Martha Cooper and Ernest Zacharevic Talk in Long Beach, CA

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As part of Pow!Wow! Long Beach event series for 2016, the legendary New York street photographer Martha Cooper and the playful street artist Ernest Zacharevic are having a talk at the Art Theatre of Long Beach on July 12th. This is a rare chance hear insights from a veteran like Martha Cooper who’s run the streets with the likes of Keith Haring and Futura in the heydays.

I already bought my ticket to the show, so see you guys there!

Here the link to get your own tickets, and it’s only $5: Talk with Martha Cooper and Ernest Zacharevic

Is Instagram replacing art galleries?

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The Art Newspaper published an interesting article written by Marc Spiegler, the current director of Art Basel and, according to ArtReview, the 14th most powerful art figure in the world. Titled “Ten Questions All Gallerists Should Be Asking Themselves Now”, it sheds light into the operations of a gallery in today’s markets.

However, it raises a question that’s also been on my mind for the past few months: Are technologies like Instagram and Facebook replacing the traditional art market that was once dominated by galleries?

Here’s Marc Spiegler’s take on the matter:

Does Instagram replace Artforum ads? Art fair booths? My gallery? Me?

Obviously, Instagram can serve as a great form of visual promotion. I am willing to bet that a big-data analysis of the format of works being created by today’s young artists would reveal many more square works than before Instagram launched. Why? Because the artists are unconsciously responding to which works get more “likes”—or even sell best—in Instagram’s square world.
 
So does Instagram replace an Artforum ad? Maybe, although many artists demand full-page ads in Artforum when they move to a new gallery. Does Instagram replace art fair booths? People are selling works over Instagram to the same kind of global audience that you try to reach via a fair, and they are having virtual “conversations” with those people. But they’re not the same kind of dialogues that you have in person.
 
Instagram is fast becoming a tool for trading, not just marketing
 
Can you avoid having a gallery if you have a hyperactive Instagram account? Certainly, Stefan Simchowitz sells a lot of work without having a gallery. For a secondary-market dealer, I think it could certainly be the case; you broadcast on Instagram the work you’re trying to sell to anyone and use direct messaging for pieces you do not want to burn through over-exposure.
 
Does it replace the gallerist? There will surely be artists who will successfully sell their own work on Instagram. But I think most artists prefer to create art rather than spend all day direct-messaging random potential patrons. And I believe that the best way to sell art is to stand in front of the work with the collector. Fairs and galleries still work, because there is something simply primal about how you build the relationships that enable you to sell art in a market based entirely on perception.

This has a couple of important implications for gallerists and artists.

Let’s start with the gallerists.

Without a doubt, social media created new outlets for communication that did not exist before. Recently when I took a poll on a popular art forum regarding their preferred art news outlet, a majority preferred to receive their news directly from artists on Instagram. And why not? It’s convenient. Contrary to what Spiegler says above, I do not think any savvy artist is wasting her time direct messaging potential patrons. Instead she is curating a thoughtful stream of her works or inspirations that resonate with her audience. Key is fostering intimacy. That is where I think galleries struggle in this new age of media. Artists are beginning to realize that they do not need the backing of fancy galleries to sell works, because technologies like Instagram make connecting with new audiences as easy as taking a picture on their phone.

In the next five years, I can imagine artists empowered by modern technologies becoming independently successful without a gallery’s backing. Few examples already come to mind, like David Choe (@davidchoe), Banksy, and to a certain extent even Shepard Fairey (@obeygiant).

Now let’s discuss the implications of Instagram for artists. Like Jerry Saltz and Marc Spiegler mention, one of the ill effects of Instagram is homogenization. Artists are unconsciously reacting to the “Likes” that they receive and thus catering to the tastes of the masses, and in the process becoming similar in content, style, and/or format. The best artists will actively fight against this. We are already seeing a shift towards art that is experiential, participatory, and interactive.

Just last year Banksy’s Dismaland opened to critical acclaim because it was an exhibition of many experiences. It was performance art and its star was the thousands of attendees that flocked to a struggling resort town in Great Britain who otherwise would have never set foot in Weston-super-Mare. James Turrell’s light filled environments are another example of the public embracing art that transcends a square picture on your 6″ smartphone screen. That experience simply cannot be translated onto a phone screen. Although many The Broad attendees have uploaded selfies inside the Infinity Mirrored Roomit is also another work that simply refuses to be distilled into a flat image.

It will be experiential art like the above that survive past the short passes of an Instagram feed. I’m not saying that traditional square and rectangular paintings will be gone. No ordinary person will be able to host Dismaland, James Turrell’s rooms, or Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room in a home. Traditional paintings are just too convenient, so it will never die out. I’m willing to bet that the new art trend is going to be experiential and performance art.

Meet KAWS’s Newest Muse

Kaws's iconic Companion in black. via kawsone.com

Kaws’s iconic Companion in black. via kawsone.com

Over the years, the one-time street artist KAWS has given the KAWS treatment to many familiar pop icons. His first ever foray into popular culture saw the birth of his Companion in the visage of Mickey Mouse.

In the last few years, we’ve seen everything from Spongebob to Snoopy given the crossed out eyes in his paintings and sculptures.

Well, it looks like the artist has found his newest muse as revealed in The Creators’s exclusive preview of his first museum show in the UK simply titled KAWS. The show will be on display from February 6th to June 12th at the Longside Gallery of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

So who’s KAW’s newest muse? It’s Elmo…

Survival Machine, 2015. Exclusive from The Creators.

Survival Machine, 2015. Exclusive from The Creators.

Survival Machine, 2015. Exclusive from The Creators.

Survival Machine, 2015. Exclusive from The Creators.

Survival Machine, 2015. Exclusive from The Creators.

Survival Machine, 2015. Exclusive from The Creators.

“The 500 Arhats” from the Mind of Takashi Murakami

The 500 Arhats [Blue Dragon], 2012

The 500 Arhats [Blue Dragon], 2012

The 500 Arhats [White Tiger], 2012

The 500 Arhats [White Tiger], 2012

The 500 Arhats [Vermilion Bird], 2012

The 500 Arhats [Vermilion Bird], 2012

The 500 Arhats [Black Tortoise], 2012

The 500 Arhats [Black Tortoise], 2012

Takashi Murakami: 500 Arhats at Mori Art Museum is Takashi Murakami’s first major solo exhibition in Japan in 14 years since the show at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2001. Despite being a Japanese artist and producing his works in Japan, Murakami has not been an active participant of Japanese contemporary art. Majority of his works are found in foreign museums and private collections, mostly in Europe and US with Middle East and China quickly catching up, but market in Japan for Murakami’s work is described as “nearly non-existent”. This could most likely be attributed to the artist’s ambivalence to the role of Japanese contemporary art in the global context, which meant that Murakami has heavily focused on showing his work to an international audience outside of his home country.

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So why return to Japan to show his most ambitious painting to date? The curator of the show Miki Akiko offers several possible reasons: Murakami had a deep respect for the late founder of Mori Art Museum, Minoru Mori, who devoted his life to a single vision of building Tokyo into the burgeoning city we know now. In that sense, Mori and Murakami were cut from the same cloth. Another reason might be that this show is a big “f-you” to the Japanese critics who never really considered him to be of importance. Conversely, it is also a big “thank you” to the 300+ young staff of his studio that collaborated with the artist to complete this huge project in less than a year. But most importantly, it is a word of encouragement to the Japanese people that suffered so greatly during the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and earthquakes and a warning siren to carefully consider new nuclear plant plans and prepare for future natural disasters.
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Although there are 40 new paintings and sculptures from the artist on display, as the title of the show suggests, the main event is the 100 meter wide painting, The 500 Arhats. The painting was started just shortly before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and first displayed in an incomplete form in Qatar as a show of gratitude to the nation that promptly came to the aid of Japan in the wake of the disaster.

The 500 Arhats are Buddha’s enlightened disciples, the equivalent of saints in Christianity, and are believed to possess supernatural powers and able to heal 500 different types of suffering. In addition to the arhats, the painting includes 4 creatures of Chinese myth that preside over each of the cardinal directions: Blue Dragon in the east, Whiter Tiger in the west, Vermillion Bird in the south, and Black Tortoise in the north.

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The studio system that Murakami has optimized over the last two decades is just as interesting as the painting itself. His 9000m2 studio space had to be renovated to fit 50m sections of The 500 Arhats painting. Over 200 art university students were recruited from across the country, similar to how Japanese talent scouts discover new idol singers. The staff were then divided into shifts that spanned the full 24 hours per day. The days started with radio calisthenics exercises and morning meetings to confirm the daily work schedules for each artist/worker. Workflows and maps of placements of each of the 4000 silk screens to be applied to the painting were developed. Research teams collected over 100 file books of material on each of the 500 arhats, mythical creatures, monsters, and background motifs. Of course, every element to be included in the work was personally drawn or approved by the artist himself. Some may criticize his efficient studio system as being a product of greed, but it is more likely a result of the artist’s desire to have more time to devote to fine-tuning the details.

Some of the research materials and drawings created in preparation for The 500 Arhats.

Some of the research materials and drawings created in preparation for The 500 Arhats.

Please click on the thumbnails above to see much larger images of the 500 Arhats. The images were photographed section by section and stitched together in Photoshop, but they are no substitute for standing in front of the painting and admiring the awe-inspiring and painstaking details that Takashi Murakami included in each square-inch of the panels.

Can you spot all the 500 arhats?

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The two videos below should give a better spatial sense of the enormity of The 500 Arhats.