Travelogue: NYC Art Binge

Jenny Holtzer, Claes Oldenburg, Kenneth Anger, Francis Bacon, “If accidents will”, Dresden and Jacques Torres

When I found out I would be in New York last month, I contacted my friend and gallery-hopping pal, Jake, who has lived there on-and-off for years.  As luck would have it, he was free to see some exhibits with me.  He had already seen, The Generational: Younger than Jesus at the New Museum and had also been to the Whitney to see the Jenny Holtzer and Claes Oldenburg exhibits.  “So, no Chelsea this trip?” he asked.  “Not this time.”  He added, “We also have to go to Jacques Torres on Hudson St. He makes ice cream now.”   “We’re there.”

We ended up seeing a number of retrospectives at the major museums.  I went to the Whitney on my own and we both went to see Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum, Kenneth Anger and others at PS 1 and the Brücke artist group at the Neue Gallery.  He asked why I wanted to go to the major institutions – especially to see the Brücke group (Dresden’s turn-of-the century pioneering group of German Expressionists).  I said that I hadn’t been to some of these places in many years and all these exhibits were collections of works never exhibited together before.

Day 1: Whitney Museum

Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT

March 12-May 31, 2009

After I had a cappuccino and a wonderful pastry at Veneiro’s in the East Village I made my way up to the Whitney to see Jenny Holtzer: PROTECT PROTECT.  

Veniero's

Veniero's

Jake had said, “The scale of Holtzer’s show is very impressive.  But I thought I  was in the middle of Times Square for a second surrounded by all those strobing LED’s.”   He wasn’t wrong about the scale.  It was expansive.  The scale of the technical installations alone were impressive. According to the Whitney’s website,”PROTECT PROTECT centers on Holzer’s work since the 1990s and is the artist’s most comprehensive exhibition in the United States in more than fifteen years.”  The installations were also very hypnotic and quite beautiful in a hyper-techno-savvy way.  I was one of many viewers in the darkened rooms standing in trance-like states reading the rivers of Holzer’s trademark Truisms as they flowed by like little verbal streams of wisdom.  The content of this exhibit was drawn from the very personal to the highly political including the artist’s written words from 1977 to 2001 as well as from redacted documentation from declassified government papers which were presented as paintings in addition to the LED installations and sculpture.   Needless to say, at one moment I was reading personal statements ala “Protect me from what I want” to the political including text from government documents describing conditions at Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of enemy combatants.  What I didn’t expect in this exhibit was the Lustmord Table which was a display of human bones meticulously arranged in rows from large to small.  Lustmord, German for rape-slaying, is an earlier work about war atrocities that occurred in Yugoslavia perpetrated by Bosnian-Serb forces.  This piece was in stark contrast to the majority of the exhibit.  If it’s inclusion was supposed to shake you out of a trance-like-LED-induced state, it worked on me.  At the time, I resented this shock but in retrospect, I have to bow to it’s effectiveness.  All too often, artists create works with political and/or dire content and sometimes these ideas lose their impact in the physical translation because of the medium of choose.   This small piece brought the rest of the exhibition into focus for me.  Being lulled by the familiar robotic nature of the electronics was in some way actually a by-product of the exhibit.  It was only a subliminal vehicle for relaying some very powerful subject matter by a courageous and masterful artist.   I was grateful that I had seen this exhibit as it closed on May 31. For images and an interview with the artist, go to the Whitney’s website at http://whitney.org/www/holzer/index.jsp.

Claes Oldenburg: Early Sculpture, Drawings, and Happenings Films;

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: The Music Room

May 7-September 6, 2009

If Jenny Holzer’s exhibition was the main course, then Claes Oldenburg’s exhibition was the cherry on the sundae.  I remembered what Jake had said about this exhibit, “…It came from the ’60′s – but I liked it.”   If giant drooping sculptures of French Fries and Ketchup (1963), Giant BLT (1963), Soft Toilet (1969) or a giant soft sculpture of an Ice Bag (1971) doesn’t make you smile, not much will.  The Whitney had restored the giant Ice Bag and it’s mechanical components.  It creaked in circular slow motion and made me think how far artists have come in producing moving pieces since this piece was created.  This was a real dinosaur but you had to admire the ambition behind the scale.  In fact, there was a wall of photos of very large public art pieces that this artist had executed over the years with always familiar objects – saws, hammers, etc.   The soft sculpture continued in another gallery with whimsical musical instrument pieces that were created in collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen.  There was also a room with projections of films entitled Happenings.  Jake was right – this entire exhibit was like traveling back to the ’60′s.   But it was a welcomed counterpoint to the weightiness of the previous exhibit.

I met Jake later for dinner at Keste Pizza & Vino at 271 Bleecker St near Jones.  This is a new Neapolitan pizza place with a coal oven built by craftsmen from Naples.  The Margherita pie was very good but a bit pricey for the size.  After this, we went (nearly next door) to the Blind Tiger for a drink.  The Blind Tiger was his favorite pub when it was located on Hudson at 10th St.   It was a neighborhood bar where you might see a lawyer as easily as a line cook.  It was unpretentious and had a great beer selection.  On occasion, it even had cask conditioned ale on tap.  After having to move to its new location on Bleecker near Jones (in order to make way for yet another unnecessary Starbucks in order to continue the homogenation of Manhattan) it seems to draw bigger crowds but there is a larger number of NYU students and tourist types in the mix.  Jake still goes there for the beer as do many other regulars from the old place.

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The Copyright Dilemma

Copyright practices have become a front-burner issue as more creative works are posted on the Web. While the online environment provides an efficient and expedient way to market all kinds of work, once it is posted there is little protection against intellectual property theft.  The following begins a series of articles describing some movements aimed at finding solutions to current copyright practices that can no longer effectively meet the needs of the accelerated evolution of the contents on the world wide web.

“The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” according to the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8.  U.S. copyright law is founded on this constitutional provision. It’s designed to protect original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works, both published and unpublished, http://www.loc.gov/teachers/copyrightmystery/.

The problem is that intellectual property rights have been expanded such that they can inhibit the progress of science and arts rather than encourage it.  This has become a more pointed problem as more works of all genres are posted to the Web where there is no specific way to protect them from theft or to allow creative use of them by others.

James Boyle, co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School, wrote The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind about the need to rework the balance between intellectual property rights and the public domain. Copyright law, in the U.S. and elsewhere, has been created without credible evidence that it’s necessary for innovation,” Boyle explains in his book. (For the online version of the book go to http://www.thepublicdomain.org/download.)

Creative works and innovation are inspired by bits and pieces of what already exists. “We have failed to understand that the public domain, the realm of material that is open for all to share to reuse to repurpose to remix, that that is vital, as vital to creativity, more vital to creativity in many ways, than the special realm we cover with intellectual property rights, copyrights, patents and trademarks,” Boyle said in a talk at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in March. (http://www.thersa.org/events/vision/vision-videos/james-boyle)

A native of Scotland, Boyle is currently a professor of law at Duke Law School. He co-founded Creative Commons, http://creativecommons.org, Science Commons, http://sciencecommons.org, and ccLearn, http://learn.creativecommons.org, all of which aim to facilitate the availability of intellectual and creative works. He has also written several books and numerous articles on intellectual property, internet regulation and legal theory.  

Copyright Law: The Facts

The Copyright Act of 1976, which provides the basic framework for current copyright law, gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive power to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works based on the original, to distribute copies of the work to the public or to transfer ownership of the work, to perform the work publicly, to display the work publicly, and in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of digital audio transmission. 

Copyright law protects all original works of authorship that exist in a tangible medium from which the creator’s expression can be perceived directly or by the aid of a machine. Copyright protection is automatic. Neither registration with the Copyright Office nor publication is required. Following the Berne Convention in 1989, authors do not have to include a notice of copyright, which consists of the © symbol or the word ‘Copyright,’ the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the owner of the copyright, to receive copyright protection. 

Creators of visual art also have rights of attribution and integrity under copyright law. The right to attribution ensures that artists are identified with the works they create, and the right of integrity helps artists protect their works against modifications and destructions that are prejudicial to the artist’s honor or reputation. 

Registration

Copyright protection is automatic, but a work must usually be registered before an infringement suit can be brought. Registration can be completed online or through the mail once an application for each work and a fee of $35 or $45 is paid to The Copyright Office. 

The term of federal copyright protection has been extended gradually since 1790 when George Washington signed the first federal copyright bill, which protected books, maps and charts for a period of 14 years.  The Copyright Act of 1976 extended copyright protection to the life of the creator plus 50 years, and in 1998 the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act tacked an additional 20 years onto the period of copyright protection. 

“Dead people don’t produce again when you extend their copyrights,” said Boyle, who thinks copyright law has been taken in the wrong direction over the past 50 years.  Creative works are lost and forgotten in the time in between their creator’s death and the expiration of the attached copyright protection. Copyright laws also discourage the public from building upon intellectual works in ways that could be beneficial to the useful arts, science and society in general. 

Finding Solutions

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization launched in 2002 that provides free licenses that allow people to share their work as they see fit. Creators can specify what others may do with their work. The Creative Commons license for The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, for example, tells readers they may copy, distribute, transmit or adapt the work. The license specifies that any work made using parts of the book must be shared under similar terms. Others may not, however, use the book for commercial purposes. The goal of a Creative Commons license is to refine copyright so that works of intellectual property can be linked, creating layers of innovation and collaboration. 

Boyle is not the only one who sees the value of protecting the public domain to make way for advancement in all fields. Others include Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler who writes in The Wealth of Networks; Trebor Schultz, a writer, founder of the Institute of Distributed Creativity and has worked on other projects to encourage creative collaboration. And, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and founding member of Creative Commons.  He discusses the gap between the commercial and sharing aspects of the Web in his latest book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

So what can you do to protect your work once you post it to the Web? And, what can you do creatively with images, music or text you discover on the Web? These have become the key questions as more creative works can be found on the Web. The concept of Fair Use is now being tested every second on the Web and will be explored in the next article in this series. 

http://www.archives.gov 

http://www.thepublicdomain.org

http://www.copyright.gov/

http://www.thersa.org 

http://creativecommons.org

http://www.collectivate.net/

http://remix.lessig.org/

http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/ and http://www.law.duke.edu/

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, James Boyle, 2008, http://www.thepublicdomain.org/download


Jeannine O’Brian is a freelance journalist and contributor to the artdogspot.


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