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We cover a lot of ground in this episode of Explain Me. That ground looks something like this:

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Jack Whitten, Black Monolith II (For Ralph Ellison), 1994

Donna DeSalvo assembles some of Andy Warhol’s greatest work for his retrospective at the Whitney Museum, while revelations that Whitney Vice Chair Warren B. Kanders owns a company that sells tear gas used at the border shake museum staff. Soul of a Nation at the Brooklyn Museum looks at the history of political activism, while Jack Waters offers a mix of bag of awe inspiring abject art paired with groan inspiring sculptures and paintings. Jack Whitten at the Metropolitan Museum dazzles, Art and Conspiracy flops, and Amazon is going to drive Queens residents out of their homes. Podcast and relevant links below.

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October 4 2018 – Art F City is pleased to announce the launch of their new programming arm, PARADE, which  supports and commissions civically engaged public art in Western Queens and beyond. Founded with a mission of fostering dialogue  and connection through art, PARADE is co-directed by Paddy Johnson, writer, organizer and Art F City founder, and Nancy Kleaver, a nonprofit management arts education consultant, and community advocate.

“Art F City was originally founded as a blog that would bring people together to discuss and debate art. PARADE takes this one step further,” said Johnson. “We’re asking not just how art can bring people together, but how it can improve our lives. We believe that has to start at the level of civic engagement, which is why we’re so excited about PARADE’s inaugural project The Young & Mighty March.”

The mission of the Young & Mighty March, to take place on Sunday October 21st 1-3 pm at Lou Lodati Park, is to offer Queens kids of all ages a platform to express their concerns about political events, inspire civic engagement, and draw attention to issues affecting youth. As the midterm elections nears, it’s important for kids to know that just because they can’t vote, doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice. The Young & Mighty March and workshops give them a chance to be heard.

The march builds on Art F City’s 13 year history,  in which it has has worked with institutions such as the Queens Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of Art and Occupy Museums, and AICAD Residency Program, to launch events that make a difference to the lives of artists and New Yorkers. Throughout, the company has supported artist-focused projects and solutions, with the belief that in doing this, we’ll find answers we couldn’t get any other way. Creativity is at the heart of all culture.

Kleaver’s background includes 20 years in senior positions at leading NYC arts education institutions, including Young Audiences New York, DreamYard Project, and Lincoln Center. She organized ReCreate QNS, a coalition of arts groups that produced free public programming for Sunnyside and Woodside kids and families.   “Many of us who live in Queens are proud of its diversity, even if we’re not always connecting with one another. PARADE is an experiment to see what happens when we use art to bridge language barriers, cultural differences and diverging religious, political and generational ideologies. Our philosophy is that a focus on partnerships between phenomenal artists of all disciplines and the community groups that make up the most diverse borough in the US will connect us all.”


Like PARADE on Facebook, follow PARADE on Instagram, follow PARADE on Twitter.


Art F City is a non-profit publisher supporting the creation of healthier, sustainable artist-run initiatives through a mix of art criticism, public programming, special projects, and professional development opportunities. By providing a venue for generous sharing of skills and resources, we encourage a more socially conscious art community, which ultimately contributes positively to the social fabric that informs all art making.


PARADE collaborates with artists and the people of Queens to launch large scale public art.  We value public art that sparks civic engagement and bridges gaps in the public discourse. Our projects, like our name, celebrate inclusion, compassion and action.

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Live from the Forward Union Fair!

It’s been a rough news week. Between Thursday’s testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Kavanaugh’s near appointment to the Supreme Court Friday, many of us are exhausted. We would like a win for women.

Sometimes the quickest way to achieve that is to do it yourself. As such, this episode of Explain Me celebrates women who have made waves in the world of art and activism, through a series of interviews with four major figures—Mia Pearlman (Make NY True Blue), Jenny Dubnau (ASAP), Nancy Kleaver (PARADE), and Mira Schor (Selected writing).

In the first half of the show, Mia Pearlman and Jenny Dubnau talk about their work pushing for changes at the city and state level and how being an artist makes that job easier. In the second half, Paddy Johnson and Nancy Kleaver talk about their new public art organization, PARADE, and Mira Schor talks about the history of feminism in art from the 1970’s through to today, and her contributions. Stream it. Download it. Listen to it. This one’s important.

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LoVID‘s Tali Hinkis joins us in the studio to discuss the challenges of being a mid-career artist outside of New York. In this episode we discuss how to navigate it all from engaging a general audience to getting grants and networking. A refreshingly frank talk about what mid-career actually looks like for artists and what it takes to get there.

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Last October, we published the first edition of our zine series, We’re So Not Getting the Security Deposit Back: A Guide to Defunct Artist Spaces in partnership with Beltway Public Works in DC. Today, we’re making it freely available to all in the form of a PDF. (If you want the physical version please contact AFC directly paddy@artfcity.com)

The zine charts the history of artist run spaces in DC from the 1970’s through to the present, from garage galleries to traditional white wall cubes. It even documents the ring of sweat left in a tiny gallery after they hosted a packed Bad Brains show. It’s a thorough accounting of the artist run movement in DC and worth downloading for that alone.

But this is just the start of the project. We’re making zines that document the history of 50 secondary cities in 50 states. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that’s desperately needed. The long unpaid hours, the love, and the art all gets lost without it. So, if you live in a secondary city and think you could wrangle some folks to fill out a questionaire and make a zine, reach out to paddy@artfcity.com. We’ll make it happen together.

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Tom Moody, Optidisc, 2005

Previously published at artandeducation.net (2009)

Since the early 1990s, artists have chosen the internet as a medium, an environment and a
forum. While some internet artists also maintain a gallery practice, the conditions and
conventions that inform meaning in online art remain in many ways distinct from those of
the off-line artworld. Internet art — inherently ephemeral and infinitely reproducible —
eludes commodification and largely operates independently of the art market.1 In the
online environment where acts of creative self-expression are the norm, the boundaries
between artists and not-artists that confer status and hierarchy in the gallery and museum
system are largely immaterial. Even among niche groups of online practitioners who self-
identify as artists, the culture of internet art regards the agency of the viewer on a par
with that of the artist. In most cases, viewers are also producers. Many online artists, such
as myself, operate through the medium of the blog format, which allows for a hybrid
practice blending art production with art criticism, cross-promotion and dialogue.

Most criticism about internet art takes place online in comment threads on
individual blogs or on institutionally supported websites such as Rhizome.org that
provide discussion forums. The discourse tends to revolve around debates (often heated)
about the appropriate use of various technologies in relation to both formal concerns and
political issues inherent to open source ideology. There has been very little critical
discussion about the affective qualities of various digital media.

What do I mean by affective qualities? Most theorists who deploy the concept of
affect draw from Brian Massumi’s definition of affect as a physiological state of
intensity.2 Following from Massumi, affects are understood to be fluctuations of the
body’s autonomic response system — precognitive, asignifying and distinct from the
qualifying, meaningful stages of emotional response.3 As a quantifiable function of
physiology, then, the concept of affect has a potentially essentializing and universalising
role in its application to cultural critique. But at the same time, affect retains a dimension
of contingency, because the term is derived from theories of consciousness that refuse the
Cartesian dualism of the mind/body split. Massumi explains,

[V]olition, cognition, and presumably other ‘higher’ functions usually
presumed to be in the mind, figured as a mysterious container of mental
entities that is somehow separate from body and brain, are present and
active in that now not-so- ‘raw’ domain. Resonation assumes feedback.
[…] The body doesn’t just absorb pulses or discrete stimulations; it infolds
contexts, it infolds volitions and cognitions that are nothing if not situated.
Intensity is asocial but not presocial…4

Affect is of the body, but the body is conjoined with mind, and the entire organism is
understood to be entangled with its cultural contexts. So, while any specific affective
response is particular to the moment and the person who is having the experience, affect
can also be theorized at the level of the collective if it is taken into account that cultural
conditions have a normative function that may exclude certain modes of response from
collective models. Affect is particularly applicable to the online art environment, where
relationships between body and mind are fraught, and where dynamics between
individuals and collectives are both immersive and politicized.

How do the affects of software technologies inflect interactive online art
experience? In this paper, I will specifically examine the affects of the animated GIF (short for Graphic Interchange Format), a ubiquitous graphic file format used by artists
and non-artists alike. If any website contains an animated element that is self-contained,
chances are high that it is a GIF. GIFs are small, simple files, easy to create and quick to
download, making them widely accessible to a range of browsers and system speeds. I
propose, however, that it is the affective qualities particular to animated GIFs that make
them truly popular.

Massumi describes affective intensity as a temporal sink, a moment of incipience
before action is taken. In GIFs, such moments are looped, extended and repeated between
every frame. For Amy Herzog, the suspended moment of affect is potentially political,
allowing for intuitions to emerge that cut across the grain of cultural norms.5 Do
animated GIFs facilitate such agency? In order to address this question, I will discuss the
affective qualities of three gifs by internet artists Tom Moody, Petra Cortright and Lorna
Mills. I will briefly delineate the cultural context surrounding GIFs and I will then
analyze the three artists’ GIFs according to Richard Dyer’s theory of non-representational codes, Margaret Morse poetics of video installation, Brian Massumi’s notion of affective intensity as a temporal sink, concerns about affect and agency raised by Susan Buck- Morss and Sianne Ngai, concerns raised by Elizabeth Wissinger about affect in an attention economy; and concerns raised by Michelle Henning about the reification and standardization of persons in a technologized society.

The GIF is an image format designed by Compuserve and released in 1987.6
Controversy over GIFs arose in 1994, when Unisys, the patent-holder, unsuccessfully
attempted to regulate their use.7 Because GIFs have been around so long, their
contemporary use has a “retro” feel, as opposed to more glamorous programs such as
Flash. In addition, the GIF controversy has meant that their use is also somewhat political
and can indicate a commitment to the long-standing open source, anti-copyright activism
of online producers. Artist Tom Moody explains,

Animated GIFs have evolved into a kind of ubiquitous mini-cinema,
entirely native to the personal computer and the World Wide Web. Almost
anyone can make one and almost every browser will read them. In other
words, no YouTube compression, no wait time, no subscriptions or
proprietary formats to view, and they can be made in the most elementary
and cheap imaging programs. They are the purest expression of the
democratic web and along with JPEGs and PNGs comprise its most
authentic visual language.8

Both somewhat retro and somewhat activist, the animated GIF is appealing to many
internet artists because it signifies an anti-corporate agenda as well as a kind of “truth to
materials” commitment to technologies that are elegantly designed for democratic online

Since the early days of internet art, online artists have participated in challenging
the museum and gallery hierarchies of off-line art systems.9 The vast majority of GIFs
(as well as YouTube videos, Flash animations, RealAudio sound files and a host of other
cultural digital formats) are used by creative producers who do not self-identify as artists.
Animated GIFs are created, collected and displayed by everyone from Christian website
designers,10 to antique technology buffs,11 to culture bloggers.12 For online artists, then,
the use of the animated GIF also demonstrates a willingness to plunge into the vernacular
of online production, blurring boundaries between art and non-art categories. Most
analyses of animated GIFs discuss their signifying functions according to their specific
contents and/or their historic, socio-political role in the culture of online production, but
as noted above, their affective qualities are rarely, if ever, addressed.

The affective qualities of artists’ animated GIFs emerge in part from the context
of their production. GIFs are designed to be viewed at home, in private, by people who
are sitting at their computers. Yet at the same time these people are immersed in the
hybrid, public/private environment of a personal computer connected to the collective
public commons of the internet. The viewing distance — the space between the face and
the monitor — is very tight. GIFS are simultaneously “in your face” and in your mind,
their affects continuous with the immersive experience of daily internet use. However,
just at Richard Dyer describes the songs in Hollywood musicals as “self-enclosed
patterns”13 set apart from the narrative structure, animated GIFs — like casual online
puzzle games with their addictive audio and visual rewards — provide brief moments of
aesthetic affect, diversions that are set apart from the running narrative of the work day.
Each of the artists that I will be discussing, Tom Moody (New York), Petra
Cortright (New York) and Lorna Mills (Toronto), has a gallery practice as well as an
online practice. Each uses the GIF specifically but not exclusively. Moody and Mills both
have blogs on which they post writing about, and examples of, art by others alongside
their own creations.14 All three post collections of GIFs by others, sometimes remixed
and manipulated.15 They are all active participants in the online culture of exchange, and
they are to some extent in dialogue with one another.

Tom Moody’s GIF OptiDisc 16 is a mesmerizing series of concentric circles —
red, blue and black — that seem to emanate and recede from a central point in a short,
looping animation. It is slightly hypnotic, inducing a near trance-like state almost
immediately upon viewing. Richard Dyer’s model of affective non-representational codes
in Hollywood musicals — color, texture, movement, rhythm, melody, camerawork —can be applied to OptiDisc with some variations. The piece makes use of color,
movement, and rhythm, as well as a new category specific to GIFs — smooth versus
jerky motion. There is no sound, and more importantly, there is no camerawork. While
the motion takes place along the depth axis, and seems to envelop the viewer, there is no
sense of a representational point of view. Furthermore, because the technological
interface of the GIF is seamless with the internet experience — clicking and browsing
web pages — the affective codes are felt immediately as part of the viewer’s environment
without the distancing mediation of screened film or video.

Dyer describes the way that affective codes work “at the level of sensibility,”17
by which he means, “an affective code that is characteristic of, and largely specific to, a
given mode of cultural production.”18 Non-representational codes, for Dyer, do have
iconic resemblance, but it operates at the level of “basic structuration.”19 The patterns of
the artwork are analogous to the physiological patterns of sentience in the viewer.20
Engaging the viewer’s perceptual system directly — within the codes and conventions of
online production — OptiDisc is very present, functioning more like a felt sensation than
a merely visual observation.21 In this way OptiDisc operates in the “here and now” as
Margaret Morse might say, but without the institutional structuring of the art museum to
enframe and stage the experience.

In her essay on video art installation, Morse identified a limitation to the affective
potential of the medium; video must take place in time. The “temporal unfolding”22 of
installation video is usually cyclical, looping so that visitors may enter at any point in the
cycle and exit at will. Morse explains that “this unfolding is incompatible with taking in
visual objects all at once… .”23 She wonders what would happen to the “notion of experience in transcendence”24 if “one were to reduce temporal unfolding to the barest
minimum”?25 OptiDisc provides an opportunity to address the question.

The loop in OptiDisc is very short, and the entire sequence can be grasped in a
matter of seconds. The cyclical repetition is itself integral to the perception of the work,
and the viewer’s hypnotic engagement is reinforced as the animation repeats again and
again and again, creating an immersive, numbing effect. In contrast to video installation,
the experience of the animated GIF is both personal and disposable. Very little
investment is required to approach the work — there is no travel time to a gallery nor any
admission fee — and leaving is a simple matter of clicking the mouse. It is entirely up to
the viewer to determine how much time to spend with the piece, and it is the value of the
affective experience alone — the neurological rewards of watching the animation — that
make up the criteria for lingering or leaving.

The intensity of affect in most animated GIFs — and OptiDisc is a prime example
— is partly due to their jerkiness. The goal of most cinematic animation is to render
motion as smoothly as possible. The goal of the animated GIF, on the other hand, is to
employ as few frames as possible, in order to keep the file size small and the download
times speedy. As a result, there are noticeably larger-than-usual gaps in the illusion of
motion. Margaret Morse describes a similar phenomenon in her essay when she discusses
Beryl Korot’s Dachau. There is a rhythmic pattern to the multiple-monitor video
projections, but it is a little off kilter.

I have come to think of this possibility for repetition, contrast and
migration of images across a shape as a poetic dimension of video
installation: that is, it is a practice that deemphasizes the content of images
in favour of such properties as line, colour, and vectors of motion, with
content of their own to convey. The choreography of these properties is
another kinaesthetic dimension of transfor-mation. The transformation from monitor to monitor, from two to three dimensions and back again, is most visible when these ontological levels do not match and the conceptual is transformed in its passage through various material manifestations.26

Morse identifies that the affective physiological dimensions of rhythm and pattern are
most apparent when they don’t exactly match up. OptiDisc has only nine distinct frames
that repeat backwards, for a total of 18 frames per loop. It only has four colours,
including white. The artist has carefully timed distinct passages of motion between the
various coloured rings so that they do not travel at exactly the same rate. The jerky gaps
between frames further grab the viewer’s attention. The moments of suspension are very
short, but they are much longer than those of most animated sequences. When watching
this jerky motion, the viewer’s brain becomes actively engaged in the perceptual process,
working to fill in the gaps in the action, creating a sense of motion that is never quite
seamless, and thus never quite complete as an illusion.

Brian Massumi describes affective intensity as a “state of suspense, potentially of
disruption. It is like a temporal sink, a hole in time… .”27 This is a moment of incipience,
before action is taken, before emotions qualify and retroactively determine the affect. In
animated GIFs, the gaps in action between frames extend the affective suspense. They are
small enough to suggest motion, but large enough to create a perceptible gap, which
means there is plenty of time for the affect to take hold. As Mieke Bal might describe it,
the animated gifs function like cinematic close-ups — “abstractions isolating the object
from the time-space coordinates in which we were moving as if ‘naturally.’ A close-up
immediately cancels out the whole that precedes it, leaving us alone, thrown out of linear
time, alone with a relationship to the image that is pure affect.” 28 Unlike close-ups in
cinema, however, animated GIFs function without a “whole” — there is no ongoing
narrative for them to be juxtaposed against. If, as in OptiDisc, the affect is strong and
virtually uninflected by signification it can induce a light trance, taking over the
perceptual system by temporarily shutting down emotion and cognition.

This kind of cognitive stupor can be pleasurable, but it does raise some concerns.
Amy Herzog talks about the political potential of the affective pause in feminist film as a
moment of becoming.29 But what if the becoming never comes? What if the affective
intensity remains arrested, and is never collapsed into action or emotions? Granted, many
animated gifs carry more signification than OptiDisc and even in this piece there are
references — such as an allusion to Jasper Johns’ target paintings — that may eventually
emerge and break the spell. But the endlessly looping structure does enhance a kind of
“anaesthetic” state, as Susan Buck-Morss might describe it. “The problem,” Buck-Morss
suggests, “is that under conditions of modern shock — the daily shocks of the modern
world — response to stimuli without thinking has become necessary for survival.”30 In a
culture that depends on citizens’ passivity — and the contemporary context of late
capitalism would certainly apply — aesthetic products and media may be designed as
phantasmagorias, which, as Buck-Morss explains, have the “effect of anaesthetizing the
organism, not through numbing, but through flooding the senses.”31 The zoned-out state
of mind induced and extended by digital media such as OptiDisk may be an affect that
mitigates against the agency of enhanced perceptual engagement.

The suspended affect of animated gifs is also reminiscent of Sianne Ngai’s
concept of a “noncathartic aesthetic: art that produces and foregrounds a failure of
emotional release.”32 Indeed, Ngai is specifically interested in animation as a racialized
“translation, into affect, of a state of being puppeteered” resulting in a “predicament of suspended agency.”33 In applying Ngai’s concept of “stuplimity” and Buck-Morss’
“anaesthetic” to the affect of animated GIFs, however, it is important to remember that
the internet is not a broadcast medium. Particularly within the context of online art
practice, almost all viewers are in some way also producers, and animated GIFS operate
in a culture of exchange. While distinctions between cognition and affect may be
enhanced and emphasized, agency is always implied. I believe that it is the mounting
impulse to participate: to re-create, remix or otherwise respond to the GIF under
observation, that eventually breaks the spell of affect and leads the viewer into action.
OptiDisc, for example, has been appropriated and reposted, often without credit, by
scores of other internet users. For Moody, this viral appropriation — the exercise of
agency by others on his work — is a token of success, and he has even mounted a gallery
exhibition of prints from 60 screen shots of OptiDisc as it has appeared on other websites
besides his own.34

In contrast to Moody’s 18-frame, 4-colour OptiDisc, Petra Cortright’s untitled
(hands1.gif) GIF35 has 61 frames and 124 colours which means it is a larger file, longer
to load, possibly requiring a faster system, and is thus intended for a slightly more
specialized audience. It is comprised of screenshots taken while someone, possibly the
artist herself, is using a 3-D modelling program to animate a human hand. The hand is
being rendered as a wireframe, with intricate patterns, codes and surfaces. Cortright’s
GIF includes haphazard glimpses of tool bars and cursors as well as intentional glitches
in which the 3-D coordinates are suddenly set way out of whack causing the hand graphic
to mutate into wildly unrecognizable shapes. There is a multi-layered reference to
puppeteering here. The piece depicts a puppeteer at work creating a high-tech, 3-Dmodel. At the same time, the puppeteer is herself a puppet, her high tech efforts animated
in a very funny selection of comparatively low-tech frames, showing mistakes and gaffes
and flying in the face of the mainstream animation conventions.

One of the affects of Cortright’s GIF is humour. When looking at 3D graphics we
expect to see smooth forms spinning around seamlessly in space. Instead, here we see
excess, the carefully rendered form of the hand breaking out into all kinds of disturbing
and surprising shapes. The images on the screen grabs that make up the GIF look very
sophisticated, but the software used to create the GIF is not. Most computers come with
the capacity to take a screen shot, and GIF building can be done in a matter of minutes
with a variety of easily downloadable, open source, freeware or shareware programs. The
piece is using an accessible, relatively transparent technology to poke fun at the
pretensions of high-tech illusion.

In order for viewers to get the jokes, Cortright’s hand GIF requires more insider
knowledge than Moody’s OptiDisc, and it has a higher level of signification, passing
ironic comment on graphic conventions. These meta-levels of content— along with the
large file size — make Cortright’s hand less desirable for appropriation and re-use than
Moody’s OptiDisc, and it has not “gone viral” in the same way. But this GIF did attract
attention — from Moody and Mills among others — and helped launch Cortright’s
reputation as a serious and notable online artist. The meaning of the work, and to some
extent its affective impact, depends on viewers who themselves make GIFS, or at least
understand the process with enough agency to see how the artist is both invoking and
confounding her own agency. In this work, the collective dimension to the practice of
sharing animated GIFS is an inherent aspect of its full affective resonance.

While animated art GIFs may induce a kind of stupor, they also address viewers
as participants engaged a collective discourse. For those viewers who are also producers,
the agency of making GIFs is entangled with the sensation of watching (and collecting)
them. To my mind, the agency implied in this collective experience of making and re-
mixing GIFs goes a significant way towards assuaging worries about the potentially
disempowering aspects of their anaesthetic qualities.

However, while the blossoming of collective artistic agency in animated GIF
production is exciting and positive, serious concerns remain about the technologized
environment in which this activity takes place. In her essay on affects in the fashion
modelling industry, Elizabeth Wissinger shares concerns with Patricia Clough about the
commodification of affect in an “‘attention economy,’ in which an infinite expansion of
images is met with a finite capacity for human attention.”36 In the affective labour of
modelling competition between images means that the works which are the most
attention grabbing become the most valued. The same applies to a great deal of online
GIF production. Many animated GIFs exploit the affective..

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n this episode of Explain Me William Powhida and Paddy Johnson discuss the horrific business practices of Peter Brant and Interview Magazine, a fundraising campaign at University of North Carolina so misguided that firing is in order, and the latest headscratching Creative Time project. To help us discuss all of this, and how the new tax code will affect artists accountant and painter Hannah Cole joins us.

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Philippe Vergne and Doug Aitken at Aitken’s show New Era

In Part II of Explain Me, William Powhida and I discuss the difference between relational aesthetics and social practice, the whims of the auction market and the perilous affect it can have on artist careers, and Doug Aitken’s train wreck of a show at 303 Gallery along with a handful of truly remarkable shows. Those shows listed below. Listen to Part I here.

Doug Aitken at 303.

Painted in Mexico 1700-1790 at The Met

Huma Bhabha at the Met

A Luta Continua The Sylvio Perlstein Collection

Mel Chin at the Queens Museum


Jacolby Satterwhite at Gavin Brown

On Human Limits at Present Company

Ander Mikalson

*Plus we throw Dan Colen under the bus.

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Murakami at Gagosian Frieze NY

In this episode William Powhida and I discuss how the Frieze Art Fair’s failing air conditioning units won’t help global warming, sales strategies for emerging artists, and galleries that have come and gone. Look to Part II where we discuss the difference between social practice and relational aesthetics and discuss the Doug Aitken show at 303.

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