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CAB Minutes: May 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The National Arts Club, New York, NY

Moderator: Monica Strauss, art historian, member CAB
Panelists: Noah Chasin, Assistant professor of art history, Bard College, Susanna Coffey, artist, Linda Norden, Director, James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center, James Panero, Critic and Managing Editor, New Criterion, David Weinstein, Managing Director, Art International Radio

The meeting, which was in the form of a panel discussion, ran from approximately 7:20PM-9PM. The topic was "Listening To Art."

MS asks the panelists to introduce themselves and to speak about their connection to radio.

NC: I've become very alienated from radio. I have no car. Radio is deeply embedded in my experience of growing up. I miss it. I was also a professional musician. Radio is inextricably linked with my revelations regarding music. I look forward to bringing together my experience of radio with my experience of art.

SC: I'm an artist; I spend many hours in the studio listening to radio. And now that it's archived, I can listen anywhere. But there's an aspect to radio programming, considering how many artists listen, how few programs there are re art and our concerns.

DW: I'm the managing director of artsonair.org, which is an arts and culture project. I also had been a musician and was in nonprofit. I bolted in the '90s. I worked for Morgan Stanley and a community newspaper. In 2004 I was approached by the director of PS1 to run their web radio station. In 2008 it became artonair.org. It lives in the Clocktower Gallery, which recently re-opened after 9/11 security closure.

LN: I was the curator of the Fogg Art museum at Harvard, and before that at Barnard. I tend to curate contemporary art at places that are committed to the public but ensconced in a university setting. I started listening to talk radio when I moved to Boston, WBUR constantly. Coming back to NY, I would listen in the mornings to Brian Lehrer. I agree with what SC said, that there isn't much on the radio. I am always hoping that no one will touch it in a middlebrow way. The direction of modern art has been toward explanation. It's not fair if the viewer doesn't get it. Radio carries that out. I would like radio coverage to more mirror coverage of other areas.

JP: I'm the editor at New Criterion & I write for other magazines as well. I'm a huge fan of WNYC. I listen almost strictly by podcast. The website is fantastic in terms of digital content. I visit artist studios so I'm in my car a lot. I was just visiting Joe Zucker, and I listen in the car. Radio is the worst medium for the fine arts.

MS: I've been reviewing some of the different art-related pieces on WNYC. On Brian Lehrer there was something about the Proteus gallery in Gowanus, art in a social context. Kurt Andersen seems more interested in gossip. Eg Nip & Tuck. That was a wasted opportunity. Leonard Lopate does excellent interviews with curators. There were 2 this past month, e.g. this past week with John Richard re the Gagosian's Picasso exhibit. Which ares would like more attention from WNYC?

LN: I'm less interested in some type of work or institution than in the individuals. I prefer Brian Lehrer or Leonard Lopate to Kurt Andersen; the tendency to sensationalize is problematic. I heard Brian Lehrer interview the director of Clocktower. I felt the discussion was pandering to the public. The sale of buildings in the NY panorama sounded like a sales pitch. Identify the individuals who can speak to their issues/topics. The difference between speaking to an informed audience vs. making it comprehensible is huge, but it doesn't have to be.

SC: New York is different than other cities; the visual arts are in the fabric of the city. That breadth is rather invisible. The way in which this city holds the visual arts & lives with artists is different than anywhere else in the world.

NC: I'm not sure that's a universally recognized position. Do people who visit the city get that?

SC: Why don't they? (Audience laughter)

NC: Media can be deployed to underline the fact that this richness exists. The potential is here, but it's not brought to the forefront as effectively as it might be.

DW: We have programs on museums, artists, etc. but also man on the street type stuff, for example the Frank Prattle segments, which feature a wandering reporter with a strong personality. It's very captivating.

MS: Young people at art schools...how can WNYC respond to them?

LN: With respect to what Noah and Suzanne were saying, with visual art there is this tension between the desire to make it comprehensible vs. being true to it. Emphasizing the fabric could compromise the latter.

SC: I disagree. If we address what's right in front of us, for example artists with real estate issues, we can analyze without pandering.

JP: Brian Lehrer does that so well, because he places art in a political or social context.

(General agreement)

NC: How can we make this appeal to a college level audience? Interdisciplinarity has become a very important pedagogical principle. We need to show them how art is important to them in their daily lives.

JP: If you look at the way fine arts are covered on WNYC, it's pretty scattered. The bios of the producers show lots of musicians. Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate do very well, but it's long form and not every topic deserves that. It's also hermetic...they're not having a roundtable, audience discussion, etc. They could have 5-10 minute segments, like studio visits. And I'd love to see a 30 minute show, 1x a week, dealing with fine arts.

LC: (Mentions various arts programs for children) Radio Rookies would translate beautifully to this kind of project; kids could do the interviews.

JP: I think Studio 360 is insufferable—it's cute and irrelevant to my life. (General agreement)

LN: The Whitney Biennial used kids' videos of Chinatown, kids as Biennial tour guides. It was wonderful. If we could have one arts show, one person to filter all these topics...someone very knowledgeable to handle everything. Lawrence Weiner is the greatest advocate for gallery over museum. If you know the field, you get the right guests.

JP: It would be important to be as diplomatic & evenhanded as Brian Lehrer. Art can be so political.

SC: A magazine to dip its finger into all aspects of art in the city...

MS: Economics: how do artists & galleries survive? The economic discussion of art usually begins & ends with higher auction prices. Why do the media ignore all the great free art, for example in galleries?

DW: The museums have the budget and the eyes of the media are already upon them. It's like a gravitational pull.

LN: Art became a market. That was new & did get discussed. Brian Lehrer did a show on art as an index which was fascinating.

SC: They could follow a work backwards, from the gallery to the artist's studio.

DW: That's an example of dozens of possible stories. People don't understand how art is produced.

JP: I'm a huge fan of galleries. The enemy is the auction house. Auction house news is over.

LN: Until art fairs mushroomed, there was a sort of rhythm in galleries. An artist would work to produce a body of work every 1-3 years to show in a gallery. Those sorts of things are not understood by the public.

SC: Of course not all is positive in the artist/gallery relationship. And there are many different types of galleries. For example apartment galleries, such as the Blue Bedroom Project.

NC: The Nye House gallery is right here.

LN: That's a very special case.

SC: There's a whole world that people don't know about.

LN: If I were listening to a radio show, I'd be less interested in Tim Nye than in interviews with artists shown there. More about the experience of the place. Like Joe Zucker would be a great interview.

DW: I dedicated my project to trying to do both things. Obviously we don't have the budget that WNYC does, but we try. "This is another show my mother would listen to."

JP: I think the arts are intimidating to people who aren't part of it. A radio show can break that down & make people less hesitant to visit.

LN: I always say that the best way to see modern art is not to be told what to see, but to expose yourself to it. I have a vendetta against trying to make it easier.

SC: The visual arts, we don't have as a country a ministry of culture. Other countries have information about their artists on their embassy's websites.

DW: There is a Sunday arts show on Channel 13 that is the lowest common denominator. How many barriers to people have to cross?

MS: One would need a certain training to speak on radio about art. Is there workshop on learning how to speak on radio about art?

LN: There are people out there who can do it...art people.

NC: In order to effectively talk about art, you need supplemental material not available on radio. A studio visit would be boring; you wouldn't know what you were looking at. Other topics would work better, e.g. Joe Zucker with the fly fishing.

JP: I work for an art magazine that has no images—and our circulation is 6000. It's very hard. The expectation is that you'll go see the art, and we just started putting it on our site.

LN: The creative work shouldn't be in trying to describe the work, but in talking to the artist & having meaningful conversations. And then you can go see the show.

SC: Artists do all kinds of things. There are many occupations that could be discussed: framers, locksmiths, cupcake decorators, etc. It could be quite un-dumb and interesting.

DW: It also depends on whether you're limiting yourself to pure terrestrial radio or to the more complex devices we'll have in the near future. I'm lucky; I can just put it up there.

JP: I listen to 60 minutes on audio podcast & it works fine, even though it's from a visual medium.

MS: Are you familiar with the Fishko Files? They're little documentaries with a musical or historical theme. That's an example of a form you could use. Also her tone and voice.

JP & LN basically together say: That's key, the presentation, not radio drone.

LN: I remember listening to Liza Bear on WBAI when I was growing up. They're go-to texts now, more so than magazines.

SC: In that way, it wouldn't have to be mediated to be popular.

DW: We recorded a children's educational project here a couple of weeks ago, Community~Word. We cut it to just kids reading poems. Out of 80 minutes, only 16 of it was the kids.

JP: Editing down is so important. I was on a live panel discussion at the opening of the Greene Space & it was deadly dull.

LN: Elvis Costello has a fabulous music show. Find someone who is to art what Elvis is to music.

MS: How do you think the art scene will change due to the economic downturn?

JP: Art orgs are going to suffer in the next couple of years like we can't even imagine. Galleries will close, etc. There is no money for the arts. It's an open-ended moment. One could view it positively.

SC: I lived through the 70's recession. The art market fluctuates; it's not stable. A young artist wouldn't know that. It will also impact the purveyors of the supplies we buy, the framers, etc.

NC: Young people should know that one can have a very fulfilling life serving the community without being a world famous artist.

JP: The 70's were such a great decade for art.

MS: David, how do you cover international aspects of art?

DW: It's a huge thing for us. And your time clock is all weird. 10AM here isn't the same in Japan. And not everyone wants English, so we're starting to have programs in other languages. But we're trying to stay relevant to our city, and our neighborhood (Tribeca).

LN: How many is we?

DW: Five regulars and five engineers, plus hosts.

JP: Web-based is very different than land-based. I'm curious as to how WNYC addresses that. How many listeners do they have & do they try to reach out to them?

MS: We don't hear discussions between critics on the radio. It could be interesting.

JP: Or not. I prefer to hear different perspectives on a particular work.

LN: I'd like to do a panel with critic & curator, to bring those two perspectives together. Curating is a relatively new profession. Critics resented them.

JP: You have to contextualize the art. How does a show come together?

MS: I'd like to invite questions & comments from members of the board.

John DeWitt: I'm a member of the board. I'm also totally blind, which I think is relevant. Sara Fishko is remarkable in what she brings to her pieces. My wife & I went on an art tour, and the guide said she would try to describe the works...Picasso, Paul Klee, etc. She had remarkable talent in describing the works. And it brought me an image in my head. Radio could be approached that way. Also, I appreciate that you comments were in relation to radio tonight.

David Tereschuk: Re: the nature of the medium, having a website helps of course, but radio is a mass medium, and primarily a lay audience. How do you present art as being relevant to their lives without doing the clunky explanation?

SC: The NYC community is different than other cities...the products & the legal & educational nature of art is woven into every neighborhood. There isn't one in which their presence isn't felt.

LN: I think it has to do with individuals. Art is a product of a particular intelligence. Radio is a mass medium, but also harbors a lot of eccentric individual interests. The dialogue can be interesting to anyone.

JP: You need to have crafted stories, with a hook. I've heard the show, now I can go see the show. For free.

DW: You've got a good answer (?): have social issues, lay the groundwork for community, and have great stories. There is no silver bullet.

Gaye Leslie: Arts to me means anything creative, not just the visual arts. Henry Ford was very creative, and that was a type of art. You seem to be speaking exclusively of paintings. My son taught me how to appreciate Picasso. There are lots of different ways to approach it. You never mention sculpture.

SC & other on panel reply that they were being lazy, rhetorically. They meant all fine arts.

JP: But fine art teaches you how to look, and that's not something you get from looking at the art of production.

Female member of audience--possibly CAB: If WNYC starts having children on the radio or talking to artists who are framers, I will turn off. WNYC used to have a weekly show called Round & About the Guggenheim. We're sometimes limited by language, but somewhere in the archives is a model of how to do this.

David Kaplan's wife: The medium is the message. The rest is peripheral. Is this the right medium for it? Also, it's essentially elite.

SC: I don't agree.

DK's wife: I know you don't. But I feel that the average person has little interest beyond Rembrandt.

LN: How you would you answer your own question?

DK's wife: That a lot of investigation has to be done.

DW: Perhaps you would say that the existent coverage is enough.

DK's wife: That's probably my feeling.

LN: It is a medium about sound, but I'd be interested, and I think my parents would be too. To me it comes down to the individual & the quality of the stories.

DW: It's a worthy experiment, and if anyone can do it, it's WNYC.

DK's wife: I agree.

NC: We're no longer talking about New York as the audience. It questions the foundations of what the medium is.

LN: I understand that radio has spiked as a medium. Everything is so visual. Perhaps it's a response.

MS: Does WNYC have a mass audience?

JP: It's imperative to get non-arts people interested.

LN: It would take an exceptional person.

DK's wife: Someone like Robert Starr would be extraordinary.

JP: But it's important not to give it to him. He's so well-known.

LN: It's important to avoid the designated spokespeople. Must dig deeper.

David Kaplan: As usual, I'm disagreeing with my wife. I think you said Brian Lehrer has this rare ability & Leonard Lopate does it a different way but has the same effect. You feel as though you've learned something. As this young woman suggested, a once a week show. We use our website very aggressively. Our viewpoint is all the new media...it does give us more of an opening in the art field. There are ways we qualify to be a participant and ways we don't. We just appointed a new head of the board, former head of MTV. He's very cognizant of all the new media and how to use them.

JP: I use every kind of cross platform device, but WNYC still needs to be a radio station. There are decades yet in which some people will just use it as radio.

LN: I love the idea that a community of people are listening at the same time.

SC: It's very intimate.

Female member of audience: The stories on WNYC are compelling, even if I'm not particularly interested in the subject. The same for art. It's so important, and the lack of it kind of stands out. The public could be drawn in, just as they are for other topics.