Based on an incredible untrue story

January 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Bodie, California is a ghost town. Or rather, it was a ghost town—now it is a historic park and tourist destination. It endures in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning that nothing can be newly constructed onsite, but neither are its standing buildings permitted to deteriorate any further. The state of California has suspended the town in its process of ruination, stabilizing its entropy and halting its decline.  If its decay is forestalled, its grounds rigorously maintained and its aesthetic carefully cultivated, can it be called a ghost town any longer?

Bodie is a former gold rush encampment located on the remote eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a dozen miles from the Nevada state border. It was hastily populated in the late 19th century and just as hastily deserted in the early 20th century, leaving a husk of a settlement in its wake. The town boasted ten thousand residents in 1880 and none by the early 1940s, after the mines had dried up and a devastating fire had driven the last few residents away. What remained after its abandonment was a captivating ruin—miners’ coats still hanging on hooks in wooden cabins, books still piled up on pupils’ desks in the schoolhouse, beakers and test tubes intact in the pharmacy, dusty coffins in the undertaker’s studio, and an unfinished billiards game in the saloon.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Mac Adams

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They still talk about contextual. Ha!

November 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

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As technology advances, the art world has turned to microscopic analysis and pigment testing to buttress — or challenge — the judgments of a tiny club of experts whose opinions have long been treated as law. This pursuit of scientific validation has only deepened as art historians and institutions like the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which shut down its authentication board in 1996, retreat from certifying art for fear of being sued.

But science has its limits. Paint or paper may help establish the date of a work, while hair and fibers can help pinpoint where it was made. A work’s provenance must also be verified. Still, connoisseurs — as well as most auction houses who rely on them — maintain that true authorship cannot be established without an expert evaluation of the composition and individual strokes that reveal an artist’s “signature.”

In this case, the difference of opinion could be worth millions. Unauthenticated, “Red, Black and Silver” would be listed as “attributed to Pollock” and carry an estimate of no more than $50,000, said Patricia G. Hambrecht, chief business development officer at Phillips auction house, where the painting is consigned. If judged a Pollock, the painting’s estimated value would soar to seven figures, she said.

Ms. Kligman’s account of the painting dates to the summer of 1956 when she was 26 and living in Pollock’s house in East Hampton, N.Y., after Krasner, having caught the lovers together, sailed for Europe. Pollock was in an alcoholic tailspin and hadn’t painted in two years. As Ms. Kligman detailed in a new introduction to the 1999 edition of her memoir, “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock,” the artist was on the lawn when she brought him his paint and the sticks he used. After he finished, he said, “Here’s your painting, your very own Pollock.”

A friend of Ms. Kligman’s, Bette Waldo Benedict, has said Ms. Kligman told her the same story at the time.

Art forensics have primarily concentrated on what a painting is made of. But Mr. Petraco, who has decades of experience with the New York Police Department crime lab and is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, looked at what the painting contained: the dust, hairs, fibers or other detritus that might have fallen on the surface and under the paint.

Because Mr. Petraco, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry, has more experience analyzing red blood than red paint, he decided to perfect his technique for removing materials without damaging the painting by making some Pollock-like drip paintings in his backyard in Massapequa Park, on Long Island. (It’s tougher than it looks, he confessed.)

Despite what one sees on television crime shows, hairs and threads cannot be traced to a specific individual or sweater, Mr. Petraco said. What builds a forensic case is not any single piece of evidence but a combination of consistent factors. In this case, Mr. Petraco said the clincher was discovering a polar bear hair, a rare find in a country that has banned the import of polar bear products for more than 40 years.

“Is there a polar bear in this story?” Mr. Petraco wondered.  read more

CHART: Gregor Smith

I learned from my wives. Each one has something different to offer. Yours specialized at curling eyelashes. Did you even know that? You should have paid more attention to her. I know I did

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The degree to which inauthenticity seems a new, technological problem is the degree to which I can sell you an easy solution. Reducing the complexity of authenticity to something as simple as one’s degree of digital connection affords a solution the self-help industry can sell. Researcher Laura Portwood-Stacer describes this as that old “neoliberal responsibilization we’ve seen in so many other areas of ‘ethical consumption,’” turning social problems into personal ones with market solutions and fancy packaging.

Social media surely changes identity performance. For one, it makes the process more explicit. The fate of having to live “onstage,” aware of being an object in others’ eyes rather than a special snowflake of spontaneous, uncalculated bursts of essential essence is more obvious than ever — even perhaps for those already highly conscious of such objectification. But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that identity theater is older than Zuckerberg and doesn’t end when you log off. The most obvious problem with grasping at authenticity is that you’ll never catch it, which makes the social media confessional both inevitable as well as its own kind of predictable performance.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Itami Go

as I waited I thought there’s nothing like a confession to make one look mad; and that of all confessions a written one is the most detrimental of all

August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation has definitively certified each work in the exhibition as a fake. Nevertheless, some contested works have historically occupied a limbo in which the very criteria for determining what is authentic and what is a forgery have been in a constant state of flux.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Dusdin Condren

In 2010, for the first time in US history, the number of poor living in the suburbs exceeded those living in the cities

August 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The modern attitude toward forgery seems then to involve a number of features, some of which only gradually developed late in the Renaissance or after. One is the belief that works of art of all periods have a certain intrinsic value and that their historical and stylistic character should be respected, including, to some degree at least, the inevitable changes wrought by time. This belief was not held by early modern collectors of ancient art, or, for that matter, by church authorities and others who commissioned new versions of the images of the Madonna attributed to Saint Luke. Another requirement is the existence of an active art market. Finally, there has to be some widely accepted mechanism for determining the authenticity of the objects bought and sold in that market.

The art market as such began to develop in the later sixteenth century, and has continued to expand ever since. Like many other scholars, Lenain singles out the seventeenth-century Roman physician and writer on art Giulio Mancini as a pioneer in the discussion of what was later called connoisseurship, concentrating on his treatment of the expertise required to distinguish between an original and a copy. Mancini recommended that collectors should try to acquire at least a basic level of such expertise, and suggested ways in which they could do so. It is important to bear in mind, however, that this expertise did not cover the ability to identify the authors of works of art of the past. Mancini did not dissent from the conventional belief that the final authorities in all such matters were practicing artists, and this remained the general view until the nineteenth century.

Such artists certainly possessed a degree of knowledge beyond that of almost every amateur, simply because they knew how to paint or carve, and had studied by copying the works of others. But it is evident from inventories and sale catalogs that even in the late eighteenth century attributions were often highly optimistic and unreliable. This is not surprising, given the still primitive knowledge of art history and the absence of photographs and other reproductions. It is usually impossible to say whether copies or pastiches from that period, which survive in great numbers, were made as forgeries or in good faith.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, there is no doubt about the existence of art forgery as a significant phenomenon. It coincided with the emergence of professional connoisseurs, who claimed a particular expertise in identifying the authors of works of art, and, inevitably, in the detection of forgeries. Few of the connoisseurs had been trained as artists, and none of them continued to practice as such. But they had broad firsthand knowledge of works of art, usually a familiarity with the developing study of the history of art, and were normally associated in some way with the increasing numbers of art museums.

As both Lenain and Keats stress, the task of the forger is not just to create a work of art in the style of another artist, but to do so in such a way that it meets the expectations of a connoisseur and gives him (or very rarely her) the frisson of having made a discovery. Thus Hans van Meegeren, the celebrated Dutch forger of Vermeer, chose to imitate not Vermeer’s mature works, of which a considerable number existed, but his rather different and very rare early religious paintings, of which the first had been identified by an expert named Abraham Bredius. He accordingly submitted his first major forgery to Bredius, in the confident belief that it would fit with his preconceptions of what an early Vermeer ought to look like.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: jo(e)

Richmond Arithmetic versus Nottingham Marjorie: match postponed due to bent pitch

March 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

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‘Alternative’ nude modelling site Suicide Girls gives calculated instructions on their website about the kinds of photos, make-up and aesthetic sets they accept: ‘tasteful’, ‘picture perfect’ shoots with ‘a little bit of face powder and mascara and freshly dyed hair’, but specifically not ‘cheap wig[s]’, ‘top hats’, ‘stripper shoes’, ‘food’ or things that look ‘cheesy’, ‘gross’ or ‘creepy’.

Similarly, the ‘girl next door’ look of the Australian all-female explicit adult site Abby Winters represents an alternative to glamour photography, featuring make-up-less, ‘amateur’ adult models – but models are still required to cover up hair re-growth, remove piercings, and not have any scratches, marks or mosquito bites for the shoot in order to appear ‘healthy’.

Other sites I’ve shot for speak about the importance of models representing their ‘own’ sexuality, but then go on to qualify: “We might get you to tone down the eye make up a bit”, “Maybe don’t talk about politics”, “Lesbians don’t really use double-enders do they?” One company asked me repeatedly to stop wearing frills.

In doing so, these sites produce bodies of a particular class, size and appropriate femininity, which are marketed as ‘real’, but which are equally constructed, conventionalised and cultivated. This fear of replicating ‘cheesy’, ‘predictable’ mainstream porn means that depictions of ‘real’ sexuality are often similarly clichéd, albeit with a different set of aesthetics.

In their avoidance of ‘the mainstream’ (whatever that means), ‘alternative’ porn (whether it brands itself queer, feminist or ‘erotica for women’) can sometimes replicate and reinforce what Gayle Rubin calls ‘Good, Normal, Natural, Blessed Sexuality’: the sex is vanilla, and involves only bodies (without objects or toys). Sex occurs in the home, between members of the same generation and only within couples. The scenes are soft, gentle, usually in ‘natural’ light and ‘every-day clothes’ (which in my experience means we are expected to bring Bonds underwear).

To think that this could be any more ‘real’ than mainstream porn seems strange to me, especially when it is produced in an environment that is completely staged: our movements are restricted by camera angles, someone is standing beside us operating the equipment, many of us are professionals pretending to be amateur, and in true ‘documentary’ style, we are expected to cum on cue. These kinds of websites are marketable and loveable because they refuse to define themselves as ‘porn’ – even though, as Annie Sprinkle said in the Herstory of Porn, the difference between erotica and porn “is all in the lighting!”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Elene Usdin

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