Thursday, February 28, 2013

Banksy: overrated purveyor of art-lite

Great art sears the imagination indelibly – Banksy's overpriced murals fizzle briefly in news headlines, and are soon forgotten

Banksy on Poundland
Conversation piece … Banksy hits the news again as a mural is taken from a shop in north London and put up for sale in the US. Photograph: Matthew Chattle/Alamy

Banksy is an artist who only exists in the eye of the public. This is literally true. There is no one called Banksy – it is, famously, the pseudonym of an artist who wishes to remain anonymous. But it is also true as a description of his work's dependence on fame: take away the mystique of media attention and it turns to dust like a vampire at dawn.

Some art can exist just as well in silence and obscurity as on the pages of newspapers. The Mona Lisa is always being talked about, but even if no one ever again concocted a headline about this roughly 510-year-old painting it would still be as great. The same is true of real modern art. A Jasper Johns painting of a network of diagonal marks surrounded by cutlery stuck to the frame, called Dancers On a Plane – currently in an exhibition at the Barbican – was just as real, vital and profound when it was hidden away in the Tate stores as it is under the gallery lights. Johns does not need fame to be an artist; he does not even need an audience. He just is an artist, and would be if no one knew about him. Banksy is not an artist in that authentic way.

Banksy, as an artist, stops existing when there is no news about him. Right now he is a story once again, because a "mural" by him (street art and graffiti no longer suffice to describe his pricey works) has been removed from a wall and put up for auction. Next week the story will be forgotten, and so will Banksy – until the next time he becomes a headline.

Banksy's art has no life as art, no aesthetic or even anti-aesthetic effect, no content beyond the trite, no personality. It is just a brand: effective in marketing terms, occasionally pithy as propaganda, but with nothing to fill the heart and mind. This art is soulless and flavourless. It is an archetypal product of our society: it exists only to be talked about, the perfect message for social media.

I want art that is physically and intellectually and emotionally real. I want a Robert Rauschenberg box studded inside with nails like an inverted Congo fetish; a Picasso painting of a dwarf dancer; a Roy Lichtenstein fighter plane. All these and more pieces of art are in exhibitions right now. When the exhibitions close they will still be masterpieces. Great art burns in the imagination; Banksy fizzes mildly in some other, less important part of the mind.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

See Here: Confessions of an Art Collector

Walter Robinson as photographed in 1985 by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

By Walter Robinson

Might as well face it, I am an art collector. Generally speaking, as an artist and art critic, I like to pretend that I don't even know any art collectors—that's what art dealers are for. But in truth, in my old age I have turned into an art collector myself.

I'm not the big-money kind of collector—you would probably have heard of me if I were—but I do own a substantial number of artworks. My apartment is filled with them, and I have more in storage. Until recently, many of these works sat on the floor, stacked in bunches against the wall—a situation any serious art collector will recognize.

I should also confess to harboring the occasional resentment towards art collectors as a group, solely by way of a minor family squabble, of course. As an artist, I find that far too many collectors have neglected to buy my work. And as a critic, well, critics everywhere resent collectors because they undermine their authority. As Sophocles might well have said about the art business, "Money talks, bullshit walks."

Still, the truth is that I do own a fairly large number of artworks, acquired over many years in all of the usual ways. I've gotten artworks through trade (a Mike Bildo Not Pollock splatter painting, for instance, in return for a portrait), as gifts (a David Wojnarowicz stencil of a snarling dog on a smashed metal garbage-can lid, a gift to my daughter—I'm her "regent"—on her second birthday), and via purchase (a painting on paper by the all-but-forgotten Abstract Expressionist Adja Yunkers, who taught a studio art class I took in college, which I bought for $500 at a Christie's Interiors auction).

Oh, and I once found a Martin Wong tondo in the trash on Ludlow Street, and then there was the day I was given a work by a friend after I said, "I want that!" I don't think the method worked any other time. 

I've bought things because I liked the artist, and bought other things because I liked the dealer—or hoped the dealer would like me. I've bought lots of works for bargain prices at art benefits, notably a Louise Lawler black-and-white photo of a Maurizio Cattelan taxidermied mouse hanging like the hero of Ratatouille from a string tightrope, courtesy of the Printed Matter book fair.

Once, in partnership with a dealer who was sitting next to me at a table at a benefit auction, I even managed to flip a work for a quick if modest profit after it turned out the two of us were the only people in the room who realized a gouache by then-little-known artist Kehinde Wiley was worth more than it was going for.

Every so often I catch myself, while looking at an artwork, imagining the reaction of visitors to my house when they see it on the wall. This simple sentiment, the pride of possession, is elemental to art collecting. Then I remember that I never have people over to my apartment.

Most amusing (to me) were my efforts to buy art "for investment." As I found out soon enough, the buying part is easy. It’s the selling that takes some doing. I can't tell you how many times I snapped up a work by a newly buzzworthy artist only to see the art market forget all about it six months later. Beware.

You might be surprised to learn that I was never much good at using my status as an art critic, such as it is, to build my collection. On occasion I've heard it suggested that the art criticism profession is corrupt, with good reviews being rewarded by the artist with gifts of art—some perhaps extorted rather than freely offered. Sadly, such has not been my experience. Perhaps the practice is more prevalent in Europe. Or maybe it's just me.

One of my favorite AA slogans is "come over to the winning side," and our time is undoubtedly the age of the collector. Money rules. You know it's true because the art critics are complaining about it so much. And odds are we'll never turn back the clock.

In the era of the 1 percent, the politics of art collecting—indeed, the entire art business—has been increasingly called into question. It's an old story. Balzac famously wrote in Cousin Pons about "a mania for collecting choice things" that masks "the vilest of deeds." Today's most sensational art headlines report inconceivably high auction prices that can't help but paint our top art buyers, whose identities are rarely exposed, as members of an oligarchy that seems completely alien to most of the human race.

Yet there's a lot more to the art world than the headlines. The artist Mark Kostabi notes that with 7 billion people in the world, if only half of them like beautiful things, we have reason to be optimistic. Indeed, go to any art fair—the Armory Show, which opens in New York in March, is a perfect opportunity—and look out over the scores of gallery booths, filled with bright and colorful things and the throngs of people who come to see and buy and sell them. This is the art economy, vital and full of joy, and it's powered by collectors of all stripes, with all their various desires.

Walter Robinson is an art critic who was a contributor to Art in America (1980-1996) and founding editor of Artnet Magazine (1996-2012). He is also a painter whose work has been exhibited at Metro Pictures, Haunch of Venison, and other galleries; Firecat Projects in Chicago presented a show of his new paintings in December 2012. This is the first edition of his new Artspace column, See Here.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

‘Second’ Mona Lisa Deemed Authentic

Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images

A side-by-side comparison of the Isleworth Mona Lisa (L) and the Louvre’s Mona Lisa in Geneva on Sept. 27, 2012.

New tests appear to have confirmed thatthe Isleworth Mona Lisa — a painting thought to be an earlier version of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait — is indeed authentic, reportsthe Guardian.

The tests, including one by a specialist in “sacred geometry” – the geometry used in the planning and constructing of religious structures – and one by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, were carried out after the Geneva unveiling of last September.


According to a carbon-dating test by the Zurich Institute, the canvas of the Isleworth painting dates to somewhere between 1410 and 1455, refuting claims that it was a late 16th century copy, the Huffington Post reported. , which appears to depict a younger version of the same woman in the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre in Paris,

Italian geometrist Alfonso Rubino, who has made extended studies of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, determined that the 15th century Isleworth portrait – named after the London suburb where it was kept by British art connoisseur Hugh Blaker early in the last century – conformed to Da Vinci’s basic line structures, the Guardian said.

According to the Independent, David Feldman, vice-president of the Mona Lisa Foundation, said, “When we add these new findings to the wealth of scientific and physical studies we already had, I believe anyone will find the evidence of a Leonardo attribution overwhelming.”

The Islesworth Mona Lisa appears to depict a younger version of the same woman who appears in the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. That painting, which has hung in the Louvre for more than three centuries, is believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506. It was long thought to be the only extant version of Da Vinci’s portrait of Lisa Gherardini, also known as Lisa del Giocondo.  However, brush-stroke analysis conducted by U.S. physicist John Asmus last September sprouted rumors that the Isleworth and the portrait in the Louvre were painted by the same artist, the Independent reported.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Stolen Banksy mural shows up at auction house just days after theft

Banksy child-sweatshop 'Diamond Jubilee' artwork in Haringey, London, 2012 (© Hussein Zak//SIPA/Rex Features)

A Banksy mural that was stolen from the side of a London discount shop last week has popped up at an auction house in Miami. (And nice work, Neighborhood Watch, for letting someone make off with an entire chunk of the wall.) The mysterious artist spray-painted the satirical graffiti during the Queen's Jubilee last summer, calling out the use of sweatshop labor in her celebrations. Since then, the mural had drawn a steady crowd of Banksy-spotters to the side of the shop. The Miami auction house insists that it came from a "well-known collector." It's expected to fetch up to $700,000. "Residents have been really shocked," one London city councilman said. "Banksy gave that piece of art to our community."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I hate painting

I hate painting.


Painting is a compulsive act. It is not a choice. It is thrust upon me. I spend hours pacing the studio, stalling, being ever drawn to the easel. Pulled there by a gravity of sorts. Part of me denies it. Part of me rails against it. Part of me resents the loss of control, the loss of self, but when I pick up my brush and start, another part of me rejoices. That part sings complete at last, here is the reason, here is the fulfillment and until my arms and mind fail, I will paint.


I love painting

Monday, February 4, 2013

floating reflected temples by takahiro iwasaki

floating reflected temples by takahiro iwasaki
floating reflected temples by takahiro iwasaki


first image
'reflection model (perfect bliss)', 2010-2012 by takahiro iwasaki


currently being show as part of the 7th asia pacific triennial of contemporary art in queensland, australia is the sublime 'reflection model (perfect bliss) (2010–12)'
by japanese artist takahiro iwasaki. the highly detailed scale replica of the byodo-in - a tenth-century temple near kyoto - appears to float serenely in its own space.
the piece is meticulously fabricated from japanese cypress - a homage to the original exquisite architectural feat constructed in 1053 as a captured moment in time.



the piece is a highly detailed scale replica of the byodo-in - a tenth-century temple near kyoto



the artwork is meticulously fabricated from japanese cypress



the scale architecture appears to be floating in mid air


Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Complicated Business of Spotting an Art Forgery

When people who are shopping for original art ask me "How can I tell if a piece of art is a forgery or not?", my answers are simple and complex. The simple answer is: If you collect art for the love of art, buy directly from the artist. Unless you are in the room with the artist as she or he creates your work of art, there is no way to guarantee that they did the work. The complex answer is: Why does it matter if the artwork was actually done by the person to whom it is attributed? Does the value of a work of art lay in the price a buyer is willing to pay, or in the emotional impact the work has on the owner? Art galleries and auction houses have been known to sell forgeries, just as artists have been known to sign forgeries of their own works -- Picasso for example. Value is relative, and whether a work of art is a forgery should not matter if the work of art gives you fulfillment.

Consider that while my mother and I ran Forgery of the Month Club in the 90s, 99 percent of our customers were middle class. Virtually all of them believed they could never afford to own a work of two-dimensional art that was actually done by a well-known or famous artist. In response to that market demand, Forgery of the Month Club produced signed Rembrandt drawings, Picasso drawings and prints, Toulouse Lautrec and Whistler sketches, and works in the style of other well-known artists. Because all our customers knew mom actually did these works, we sold them at affordable prices while breaking no laws. The legal violation would have occurred if we had attempted to sell them as works produced by the attributed artists. Customer satisfaction was 100 percent.

Consider one of Vincent Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" which sold for $147 million in 1990. Certainly supply and visual seductiveness played a role in creating demand for this painting, but $147 million worth? "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" sold for that inflated price not because there was immutable proof that he actually painted it, but for several other reasons: there was agreement that 100 years ago Vincent Van Gogh painted it; he is one of the most loved Western painters ever; it was considered a relatively safe investment and because it was sold at auction. People who attended that auction, and similar other auctions are, aside from being wealthy, competitive. That is a characteristic that is crucial to auction houses fattening their bottom lines. It is the unwillingness between bidders to lose which drives up the price and creates the emotional cachet of the authenticity of the artwork up for auction. The $147 million paid for "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" reflects an individual's ability to pay, and their desire to dominate, or to win. Additionally the exorbitant price paid for the piece adds a compelling and emotional bettina to the work, whether or not the painting was done by Van Gogh.

Anything man can invent, man can circumvent. Let us say for example, that you are interested in purchasing a small sketch by the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Reubens, who lived in the 16th century. You shy away from competing, you don't have millions to spend, and you are passionate about Reubens work. You commission Forgery of the Month Club to draw one for you. To circumvent living in the 21st century rather than in the 16th century, mom needs paper and ink from the 16th century, knowledge of Reubens body of work, and the ability to draw in his style. For the paper to be authentic, mom finds a book from that era, and carefully tears out the cover sheets. For the correct ink, she finds a recipe for the type ink Reubens used, and after two or three days practicing, mom draws in the style of Reubens, paying careful attention to line quality, proportion and the eyes of the subject. Because no catalogue of an artist's work is ever exhaustive, this sketch is attributed to Reubens. There are enough points of comparison on the sketch to pass microscopic inspection.

Forgery, however, is not limited to works of art. Provenance, which is essential for most if not all transactions in today's art world, can be forged as well. Yet the means of declaring an art work genuine however, are just as available to today's forger as they are to contemporary art specialists, investigators or auction houses.

If you wanted provenance mom might write a complaint letter to the president of Sotheby's, Christies or an insurance company. When their response letter arrived on letterhead, mom would slice it off and paste it to the provenance letter she had typed on her 1942 Olivetti typewriter. She would sign the name of a deceased employee, or a favorite pet then Xeroxes the letter eight or nine times for weathering. If that was too cumbersome, she might create a letterhead for a fictitious, but defunct insurance company, or ask me to research museum marks, and create one with which to stamp the back of the sketch.

When mom presents you with the sketch, your heart races. You are thrilled, and pay her $750. It hangs elegantly on your wall, and you feel great looking at your Reubens. Friends and family croon over it. Does it matter if mom did the sketch? Will it matter in one hundred years? Was it worth $750?

Fake Picasso: California Dealer Charged With Selling Phony Painting

Fake Picasso

LOS ANGELES — A West Hollywood antiques dealer has been charged with selling a phony Picasso for $2 million.

Federal prosecutors said Friday that 69-year-old Tatiana Khan was charged with wire fraud and other crimes. She's free pending arraignment but could face 45 years in prison if convicted.

A call to her lawyer wasn't immediately returned.

Prosecutors contend Khan paid an artist $1,000 in 2006 to duplicate a Pablo Picasso pastel called "The Woman in the Blue Hat" and sold the forgery for $2 million.

The FBI stepped in last year after the buyer had the work examined and learned it was a fake.

On Friday, FBI agents seized a genuine Willem de Kooning painting from Khan. Authorities claim she bought it for $720,000 using proceeds from the Picasso sale.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Kelvin Okafor's drawings may look like photographs but are they art?

The 27-year-old's meticulous depictions of celebrities stand out in a culture that values video, performance, anything but drawing

Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Tinie Tempah. View larger picture
Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Tinie Tempah. Image: Kelvin Okafor

Kelvin Okafor is a miraculous artist. If Leonardo da Vinci was alive today and he saw what Okafor has achieved with pencil, paper and a bit of charcoal, he would recognise a talent well worthy of his respect – a brother in art. So would the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, or the Baroque genius Caravaggio.

All these great artists thought their job was to recreate, with a steady hand and a keen eye, the wonder of life. Okafor brings that craftsmanlike aspiration into the modern world. His drawings are based on photographs of celebrities – the same kinds of photograph we all see everyday. But instead of turning the page or clicking to another site after a second or two, this artist looks. He looks hard. It is an act of love and imagination to look as hard as that. The drawing skills with which he renders what he sees are truly sublime – it is amazing such skills even exist in a culture that places so little value on them. Art schools today encourage their students to think about video, performance, concept, anything but pure meticulous drawing. The fact that Okafor has got through that anti-graphic net shows that, in some people, a profound talent for visual depiction is innate, and will always burst out.

Okafor is 27 and lives in Tottenham, north London where he grew up. He went to Middlesex University. But his drawings are self-evidently a personal fascination: something he has to do. The soft, subtle accuracy of his style can mimic the contours of a photograph. But is that art? Personally I think pictures as skilful as these have an absolute claim to be art whereas most of the art that gets shortlisted for the Turner prize (and I say this as a former judge) has only a relative claim to be art, which future generations may or may not agree with.

Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Amy Winehouse Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Amy Winehouse. Image: Kelvin Okafor

Perfect drawing has counted as art for at least 40,000 years. In the exhibition Ice Age Art, which opens soon at the British Musuem, there are hypnotically accurate images of bison, lions and horses drawn on to pieces of ivory long before human beings could read or write. Ice-age artists drew the most visible and imposing things in their world, the great herds of mammals that roamed a frozen Europe. Today, what hits our eyes and haunts our minds is not nature but culture, the images of celebrity that fill our screens. It is natural for an artist to draw those.

Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Princess Diana. Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Princess Diana. Image: Kelvin Okafor

Okafor is not alone among modern artists who have fixed their gaze on celebrity photographs. In the 19th century the Iimpressionist Edgar Degas made a painting that meticulously recreated a photograph of Princess Pauline de Metternich. In the 1960s Andy Warhol made haunting silkscreen portraits derived from magazine photographs.

The art world lauds these figures, so it should embrace Okafor. He's still very young. If you can draw like this when you are 27 what can't you do when you are 40? Here is the talent that Damien Hirst can't buy with all his millions.

Should Kelvin Okafor's drawings, so close to photographs, be considered art? Tell us what you think.

Kelvin Okafor's drawings are on display at the Watercolours + Works on Paper Fair 2013 at the Science Museum, London SW7 until 3 February.