“Cover me, Uncovered”, in the Valley Advocate

Below, below, is a comment I posted on the Valley Advocate site in response to the article in today’s issue. I wonder if more people will comment on the article. I think comments sections offer valuable real estate for discourses on topics although people seem reticent about commenting. You can comment with complete anonymity–I really can’t unearth your identity. It is safe to comment anonymously. Share your comments.

But first, a linkage timeline:

The original post in its original venuistic glory which started the whole thing can be found here. This includes the comment (which I took as a dare) from Anne Laprade inviting me to make this post into a show. It also clearly states that the post was inspired by a recent 9and not the first) cut in arts coverage in a local paper. It is important to note that this show did not come out of a sudden indictment on my part about the quantity or quality of arts coverage but rather was inspired by yet another cut, a further diminishment of arts coverage, and editorial decisions to replace a space set aside for arts coverage with American Idol coverage. It also begins to ask why the masses would rather read about a reality show about non-local aspiring musicians than the local arts reality show playing out in their own backyard.

A post on this blog in which I discuss the premise of the show, include the curatorial statement, and include bios of the participating artists can be found here.

The post on this blog about the Boston globe article is here. And the actual Globe article is here. Then there are
Pictures from the extremely well-attended reception. The images show a gallery crowded with people. A pretty good turnout for a show that didn’t get free line listings with the reception time and place. How did we get all those people to come? Well, this plays into a discussion about the obstacles papers face due to the proliferation of online media and which I will post about one of these days. We got that crowd via a combination of traditional USPS postcard mailing and email announcements and blog posts here. So, if we can’t get free listings about receptions and show dates then of course we are going to turn to emails and blogs to get the word out. The blogosphere is where I turn when the traditional media outlets lack room. The popularity of my old newsletter suggests a high need for a place to at the very least announce upcoming shows.

And a half page article later is The Hampshire Gazette article.

Which, combined with the advocate article, inspired Geoff Edgers at the The Boston Globe to post about all the coverage this show got in his blog, “The Exhibitionist” at boston.com, the show’s second appearance in that blog.

I thought the article brought up many good points. I guess I’ll get to them later as I am temporarily stuck on the last two sentences, which may be of some delight to a few critics perhaps. I heard many criticisms about even putting this show on and those were from fellow artists. And if you read my comment below you’ll see that there are two omissions in the article that I wanted to point out, one of which I think, while inadvertant, is important to our case in both a factual and ironic way. I remain proud of this show and proud of what we accomplished. Discussion is always a good thing.

And if I falied in some ways as a first-time curator then I admit that and I own it. I was too timid to approach the show by curating the work and so I just invited artists to address the topic and took what was dropped off. I like all of the work in the show, relevant or not. And I want to point out that while Tobey called Anila Zaidi’s work “flip”, I saw it as thoughtful and brave regardless of how it might measure up to demographics and pie charts. I am a fan of Anila’s college-ruled series and to know Anila is to know that she is not flip. Maggie Nowinski’s piece did actually address the theme. The images are representative of a feeling brought about perhaps by the possibility of creating work in a vacuum of sorts. Line Bruntse’s piece also seems relevant; the tile, “Medonna” suggests to me a shrine to oneself and the bathtub madonna construction calls to mind the shrines people often create in their own yards as a worship piece. Perhaps she is suggesting that without outside ‘worship” or coverage, we need to create our own or that self-worship replaces outside acclaim. This is guesswork as I have no text on her piece to enlighten me as to its intent. Again–if you have a thought about the show or the work why not comment either here or on the Valley Advocate site.

One last thing before the comment: an excerpt from an email from Tobey (in garish teal text, as he called the hue of my beauty shop chair’s fabulously retro-tacky vinyl upholstery), pasted with his permission (I consider email discussion sacred and do not share people’s emails to me without permission) because I like these words better than some in the article–

I think the show was, in ways uncommon here, really good: You found talented people, who work in a wild variety of media, the space was laid out very well, and you throw a great opening party. You could have a whole new money-losing career as a curator, I bet. And on second thought, maybe that’s not such a bad idea, if you could actually get some gallery or museum to provide a weekly salary… Seriously…

And, for what it’s worth, I would never put you in the merely beautiful object school, nor among the “too many”, because you take real and bold chances in your work, and you work really really hard at it. It does suck that there’s not a better world to receive/reward what you do so well–I think you’re among the people that perhaps would do better in the big city, but who aren’t there because of what gets sacrificed in the way of humanity, grounded connections.

I am grateful that you devoted 4 pages, many pictures and a cover (!) in this week’s advocate to cover the show. The article was well-written and brought up many points which are grounded, provocative and certainly merit discussion. Did we make our case? I don’t know and my therapist is also at a loss on this. We put on a show about the lack of arts coverage and got a Boston Glove article, a Hampshire Gazette article and this Advocate article. If nothing else we got coverage I guess. The Boston Globe article was, yes, “more of the same” as in a non-critical piece, but Geoff Edgers, the author, is an Arts Reporter and not an Arts Reviewer and so he “reported” on the show. (And, not only did we get the Globe article, I got lunch and lobster as well. More sustenance for a struggling artist perhaps–although the lobster was a bit dry.)
Anyway-I am still digesting the article and will likely be back here to ramble some more semi-coherencies but for now I am mainly stuck on the last two sentences of the article. Let’s say, for the sake of friendly debate and lovefests, (for you know I love you as much as I love starting sentences with “anyway” and putting things in parentheses) that some of the artists did not address the theme; the possibilities for this would be more of an infinite nature than a singular conclusion that it was due to a lack of regard for the theme, I think.
If I were asked to be in a show about the war and I chose to submit a glass-covered vacuum cleaner would that mean that the premise of the show was somehow invalid or pointless? Would my action-driven opinion even render it so? Maybe that would mean that I just want people to see my vacuum. Maybe it would mean I have no room in my studio to store that vacuum. Maybe it would mean that all I want is another line item on my exhibition history and don’t even care what the theme of the show is, as long as I get to be in a show. Or maybe it would mean that I think that the war sucks our souls. Who knows what it would mean.

But I don’t know that the work in this show that seemingly doesn’t address the theme necessarily means that “the premise failed to grip the imagination” of the participating artists and as such undervalues the theme. Arts coverage is important to all artists. Maybe there are those artists that eschew coverage. And if any of the artists in this show are of that ilk and accepted the invitation anyway then shame on them. I don’t know how I’d conclusively be able to discern that. I am not sure that happened. Perhaps I will have a polygraph ready when they come to pick up their work and will report back, like that new reality show.

Also-Lisa Scollan’s piece, on the front page of the print version of the article, is called, “Self-Coverage”, and is disembodied human parts engaged in “self-love”, which makes a relevant point. I wish the title of her piece was captioned below the image for it is somewhat ambiguous without it. And in a somewhat ironic twist, given the theme of the show, Larry’s Slezak’s piece on the cover of the Advocate is uncredited.

But still – great article and I still love you and will be posting all of my thoughts here and on my blog at benigngirl.com which has the curatorial statement and the text and links for all of the press to date.
Your pal-

8 Responses to ““Cover me, Uncovered”, in the Valley Advocate”

  1. Mo,

    I’m still digesting Robert Tobey’s article “Cover Me, Uncovered.” It is a thought provoking piece which I would like to respond to him personally. Some observations, I can’t remember that last time that the Advocate devoted 4 pages on an art exhition, let alone the cover. That in itself is a major accomplishment. Mo, to receive such a thoughtful and critical review of Cover me is a real success story. Now the question is will the Advocate keep it up? Probably not, we’ll just have a picture in the Arts Section, if we’re lucky once a week. (which I received for the Man Show with incorrect information)

    I was glad (and sad) to see that the Advocate has removed from their mast head the “Art and Entertainment” weekly because I don’t feel that it was truth in advertising. When I first arrived in the Valley in ’91 the Advodcate HAD the most exciting reviews, in particular by Lee Sheridan who was fired when management changed at the paper in the late 90’s, I believe.

    During the 90’s we also had the Optimist, where artists artwork would be featured on the cover every week! We also had Patricia Wright who wrote critical reviews for the Hampshire Gazette on the cover for the Arts section every Thursday. I was glad to see R.T. mention in his article of the loss of Gloria Russell’s reviews in the Republican who besides the before mentioned art reviewers was the only writer with an Art History background. This has been a real loss to artists and art supporters in the Valley. Greg Morrell, another knowledgable writer, formerly of the Greenfield Recorder was the only reviewer who you would regularly see at openings in the Valley, (He’s now a reporter for Artscope Magazine). He was alsoactively involved with helping guide the ArtsWalk in Northampton when I was curator for Northampton Center for the Arts.

    What astonishes me is… as the Valley has grown with the number of artists and ArtsWalks, the coverage has shrunken. I was so upset when the Hampshire Gazette cancelled it’s Tuesday coverage for the arts, I cancelled my subscription. It just seems to me that in this time of shrinking revenues for newspapers that there should be a way to use coop advertising (i.e. Supplier>Blue Moon>Advocate> puts map of ArtsWalk Easthampton>sells Ads for restaurants, museums etc.) Yes, this deals with the marketing end of things, but as artists for the most part we are creating a product that we would like to sell or at least receive some recognition for.

    The benefit of critical reviews, which in my opinion (except for R.Tobey’s piece) is now non existent in the Valley; (reviews)help us as artists and curators rellect and may grow our work. Coverage also helps build the reputation of the quality of art and artists of this Valley. Being a former New Yorker who worked at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, MOMA and a Madison Ave. gallery I’m constrantly amazed at the quality of art in this area. It’s essential to the survival of the arts in the Valley that we receive the attention and support of our local media.

    I’m the curator for The Man Show presently at Nashawannuck Gallery, Easthampton which we have received some attention in the media. To date we had 3 photos, Amherst Bulletin, Hampshire Life (nicest small write up, Advocate and a fluff piece in the Republican last Thursday in Lifestyles. Exhibit open until 3/1

    Also “Little Women: small works by Big Talent(ed) Women at Williston Northampton, Easthampton, one photo in Amherst Bulletin for this exhibit so far, still pounding the pavement. Some photos in Summit (limited distribution)when exhibt started at Nashawannuck Gallery, 40 Cottage St., Easthampton. Now here’s a beautiful exhibition of 30 talented women from the Valley in two venues and this is all the publicity I’ve managed to get so far. This I feel is the issue that Mo brings up with her questioning the lack of media coverage for artists.

    I just like to mention one other writer, who has been very supportive of Amherst Artists and that is Bonnie Wells, who does write thoughtfull feature articles on local artists but it seems less space has been devoted to fine arts of late.

    Terry Rooney

  2. Anila Zaidi Says:

    Hi Mo,

    First: Kudos!
    Second: Thanks…
    Third: People are talking..and that’s what matters..

    – Anila

  3. Ok–this is awkward. I am posting a comment as me for someone who couldn’t post it herself and which is critical. But for the sake of open discussion, here I go-

    I am fascinated that the Advocate has allocated so much space to this
    particular arts review. I must admit some skepticism on my part. Are
    they giving such real estate simply to defend their position as an arts
    weekly? Because as deep and thorough as Tobey’s article is, face it,
    it’s actually more real estate than is appropriate or even needed for
    this show and its related dialogue. This is more like a term paper than
    an arts exhibit review. Sorry Tobey! But truly, let’s step back and see
    what the artists provided. I’m not big on art with a greater agenda
    myself. That seems more like art prostitution. I personally think that
    the pieces that worked best on their own merit were the ones that did
    not satisfy the literal requirement of the curator, but provided a
    personal and authentic dialogue. I do not respect art that simply
    responds to a political agenda.
    So I guess the initial premise for the show did not intrigue me, so in
    fact I was glad to see a wide range of response.
    I once entered a show about art censorship, which was organized by a
    communications arts organization. Most entrants were graphic
    designers–many were artists in their own right, but for the most part,
    we came at this from the graphic design world. I created a book that
    featured reproductions of famous art which might fall into the category
    of obscenity, etc.
    I did a fantastic job of proving a point, but my piece never left the
    realm of political response. It was simply dialogue and communication.
    And it’s a piece that I would never share, since it felt more like a
    college assignment than a work of merit.
    The show Cover Me, which featured many good artists, was an intrinsic
    conflict. Artists may raise controversial topics through their work.
    But their first job is not political. That’s subverting the task. I
    want artists to raise dialogue, of course. But I don’t want to script
    their agenda, because that becomes inauthentic.

  4. Now–my response to that response–

    Is art with an agenda art prostitution? Is commercial art prostitution? All art perhaps has an agenda of sorts whether it be to portray, beautify, interpret, communicate or somehow evoke a response. Thematic shows are by no means rare, in fact they are quite common – around here especially. If an artist creates a floral piece for a show about florals then perhaps they are simply using their medium to address that theme. If the theme is political then perhaps they are just lending their artistic voice to that theme, hopefully only if it is one they feel something about. The curatorial statement clearly stated (and was posted at the show in the doorway and here on this blog) that artists were invited to create work that addressed the theme in some way. It did not require a literal translation. The word literal appeared nowhere in that statement which served as directive and invitation for the artists and the work. I am disheartened that the work in this show has been interpreted as being divided into two groups; the literal and the non-literal, and then judged against each other. But that is just because I am non-competitive and think all work should be appreciated for what it is and not judged against other work. I think simply that by being in the show, the work addresses the theme.
    While the theme may not be intriguing or of interest to some, it certainly stirred up interest in others. It was a good show-“uncommon for this area” to quote Tobey. Some work served to address the theme and other work had artistic merit independent of the theme. I see the show as an exhibit of work centered around a common theme because it is there. The job of an artist is to create work, regardless of its intent perhaps. If it delves into politics then it would not be so unusual. Perhaps the cave paintings at Lascaux were created as a political commentary of some sort. Certainly the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware was of political interest, and they certainly scaled down his reputedly gigantic ass for some (political?) reason.

  5. Robert Tobey Says:

    The piece was as long as it was because, as I said in it, I felt the assertion raised a lot of tricky questions. And they were questions that were, as an artist and a journalist, near and dear to my heart. Also, they were questions that I hadn’t seen raised before, and so for me it caused a bit of an outpouring. And I didn’t even get to all the questions! And certainly I didn’t arrive satisfactorily at all the answers–it seems to me I answered questions mostly by implying more questions. Each of my meatier questions could easily qualify for a one-thousand word essay in response. And then I suppose you could have a one-thousand word rebuttal to each of those. I felt that both for the sake of artists and arts writers, the question needed to be taken seriously, addressed as fully as The Advocate could make space for. I think that the editor–who had asked for 700 words–was persuaded by my immensely longer submission that the issues were real and significant. And finally, having complained that there’s not good critical writing on the arts, I had put myself in the position of doing my level best to provide an adequate review of the 15 pieces in the show…

  6. your response on the blog is perfect. you are brilliant! funny how that often happens where a reviewer almost pulls it off with aplomb and then bang! the last line and everyone’s hair is on end as if to say at the end of the day you can’t keep an ever-so-clever cynical journalist down. but i am impressed overall with tobey’s articulate response to the exhibit.

  7. I’d say the whole effort was a gigantic coup. The Advocate cover and Tobey’s piece are now part of the show. “Cover Me’ has left the gallery space and entered into the community as a whole. The Valley as gallery; a sort of performance piece. It continues here! (four walls don’t contain art anyway, since art grows organically out of both artist and viewer and into the community…..am i making any sense here?).

    To say : ” I do not respect art that simply responds to a political agenda “, as quoted above, begs the question: where does the work end and the “political agenda” begin? (and visa versa). I’ve heard the same thing said about poetry for decades. Does a poem have to be about a broken heart alone? (or being alone w/a broken heart!). What about a poem focused on already having a broken heart as photos of Abu Ghraib appear before you? There is no “simple political agenda”; there is no real wall between us and the world.

    Go Mo!

  8. Robert Tobey Says:

    “Political” probably is a too narrow–misleading? loaded?–way of putting it–it’s more a question of goods and services. And of course in capitalism the delivery of goods and services–what gets delivered and how–is inherently a political question. The questions Mo and the artists raised in the show: Why does the media focus on–sell us–this and not that?, Why is the attention paid to the arts shrinking?–are certainly valid. The answers are not easy, though, and especially because the arts, through the cultural tourism phenomenon, have gotten themselves mixed up in a Faustian bargain with the very gatekeepsers we need to be wary of, keep at arms length. It seems to me as well that there’s is a natural affinity and alliance that exists between artists and arts-writers, and I know for a fact from many years in newspaper offices how hard many of those writers work to support the arts, provide good coverage, be balanced in their attention. (Is it then another case of poor starved weasels fighting one another in a ditch?) The demise of arts coverage in newspapers is tied very closely to the demise of newspapers themselves, and that’s a New Media phenomenon of the sort that has been occurring since the beginning of time, as in: Jeez, whatever happened to those nifty stone tablets we used to keep our big thoughts on? And: What’s gone wrong on Broadway? Regardless of what kind of coverage may be best, to take the frustration out on arts editors and writers–people who are suffering through this transformation as well–seems to me off-target, wrongheaded, even unfair.

    How best to pay attention to the arts–critical or promotional–is in some ways a secondary question, but also relates back to the Faustian bargain–too much mere promotion is just paying the piper, dancing with the money-changers, and I’m not sure how different, really, that is from excessive American Idol coverage. You can be prostituted locally or nationally, but still it’s more about the money–the meals sold in restaurants–not love or passion.

    Finally one has to ask: What do the arts DO? What, in our grossly over-commercialized culture, are they good for? Yes, they entertain and bring pleasure, as always, but, if you believe in arts’ transformative power, what more are they capable of? And where does one find, in this meretricious mixed-up cultural moment, the motivation and venue for that?

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