UNAC thoughts

Since the mid-'00s have been spending time in UNACs (unanthologized net art communities).
First came Nasty Nets, the ironic "internet surfing club" that Rhizome.org keeps pushing to the end of its "to be documented" priorities list. It's currently scheduled to be anthologized in April but talks about anthologizing the site began in 2013 and far worse projects have been lionized in the meantime.
Then came Dump.fm, a hugely influential idea-incubator that Rhizome never "got" and that suffered when the stock of founder Ryder Ripps dropped on the Rhizome credibility exchange (many say unfairly).
More recently it's been bogchat and chat soup, which are Dump- and IRC-like sites for people who "get it." (Hat tips John Romero and Joel Cook.)
Ripps once tweeted to Rhizome honcho Michael Connor that he, Connor, didn't understand the internet. That's certainly true regarding the net after about 2005, if the contents of the New Museum's Rhizome Net Anthology show are a guide. That show's weighted heavily to a pre-blogging era style of "net art" (Shulgin, MTAA, etc) and has no surf club presence to speak of. Possibly Connor "gets" Facebook and Twitter, which he seems to use and like. But who cares about those?

suzi gablik and progress

Art writer Suzi Gablik is probably best known for her books theorizing a pluralistic and/or socially conscious art, Has Modernism Failed? and The Reenchantment of Art.
Yet before she became poMo she was a Mo. It's still possible to find moldy copies of her 1977 tome Progress in Art, the thesis of which is that conceptualism in the manner of Sol LeWitt represented evolution in art.

A New York Times review from the '70s, archived online, characterized her book thusly:

[C]ritic and artist Suzi Gablik dares to pose the possibility -- sure to be hotly debated in art circles -- that recent art, especially serial, minimal and conceptual art, is the fruition of a millenia‐long development of the human perceptual faculties. This is, to be sure, not a simple task; but Gablik marshals some impressive arguments in favor of her hypothesis that art, like science, follows an evolutionary route from one stage of development to a higher plane of perceptual integration.

By the mid-'80s, annoyed by art world commodification and Julian Schnabel, she stopped talking about progress. It's interesting to skim the earlier book to see how deeply she imbibed that particular sugary drink before switching to one called "reenchantment." As far as I know she never critiqued her earlier ideas a la Wittgenstein, she just didn't mention them any more.

nonprofit art gallery fundraising - a hypothetical

If you're a seller of stock in an initial public offering, the SEC makes rules about when you can sell, and what methods you can use to alert the public ahead of time, to prevent insider advantages or favoritism.

The art market is traditionally a "wild west" where individual discretion of galleries determines such rules. "Pre-selling" a show -- where the dealer calls around to a few favored collectors to generate some "red dots" ahead of the opening -- is a fairly conventional practice. No one blames dealers for trying to keep their doors open in a tough, flighty business.

A non-profit gallery space must follow state and federal tax rules regarding its tax-exempt status. These rules allow selling artwork for fundraising, subject to various restrictions. "Pre-selling" isn't forbidden, but if a work is offered at a near-market price it may be subject to sales tax. Regardless, the nonprofit wants to maintain an appearance of fairness in how sales are structured.

Let's say, hypothetically, a nonprofit is having a fundraiser with donated artwork. The gallery invites a number of artists, each of whom will contribute a single editioned work for sale. All donated artworks are offered for sale to the public for a standardized (low) dollar amount.

What is the best way to structure the sale to avoid the appearance of favoritism? Obviously collectors will be attracted by the prospect of buying a "name" artist at a trifling price. Some options:

1. Don't invite any name artists. Unfortunately you need these cash cows to generate buzz and/or sales for non-name work, so that's not really a choice. In any case, the gallerist is using personal connections, calling in favors, and/or exercising personal judgment regarding potential "hot" names to invite, so already this isn't a very democratic procedure.

2. Invite name artists, but structure the sale as a one night event, with online or walk-in sales afterward. This is fair, it gives every buyer the same chance to buy a name artist.

3. Have the opening, and call around a few favored donors ahead of time to alert them to the presence of hot artists in the show. Doesn't smell too good, for a nonprofit.

4. Have a "soft" or passive presale, where emails go out to press and/or regular gallery mailing list announcing that works will be for sale online in advance of the official opening. This effectively guarantees that all the name artists' work will be unavailable by opening night. Better than option 3 but not as squeaky-scrupulous as option 2. All in all, probably an acceptable compromise for a gallery looking to drum up excitement, raise money, but also avoid unseemly stampedes the night of the opening. Option 2 is still the best choice, though.

eloquent list of pop and "art" music combinations

Jonathan D. Kramer, Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (Bloomsbury, 2016), Chapter 4:

Questioning, or even attacking, the previously all but unassailable barrier between pop and art music has energized postmodern music. Whereas there have certainly been modernist composers who enjoy vernacular music, only under the influence of postmodernism have art-music composers invited pop music into ostensibly art-music compositions. In the case of conservative postmodernists, the motivation may have been to reach out to an audience increasingly alienated from the world of serious concert music; in the case of radical postmodernists, the reason may have been to create unsettling and challenging contexts in which different styles confront each other. Despite the rhetoric of some composers and critics, most such crossover music does not cross completely freely from one musical world to another. Postmodernism thrives on otherness, on the recognition that something foreign is being embraced.

Footnote (no. 46) to the above passage:

John Rea offers a wonderfully varied list of postmodernist crossover music. Notice how, in most instances, the composer or performer’s stylistic or aesthetic affinity is on clearly one side of the divide, with foreign elements welcomed in precisely for their otherness, their exoticism: “Yehudi Menuhin playing ragas with Ravi Shankar or improvising hot jazz with Stéphane Grappelli; the Swingle Singers interpreting Bach by scat singing; the Beatles using a sitär in the Sergeant Pepper album; the settings of Folk Songs by Berio; Switched-on Bach for synthesizers, where the arranger/transcriber would change sex by the time he/she had completed the recording project; any one of the innumerable happenings organized by John Cage; the second movement of György Ligeti’s Three Pieces for Two Pianos entitled Selbstportrait mit Reich und Riley (und Chopin ist auch dabei); almost any ensemble in the Early Music movement that, in performing to extremely fast tempi, always leaves the impression that it might as well have played music to accompany a cartoon; jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performing Shostakovich or playing the harpsichord; the Kronos String Quartet, dressed in costume and exploiting rock-’n’-roll theatrical lighting, performing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix; the Koto Ensemble of Tokyo playing Vivaldi; Pavarotti singing with Dalla and Sting; the symphonies of Philip Glass; the Liverpool Oratorio by Paul McCartney; Itzahk Perlman playing klezmer music; Gidon Kremer playing tangos; the Shanghai Film Orchestra playing In C by Terry Riley on traditional Chinese instruments; the symphonies of Krzysztof Penderecki; Bobby McFerrin conducting and Chick Corea playing a Mozart piano concerto where the cadenzas are jazz-like improvisations; Belgian singer Helmut Lotti singing classical songs and arias but sounding like Mario Lanza’s operatic persona-manqué; American pop singer Neil Diamond singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah; jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek playing in a church while the Hilliard Ensemble sings Lasso and Palestrina; the English pop music group Oasis, feebly copying the Beatles, including their haircuts; the celebratory Symphony 1997 -- Heaven, Earth, Mankind by Tan Dun, written to mark the transfer of power in Hong Kong from Great Britain to China; the very long symphonic poem, Standing Stone, by Sir Paul McCartney, which sounds as if it had been written by Rachmaninoff after having taken LSD; and, finally, cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing tangos,” John Rea, “Postmodernisms.”

mo vs poMo (3)

It's amusing to read Daniel Albright's writings on Modernism -- brimming with enthusiasm and insight as if T.S. Eliot and Luigi Russolo were alive today and needed explanation -- alongside Jonathan D. Kramer's book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (2016), which treats Modernism as a slightly tainted artifact of the distant past, deserving no sympathy or apologetics. In a series of posts we'll consider this incongruity.

Kramer's book ultimately gets at the crux of why Modernism receives so many pejorative words in a current chart comparing it to Postmodernism: an intergenerational conflict based on the entrenchment of the Modernist canon in academia. It's one thing to study Modernist works, as Albright does; it's another to insist that this is the only correct art.

In Chapter 1.7, "Why Today’s Composers Write Postmodern Music," Kramer notes that "some young composers are uncomfortable with pressures from their teachers to like and respect one kind of music (tonal) yet write another (atonal). Like adolescents in the world of postmodernism, they rebel against the values they learn in school. They want to create the music they love, not that which they are told to love."

These "pressures" from teacher/authority figures are explained in more detail in Chapter 3.1:

The atonal canon has been promoted in American academia not only by composers but also by theorists, who have found in the music of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, and Bartók fertile ground for their analytic studies. Music which lends itself to systematic analysis tends to be analyzed in universities more readily than that which does not, and the music which is often analyzed is the music that students naturally are expected to think of as the most significant and relevant.... Their modernist teachers reinforce these imitations with praise and encouragement. And why have theorists concentrated on this small body of music? Part of the reason is expediency: it is easier to analyze consistent music than pluralistic music, in which no one system of thought will explicate an entire piece. Another part of the reason is political. When theories of atonal analysis began to spread through academia, this music was already well entrenched, thanks to several influential progressive modernist composers who held major teaching posts.

Theorists were thus able to assure their own importance by providing keys that unlocked the secrets of this highly valued but little understood repertory.

Audiences have come around to some modernist music (such as the early ballets of Stravinsky, the quartets of Bartók, and the sonatas of Ives), but the compositions of the Second Viennese School still fail to attract a large public. The reason often given is the unrelieved dissonance in the music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, but I doubt that this is the whole story. There is also a lot of dissonance in those Stravinsky and Bartók works which have found audiences, as there is in some downright popular Ives compositions, like his massively dissonant Fourth Symphony. Is the reason, then, atonality? I think not. The Rite of Spring, for example, may use some tonal materials, but it is not tonal. Stravinsky’s neoclassic works, which come closer to tonality, are less widely appreciated than the Rite. Schoenberg’s tonal works, such as Pelleas und Melisande and the Suite in G, are no more accepted by the public than are his atonal compositions. It seems that Schoenberg’s musical values and personality, more than his use of atonality or tonality, put listeners off. Is the reason for the gap between modernist music and the general public, then, the alleged lack of emotional content (whatever that vague term might mean)? Again, I think not, because some of Schoenberg’s most hermetic scores are also his most emotional (or so they seem to me). I think the main reason why some of the modernist works most prized by academics have little audience appeal is their elitism: you need to be a sophisticated listener to understand Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, or Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet, or Webern’s Orchestral Variations. You need to learn how to listen to these works. They are an acquired taste.

Whatever the reasons for the failure of audiences to enjoy much modernist music—and the failure of most modernist composers to write music capable of appealing to a large audience—modernism’s hermeticism has become almost a badge of honor. Late modernists, adopting a defensive posture, often act proud of the inaccessibility of their works to a general public. No pandering to the masses for them! No compositions with easily discernible structures! No postmodernism!