MSB brainstorming

24 December 2013

Great Jerry Salz Article on the Art Market

Originally published January 22, 2007

Seeing Dollar Signs: Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid?
"The market is art minus otherness. The rest is gossip," says Jerry Salz. A great new article by him in the Village Voice is now online. Check it out:,saltz,75590,13.html.

Podcast on Jeff Hoke, Museum of Lost Wonder

Originally published January 9, 2007

I have once again contributed to a "podcast" for the renowned internet art podcast sender in Chicago, Bad at Sports , or "B.A.S." as they are fondly known. For my contribution this time, I'm discussing a work of art in book form by a former Chicagoan, now California artist: The Museum of Lost Wonder by Jeff Hoke. This is, in short, a marvelous work of art. One of the best I have ever seen.

(For those who don't know, a podcast is a kind of download-able radio broadcast on the internet, which many people listen to on their computers or on their mp3 / iPod players, technically a "multimedia file distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers." )

Link to download here.

Link to blog discussion with tab for direct listening here.

Yes, this is a book, but what a book, an artist's book, a wonder. ... It has text, paintings, cartoons, diagrams, cut-and-paste models and more, all united into one mammoth gem, a banquet for the eye, mind, soul, and imagination --- a strange amalgamation of science volume, esoteric textbook, graphic novel, painter's catalogue, psychological manual, do-it-yourself, think-for-yourself activity book and sprawling, gorgeous dream. Hoke's tome is encyclopedic, drawing on all the influences I have already mentioned, but also philosophy, astronomy, religion, biology, physics, psychology, quantum physics, and Tibetan Buddhism. That may sound scary or overwhelming --- but the true strength of Hoke's book lies NOT only in its fascinating breadth, but in the clarity with which it all fits together --- and the joy in discovery and wonder that arise in me every time I dip back into it.

This is indeed the preeminent work of art ex-Chicagoan Hoke has created, a culmination of at least 20 years of work and research, as far as I can see. It is a dazzling pièce de résistance. And one of the best works of art in any field or genre to have come from an American, in my opinion. A celebration of Wonder Re-Found.

For those of you who like to read more than listen, I'll be posting a text discussion of Hoke's book here on Sharkforum soon.

Hoke's own web site is

The Nine Arts and the Nine Muses

Originally published January 1, 2007

                                        The Muses Dancing with Apollo - Baldassarre Peruzz

There are traditionally Nine Muses and Nine Arts, frequently linked to one another. My Latin professor Dr Clemens Müller and I have concocted a fresh, contemporary version of this system for no darn reason other than pure, arcane fun.

In Greek mythology, the Muses are nine goddesses who personify fields of artistic endeavor. They are used in modern times to refer to inspiration, often with creators half-jokingly referring to their own personal artistic muse, as if they were a form of quirky guardian angel with endless numbers but unpredictable demands. In addition, the word amuse has its roots in their name.

The number of Muses began as three, quickly expanded to four and finally, still in ancient Greek times, to nine. The Muses were not assigned standardized divisions of poetry/song until late Hellenistic times. The assignments themselves were not completely hard and fast even then. Apparently, in the 19th century, that age of grand systemizing, various "duties" and forms of art were assigned to them, with which they are now identified, although there are several versions of the system.

Likewise, traditionally, there is a numbered list of the Arts. The number itself has varied widely, from five to nine, generally. Originally they were all versions of poetry and literature, with the addition of dance, comedy (theatre), tragedy, and usually history and astronomy. To the ancient Greek, all forms of literature were forms of poetry, and therefore of music, as poetry was sung. Ricciotto Canudo, an Italian film theoretician living in France, claimed in 1911 that film was the sixth art. Later, Canudo renumbered his list, in the article Reflections on the Seventh Art, making film the seventh. Then, in 1964 Claude Beylie, a leading French film academic, said that comics were the ninth art, as Beylie felt that television was the eighth.

As I said above, the Muses, usually nine, were often assigned art forms, especially in the 19th century. This activity began to cross with that of numbering the arts to produce various strange and enchanting lists. One common one was the following:

Calliope was the muse of epic poetry. Clio was the muse of history. Erato was the muse of love poetry. Euterpe was the muse of music. Melpomene was the muse of tragedy. Polymnia was the muse of sacred poetry. Terpsichore was the muse of dance. Thalia was the muse of comedy. Urania was the muse of astronomy.

However, nowadays it is usually different — we see history and astronomy as sciences, so Clio and Urania have to get other jobs. Additionally, we see all poetry as one art form, so Calliope, Erato and Polymnia have overlapping functions. We also think theatre is one thing, not comedy and tragedy as separate, so Thalia and Melpomene have to work together.

Taking into account current divisions, utilizing Clemens' vast knowledge (he is also a scholar of ancient Greek), thus considering the meanings of the Greek names of the Muses, here is Clemens' and my list, for our Postmodern times:

Shark Version

The Nine Arts and Nine Muses

1) painting (including drawing and photography) — Polymnia
2) sculpture (including installation) — Clio
3) theatre — Melpomene
4) architecture — Urania
5) music — Euterpe
6) dance — Terpsichore
7) literature — Calliope
8) cinema ("moving images" in whatever technological format,
so also TV, video, etc.) — Erato
9) comics (now universally called the ninth art, the only really fixed
"number term" nowadays, and the most recent) — Thalia

Some notes:
Polymnia, all painting is somehow sacred, celebrates vision; her name means "many hymns," but is not exclusively sacred, it also means "many songs of praise," "many paeans," "many expressions of joy." That's painting to me. Drawing as an aspect of painting is clear, but also photography is, I believe, indeed photo-graph-y, i.e. "drawing with light," thus a form of painting.
Clio, sculpture was originally born of works of commemoration, seeking "monumental presence." A solid remembrance, related to Mneme, the unnamed precursor of the Muses, the Muse/goddess of memory. Clio's name is from the root meaning "recount" or "make famous".
Melpomene, because tragedy is clearly now the queen of drama. There is an enduring tradition of paintings of famous actresses posed as Melpomene.
Urania, " heavenly measure," mathematics embodied, is now more architecture than astronomy.
Euterpe, she keeps her original job, which was one of the few rather fixed points, and her name means rejoicing/singing well, singing with delight, to please well.
Terpsichore, she too keeps her traditional assignment, and her name fits it well ("delight of dancing").
Calliope, because literature, whose queen is nowadays the novel, was all born of epic poetry; "beautiful-voiced," "beautiful speaking.".
Erato, well, you know --- love stories, eroticism, reigns in movies; even the fact that "eros" implies a more superficial form of love seems appropriate; one of her sites was a pilgrimage place for star-crossed lovers in ancient times; her name means something close to "lovely."
Thalia, (meaning “blooming,” "flourishing," the amused muse), because the term for comics in most languages (incl. comics, funnies, manga, etc.) is a form of "comic story" or "amusing art."

Image: The Dance of Apollo with the Muses, by Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi, early 1500s



Amazing post, Mark. I need to print this one out. Very erudite and clever!

Thanks Lynne. It was a lot of fun for us to do, even if it was lots of work for no real reason, other than odd enjoyment. Now I guess I need to do some Covers type paintings of each of the Muses with their new attributes.

Art Criticism Crisis, Part Two

As I mentioned in a Shark blog post quite a while ago, Nancy Princenthal's Art in America article on the crisis in art criticism is a must-read. Especially if you were one of the immense number of "hits" we had on our recent Shark-pack-altercations about critics, artists, art --- one of several perennial or at least revenant Sharkpack concerns. If you didn't catch that issue of the magazine, the article is now on-line (probably for a short while, since it is the complete text). Here's your chance to read it on your screen, and maybe even download it, print it out and read it in the bathtub, as I am wont to do with on-line articles.

Yes, there is a current crisis not only in art itself --- and the curating of art --- but in art criticism as well. New York Times book editor Barry Gewen reflected upon the theme last month in his long, elucidating essay, "State of the Art."

Nancy Princenthal contributes a wonderful, barbed-yet-not-vicious article on the subject in a recent issue of Art in America (January 2006, pp. 43-47). The title of her article is "Art Criticism, Bound to Fail; A critic confronts the inescapable limitations of writing about art and reflects on its pitfalls and privileges." This essay will be a part of the upcoming anthology Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of Their Practice edited by another great art critic (and a poet), Raphael Rubinstein.

Now on-line!

Ontology and Epistemology in Visual Art

Originally published December 19, 2006

Since I and others have been tossing philosophical terms around rather glibly, I think a slightly "teacherly" presentation is in order here, to make certain that we are all on the same page. Most artists and artworld denizens have little reason to deal with the terminology of aesthetics regularly, so probably have forgotten what a few key terms we love to bandy about actually concern. The two main ones that will pop up time and again, are ontology and epistemology.

First is ontology. It is "the study of being or existence. It seeks to describe or posit the basic categories and relationships of being or existence to define entities and types of entities within its framework." In short, it concerns definition, what makes a thing be what it is, or what makes us call it thusly, or recognize it. How do we define 'bird' or 'toy' or anything else. Often this is most usefully discussed in terms of what characteristics are necessary and sufficient to establishing what a thing is.

One result of the discovery of using ontology to inspire art is the “Danto-Dickey Institutional Theory of Art.” The assertion is that an object becomes art through being accepted by those with power in the artworld. Arthur Danto views the entire history of western art as an evolution in this direction. This structurally mimics Clement Greenberg’s view of the history of art as a progressive reduction to genre-specific elements, yet refines it intellectually. Danto feels that fine art peaked with Duchamp and his followers, especially Andy Warhol. In these artists’ works, art has become its own philosophy, actually its own ontology, finally merging with everyday objects.

One great problem I see in the ontology of art (which I, however, find exciting) is that art as now experienced, since about the Renaissance at least, appears to be THE category or concept which includes in its characteristics the desire to always expand, or at least alter or question, its very definition. This is seldom addressed in current Neo-Conceptual artworks based in ontological concerns.

Probably more important for the future, What is epistemology?: Epistemology is the "investigation into the grounds and nature of knowledge itself." Epistemological studies are usually focused upon our means for acquiring knowledge and, as a consequence, modern epistemology generally involves a debate between rationalism and empiricism, or the question of whether knowledge can be acquired a priori or a posteriori.
Empiricism: knowledge is obtained through experience.
Rationalism: knowledge can be acquired through the use of reason.
Others feel that this is a false, or at least futile dichotomy, and are beginning to raise new issues of knowledge, and of interpretation and understanding as knowledge-seeking. Note that epistemology concerns "knowledge" and NOT "learning."

Some of the Big Questions in Epistemology:
What can we know?
How can we know it?
Why do we know some things, but not others?
How do we acquire knowledge?
Is knowledge possible?
Can knowledge be certain?
Are their various or multiple "knowledges"?
Does the experience of artworks (novels, paintings, films, etc.) supply knowledge, or the opportunity for knowledge? And of what kind(s)?

Epistemology is important because it is an essential form of probing into the way in which we come-to-understand, not just think. It is the attempt to grasp how we acquire knowledge, --- not just the phenomenology of our thoughts, and not just how we are "trained" or how we memorize facts (hence not behaviorism nor any other form of the psychology of learning) ---; it is the attempt to understand how we rely upon our senses, and how we construct concepts in our minds. A firm epistemology is an aid to grounding sound thinking and reasoning — this is why so much philosophical literature in this field can involve seemingly abstruse discussions about the nature of knowledge. Questions of epistemology have seldom been directly addressed in visual art, but then, until Duchamp's beatification in the 60s, neither were questions of ontology much addressed.

Epistemological questions about art have recently resurfaced, probably due to the changed attitude to arts funding, art's situation in the academy, and certain Late-Neo-Conceptual practices, e.g., much now revolves around considering art practice as ‘research.’ This presents both a new prospect and a peril – an opportunity to reframe art practice as an enquiry (or at least to make more explicit the questioning nature of art), and a danger of falling into a pseudo-scientific mode of investigation.

Concerning questions of epistemology in (not about) art: its importance could lie in subsuming and opposing the above mentioned absorption in ontology. This was a rich new area for art, but has outlived its usefulness, now most often generating rather vacuous art illustrating truisms (supposedly) derived from Duchamp --- a total about-face of his spirit, I firmly believe. David Carrier, one of my favorite philosophers in aesthetics, in his battles with the Institutional Theory of Ontology is indeed inventing a controversial “superior epistemology” which could replace the mannerist concept of the "endless endgame of art" which the academic infatuation with ontology has brought us. (I say controversial because Carrier has been 'accused' of this; and I think this is true --- yet laudable, whereas his critic who claimed that meant it as an objection.)

What could epistemology bring to art? Some intriguing questions, as a starter. Ones that might stimulate exciting art in philosophically-minded artists (like me), and subsume the questions of ontology. One praiseworthy aspect of philosophy is that one cannot just ignore an opponent, or appeal to mystical insight, or make claims to be "newer" or more "fashionable," as is often the case in the artworld. In philosophy, one has to counter an argument with a better argument, and best of all one which "takes over," absorbs, ones opponents' views while "improving" or redirecting them.

Some quick notes on epistemological questions in art:
Where is the locus of meaning in art?
What constitutes artistic understanding?
Can art be "true"?
Does it matter if art is "true" or not?
Is sincerity a form of knowledge?
Is irony a form of knowledge, or a disavowal of knowledge?
Can art offer knowledge of the world?
What world?
How does the artist's interaction/dialectic of intent and technique (material) offer knowledge, or even perhaps "better" knowledge than simple theorizing?
Are our beliefs that art gives us some kind of insight justified?
How does each new artwork throw our expectations of what we know off balance?
Does art most clearly embody Gadamer's hermeneutic circle of understanding (/interpretation/knowledge) of experience?
How does arts continual dialogue with its past (art history) and its present affect claims to knowledge?
What is the process whereby the artist attempts to posit and test, thereby seek, knowledge in his or her art?

And many more.

Whew, that was a whole lotta lecturing. I hope I was clear and didn't bore you too much. But I think this is very important and could offer an important doorway out of the closed pedantic circle of thought now hegemonic.



Mark, I stand corrected. I did my homework, ArtForum, March, 1982. Buchloh w/ lots of critical apparatus borrowed from Baudrillard (wedding Lacan's 'constitution in language' w/ Marx's mode of production stuff) goes along w/ the Polke/Richter positions of confining parody of 'Modernist paradigms', which he never defines, and low end art, warily citing these positions as more or less the only way for these third generation Modernists to proceed. Interestingly, no PoMo talk arises. His case for the subversiveness of the parodying consumer fetishes balanced against his realization that the dreaded false consciousness of consumer reification remains intact. He does take a swipe initially at he Neo-X's of the day (your Baselitz's) and the Fluxus group. Doesn't Hal Foster seem the same, they all seem to sound like Jameson w/ all the mode of production stuff. Anwyay, intersting to go back to this clearly older criticsim since they still base everything on the mode of production individual, whereas today this poor individual not only is alienated from their class, but their race and gender as well, the latter two glaringly missing from Buchloh. Ca va. Lastly, in the same issue, Kuspit does a eulogy to Penck. Does he more believe in a Kieffer's kinda of atavistic Teutonic spiel? Would this count as the 'false consciousness'?

Collapsible Kunsthalle Video


The Collapsible Kunsthalle, with two installations by, respectively, Steve Litsios and Mark Staff Brandl, closes and leaves the Musee d'art in Neuchatel. A short video by Litsios. Video link here. Earlier Shark blog on the show here. Images of exhibition here.

The Collapsible Kunsthalle in the Musée d'art Neuchatel

First Published June 17, 2006


The Collapsible Kunsthalle
from June 25th to September 17th 2006
will be presenting Pas tout seul!
Two solo installations by artists Steve Litsios and Mark Staff Brandl

For this occasion the Kunsthalle has a "temporary extension" in the form of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Neuchâtel, Switzerland (Museum of Art and History Neuchatel), where the group exhibition Pas tout seulcan also be seen.

Musée d'art et d'histoire
Esplanade Léopold-Robert 1
CH-2001 Neuchâtel

Tél. ++41 (0)32 717.79.20

The Collapsible Kunsthalle (tm) (homepage is a functioning contemporary, non-collecting museum of art operating since 2003. What makes it unique, however, is that this Kunsthalle is indeed collapsible, folding together and fitting into a common, leather attaché case. It is not a model, as it is not a study for anything larger, just a very tiny Kunsthalle. --- The scale works out to 1:15. That’s about half-Barbie/G.I. Joe-size, or normal small super-hero action figure-size.

A variety of international artists have been in exhibitions in the Collapsible Kunsthalle, ranging from the famous to new discoveries, from London, LA, NYC, Switzerland, Germany, Egypt and elsewhere --- all with works custom-made for the space, whether video, painting, sculpture, artist book or installation. These artists have included Mark Francis, Hildegard Spielhofer, Dave Muller, Basim Magdy, Marianne Rinderknecht, Clare Goodwin, Peter Noser, Jeff Hoke, Maddy Rosenberg, Stefan Rohner, Nicky Hirst, Alex Meszmer, The Unknown Art Vigilante and a recreation-cum-forgery of a Marcel Duchamp work.

Steve Litsios was born in 1959 near Boston and lived in Washington DC until his family moved to Geneva Switzerland in 1967.

He studied art at the San Francisco Art Institute in the late 70's and is active internationally as an artist since 1983. He now lives in the small city of La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Swiss Jura mountains. The artist was at first identifiable by colorful abstract relief oil paintings, in the early 90's he also worked at wood, stone and bronze sculptures as well as with acrylics. In 1998, the monumental "Slice of Air" was his first site specific work. A choice of recent installations and works can be viewed at his website.

Mark Staff Brandl is a Sharkforum contributor. You can look his bio up on the site here .


Thus two bi-cultural artists, both US American and Swiss, one from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the other from the German-speaking part, have combined forces in the latest Collapsible Kunsthalle exhibition. The photos here were taken during the hanging of the show and are not final. More, better and final photos will be seen in an up-coming blog.

Tara McPherson, High-Low-Brow Wunder-Artist

Originally published November 18, 2006


I recently gave the "opening speech" for a show and book signing by artist, "low-brow" queen, illustrator, comic artist, poster artist, indy rocker and all-around Wunderfrau, Tara Mc Pherson. I'm posting it here because I think her artwork is great, crosses and ignores "important" borders, and because she and her colleagues have successfully and marvelously managed to create their own supportive artworld.

Tara McPherson, who comes from Los Angeles, California, lives in New York City in the US, is a painter, poster artist, comic artist, freelance Illustrator, toy designer, book author and more. The artist also plays bass in a band and loves tattoos. In short, she is a multi-tasking, immensely creative artist straddling the line between popular art and fine art. Or better said, totally ignoring that line, which is admirable.

Her art projects include painted covers for DC/Vertigo Comics (Including Lucifer, Sandman Presents: Thessaly Witch For Hire, and The Witching), a series of ads for Fanta soda (UK), and gig posters for contemporary rock bands such as Air, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, The Shins, The Hives, Motley Crüe, Peaches, the Monks and others.

She also shows her paintings and posters regularly at fine art galleries.

Tara's art has been included in books such as The Art of Modern Rock (Chronicle), SWAG (Abrams), The Art of Electric Frankenstein (Dark Horse), Fleshrot (Frightworld Studios), Sci-Fi Western (Last Gasp), and Panda Meat (Last Gasp).

McPherson has a sticker and t-shirt line by Poster Pop, a cell phone wallpaper licensing deal, vinyl toys, a series of art prints, an adult/childrens book published by Baby Tattoo Books and a poster and art book published by Dark Horse, a comic short story which has just come out, and a 100-page-long, fully painted, graphic novel to come from DC (Which Tara tells me she will begin in one month, after her book-signing tour of Europe is finished.)


Tara has been featured and/or interviewed by Magnet, F Magazine, International Tattoo Art, Skratch, Atomica, Silver Bullet Comics, Modern Fix, Fahrenheit, Willamette Week, LA Weekly, DC Comics, Destroy All Monthly, Burnout, Savage Tattoo and Fused Magazine. Some of her clients include DC/Vertigo Comics, Fanta, Goldenvoice, Knitting Factory, House of Blues, Atomica Magazine, Art Rocker UK, Skratch Magazine, Alchera Essentials, Complete Control NYC Booking, Nike, and Nederlander Concerts.

And finally,, is a beautiful website, where she has an active, well-stocked online store. I know from my experience, blog-sites such as are currently replacing art magazines. Perhaps they can be new forms of distribution as well. McPherson may be leading the way into one of the major new venues of the future

Amazing. When do you sleep, Tara? ("Never," she answered.)

Tara graduated from Art Center in Pasadena, CA in 2001 with a BFA with honors in Illustration and a minor in Fine Art. She interned at Rough Draft Studios, working on Matt Groening's "Futurama" during college. As the artist has said, "aside from when I wanted to be an astrophysicist, I have always wanted to be an artist."

Her influences are varied and as impressive as her own art is. As Tara has stated:
"You know it's been such a wide array of influences that have inspired me. The whole era of the Early Renaissance to Baroque is simply amazing. Some of my favorites are Bronzino and Caravaggio. I also used to manage a Japanese animation/comic/toy store before college, so I couldn't help but to be inspired by some of those artists...Katsuya Terada, Yasushi Nirasawa, Yoshitaka Amano are some of my favorites from Japan. I also love the old woodblock printers from there as Hokusai, Hioroshige and Yoshitoshi. There's also a great gallery scene going on in the US with very cool painters like Joe Sorren, Mark Ryden, and Glenn Barr that are all extremely inspirational to me."

As muses she has named " books--books on anything, I love 'em" as well as music and her incessant writing and doodling in sketchbooks, but as she says, " the big one is life... human interaction and relationships are an endless source of great ideas for me."

Tara has a fervent fan base, as well. Once, when she did a signing at Kid Robot in New York, hundreds of zealous fans went wild, overwhelming employees with demands for the signed, limited-edition prints on exhibition. If collectors' first choice had already been sold, they were happy to snatch another nearby. How often have seen such an event in the academic world of most "fine" art today?


Critics love her work as well, as can be seen by the impressive list of interviews and articles I mentioned. She is particularly loved by artist /critics like me, who also straddle the worlds of vernacular and "fine" art.

FIL-OS-O-PHIZIN' on my part
Let me make a theoretical aside here. As I have written frequently elsewhere, the "both/and," or perhaps "neither/nor" aspect of an approach such as Tara's to fields or hierarchies of art is deeply significant. It has immediate rapport with my own approach, thus I can't resist making a short philosophical harangue.

Literature professor and theorist, Leslie Fiedler, who sadly recently passed away, insisted that "(...) a closing of the gap between elite and mass culture is precisely the function of the novel now (...)". I say that is true of visual art as well. Cross the Border - Close that Gap: Postmodernism as something more than quasi-Mannerist Late Modernism. For me, the key to this lies in the discoveries of comic and other vernacular artists.

The relationship between the "street" art world and that of the "fine" arts has been a one of mutual envy and disdain. Both are important forms of creativity and are of equal importance to many people, including some fine artists including Tara and me. Traditionally, "high" artists have been condescending to comic art, seeing it as at best a kind of accidental success, and at worst as corporate hack-work. Even the adjectives one must use to name the fields reflect this--high/low; fine/applied, etc. Comic fans, similarly, view fine art as too elitist, assuming that the often difficult works of experimental artists are publicity ploys. Impartially judged, both camps are wrong--and yet, unfortunately, sometimes right.

What has been forgotten is the fact that quality takes precedence over the evaluation of whatever socio-political "caste" from which the work originates. And many of us artists stem from and combine several social sub-strata. Particularly, the fine art world discounts the possibility that that technical ability may not only NOT be a sin, but also can be an important conceptual aspect of the work.

The in-betweenness of art such as McPherson's has important social, psychological, even ethical implications. Before I begin to talk about my own art being a typical egotistical artist, let me say this: The point is, let's all forget "high" and "low." Both ends should concentrate on being against mediocrity, cliché, and - most of all at the present - mannerist faddishness, the greater enemies of all art. Please join Tara McPherson and me in ignoring the division.

What about her CONTENT AND STYLE?

Critic Adam Barraclough has written that,
"It is hard to find words to describe how enamored I am of the work of Tara McPherson. It is absolutely dreamy.... There's something so ethereal and yet substantial about her vision, whether when considering her soft-focus paintings or the sharper lines of her poster-prints. That rather dreamlike quality extends even to the characters that populate her work, cartoonish creatures and well-drawn guys and gals situated in bizarre or abstracted surroundings. What ends up grounding the work and giving it impact is the implied narrative context--heartbreak, relationship woes, personal turmoil. As whimsical as her work may first appear, each piece seems to hold its own dark corner or bit of dramatic reality....."
To me, Tara appears to me to be a unique, yet Bruegelesque, painter, creating "illustrational" art about how peculiar and yet enchanting the behaviour of our fellow humans can be. Tara's images unite various opposites in a very human fashion: "girlishness" with aggression, sweetness with horror, Neue Sachlichkeit with fantasy, "ligne claire" with punk, abstraction with cartoonish representation, and others. Smoking teddy bears, decapitated robots, cute vampires, balloon-headed flowers, bloody, missing hearts. Her images, most of all her characters themselves, seem to possess a knowledge of life gained from some serious hard knocks, yet with a refusal to give up their fundamental innocent buoyancy. McPherson creates art that is both pleasurable and disquieting, much like many human relationships.


Do It Yourself
What is so cool about Tara and the whole group she hangs with (including the famous Low-Brow King Robert Williams and his magazine Juxtapoz)?

- They have completely ignored the traditional avenues to success;
- they refuse to "wait" for any curatorially discovery;
- they have sought out places to show, publish, print, distribute and so on outside the "academy;"
- they emphasize technical proficiency, yet in the service of individual goals,
- their personal technical achievement is often influenced by unlikely sources;
- they seek out and encourage --- and print and get work for and show --- one another;
- they have created their own gallerists, networks, in short their own artworld --- one which overlaps with "ours" (Tara and the others are now frequently exhibited in high quality galleries in Chelsea and around the globe) --- yet one not dependant on "ours," one which they steer.

This is one "scene" to where so many of the most promising art students are now gravitating, instead of the "boring" (as they say) standard, pedantic "high" artworld. And one where there are indeed art historians and curators, but ones who serve the art; they do not "justify" it to vassals, flunkies or disbelievers, nor construct pre-fab successes.


Beyond Complaint: What can we do to improve the situation?

Originally published November 13, 2006

I was invited to contribute a comment to a blog site coming out of Nottingham, England. The artists running it have contributed comments to Sharkforum blogs in the past. I wrote several things, but summed up with a few comments that I feel are important to Sharkforum and the developing changes in the artworld in Chicago, Europe and elsewhere. Thoughts I would like to repeat here, since I finally gathered them all together.

I find Europe in general and Switzerland in particular to be a fabulous place to live. I found Chicago likewise a quite stimulating city. The artworld itself in Chicago ---- or the artworld itself in my chosen beautiful home in the eastern part of Switzerland --- that is, well, another story. One which arises here often --- and perhaps thereby it is changing. You know the story --- whether Nottingham, Chicago, Switzerland, Cologne, hell even London or NYC, it's the same. Everything is "good enough" --- but that's it. We artists have hardly lived in more secure times for us financially, many of us even have a good measure of success, so my complaints are NOT sour grapes. I'm doing very well. BUT I am NOT blind and will not pretend to be so, as seems to be demanded of artists nowadays. We live in a moribund, academic, mannerist, in short kiss-ass-ly boring, artworld.

Beyond complaint, though --- what will be the NEXT steps for Sharks and their allies and kin? In short:

What can we do to improve the situation?

First of all, make extremely high quality art. Particularly with well-honed technical abilities. If you DO NOT now have these skills, this is NO surprise as they are seldom taught in art schools any more. But GET them. That ability can not be denied nor taken away from us and will outlive many an overblown curator justification.

Second, openly criticize the situation. Step on toes. Stop kissing butt.

Third, offer and create constructive alternatives, even perhaps to the point of creating your own artworlds, venues and so on. Attempt to add a positive answer to every correct criticism you level.

Fourth, encourage others who do the same. Help build critics and curators and especially other artists who pay attention to what is around them, who have independent minds, who are more than simply careerist toadies. Even support your "enemies" (to an extent) if they finally seem to see the light. Just don't trust them behind your back.

Fifth, network in a POSITIVE sense, even internationally. And that's what we are doing now.

Sixth, leave doors open. Tell the truth, be upset about hypocrisy, but be willing to "let it go" if they improve, if the purveyors of pedantry and their groupies gain consciousness or make overtures toward reparation.

Art Regime Demonstration?

Originally published November 11, 2006


I don't know where she got this image, but Anna B posted it to Swiss Art Sharkforum, saying she found it on the internet. Silly, but I thought you would enjoy it. An "art demonstration"? After the elections, one down, several more to go.

Critique vs. Cronyism

Originally published November 4, 2006


My Latin professor, Clemens Mueller, has pointed out to me that there were Sophists and there were Sophists. There is an element of legitimacy in their appreciation of the fact that there are no ultimate answers in a Platonic sense. However, I stand by my Socratic disgust at their vision of argumentation as only a charade, of sorts, and their desire to teach its workings as career advancement, with active avoidance of any consideration for whether it tries to refer to any truth. The point is not to nail down one truth, in any transcendental sense, but in a highly pragmatic, moral sense to try to tell the truth(s) --- plural may be necessary there

A recent comment exchange at Bad At Sports got me to thinking, once again, about basic misunderstandings in the artworld arising from the fact that so many artworldians see everything in careerist, KC terms. Never stepping outside that frame to imagine that it has ever or could ever be otherwise.

A badly pseudonymed comment writer states that he, or she, is surprised that "Holy Shit! There is someone in town Wesley does not hate!" because Kimler compliments Hamza Walker to an extent. Kimler replys that,

"Excuse me, The Shark doesn’t hate -he simply dines on what is weak. And it just so happens perhaps as mere coincidence, that what is weak in the Chicago Art World happens to be much of what could be described as the official, institutionally sanctioned version of what takes place here. An egregious and slanted version of events, of which, Hamza is an apologist and, proponent.
Its all about context. Do you accept the official version of what is important here, and what kind of art you should make to address these same concerns as career opportunity, or, as an artist, do you create your own context, based upon what you feel is legitimate and important."

The previous commentor, who I think is actually trying in his own small way to give Wesley the benefit of the doubt, still does NOT however get it. He answers, "So who, other than you and people who directly are working in your interest, are important, in your opinion?"

Kimler answers with a list of various people, who share no Consensus Correct style, but that is not the point to my blog-post here. The mere fact that the pseudonymed-one feels it necessary to include the phrase "other than you and people who directly are working in your interest" in his question reveals the light in which he himself sees, or probably has been school-trained to see, the world and art.

Instead of a "Freudian slip" I would like to consider his a Neo-Academic slip. He cannot envision that Kimler would like any art not "working in his interest." He seems to envision, reading between the rather facile lines, that those of us involved in Sharkforum are somehow simply an alternative clique who also share a style. Look, Pseudy-baby, try LOOKING instead of listening and memorizing. My work --- very easy to find all over internet (, e.g.) and in various museums and so on --- Tony Fitzpatrick's, David Roth', Steve Litsios', Leonard Bullock's, Raoul Deal's, Alex Meszmer's, Ray Pride's, etc. etc. etc. DO NOT a "school make." We are highly disparate, sharing a clarity of vision and big mouths. Rebellious, I suppose. But it all does not LOOK as similar as the consensus style work does. In no way. Try looking, it would be a new exciting action in the so-called "visual" artworld. I'm a fucking intellectual, vernacular, pop-ish, Big Beat, quasi-conceptual installation/painter. That is not expressionism in any form now known to humanity. Wesley himself has not really been an expressionist since his earliest works, and those were in a dialogue with Action Painting, not Neo-Ex. Perhaps the commenter did not mean it in that fashion, I'll try to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it reminds me other ill-informed moans I have heard from Certain Camps about Kimler, Sharkforum, other Sharks and me (only out of Chicago by the way, not the rest of the world), so to those folks, stop trying to limit the artworld to a tiny little pendulum-like battle between Neo-Ex and Neo-Con. That battle is long over. It died in the 80s, as did Conceptualism in my opinion too. That dichotomy is a straw-man propped up and knocked down repeatedly by Neo-Cons to try and disingenuously make their reactionary academicism appear revolutionary, albeit only in their own minds.

I am not "working in his interest" even though I appreciate his painting as well as his critique and vision. Especially due to my art history training, my cosmopolitan life, and hell, just my attitude, my tastes are wide and catholic (in the original sense, look it up). I take it, that as Kimler and I and others here interact more and more, showing together as planned, and so on, that we will certainly cross-pollinate to an extent, but that is the intrinsic, NATURAL fashion for it to occur (as opposed to memorizing rules laid down by non-artistic pundits), and I doubt we will ever be much more similar than Picabia and Duchamp were or Kandinsky and Klee or Picasso and Matisse to name other artists who happily interacted and influenced one another. Certainly never as mundanely akin as the Neo-Academicians are.

Mark Staff Brandl, My Metaphor(m) documentation book video

A short slide show of the documentation book for my Painting-Installation "My Metaphor(m), 2013, Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland.

10 December 2013

Collectors Wanted, Students in Excess, Pulling the Line (The Intrepid Art Collector)

Originally posted October 11, 2006


The comments by Bill Dolan, Newbie and others on The Shark's previous post may have swerved away from his point, but they raised an intriguing issue — the pressure on artists caused by simply having to make a living. This discussion reminded me of a fascinating blogsite, and a post on it. The site is called
"The Intrepid Art Collector."

It is by Lisa Hunter. Her mission is to create, encourage and assist new collectors. A worthy cause and she does it with panache on her enjoyable and readable site.

Lisa Hunter describes herself, saying, "I'm a former New Yorker now based in Montreal. My theory is that the day you realize everything in your wardrobe is black and everything in your apartment is white, it's time to leave Manhattan." She continues, " Have questions about the art market? Email me!" A brave statement, if there ever was one.

In my opinion, there are more than enough artists, there are many, many struggling galleries, what we need are far more collectors — and perhaps thereby a whole new world of more varied support for the arts, encouraging individualism instead of consensus in curators. Lisa has written a recently released book also titled The Intrepid Art Collector, about how to collect art. As she says of it " I wrote this book because when I was first starting to collect, I couldn't find any books to help me. Each type of art has its own quirky criteria that determine authenticity and value, and each has its own notorious fakes. I hope that with this book, you can learn in a couple of hours what took me a decade to learn. Art collecting is one of the most rewarding hobbies you can have. I'd like to help you get started."

There is a short interview with Hunter at another blogsite called Kate's Studio. One statement from Hunter will intrigue Chicago artists, especially of the Shark variety. Discussing the "hot" art scene in LA, she says " What LA artists did brilliantly was cultivate local collectors and not worry about the East Coast. In so many other cities, artists and collectors fail to connect because they're both too focused on New York as the only "real" art market." Some words to study closely, especially for my grade-B--NYC-copyist "friends."

The post through which I first became aware of Hunter's site and the one which has bearing on the comments mentioned above, is titled "Where does all the money go?" It makes a breakdown of the typical expenses of a recent art school graduate, beginning with the "cost of a Yale MFA — (tuition plus the “average student budget” for housing and expenses): $92,000. IF you finish in the minimum two-year timetable" — continuing through the cost of health insurance, (oh, that's right due to the infinite wisdom of our compassionate Neo-Cons, the US has almost no health system, I forgot,) — all the way to the cost of a business class ticket to the Venice Biennale — $5,900. Fun reading, ending with the "Schadenfreude that "non-hot" artists feel when collectors lose big money chasing art stars: priceless."

Of course, this last comment must be taken in context, for Hunter is absolutely pro-collector, simply having a little fun at the expense of those who neither think for themselves nor follow their own passions.

Check out her site and her book. They are worthwhile.

A few other facts about art-graduate life, not from Hunter's blog:

A degree in an arts subject reduces average earnings, a study shows. Graduates in these subjects - including art and literature - can expect to make between 2% and 10% less than those who quit education at 18, researchers at Warwick University found.

It is only the art professors who make out okay in the world of higher education, with jobs that give them the flexibility to engage in their own creative pursuits while enjoying the advantage of a reliable income and benefits. The students who do not become teachers fare far worse, with a miniscule percentage still making art 5 years after graduation. Don't forget that I, your Ex-Pat Shark, am, from time to time, one of these professor-types, thus am not decrying the job, everybody's got to have one — however, these facts mean the art education system exists primarily to create art students, not artists, even though more MFAs leave US art schools per year than there were artists as a whole in Renaissance Florence.

Within 10 years after graduation, on the average more than 99% of art graduates no longer make art at all — not just are not successful, but do not make art at all.

What are we creating here? Where should it go? Is it any surprise that there is a hidden classism in the artworld? Do we really need so many people trained in (the theory of possibly producing) art?


Comments (4)

Thanks for the kind words. And I'm delighted to know about Sharkforum.

Mark, a little tid bit I gleaned from the net awhile back that portrays the downside of collecting art. Thought you might find it interesting.

Art Is Among Worst-Performing Investments, Merrill Lynch Says July 19 (Bloomberg)
Art is one of the worst ways for investors to try to make money, even as paintings by Picasso and Klimt sell for more than $100 million apiece, according to a Merrill Lynch & Co. study.

While stocks or bonds are almost certain to make investors a profit over five years, art has a high chance of declining in value, the world's biggest brokerage company said. The probability of losses on small-cap stocks, corporate bonds and long-term treasury bonds is 3 percent or less if they're held for five years. Art investors have a 17 percent chance of losing money over five years, Merrill said.

Soaring prices for art stirred interest from banks and dealers in 2004, when about 12 art funds seeking to raise as much as $150 million were planned. Only one or two, including London's Fine Art Fund, ever got off the ground. Merrill's investment strategy report, dated July 17, helps to explain why. "Art, gold and commodities offered the least attractive risk-reward potential, providing inferior returns while generating substantially more risk,'' Merrill said. The three asset classes "may be more appropriate investments for those who have truly long-term horizons,'' it said.

Merrill's study uses data on returns going back to 1969 for most assets and to 1976 for art, provided by index-maker Art Market Research, which tracks auction prices. Merrill aims to show that most investors do better if they hang on for three years or more, while many day traders and short-term investors lose money.
Klimt Purchase
Modern art prices have more than doubled since 1998, and some contemporary price indexes have trebled in 10 years, according to Art Market Research. Broader measures of the art market haven't fared as well and modern and contemporary prices are being buoyed by a narrowing group of the most expensive paintings, the indexes show. Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics magnate, made headlines in June when he paid $135 million for a Gustav Klimt portrait in a private transaction -- more than any painting has ever fetched at auction. The top auction prices are a Pablo Picasso work that sold for $104.2 million in 2004 at Sotheby's in New York, and the same artist's portrait of his mistress, "Dora Maar au Chat,'' which fetched $95.2 million at a Sotheby's New York auction in May. Philip Hoffman, who runs the Fine Art Fund, said he's made big profits by selling paintings within a year or so and aims to expand. However, he has never officially disclosed the size of his fund, or which paintings he sold.
Gold Tops 1970s
Art has done worse in some decades than in others. In the 1970s, art had the lowest 12-month return of eight asset classes and the highest chance of losses, Merrill calculated. Gold was the best investment in that decade, outperforming stocks and bonds with less risk. Art swapped places with gold in the 1980s, doing better than stocks, bonds and real estate. In the 1990s, art was again a loser, only a little ahead of commodities and gold, which racked up 12-month losses more than 50 percent of the time. Standard & Poor's 500 shares were the best investment.
Real estate and small U.S. stocks are faring best in the current decade. Art, foreign stocks and S&P 500 shares are the worst performers, Merrill's charts showed.
Linda Sandler,

Which basically gets back to Hunter's approach --- building new collectors from those INTERESTED in the arts, not seeing it only instrumentally. And then those people becoming knowledgeable, then finding, buying and appreciating fine art; buy what you love, and the investment aspect works, but only as a nice, secondary long-term dividend.

I thought the Merrill Lynch study was seriously flawed by limited data. I had a post about it last summer. If you're interested, "When Bearishness is Bull" is in the July archives of my blog.

Judith Trepp, Painter, New Works in October 2006

Originally posted October 14, 2006


The gallery Art Forum Ute Barth in Zurich, Switzerland is currently exhibiting its second show of works by the American–Swiss artist Judith Trepp, presenting new, large-sized paintings, works on paper and prints. Trepp is a wonderful painter. She is mid-career, with many shows and sales, yet I would assert that she is still under-exposed — the quality of her paintings should be far more widely known and discussed.

Trepp’s techniques are a fusion of modern and traditional craftsmanship combined with eastern and western methodology. In the works on linen she creates a surface with egg tempera and charcoal or with egg tempera and oil. For her works on paper, Trepp uses an extremely fine Indian handmade paper that creates a lively surface and compliments the extenuated form executed in black ink. The pared-down images, in both works on paper and works on canvas emit a singularly clear, yet intense mood.

The artwork was predominantly created between 2005 and 2006. In each piece Trepp appears to ask herself, “How far can I reduce the line or image and yet retain a compelling visual, aesthetic and emotional impact— how minimal can action painting be?” The paintings generally feature a quasi-monochrome, yet highly atmospheric background, upon which a single variegated stroke sits. The imagery suggests a dance; but a slow, edgy, dance stripped of time.


Trepp regards the surfaces upon which she works as walls. The artist has travelled considerably throughout India during the past ten years, as well as in Japan. Both countries have offered her artistic insights and technical information which are clearly reflected in her paintings. According to the painter, in India the tribal people showed her new ways of looking at colour and texture; the walls of their houses are often painted in simple geometric shapes in natural tints. After the walls are dry, the women rub each section until it glows. Trepp has employed this technique in her paintings. Sections of the opaquely painted angular surfaces are burnished until the gouache or oil paint softly shines. Although egg tempera is a mineral paint composed with little oil, the viewer's eye is drawn into what seems to be a yawning well of pigmentation. Her oil paintings all have an underpainting of at least 5-6 layers of egg tempera that impart to the finished painting an unexpected glow, reflecting light in a unique fashion through the oil layers. The fragile strength of these subtly moving surfaces support and compliment the energized compactness of the visual images.


Trepp interest in wall painting has caused her to create site- specific works for inner and out space. In 2004 she completed her largest piece: a four-story high wall painting for outside space in Switzerland

Trepp has coined the term “Expressive Minimalism” to define her artwork. Clearly, her terminology is a reference to Abstract Expressionism (not German or Neo- Ex) and to Minimalism, two historic movements important to her work.

I once wrote of Trepp's paintings in London's The Art Book, that they present a plaidoyer for the rich artistic and intellectual possibilities available when a creator has a sense for and experiences of a cosmopolitan, intercultural global community. Aesthetic elements discovered in India, Japan, Switzerland, Italy and the US have been internalised and harmonized in Trepp’s painting, fused into quiet personal ruminations which joyfully invite viewers’ own broad associations.


In the newest works this ever more powerfully achieved. Trepp’s paintings, on whatever surface, are quietly rebellious. They unite ostensibly opposite concerns in a dance of beauty.
Galerie Art Forum Ute Barth.



09 December 2013

Themes for Possible Articles (October 23, 2006)


(Originally posted Octber 23, 2006. I still need to do most of them!)

Here's some themes I've been rolling around in my head for potential development as forthcoming posts on Sharkforum. Let's see which ones interest readers the most.
1. Clique Sleaze Cultivation vs. Actual Self-Confidence

2. Strings of Buzz Words: Why Can't Most Artists Make Any Sense When They Talk?

3. What We Need in Order to Develop a Genuine Art Scene

4. Why Consensus Reasoning Destroys Art

5. The "Death" of the Curator --- How The Old–Pal Network Determines the Limits of Their Options

6. The Neo-Conceptual Mannerist Academy

7. Let's define "CC" Art --- Curatorially Correct Art

8. Let's Define "TC" Art --- Technologically Correct Art

9. It's Your Artworld, Take it Back

10. What's Dead is Saying "The Death Of"

11. "Put in Our Place" --- Beyond Veiled Insult, What Would Genuine Overview Exhibitions of "Regional" Artists Look Like?

12. PoMo: Frozen in Neo-Neo-Neo-Neo-Neo-Dada?

13. Careerism, Sophistry and Art Potentates --- The Career Ladder Replaces Appreciation

14. Pintophobia, The Fear of Painting: The Greatest Neurosis in the Artworld

15. The Triumph of New Garage Rock --- Or, Why We Need "Garage" Art

16. Neo-Conceptual Artists as Wanna-Be Bureaucrats

17. Actually, Philosophically Observed, So-Called Non-Object Art is Still an Aesthetic and Mercantile Object, OR: Stop Patting Yourself on the Back for Making Non-Commercial Art While Selling it Through Grant Funding

18. Know Your History or You'll Fall for Lies

19. The Dominance of Theory is NOT the Same as a Supremacy of One Style


Comments (4)
I personally would love to hear artists' thoughts on #14 'pintophobia.' But am also particularly interested in #2 'buzzwords.' But in general, we need to hear more artists' voices here, so any topic is fine with me!

Thanks fo the input, Lynne. I'll start thinking about them.
(I had to fix my numbering, which was out of whack.) I'd also love to hear from a curator openly speaking about number 5, although one curator friend who did actually discuss this told me that she was severely punished and poo-pooed for doing so by her professional colleagues, so maybe it is NOT a good idea! I changed it too, as I realized as I re-read it that I didn't mean limits of "thought" --- one can usually think much farther than one can act, well, at least thoughtful people can --- I meant limits of possible action, of "options." I didn't wish to express an insulting death wish, but something along the lines of the Death of The Author --- the fact that the way things interact now, choices seem to be almost pre-programmed and almost unavoidable, and almost don't need (or want) individualistic curators (or artists or critics).

I'm particularly fond of:
18. Know Your History or You'll Fall for Lies
It kind of sums all the other ones up, for me at least.

I really love this, and the image is great too. Please send instruction on how we can execute such an excellent effest - tha panorama effect is tremendous - it really helps show off the work!