Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Small gallery and auction house blues

Some small NY galleries may close, and how do the big auction houses deal with Covid?


Is France selling the Mona Lisa?

On Tuesday, the Independent relayed a provocative proposal by entrepreneur Stéphane Distinguin: that the French government could help eliminate its colossal (and still building) debt from the global crisis by selling the Mona Lisa.

More here.


Why some art fairs will survive…and remain relevant

Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne, throwing some notable punches.

“[T]he nerve to call an American art fair with 75 percent of American galleries “international,” while referring to a fair like Art Cologne with 50 percent of  galleries from Germany as “regional,” is a falsehood, bred by American exceptionalism.”

He continues,

“The widening gap between the poor and the rich and the gradual disappearance of the middle class in the United States could spell the end of contemporary art there, where it will no longer have any relevance to “normal” people—not even the social climbers. So, it is imperative that the art market sustainably supports well-to-do professionals in acquiring art. Otherwise, we will make ourselves obsolete as an industry.”

More here.


Art and Law Roundup: Constructive Masculinity, Divorce, Panhandlers, Trademarks, Boneyards and More…

Something is lost, but something is found. They will keep on speaking her name. Some things change, some stay the same. – Chrissie Hynde

How are you faring with this Covid disaster? As some of you know I’m hunkered down over here in Tejas, enjoying the extra quiet to get work done on my own projects. Lately I’ve been enjoying some heavy classic rock on Ozzy’s Boneyardvia Sirius XM. But, I’m also bouncing off the walls, sometimes literally when early Metallica or Slayer come on and I, to my wife’s chagrin, use our kitchen as a mosh-pit. Although introverts like me relish solitude, I also miss my friends in other parts of the world. Right now there’s a feeling that I’m floating in outer space, unhinged to what I once knew as planet earth. Curious how you’re doing and where you’re doing it. Let me know.

Since I started this Roundup I’ve received a good number of comments and middle-fingers. Yale MFA grad Clare Khambu gives some pushback on my thoughts on art MFA programs, “After 5 years of teaching [in public schools], I felt quite burnt out and decided to apply to MFA programs in order to take a break from my job ad make art for 2 years. Also having more college credits increases my salary.” Donald Daedalaus reads the Roundups “to the end,” and loved my free “Wash your hands” drawing, suggesting I reach out to the “mercenaries at Sotheby’s” to see if they would pimp it out. Might make a good contribution to their current financial malaise. Jackie Battenfield now looks forward to her early Sunday mornings before reading more dire and depressing news in the NY Times (she doesn’t say if it’s the writing or the content). Just call me “Angel of the Morning.” Caroline Keegan is enjoying the “Morning Women” and suggested I add Phoebe Briders to the list (I did). Dialing-in from the good ol’ 915, one of my best art and education teachers ever, Gaspar Enriquez, finds my views “informative and humorous.” And another reader, wishing to remain anonymous, wonders why I’m such a jerk. I am loving your comments and truly “honored and humbled!” Please keep ‘em coming. Feel free to email me here.

Apparently Covid is increasing the number of divorces world-wide. However, it’s also caused couples to get creative with new ways of dealing with nuptials. So if you’re getting married and are also an avid Guns-n-Roses fan, you can now get a wedding cake that features Slash’s hat and…actual hair!

How many of you were Dead Kennedy’s fans? It appears that the DKs applied to the U.S. Copyright Office to register the artwork to their logo for federal protection. At first the Copyright Office denied the DKs application. After submitting an appeal, the Copyright Office changed its mind.

A recent Virgo horoscope mentioned that “There is evidence to show that music can influence the amount of milk a cow produces. According to dairy farmers, gentle classical music is the most effective, whereas heavy metal has the opposite effect on the yield!” Yeah, well, I drink almond milk.  

The former chief executive of Paddle8, Valentine Uhovski, is being sued by a coalition of unnamed creditors. Uhovski “allegedly ‘engaged in acts of gross mismanagement and disloyalty’ by using funds from online sales—including charity auctions—to pay the company’s operating expenses.” I think someone should make a TV series on art industry shenanigans, starring Uhovski and Inigo Philbrick.

What was the first influential art work you saw? My dear friend, Lisa McCleary asked me that question last week and my immediate thought was Joan Miro’s “Birth of the World.” It is the one work that gave me that “aha!” moment you “get” when modern art makes sense but can’t quite articulate why. I’m back to wanting to experience that feeling again when I seek out art these days but rarely find it (unless it’s historical work). But, I think in reality the answer to Lisa’s question is KISS’s Alive album from 1975 (see above). It also gave me that same “aha!” feeling but not restricted solely to visual art. That “aha!” moment applied to life. You’re probably thinking that I’m some kind of masculine retard, but you have to remember that this was the late 1970s Texas, so for a kid from El Paso that was quite a huge “AHA!” Then I come to find out that the weird but groovy tunes on this album were being produced by four guys from some place called Queens, New York, two of whom were Jewish and two who were Italian. Where the hell is Queens, NY, I thought? I won’t bore you with more on that story now, but if you’d like to know how KISS impacted my views on art and law, you might like this interview I did in 2015 for the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities.
Remember last week I mentioned that every time an award, grant or prize is awarded you pretty much see the same faces and the same old names? I called that the Edward James Olmos Effect. How many of you know who I’m talking about? Hollywood actor? Correct. He’s that one guy that’s played the role of a gang-member, high-school teacher, Nobel Prize winner, and octogenarian grandmother…all in one movie. When it comes to the representation of Latinos on the big screen, Hollywood has one answer. Sadly, I think the art world is pretty much the same.

Good for your mind. I haven’t read this book yet, but based on reviews—and my very memorable law and psychology law school class—this text looks to be dense yet informative and fun. It’s a book on the history of the insanity defense, by Susan Nordin Vinocour. If any of you do read it anytime soon please let me know your thoughts. I also found this interesting artist, Gabriel Edwards, on Instagram last week. Love his drawings—especially The Stuff of Horror Movies series. Hot!

If 2020 was a car.

If you’re having a hard time articulating our current predicament, you’ll have much in common with Cassie Packard and her thoughts on Leon Golub and his images: “Right now, I want images that aren’t afraid to be bleak, unflinching. I want an image that I can’t look away from.” The one position in Packard’s essay that I disagree with is her use of “toxic masculinity.” I find this term—as is currently beloved by so many on the far left—to be somewhat simplistic and overbroad. Not all masculinity is toxic, and if it is, then of course we have toxic feminism and so on. Which “masculinity” and from what socio-cultural-racial position it is being defined would help quite a bit. Labeling something “toxic” is moralistic and self-serving. It’s only bad if leveraged against what we want to be our enemy—our monster—for the sake of strengthening the belief in our position and views as self-present and self-sufficient—to be true.  The issue of who wears and who doesn’t wear face masks during this time is also complicated in this country by many other factors other than Trump and his cronies, including the ever present—and erroneously defined—individualism and the distrust of government.

But it’s not just men. The same principle that pro-Second Amendment folks harp on, i.e.- no one can tell me what to do, is the same principle loudly proclaimed and banked-on by those that believe that government can’t tell them what to do with their bodies. It’s an interesting marriage that appears to only reside in the good ol’ U.S. of A. (And if you believe that there’s a difference between guns and bodies then you’re that idiot that believes that morality is self-present.) Many of you know me and would probably agree that I am somewhat masculine. But, I wear a mask. I’m not a Bernie-bro, or anyone’s bro for that matter. I don’t bully the weak and I don’t protest while waving U.S. flags and brandishing semi-auto rifles. So perhaps there is another kind of “masculine,” one I would call, constructive masculinity.

Crazy. I wrote a few weeks ago about the TV series, The Walking Dead, and how I am finding it extremely and eerily poignant during this Covid party we can’t quite find the exit door to. TWD, as we call it, provides good pop-cultural examples on the difficulties of leadership and government. How power and the exploitation of the weak reside in us all. How we are basically days away from a life that is nasty, brutish and short. Or maybe not. Remember the Lord of the Flies? Apparently it actually happened, but the outcome was quite different. Check this out.

If you’re a licensed attorney and your law firm pays for your Continuing Legal Education, you might be interested in this copyright CLE program by the Practicing Law Institute of New York. I’ll be presenting on copyright issues in public art, and will be talking about why moral rights waivers are not exactly a good idea (unless you’re a developer). While on self-promotion, my good friend Elisabeth Smolarz has organized an exhibition on reality and truth, ?????? is Sublime Propaganda, and I have one project on view. There’s a Zoom opening next Wednesday, May 20th, at 2pm EST. Maybe I’ll see you there.

“The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump, for the most part … He wouldn’t even let them in a fucking hotel. He’d be disgusted by them. Go to Mar-a-Lago, see if there’s any people who look like you. I’m talking to you in the audience.” That was Howard Stern last Tuesday, making waves and controversy for saying what, I believe, no one has yet to articulate. It’s true; painfully true. It made me think of how similar this is to the state of the current art industry. Just replace Donald Trump with certain sectors of the artworld, and you’ll see how some of those sectors—you know which ones—are the Mar-a-Lagos of the art industry.  

I’m not writing the following rant to sound like some self-important jackass, but I do hope that this current situation forces artists to re-think their survival strategies. I’m tired—and embarrassed—of reading about how many artists and art spaces want government handouts. How art won’t survive without a lending hand. Why is it that most artists still believe the cliché that they are meant to be at the service of government and others? So my advice to artists is this: realize that there will be another 9/11, another Hurricane Sandy, another Katrina, another pandemic, and another act of God yet unknown to our feeble minds, and that unless you—the artist—are taking this time to figure out how you’ll be financially and artistically self-sufficient, you will find yourself in the same—if not worse—position that you are in now when the next disaster strikes. NYC is over. You don’t have to live there to be an artist or to create whatever it is that you want to create, be it music, art, writing, film or whatever the fuck you call what you do. So get off your ass and write down why exactly you’re in NYC, where you could go if you weren’t in self-imprisonment, what you own, and what you owe. Write down on paper that you will have changed your life and your practice by this time in 2021, so that when the next Blitzkrieg comes you won’t be relying on fundraisers, GoFundMe petitions, pleas for rent amnesties or your prayers.

I’m mad this week.

Remembrance: 10 years ago we lost the great heavy metal singer and inventor of the devil-horns, Ronnie James Dio. RIP, Ronnie!

Until next week, rock on, brothers and sisters! \m/



Former Paddle 8 CEO sued

The former chief executive of Paddle8, Valentine Uhovski, is being sued by a coalition of unnamed creditors.

According to The Art Newspaper, Uhovski “allegedly ‘engaged in acts of gross mismanagement and disloyalty’ by using funds from online sales—including charity auctions—to pay the company’s operating expenses.”

Someone should make a TV series on art industry shenanigans, starring Uhovski and Inigo Philbrick?


Morning Women, the Triumph of the Trivial, Dots, the Invasion of Normandy…and Free Stuff

May 10, 2020

The person who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience. – Arthur Schopenhauer

I have to share a sweet moment with you. I really enjoy my morning routine, especially now during the ‘Rona. It’s my time to hone my coffee pour-over skills, focus on client matters, read that thing we used to call a newspaper, and enjoy some great music in peace and quiet. I enjoy it so much that I created a morning playlist via Spotify, which, unbeknownst to me at the time and without direct intention, turned out to be comprised entirely of women artists. The 4 ½ hour list, Morning Women, is a collection of unique and very talented women singer-songwriters, mostly from the Texas / Southwest region. I hope you too find it to be more than a feeling. Last week a few readers emailed me (one texted at one in the morning) asking why I hadn’t mentioned the dematerialization of a Damien Hirst painting. You know, the shenanigan where a group of Brooklyn hipsters cut up a $30K Hirst print and sold each dot for $480 a piece. I didn’t mention it because I thought the idea was about as fresh as a month-old diaper. But here we are, changing diapers.

According to these hamsters—and The Fashion Law Blog (yes, you read that correctly)—this act was a “critique” of art as commodity, artist as brand, and the art market. Blah, blah, blah. Artnet, the bastion of online art journalism, touts the group of “artists” as being “known for its ‘news-making stunts that straddle the lines of conceptual art, contemporary design, and internet gaggery’”. Artspeak…today’s commodity and currency.

Since the art discussion concerning this romper room is not that interesting, we are of course left with the legal question concerning the shredding of an artist’s work, presumably without his consent. Unfortunately that legal quesiton is as refreshing as used mouthwash. What is that legal discourse, you ask? The 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act, which is also about as useful as (a) a 1970s typewriter for dancers and choreographers, (b) dancers and choreographers, or (c) all of the above. All you need to know about VARA (sounds like my favorite Almodovar film), is that it is the 1990 U.S. law protecting the soul and aura of the artist and enacted, drum roll please, after the so-called death of the author. Oh, yeah! It was also the law that applied in two cases that are now part of the VARA Hall of Fame: Mass MoCA v. Büchel and the 5Pointz Michelangelos v. Property.

Here’s a free dot for you.

While on the subject of free goodies (and you don’t have to be a Bernie-bro to like free stuff), although I am not taking any new pro bono cases at the moment, I would really like for you to have a copy of this original drawing I made back in 2018. Please feel free to print it, cut it out and paste it or frame it to your bathroom wall (where mine resides), kitchen, or favorite brothel. I’d like to encourage you to take a picture of it, in situ, and email that pic to me. You may just be lucky enough to be featured here next week!

Copyright 2018 SMS. All rights reserved.

How bored are sports fanatics? So bored that last week ESPN ranked the top 74 sneakers in NBA history. Guess which kicks took the top spot?

If you get sick with COVID-19, is your employer liable? Very good question. One that galleries, art fairs and auctions houses should think about, I’d say, quite seriously. Maybe, I don’t know, check-in with legal counsel?

Sotheby’s is planning on having in-person auctions next month. What else can they do if the ship is sinking? I’ll tell you what they could do: let’s start with, for a spokesperson, find someone who was not an intern at the United Nations just four years ago. I’m not kidding! It’s almost—almost—as bad as having 24-year old kids advising Supreme Court justices.

But, according to Sotheby’s CEO, Charles Stewart, the ship isn’t sinking, it’s just unmoored and heading in the wrong direction. Stewart claims that quarantined folks in pajamas are passionately buying not only low-end goods (by “low-end” he means Cartier watches), but also contemporary art. The Art Newspaper: “In his 5 May email, the chief executive once again underscored the equal footing of the art and luxury markets. Since March, Stewart notes, Sotheby’s has held 37 online auctions totalling nearly $70m, including $1.3m for a Cartier bracelet, the same price achieved for George Condo’s 2005 painting.” [sic] I wonder how much my vintage Evel Knievel stunt-cycle would fetch?

Open the doors. “If a supermarket paying its people $12 an hour can safely operate, so can museums whose directors, curators, and PR and fundraising flacks make multiples more.” That’s the National Review’s Brian T. Allen arguing that Texas museums are currently occupied by “Safe Space U” snowflakes and directors who equate re-openings with planning SEAL team missions and the Normandy Invasion. Although bathed in incredulity, Allen’s article does highlight one interesting point when he suggests that this is “a perfect chance for museums to do something truly radical, or truly reactionary. Just open permanent-collection galleries first.” True. Let’s forget about traveling exhibitions by the same artists for a little while—the same exhibition that you will see regardless of whether you are in Barcelona, Hong Kong, Los Angeles or the moon—and instead focus on the art within a museum’s collection. Or how about exhibiting local artists. To my knowledge, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that states that every art institution has to exhibit the same art or the same artist.

I suppose some will think grand re-openings make sense. After all, whether you work at a supermarket, auction house or museum, you’re expected to report to work, stock shelves, and bag the goods, right? Why would art institutions be any different? Because art, unlike culture, is not essential.

Do you also miss acerbic art criticism?I just dream it’s still by my side.

Christopher Knight wins a Pulitzer? Come on, man! And apparently for opposing a museum’s conventional desire to expand its footprint, hire the same architects that every art institution hires, and look exactly like every other art institution on the planet. That’s the controversy. If that’s equivalent to All the President’s Men, that should tell you how shallow the pool of art criticism is. Knight, as some of you may remember, is the guy—sorry, Pulitzer recipient—that  got his clock cleaned by Donn Zaretsky in the fight over museums and deaccessioning. Apparently you don’t need training in journalism any more; just a blessing from God (or mom, Happy Mother’s Day!). And how does God create an art critic? He gets rid of reason and accountability.

Art criticism …RIP. If you’re thinking Kenny Schachter or Jerry Saltz are art critics, then our situation is officially dire. As in dire. As in the Mexican drug cartels just found out you swindled them out of a million dollars dire. So to the question of “who do we award a Pulitzer to, i.e.- who do we award X to, where X is an award, prize, grant, etc.,” we’re back to what I call The Edward James Olmos Effect. More on that next week! Today, I’ll point you to what I think is the new art criticism: right here!

How many of you sweat tears every time the ol’ Reaper knocks on Justice Ginsburg’s door? I bet you grab the nearest calendar and count the days until Tuesday, November 3rd.

While we’re on the subject of Let’s.Get.Rid.Of.Old.Stuff., here are two useless and pestiferous practices we should abolish, in perpetuity:

Pretense. Let’s please eviscerate the “I am so honored to be…,” and the “Humbled to be…” that so many in the artworld love to write on Facebook and Instagram. You know what I’m talking about, “I’m so honored to be in a group show with 500 other artists in a small non-profit space in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.” Or, “Humbled to have received a $200 grant from the Church of the Useless Miracle to curate my exhibition critiquing the lack of critical art in post-Colonial Nations.” No one, no one is honored or humbled by that. Ok, maybe humbled.

Heroes. Let me say it clearly: Artists. Do. Not. Have. Heroes. To my utter dismay, the last few years I’ve heard some “artists” proudly announce that they have “heroes,” many of them pointing to other artists and other artists’ practices. This is such an annoyance. Artists shouldn’t believe in or uphold such petty superstitions. Damsels in distress have heroes. Gotham City has heroes. Children have heroes. But artists do not have heroes.

Well, looks like it’s time for me to kiss you goodbye. ‘til next week,


Stupid things, Skools, Bodies of Water, Covid Apps, Communists…and the First Amendment

“Blessed are the forgetful; for they get over their stupidities, too.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

No, this is not the time to go to law school. I’m aware that artists are losing their jobs and income, and some are currently experiencing an existential ponder that usually ends with wanting to “change the world, fight the system,” or get a new career. Good luck. Aside from enjoying the Socratic method via Zoom—tantamount to painting with an I-Pad—I’m not sure now’s the time to go on an existential cruise for $175K. What will the world be like in 3 years, when you’ll be graduating with debt, an uncertain job market, Biden or Trump as president, and wondering if it was all worthwhile. The art industry certainly will have changed, and most likely much, much leaner and meaner. But, if you’re thinking of practicing in areas such as employment, insurance, mergers or patents, for example, this just might be the time. And, you’ll be able to do so in the comfort of your pajamas. Pretty good!

On the subject of What Your Kids Learn In College, hundreds of communist “academics” threaten to not bless the universe with Marxist musings if their demands are not met. According to one soon-to-be-unemployed PhD grad, Covid was “the straw that broke the back of higher education in this country.” Apparently CUNY Grad Center is still issuing PhD degrees to writers who use well-worn metaphors.

Speaking of “doing stupid things,” with the recent lifting of stay-at-home orders, how many of you are ready to go out and waste your day away? I for one am not rushing out for burgers, beers, art or the beach anytime soon. But how about an outing in New Mexico?

With much of the country under stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, what do these orders mean for the six freedoms of the First Amendment? (First of all, how many of you can actually list the 6 freedoms of the First Amendment?) Can government force us to download a “Contact” app that warns others if you happen to be infected with Covid-19. Constitutional law expert and law professor Josh Blackman breaks it down on this podcast. Blackman uses the classic example that one may protest and do as they wish, similar to swinging your fist left and right, up until the point that you intend to or actually hit another person. Similarly, the issue during Covid is not as simple as “being ready and willing to work” or claiming that government is restricting one’s ability to operate and profit from their business (i.e.- economic engine). The issue is when does that “willingness to work” and “business activity” actually harm or have the potential to harm or kill another person. Incidentally, I find it curious that many of the same people that, before Covid (BC), complained that working was pure Capitalist exploitation now complain that they’re being kept from working, i.e.- being exploited by Capitalists. Interesting times indeed.

How many of you would download a Covid-App that would track who’s infected and your proximity to it? Reason magazine quips that “It probably won’t be long before police use the logs to answer questions like ‘Who was within Bluetooth range of the bank teller during the robbery?’” How would this app impact race and ethnicity? If it’s true that Covid tends to impact more brown and black people, it’s going to seem a bit “odd” when, if Covid infected, people start moving away from black and brown bodies in galleries and art museums. Or not.

Please enjoy this interesting photo from my good friend, artist, and fellow bandmate, Melinda Shades. Taken somewhere in Central Texas.

Speaking of erasure, Georgia’s Mercer University recently destroyed a Black History mural. What does this mean? Lawyers and moral rights. Apparently, the mural depicted “Rosa Parks, black Civil War soldiers, 19th-century doctor Martin Delaney and Sam Oni, Mercer’s first black student.” The school refuses to comment. Axl was right, nothing lasts forever.

On the subject of personhood (or not), I promised I would point you to an answer as to how a body of water obtains personhood. Here it is. If you’re into dense, rigorous and worthwhile reading, here’s a great law review essay on property and personhood, by the formidable Janet Radin. On how corporations obtained personhood, here’s another phenomenal read I highly recommend, We the Corporations, by UCLA law prof, Adam Winkler.

How many of you are watching, or re-watching, The Walking Dead, and finding eerie similarities with our current condition? Do you also wonder where in the heck do they get toilet paper for so many people?

If you’re still thinking of donating a few bucks to an organization or venue in need, check out 2020Solidarity’s poster project. 2020Solidarity is a Between Bridges project aimed at helping cultural and music venues, community projects, independent spaces and publications that are existentially threatened by the current crisis. Over forty international artists come together to design one poster each, which can be offered on different crowdfunding sites as a reward for donations.

I leave you with Eddie Van Halen’s eruption. Cheers!

‘til next week,
-Sergio Munoz Sarmiento


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