wrote when the alliance emerged as a one-off in late February, there were at least two significant private-dealing precedents in the 25 years prior. Neither resulted in a formal partnership, let alone an ongoing company. Still, they show that the Marron sale on its own wasn’t as novel as some observers made it out to be.

    It’s arguable that AGP Ventures’s status as a going concern only reinforces that gallery-system consolidation is still far from its endgame. While it’s noteworthy that Acquavella, Gagosian, and Pace were able to outmaneuver and outspend the auction-house duopoly well into the nine-figure range—the Wall Street Journal reported that Christie’s and Sotheby’s offered the Marrons guarantees of “at least $300 million,” whereas Glimcher confirmed to Shnayerson that AGP advanced the family a total of $350 million—it’s just as noteworthy that the galleries pooled their resources to do it.

    Close collaboration does not tend to be necessary when it comes to lucrative business opportunities in industries further along the “winner-takes-all” path. Consider the race to corner the market on self-driving cars, a goal now being pursued by titans in both Big Tech and Big Auto. You don’t see General Motors, Ford, and Toyota teaming up to compete against AmazonApple, and Google. Instead, each of these behemoths is pumping billions of dollars into developing its own autonomous-driving projects. They don’t need to join forces, and they don’t want to.

    I can’t definitively say that Acquavella, Gagosian, and Pace had to form an alliance to win the Marron estate. But given that the highest plausible estimates I’ve ever heard for annual gross sales at Pace and Gagosian are $1 billion each, handing $350 million to a client up front strikes me as a dubious prospect for any single member of AGP. (Gagosian has been linked to the $1 billion figure by reputable outlets since at least 2016, and Shnayerson mentions that Marc Glimcher himself touted that Pace turned over that amount “or more” in recent years.) Even if one of these galleries could leverage up enough to pay such a fat guarantee, it’s no small feat to increase gross sales by something like 35 percent year over year. 

    To be clear, this is not a slam of AGP or the individual dealers comprising it. The day I start holding up Big Tech as a role model is the day that someone who cares about my wellbeing should rush to my apartment to make sure I’m not mumbling non-sequiturs to myself in the fetal position on my kitchen floor. However, I think this is a relatively clear-eyed view of the mile markers on the art industry’s journey. If we’re looking for cross-industry comps, the present contours of the art-sales business most closely match those of finance… if you rewind about 120 years. 

    The East Room of the Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Photography by Mike Peel. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    The East Room of the Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Photography by Mike Peel. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


    As fate would have it, I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s The House of Morgan, a nonfiction epic tracing the evolution of Wall Street through the history of the Morgan banking dynasty. As of this weekend, I’ve made it up to the 1920s (only about 600 pages to go!), and I’ve been struck over and over again by how much the adolescence of American finance resembles the current gallery system. 

    Take the fierce cloistering of company data. As per the gallery sector’s general modus operandi, in February, AGP declined to provide prices for the Marron works being sold or a valuation for the full collection. (Marc Glimcher told the Wall Street Journal that prices would be available only for works still unsold by the time they went on view in an exhibition of the collection later in the year.) You can guess where my mind went when I read that an 1870s stock prospectus for the New York Central Railroad stated that “the credit and status of the company are so well known, that it is scarcely necessary to make any public statement” about them—and thus, no one in the company did.

    Another early Wall Street parallel is the industry-wide adherence to what Chernow calls the “Gentleman Banker’s Code”: a system by which a potential business partner’s perceived trustworthiness was often deemed the only collateral necessary to cement lucrative deals. A case in point was the 1901 formation of US Steel, a trust founded on a transaction worth north of $12.5 billion after adjusting for inflation… which took place after one of Andrew Carnegie’s surrogates gave a rousing speech at a dinner and, later, delivered a slip of paper with the proposed investment amount to J. Pierpont Morgan, who merely said, “I accept this price.” (A formal contract eventually followed, but only after the principles had already been proceeding for “weeks” as if the enterprise was a done deal.) 

    I bring up US Steel for a larger reason. To me, the most relevant parallel to AGP comes courtesy of the alliances forged between gargantuan industrialists and Wall Street deities to enable ascendant American interests to battle the established global powers of Europe at the outset of the 20th century. US Steel was one of these. The joint venture married what would otherwise have been the competing steel operations of Carnegie and Morgan into a monster “which would handle all phases of the business, from mining ore to marketing steel products.” Crucially, the resulting economies of scale and pooled resources would finally allow the most successful Americans to “compete in burgeoning world markets” instead of remaining strictly domestic. 

    If we think of the then-historically dominant European business interests as auction houses, it doesn’t take much imagination to see shadows of AGP and the estate business in the rest of the trust phase. Both are classic “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” scenarios featuring entrepreneurs who recognize the limits of their own capacities, as well as the larger opportunities they could seize by uniting on an ongoing venture—even as they continue to joust in others. Both also developed in the absence of industry-specific regulatory oversight and were able to materialize quickly due to an abnormally high degree of personal familiarity among the principals. (Only a few weeks elapsed between the Marron family soliciting bids from the major auction houses in January and the formation of AGP in February, with the genesis being Marc Glimcher, in his telling, simply calling up Larry Gagosian and Bill Acquavella to say they should “present an alternative to the family.”)

    This is by no means a perfect comparison. But the fact remains that high finance in 2020 would barely be recognizable to the free-wheeling leaders of what Chernow calls its Baronial Age. At some point in the future, the same will be true of the gallery sector. I just suspect that point is much further away than last week’s art news might tempt us to think.

    [The Wall Street Journal]


    That’s all for this week. ‘Til next time, remember: everything looks colossal if you’re too close to it.

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