Tag Archives: Regina Hackett

Thursday links: Trash-art TV, unkind cuts

By Bob Hicks

Mr. Scatter doesn’t watch much television (especially since the Mariners have taken a dive into baseball’s primordial ooze of futility: where are you now, Edgar and Buhner and Big Unit?), and he doesn’t really go in for the American Idol model of determining cultural “winners.”

Nao Bustamante, not shocking enough for TV. Shows like Idol and So You Think You Can Dance certainly reflect the effect of the marketplace on the art world — an effect that a lot of people like to pretend doesn’t exist but is in fact crucial. That doesn’t necessarily make it a positive, only an inescapable fact of life. Still, as we’ve all become excruciatingly aware, an unchecked marketplace can be an arena for disaster, and Mr. Scatter is not convinced that his musical listening habits, for instance, should be determined by a popular vote.

This is a long route to confessing that he hasn’t actually watched an episode of the Bravo network’s Work of Art, in which visual artists advance or fall by the wayside according to a Trump-like theory of failure and success. Fortunately Regina Hackett, from her perch at the provocative and insightful Another Bouncing Ball, has watched, and thought, and written.

Her post Reality TV: artists as female stereotypes is a good read, and typically for ABB, it rattles the cages of conventional wisdom. And Hackett can be funny. Musing on Work of Art‘s judges, whom she judges to be pretty lame, she wonders whether the show couldn’t be goosed up a bit if venerated critic Donald Kuspit joined the panel: “When being fed nonsense, I prefer it to be elegant nonsense, like Kuspit’s.”


Hackett’s post here on Dave Hickey (she calls him “the great tap-dancing art critic of our time”) is also a refreshing read. Here’s Hickey on university life: “It took me a few years to realize you can’t talk to other English teachers about literature. You can talk to them about their pets, though. That’s why you want to learn all the names of the professors’ pets, so when you see them in the hall you can ask, ‘How’s Roscoe?’ and they will go on for half an hour, and you can nod along and think about whatever you want.”


Meanwhile, Barry Johnson at Arts Dispatch and David Stabler at The Oregonian have been having an interesting conversation about whether it’s smart or dumb for arts groups to  slash budgets in tough times. Should you cut budgets and programming, because it’s prudent to balance your budget? Or does that simply make you look desperate? The ping-pong has been interesting, and so have the comments by a lot of smart onlookers.

I like the latest (so far) take on the fray, by Oregon Symphony violist Charles Noble at Noble Viola: “What you cut is almost as important as how much you cut. … For example, cutting all pops programming because ‘the audience is all dying anyway’ is catastrophic cutting, whereas searching for the audience that we most want to develop and then catering to them within the general pops genre is the better route, though possibly more expensive and time consuming. The difference is what you or I might do to our prized Japanese maple tree if we just randomly hack off stray limbs instead of hiring a skilled arborist to perform careful pruning to make the tree more healthy.”

In other words: Constantly reassess, in good times and bad. And spend smart.

This is a discussion that might actually have an impact. If you haven’t already, catch up on the conversation at these links and throw in your own two Euros’ worth.


Illustration: Nao Bustamante’s performance piece wasn’t shocking enough for the judges on Bravo’s “Work of Art.”

Link of the day: Whose art is it, anyway?

Bill Eppridge, "Barstow to Vegas Motorcycle Race," 1971

Regina Hackett poses some provocative questions on her blog Another Bouncing Ball at Arts Journal:

When is a quote a steal? When is it an homage? Are the rules different in writing and in visual art? Bill Eppridge, the photographer who caught this terrific aerial shot in 1971 (it’s called Barstow to Vegas Motorcycle Race) is steamed because Seattle artist Deborah Faye Lawrence appropriated it to use as the sky image in her 2008 collage The Mysterious Allure of Rural America. Click on Another Bouncing Ball to see Lawrence’s work and compare for yourself.

I won’t repeat Eppridge’s argument, or Hackett’s response to it. (Lawrence isn’t quoted). The post is short, and you can get it all there — plus an interesting string of comments. I’ll just say, this is tricky ground. Nothing’s original, but some things are more original than others.


Also worth checking out: Theatrical luminaries Mr. Mead at Blogorrhea and Steve Patterson at Splattworks have hooked into the release of the new book Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play, which gets down to some of the deep dark issues of how … well, plays fit into the contemporary American theater scene. Well worth reading, and also the followups at Parabasis. (And don’t miss Chicago Trib critic Chris Jones’s review of the book.)

Repatriating art: SAM gives something sacred back

Nothing Sacred, the title of a 1937 Carole Lombard screwball comedy proclaimed, and Ben Hecht’s hilarious, hardboiled movie script pretty much summed up the American attitude on the subject: There is, indeed, nothing sacred — nothing not fit for examining, dissecting, debunking, putting on display for the amusement or edification of the curious public.

National Museum of Australia Director Craddock Morton greets Paula McClusky, curator of African and Oceanic art at Seattle Art Museum, as she returns an aboriginal object. Phot: Lannon Harley via Artdaily.orgWhy not turn cadavers into posed objects for museum display, as hugely popular shows such as Body Worlds do? They’re only mummified skin and bone. Any resemblance to any actual living human being who once inhabited this “plastinated” shape is purely on the surface, and inconsequential, anyway: It’s not as if the stiff is alive.

It’s all so rational. And, yes, there’s so much to legitimately poke fun at (Elmer Gantry and his heirs) or fear (suicide bombers stoked on righteousness). Faith, or its misconception, has made a mess of a lot.

And yet, much of the world simply doesn’t agree with modern rationalism and the intellectual assumption of superiority that so often accompanies it. And much of the world has a point. Do we keep getting into these foolish, messy wars partly because we find it hard to imagine that belief is important — that for some people, the sacred trumps self-interest? In snickering at the earnestness of evangelicals, does blue America simply mock something it hasn’t even tried to understand?

The question becomes fascinating when you extend it to indigenous cultures, where so often “sacred” and “secular” don’t really exist as opposite or even separate categories. It’s here, especially, where Western ideas of science and art run into troubles. Tenets that make perfect sense in the European tradition simply don’t apply. So we get a battle, for instance, over the remains of Kennewick Man.

In the museum world, repatriation is a hot, hot issue. It has to do with history, and the spoils of imperialism, and national pride, and the disputed rights of original ownership. Originating countries such as Greece, Italy and Egypt are firm in their demands that looted or casually sold artworks be returned (even if, sometimes, they simply land in the basements of already overstocked home-country museums). Art stolen by Nazis from Jewish collectors or sold on the cheap to finance escape from the Nazis is going off of museum walls and into the hands of the original collectors’ heirs. Now that Athens has a top-rate new museum at the Acropolis, repatriation advocates are arguing that the last remaining excuse for keeping the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum has crumbled away.

In the murky world of rightful ownership, repatriation isn’t always the clear-cut issue it seems at first glance. Issues of availability to a broad audience, of ability to display objects in a broader artistic context, and of the ability to keep objects in a safe environment and care for them adequately also are legitimate parts of the debate.

But what if the work in question isn’t even considered art in the eyes of its originating culture? That twists the argument in intriguing ways, and in one case this week, with a surprising result: The Seattle Art Museum has returned a sacred Aboriginal object to Australia — and SAM initiated the repatriation. Australia’s National Indigenous Times tells the story here, and Artdaily.org also reports.

You can’t see the object in the photo above, because the object isn’t meant to be seen by a general audience. SAM has had it in its collection since 1970, but it’s never put it on display. It’s being called a “secret/sacred object” that would be used by an Aboriginal man in religious ceremonies. And that means that, although from a Western viewpoint it might be an interesting anthropological and aesthetic object, from an Aboriginal viewpoint it’s off-limits to anyone but its owner/user.

In other words: It’s something sacred. And SAM — especially Pamela McClusky, the museum’s curator of African and Oceanic art — decided that that meant it doesn’t belong in an American museum. It belongs back where it began.

Regina Hackett, the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer art critic who now writes on her Art Journal blog Another Bouncing Ball, has a good insider’s take:

A student of Robert Farris Thompson‘s, McClusky is not your ordinary art curator. Like Thompson, she embraces the meaning first peoples give the objects that they create. She is far more likely to see the central Australian Aboriginal object in question as elders see it, rather than in purely aesthetic terms.

Once the object came to her attention, it was as good as gone.

“It’s something that is not to be seen by men who have not been initiated, by women or by children, and it’s intended to be kept in a relatively sacred, secret place, usually a cave,” ABC Canberra quotes McClusky.

The network further quotes her:

The museum has been displaying Australian Aboriginal art and a lot of Australians had been coming through and I would always say “do you want to come down to storage and see this material we have” and they would say “not a stone, that shouldn’t be here.”

Now, it’s not.

As Hackett reports, the object isn’t quite home yet, wherever “home” might be: “The National Museum of Australia will store the object temporarily while consultations proceed regarding its final repatriation.”

It’ll be fascinating to see where this object finally lands. Except that maybe it’s none of our business, and we just won’t find out. And maybe that’s alright.