Tuesday February 6, 2007

An open letter to Miami Art Museum

Here’s an apparently anonymous campaign that’s circulating on email. It raises the Miami Art Museum and Miami Art Central partnership, specifically with concerns about MAC’s identity. They ask that you add your name to the bottom of the letter and e-mail it to them at keepMACalive@yahoo.com. They’ll be forwarding the letter with all the names they receive the MAM’s board and Terence Riley. They want them all back by 8 pm tonight (sorry, I just got it myself).

While I agree with the general sentiment of the letter regarding MAC’s excellence and the need to preserve its vision and artistic staff, and I will be adding my name to the list, I’m not sure the level of concern is warranted; Riley has shown himself to be a very effective leader, and I think keeping the hardcore art people (clearly represented by this letter) happy. Nonetheless, the tone is positive, and I hope they get lots of support for this.

An Open Letter to MIAMI Art Museum

February 5, 2007

To: Board of Trustees 2005-2006, Miami Art Museum (MAM)
c/o Terence Riley, Director, Miami Art Museum (MAM)

We, the undersigned, having been made aware through recent news reports of the merger of Miami Art Museum (MAM) and Miami Art Central (MAC), would like to bring to the attention of MAM’s Trustees the level of appreciation we share for the outstanding quality and scope of MAC’s achievements and contributions to our community since its founding in 2003.

At the same time, we would like to express our deep concern over the prospect that the internationally distinguished exhibitions and programs developed at MAC may be compromised as a result of the merger of the two institutions. Our community has benefited enormously from the scope and quality of MAC’s acclaimed exhibitions and educational programs, the product of the creativity and hard work of its Executive Director and Chief Curator Rina Carvajal and her talented staff, with the generosity of MAC’s founder, Ella Fontanals Cisneros.

Over the past three years, the program at MAC has consistently been at the forefront of art museums in Miami and, with the end of exhibitions and related programming at MAC’s Red Road facilities scheduled for late-April, we foresee a serious vacuum that could undermine our city’s reputation as a burgeoning center for the visual arts.

Since it has now been made clear that “MAC is MAM,” we are directing ourselves to you as the custodians of MAC in the hope that you will act to ensure that MAC and its legacy are kept alive and that its world-class exhibition program be continued and fostered under the auspices of MAM, to the benefit of our community and the credit of your institution.


(to be affixed)

Update: A related, if not completely coherent, post on Eye on Miami.

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  1. Franklin    Tue Feb 6, 11:59 AM #  

    I just looked at the websites for both institutions to see what’s on exhibit. There’s already a serious vacuum. It relates to all this massive sucking going on.

  2. alesh    Tue Feb 6, 10:07 PM #  

    Yes. Where “sucking” is defined as “artwork that does not conform to Franklin’s taste.”

    But I dig your perspective: if MAM is your frying pan, then MAC is f’sho the fire.

  3. Park Lover    Tue Feb 6, 11:58 PM #  

    We look forward to Miami Art Museum remaining where it is downtown or possibly moving to Wynwood or the Design District.

    Leave waterfront parks for taxpayers walking barefoot.

  4. jordan massengale    Wed Feb 7, 12:33 AM #  

    Alesh, I love your new sculptural work at the Fruit and Spice Park. Where did you get all of the steel from ? Medley ? Did you steal it ?

  5. alesh    Wed Feb 7, 06:50 AM #  

    Whoa, Jordan Massengale goes prowling the message boards late at night… hey man, don’t tell Franklin but those are readymades!

    PL~ You go for a barefoot walk in Bicentennial Park and let me know how that works out.

  6. Franklin    Wed Feb 7, 09:19 AM #  

    Whereby “sucking” is defined as “lacking visual felicity.” Hey, I’m opening a restaurant where the food is “instrumental in bringing questions of racial and gender identity into the mainstream of [culinary] practice” and “expand[s] on [my] previous explorations of social and interpersonal issues.” You’ll be my biggest repeat customer, right?

    Or does it depend on how the food tastes?

  7. alesh    Wed Feb 7, 10:43 AM #  

    I know, Franklin. We’ve been having this argument for years, and one thing’s for certain: you sure do like the food analogies.

    I can see why you like them, because they sure do slant the argument in your favor. From my perspective, the analogy does more to highlight exactly how art, for me, is different from food.

  8. Franklin    Wed Feb 7, 11:41 AM #  

    Okay, substitute music. Or architecture. Or damn near any other creative endeavor. It still slants in my favor. Art is only unique in that a majority of its aficionados, practitioners, and handlers have talked themselves out their tastes, to the extent that they had any to begin with.

  9. keep MAC alive!    Wed Feb 7, 01:32 PM #  

    hey, hey, whoa … give it a break for a minute, would ya? And go to the new “keep MAC alive!” blogsite at www.keepMACalive.wordpress.com to check out the list of signatories to “An Open Letter to MAM” as of Wednesday morning.

  10. alesh    Wed Feb 7, 01:45 PM #  


    It doesn’t work for me because I see art as a wider umbrella then you do. Consider literature. I see some of your criticisms (not all of them) sort of like criticizing Fast Food Nation for not having a strong plot.

    nice job on the MAC blog!

  11. Franklin    Wed Feb 7, 05:22 PM #  

    ...I see art as a wider umbrella then you do.

    Don’t flatter yourself. MAM, which hasn’t had a half-dozen straight-ahead painting shows in its ten years of operation, and MAC, which never has and never will, could combine with no alteration to their commitment to the rigid orthodoxies of contemporary art conformity. By all means, sign the letter. Or don’t. It doesn’t much matter. And that there’s a fact, not an opinion.

    Wider umbrella, my ass. You’ve mistaken width for porosity.

  12. alesh    Wed Feb 7, 07:52 PM #  

    Don’t flatter yourself.

    Um, right. Sorry if my language indicated hubris. I meant simply that I accept a greater number of “success conditions” for art.

    Also, it requires a pretty drastic contortion of the phrase “straight-ahead painting show” to exclude some of the shows the MAC has had over the years. What exactly do you mean by that?

    I think that over the years you’ve built this great big straw man and pinned a “Rigid Orthodoxies of Contemporary Art Conformity” sign on it. Obviously me telling you that it doesn’t exist like that in real life isn’t going to make a bit of difference. But let me speak for myself: I have no problem seeing what’s great about most of the stuff that you consider great (stopping short of saying I appreciate it with the depth and understanding you do, of course), but I also acknowledge the success of work that succeeds under other criteria.

    No worries, though — I understand the struggle you’re locked into, Franklin, and I understand your need to rail against these institutions which participate in a sort of “dark side of the art force.”

  13. jm    Wed Feb 7, 10:22 PM #  

    Yes Alesh, I like to blog while watching paint dry. Both are equally enjoyable. If my teaching schedule permits, then I like to paint and blog while the phone isn’t ringing and my loved ones, ( which also includes my noisy parrots ) are asleep. What a sin huh !

  14. Franklin    Wed Feb 7, 11:43 PM #  

    “Straight-ahead painting show” means a painting show, just painting, just like the photo show up at MAM right now only has photos in it, but paintings instead of photos. Clear enough? Actually, MAC did one – Carmen Herera in 2005. That’s it for three years of operation. That’s about the rate at which they appear at MAM as well. It feels better about painting that has its contemporaneity allegedly legitimized by photographic elements, like Fabian Marcaccio or Wangechi Mutu or Rauschenberg, or failed sops to instillation like Rosenquist or Odita. But pure painting, done for its own sake, at MAM? Here’s your list: Carlos Alfonso, Brice Marden, and the upcoming Tamayo show. Like I said, one every three years. It’s not just some need to rail – this shit impacted my happiness and my career. I promise you, Alesh, that if MAM treated photography and video the way it treats painting, you wouldn’t support a new bathroom for them, much less a new building, and wouldn’t care if they acquired MAC or a layer of silt.

    I also acknowledge the success of work that succeeds under other criteria.

    I’ve seen what you’ll eat, too. Jesus Christ on a bike.

  15. alesh    Thu Feb 8, 07:50 AM #  

    Sadly, Texas Taco has closed its doors. But if that line is your only response to the argument, I’m happy.

    Yeah, Carmen Herera was the first thing that popped into my head. There’ve been a couple of other painting and drawing shows over the years, of course, but they did include work in other media, so I suppose they “don’t count” under your rules. Of course the MAM has had plenty of painting shows. That it hasn’t been enough for Franklin is I think a proposition that nobody would argue.

    (p.s. I just suffered through the MAC website to bring you the following: Out of 12 exhibitions since 2004 (actually the first one began December 2003), 6 were photography and video, and 5 were painting, drawing, and sculpture (William Kentridge is counted in both). There were also two group shows that included all the above.)

  16. Franklin    Thu Feb 8, 12:14 PM #  

    Of course the MAM has had plenty of painting shows.

    You need to stop repeating this because it isn’t true. I named the three painting shows that I could recall. If there are “plenty” more, list some of them.

    The category was “painting,” not “painting, drawing, and sculpture,” but even then I can only come up with Herera and Gego. I’m disqualifying Kentridge because nobody would be paying attention to his work if not for his video, another allegedly legitimizing medium. Who are the other two?

  17. alesh    Thu Feb 8, 02:30 PM #  

    Um, you yourself named 8 painters for the MAM? Maping Space, which filled most of their first floor for most of last years, was almost all painting.

    At MAC, I lumped the three media together because they frequently appeared together (and because they’re all Franklin-friendly.) Maiolino (2006) was painting drawing and sculpture (the images on the sodding website grossly misrepresent the show, which was almost all paintings and drawings), Grippo (2006) was sculpture, Kentridge was lots and lots of drawing, Herrera you mentioned, and Gego (2004).

  18. Franklin    Thu Feb 8, 07:17 PM #  

    You missed my point that MAM requires painting exhibitions to incorporate non-painting elements or it won’t let them in the building. It is about to make an exception to this policy, as it has done twice before, but otherwise doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the medium as a contemporary form. Marcaccio, for instance, is allegedly legitimate because he incorporates photographic imagery under those craptacular piles of silicone. So Mapping Space “was almost all painting”? Is Jesper Just almost all video? No, it’s totally video. Is the Cowles Collection show almost all photo? No, it’s totally photo. But dedicate yourself completely to painting, and you’re as welcome as Anton LaVey at a Baptist ice cream social. I can’t fucking deal with the MAC website anymore, but the same kind of thing is going on with Mailino and Kentridge, and Grippo was installation as far as I can tell.

    I can understand the concern that MAM’s curatorial lethargy might infect MAC somehow – I’m not interested in MAC’s agenda, but I wouldn’t call it lazy. But otherwise I find the institutions’ boosterism over the merger and handwringing over the same about equally substantial.

  19. alesh    Thu Feb 8, 07:59 PM #  

    Well, at least we can come together in our frustration with MAC’s anti-user website.

    But your current argument seems to be that MAM only tolerates painting when it has these “legitimizing elements” (which as far as I can tell just means “elements of painting Franklin doesn’t like”), except when they don’t.

    I’m trying real hard over here, but all I see is an attempt to represent as broad a view of what’s happening in contemporary art as possible. Do some of MAM’s shows suck? Sure. But “more painting” is the answer? Maybe “different painting” . . .

    Imagine that the MAC was dedicated 100% to painting, and was in danger of being subsumed by the MAM. That’s about how some of the people here feel. I can see how it might seem less important from 1,500 miles away.

  20. cohen    Thu Feb 8, 09:06 PM #  

    Honestly, did anyone catch Prince during the Halftime of the Super Bowl,,, and Brito vs circus from Canada, maybe the MAMMAC can find room for Brito paintings of Prince in there next straight ahead painting show….. that would pack a straight ahead painting show opening for sure

  21. Franklin    Thu Feb 8, 09:18 PM #  

    “Elements of painting Franklin doesn’t like”? Non-painting elements means elements that aren’t paint. What do you want, a diagram? I can start deliberately mischaracterizing your words, too.

    You know what? Fuck it. I like other media just fine but I can’t deal with this bullshit anymore. Yeah, let’s keep undiluted painting out of the museums and tell ourselves how open-minded we all are. Everything’s perfect! Pass the Kool-Aid!

    I’m out.

  22. alesh    Thu Feb 8, 09:35 PM #  

    Bullcrap, dude. The Rosenquist and Odita shows were all paint, and yet they landed on your shit-list. Don’t get mad at ME because you can’t explain why Odita falls into a different category then Otinski and Carrera.

    For the record, I never said you didn’t like any new media (though obviously you see it through a pretty peculiar old-media lens). But “let’s keep undiluted painting out of the museums”?? Even YOU cited three instances of undiluted media at the MAM. It’s not enough for you. Got it. I was just pointing out concern regarding the merger, when you rolled in with a comment about a “massive sucking going on,” remember?

  23. Franklin    Thu Feb 8, 10:46 PM #  

    Bullcrap yourself. The Odita paintings showed next to some kind of half-assed mud-brick installation he did, and one of the Rosenquists involved a turtle and a ramp, a la Rauschenberg combine.

    Oh yes, massive sucking going on. Let’s get back to that. People who go around thinking that certain media are inherently legitimate and others are inherently not tend to have other problems with their tastes. The contemporary art world has certain beliefs: raising issues is good, questioning notions is good, stupid external stuff like that. Let me go look at the MAM site – ah, yes. “Danish artist Jesper Just taps the universal power of music to create lushly filmed, seductive works that challenge the traditional notion that masculinity is incompatible with external displays of emotion.” Easy and dumb. But it’s on video, so it must be advanced, right? Right. So the painting thing is a subset of a larger problem of highly conformist, fashion-driven taste. Enjoy.

  24. alesh    Fri Feb 9, 11:27 AM #  

    Oh right, painting gets dismissed for being accompanied by being accompanied by supportive materials (which is of course what Odita’s installation was; I didn’t even remember it, but clearly it’s still buggin’ you).

    I AGREE that it’s silly to prejudge work on its media, and that anyone who does so is being silly. And the “find something silly sounding in art PR materials” trick never fails. But those two things together do not support the painting with a broad brush the entire contemporary art world. Are there shallow people? Yes. But if you’re trying to make the case that the people running MAC and MAM are shallow in this particular way, you’re just not being very successful. Your caricature of their thought process is funny enough, but I honestly don’t believe that’s what’s going on.

    I am, however, thoroughly convinced that they don’t show enough painting to make Franklin happy.

    Let’s try this: you mentioned MAC’s “agenda” before. I’d be curious to hear what you think their agenda actually is. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a pretty strong word to me.

  25. Franklin    Fri Feb 9, 02:33 PM #  

    I didn’t mean “agenda” in a sinister manner. MAC has an agenda to be taken seriously as a contemporary institution. They do so by buying into the assumptions I outlined above, but not in any spelled-out or formalized way. It’s silly, but not pernicious. Whereas I think MAM has a truly disingenuous approach to what they’re doing. If someone dumped a pile of used tires in the courtyard, they would send out press about the exciting new acquisition of an installation by an anonymous donor, and use the ensuing storage problems to bolster their case for a new building.

    The PR copy doesn’t come out of nowhere. That mess is a distillation of the exhibition essay, which invariably contains the same kind of language at greater length.

  26. alesh    Fri Feb 9, 03:41 PM #  

    It’s my personal view that almost any exhibition essay will be a long overintellectualization of its subject, with a few interesting tidbits mixed in. That, plus their strictly laudatory, non-critical nature makes them not worth bothering with, certainly not worth getting upset about (unless you’re looking for something to get upset about).

    Remember this sticker show that drew much ire on Artblog a couple of Basels ago? I’m sure it had an absurd essay along with it, how it’s a comment on the this and that of modern culture. Yuck. But the show? Well, it wasn’t anything earth shattering, but surely self-importance isn’t a prerequisite for art. It was fun, and if “visual felicity” is your standard, it had that in spades.

    BTW, the used tire scenario is hilarious.

  27. KH    Sat Feb 10, 10:28 PM #  

    I watched one of the Just films and it was a dud. A bore. It was annoying, too, not just a boring dud. It was annoying conceptually, because of the subject matter Franklin quoted above (and the correspondingly pathetic role of the female character). The only way the Just film can gain any cred for that subject matter is if it were a complete sham and joke (which it didn’t seem to be), and even then it would still be boring.