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February 20, 2007

You've Read the Blog, Now Buy the Art

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Say what?

Jori Finkel's February 4, 2007 New York Times story headlined, "You've Seen the E-Mail, Now Buy the Art" got my attention in a big way.

So much so that it's taken me two weeks plus of thinking about it to decide I haven't a clue as to how to use its information to my advantage.

Long story short: People pay up to a million dollars for a piece of art after seeing just a digital image of it on a computer screen.

Here's the article.

    You've Seen the E-Mail, Now Buy the Art

    For his fall show the artist Tom Friedman planted two dozen characteristically demented sculptures throughout the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. He set a giant Excedrin box, made from dozens of cut-up Excedrin boxes, on the floor near the entrance. He placed three identically crumpled wads of paper on a shelf. And he affixed to the ceiling a bunch of colorful papier-mâché balloons, which magically appeared to float despite their weight. Their strings were held together not by a hand but by a pair of men's briefs suspended in midair.

    It was Mr. Friedman's first outing with Gagosian after years of showing at the much humbler Feature Gallery in New York, and the exhibition sold out, with works priced up to $500,000. But most of the buyers did not see the installation. They did not personally see the pieces at all. Gagosian sold out the show before it opened, in large part through a flurry of e-mail messages and digital images.

    When asked at the opening if the show had really sold out in three days, Deborah McLeod, the gallery's director, replied, ''More like three minutes.''

    It's another sign of the acceleration of the contemporary art market: New works, even in the six-figure range, are selling by digital image alone. For the Friedman show, Gagosian set up a private section on its Web site, accessible only by a password sent via e-mail message to select collectors. More typically, gallery directors send off e-mail messages with JPEGs -- a format for digitally storing and transmitting images — to potential clients.

    As with so many aspects of the art world, industrywide figures do not exist. But anecdotes abound. Howard Read of Cheim & Read in Manhattan said the gallery sold by JPEG alone ''about a third'' of its current show: paintings of Mexican-American laborers by the California artist John Sonsini, with prices from $25,000 to $65,000.

    The Chicago dealer Kavi Gupta has presold — in large part through JPEGs — his current exhibition of paintings by Claire Sherman, a 2005 graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. ''We debuted a painting at Basel last year, and Marty Margulies bought it,'' he said, referring to a major Miami collector. ''Since then we've been selling her work based on digital images.'' The show opened this weekend, but it has been sold out since December, with prices up to $15,000.

    In Los Angeles, Timothy Blum of Blum & Poe said he sold a ''handful'' of works by the conceptual artist Dave Muller, sight unseen, from his January show, at prices up to $100,000. ''This happens routinely now,'' he said. ''I've also sold paintings by Mark Grotjahn, for over $200,000, to buyers who never saw them in person.''

    But Mr. Blum was quick to add that these buyers already knew Mr. Grotjahn's work, an off-kilter updating of abstract painting. Other gallerists made the same point. This is not the case of an Internet surfer discovering a picture on an e-commerce site and tossing it in a shopping cart, but more a sign of how efficient the high-end contemporary art market has become.

    ''I don't know if this is the beginning of something wonderful, or the end of something wonderful,'' said Amy Cappellazzo, co-head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie's. ''But we've seen the use of JPEGs increase dramatically, exponentially, in the last few years. It's all about the speed of the market. Without the use of digital images, this market would come to a grinding halt.''

    Lisa Schiff, a New York art consultant, agreed, saying that ''99 percent'' of her sales now involve a JPEG at one stage or another. ''It's changed the way we all do business,'' she said. ''People have begun using JPEG as a verb: JPEG me this work.'' (On the resale market, where many art consultants operate, JPEGs can be shopped so widely that a seller can find himself in the puzzling position of being offered his own work.)

    Mr. Gupta said about half of his sales take place without the presence of the buyer. ''Being in Chicago, without the walk-in traffic of a gallery in New York or even L.A., I can't imagine working without digital images,'' he said. ''We have a ton of European collectors, and we reach them through art fairs and digital images, a combined effort.''

    The advantages for galleries are abundant: Digital images are easier to produce than the catalog and magazine reproductions that have long helped to get the word — or image — out. And they are cheaper than transparencies, which now tend to serve more archival purposes.

    But what do collectors have to gain from buying this way, without the pleasure of interacting with the work itself or the security of hands-on inspection? Don't buyers want to see the art in person?

    Don Rubell of Miami says he does. ''I hate to be judgmental,'' he said. ''But I think a lot of people buying this way are buying the name of an artist, not a particular work.'' He and his wife, Mera, are known for going to great lengths to see a new work, ''sometimes spending nearly as much on plane tickets as the piece is worth.''

    As Mr. Blum conceded, ''Yes, there are speculators. But what I see is that some of the best collectors in the world also operate by digital images, coupled with rampantly seeing art.''

    Such collectors say that hopping on a plane is not always possible, especially when there's a real, or manufactured, sense of urgency. ''Maybe something in Europe comes our way, and we can't make it there or send our curator,'' said Cindy Rachofsky of Dallas, who with her husband, Howard, was an early supporter of Mr. Friedman. ''Or maybe it's something that's been on our wish list for a long time, where a decision needs to be made quickly.''

    The Rachofskys purchase via digital image ''maybe 10 percent of the time,'' she said.

    Kent Logan, a collector in Vail, Colo., said, ''Buying this way is necessary to stay competitive.'' He puts his digital purchases as high as 50 percent. ''I haven't been to an art fair in three years where I haven't already seen images in advance and known what I was going to buy.'' Has he been pressured to buy this way, or enticed with a lower, friends-and-family price? ''Sure, that happens,'' he said. ''But that's the reality of the marketplace. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.''

    Mr. Logan recently paid more than $100,000 for a landscape painting by Li Songsong based on a digital image from the Urs Meile Gallery in Beijing. He has purchased work for ''close to a million dollars, sight unseen,'' he said, but only under certain conditions. ''I have to know the artist's work, and I have to trust the dealer.''

    A New York collector, Sheri Levine, agreed: ''Generally speaking I will only do this with an artist whose work I already own, so I have a very good sense of what the work will look like in person.'' She gave two recent purchases as examples: a digital print by Chiho Aoshima from Blum & Poe, and a Loretta Lux photograph from the New York gallerist Yossi Milo, each priced around $10,000.

    ''Both pictures turned out to be exactly what I expected, and I was thrilled,'' Ms. Levine said. ''But keep in mind that it's easier to buy a photograph than a painting this way. A JPEG often distorts a painting.''

    And that hints at the potential danger of buying art this way: The image representing the work of art could be, however subtly, misrepresenting it. First there are the limitations of the JPEG itself. As a compressed file format, it is small enough to easily send via e-mail, but the compression causes some loss of information.

    There are also the inaccuracies created whenever a three-dimensional work is captured in two dimensions. The texture of a painting especially, experts warn, is bound to get lost in translation. As Mr. Gupta put it: ''A JPEG will give you a general picture but usually will not deliver the surface detail at all.'' With Claire Sherman's work, for example, ''you're not going to see the energy of the brushwork,'' he said.

    Another challenge is color, which can vary depending on computer and monitor settings.

    Ms. Schiff discovered this when buying a canvas by the German painter Stefan Kürten for a client. ''We knew that the artist does kind of metallic surfaces, very detailed and ornate, so there would be nuances you can't get from a JPEG,'' she said. ''But we never expected the work to be quite so pink in person.'' She said it was a nice surprise — ''the painting was amazing in person'' — but it served as a warning to her that ''you can't be so cavalier about these things.''

    A final caveat relates to condition, which is more of a problem for older pieces that have repeatedly changed hands. ''Condition is the No. 1 issue for secondary market material,'' said Ms. McLeod of Gagosian. She recalled closing a $2.2 million sale of a ''Diamond Dust Shoe'' painting by Andy Warhol by letting clients who couldn't personally see the work choose their own conservators to provide a condition report.

    Condition anxiety, however, is hardly unique to digital images. Collectors often complain of reproductions in auction catalogs masking an artwork's wear and tear. Many people pointed out that buying by JPEG is a lot like absentee bidding at auction.

    With at least one crucial difference: Should clients be disappointed with their purchase of new work, most galleries will let them return it. It's one way that major galleries take the uncertainty out of buying art by JPEG, much as other retailers take the risk out of buying clothes or electronics online.

    So did anyone return work by Tom Friedman to Gagosian? Ms. McLeod said no. But, she added, she wouldn't mind if they did. ''In this business supply is always the problem, not demand,'' she said. ''I'd actually be delighted to have something back. If I got it back, I could sell it again.''

February 20, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Warren Zevon Lives

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The legendary (1947-2003) singer-songwriter's son Jordan has assembled, from 126 unreleased outtakes and demos recorded before 1976, a new two-CD set to be released on May 1.

A memoir, "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon," comes out that same day.

[via Lawrence Van Gelder's "Arts, Briefly" feature in today's New York Times]

February 20, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Facing Silence — by E.M. Cioran

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Once you have come to set great store by silence, you have hit upon a fundamental expression of life in the margins. The reverence for silence of great solitaries and founders of religions has far deeper roots than we think. Men's presence must have been unendurable and their complex problems disgusting for one not to care about anything except silence.

Chronic fatigue predisposes to a love of silence, for in it words lose their meaning and strike the ear with the hollow sonority of mechanical hammers; concepts weaken, expressions lose their force, the word grows barren as the wilderness. The ebb and flow of the outside is like a distant monotonous murmur unable to stir interest or curiosity. Then you will think it useless to express an opinion, take a stand, to make an impression; the noises you have renounced increase the anxiety of your soul. After having struggled madly to solve all problems, after having suffered on the heights of despair, in the supreme hour of revelation you will find that the only answer, the only reality, is silence.

February 20, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

1st Annual Acatemy Awards — bookofjoe World Exclusive!

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Extra, extra, read all about it.

Just in, the news that the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA's 1st Annual Acatemy Awards will take place this coming Saturday, February 24, 2007 between 12 noon and 6 p.m. at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (3355 Berkmar Drive).

From the announcement:

    You are invited!

    Be ready to enjoy a fun-filled day of cats, stars and more!

    The event will include prizes, The Cat in the Hat, food, fun and lots of fabulous cats for adoption.

    You'll even be able to vote for your favorite cat.

    Come in and check out our reduced adoption fee.

    And as always the dogs will be available in their supporting role.

    For more information call 434-973-5959.

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I know where I'm gonna be this Saturday afternoon.

February 20, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Wake Up, Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind is Dead!

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Best-named show of the year to date.

Ben Brantly reviewed it in the February 5, 2007 New York Times; his piece follows.

    Throw a Bucket of Ice Water on Your Brain

    Those among you who presume you are still alive might be interested to know that Richard Foreman is throwing a funeral for you at the Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s Church.

    Never mind that your pulse says your heart is still pumping. Mr. Foreman says the most essential part of you — your independent, intuitive mind — is a cold corpse. He has thoughtfully whipped up a memorial service, a dazzling exercise in reality-shifting called “Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead!,” that is as invigorating as it is mournful. Who knows? It might indeed be enough to wake the dead.

    Two years ago Mr. Foreman, the great gray wizard of experimental theater, announced that he would no longer be creating the exquisitely unsettling dreamscapes that had been his specialty since the 1960s. It was time, he said, to bid farewell to the theater.

    You have to be skeptical when brilliant artists declare they are leaving the art they love. Mr. Foreman has continued to ply his exotic trade of nonnarrative, nonlinear play making, set in fun houses crammed with mysterious cultural detritus, but with one essential difference: He has added film to the mix of what had been resolutely and religiously theatrical productions, which would seem to be a case of sleeping with the enemy.

    “Wake Up” is Mr. Foreman’s second film-theater hybrid. Even more than his first, “Zomboid!,” presented last year, it shows how this priest of the theater has embraced his old adversary only to disarm it. Mr. Foreman creates beautiful filmic pictures for his audience’s consumption. But he refuses to let us wallow in them.

    The theory at work would seem to be that we have come to trust too much in the surfaces of artfully arranged pictures and information. Hooking the mind to such surfaces, Mr. Foreman says, is fatal to the unconscious. (“When the world sees itself, it doesn’t,” says a line from the script.) While “Wake Up” is clearly a bid to resurrect theatergoers’ deeper imaginations, the elegiac undercurrent that courses through the show suggests its creator worries that he may be too late.

    As usual Mr. Foreman has converted the pocket stage at St. Mark’s into a three-dimensional version of the puzzle drawings in children’s magazines in which objects are hidden in dense mazes of images. The not-so-still-life of the set (everything seems to keep moving, even when it’s not) includes a boxing ring, veiled mannequin heads, books that appear to be climbing the walls, funereal vases of flowers and a propeller airplane with a cargo of plastic baby dolls.

    Though the five live performers onstage (four clad in sinister regulation black, one dressed as an aviator) would seem to have plenty to occupy them in this attic of the mind, they are inextricably drawn to the outsized filmed images that hover behind them. And why shouldn’t they be? The people in the film, which was shot in Lisbon, are elegant, cryptic, depressive souls who speak in riddles, bringing to mind the chic denizens of European art-house films from the early 1960s.

    As anyone knows who has spent time amid the animated billboards of Times Square, most people — given a choice between looking at life on a screen or at the real thing — will choose to watch the screen. So with “Wake Up,” one’s (shameful) instinct is just to sink into the movie.

    No chance of that, though. Mr. Foreman periodically brightens the stage lights to the point that the filmed images bleach into nothingness. Sometimes question marks or X’s cover the faces of the speakers. The live performers open panels in the movie screen, revealing electric candles within.

    This constant shifting of attention between two artistic worlds keeps you in a state of perceptual anxiety. Every time you are forced to refocus, whatever you see appears to be freshly reconceived. Despite the fuguelike repetition of images, sounds and words on and off screen, nothing feels fixed.

    “Zip between this,” says a voice, “always double procedure.” I can’t remember who said that, whether it was a live performer or a film actor or one of those deep, disembodied voices. The line is typical, though, of the hortatory text, which seems to be trying to rally its audience into rebellion against complacency.

    “Here is a world trying to run faster than the unconscious mind,” says the voice (Mr. Foreman’s, as it happens). The actors in the film, whose heads are often covered in newspaper shrouds, keep repeating the words “Maybe it will happen in my lifetime.” Is this the voice of hope or despair? It’s worth noting that they are also given to intoning, “Tick tock, tick tock; it’s broken and it can’t be fixed.”

    Both sets of actors have a tendency to fall down, which is always true in Mr. Foreman’s productions. They also all brandish cards, plates, pointers and knives, which they hold suspensefully above their wrists, as if on the brink of suicide. The most haunting filmed images show women, stretched out on tables, who appear to be dead.

    You’ll be happy to hear that these women’s eyes eventually flutter open. An optimist could say that Mr. Foreman is portraying a rebirth of unconsciousness — a dying that is actually, as the title promises, a reawakening.

    Maybe. But as exhilarating as “Wake Up” is, it is also steeped in melancholy. Usually with Mr. Foreman, snatches of music summon the comic frenzy of silent movies. This time the aural backdrop is darker: a mixture of ringing cellphones, a wandering plaintive soprano and a hushed percussive beat that suggests an advancing army. “It can’t be fixed” is the mantra that stuck in my head.

    But that’s probably just my unconscious mind talking. (Yours may have a different opinion.) Hey, that means it’s not dead after all. Mr. Foreman appears to have done his job.
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    Written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman. At the Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10th Street, East Village; (212) 352-3101. Through April 1. Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

February 20, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chekhov's Mistress — 'Literary enthusiasms'

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Nice name for a website.

It's the creation of Bud Parr, who owns Sonnet Media and runs a network of literary blogs called MetaxuCafé, which currently has over 250 members.

February 20, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Forget about what's in your wallet — what's on your skin?

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Above, 182 species of bacteria found on the forearm skin of six healthy volunteers: three men and three women.

Maybe it's time to bag the antibacterial hand soap, what?

Rob Stein's article in the February 12, 2007 Washington Post fleshed out the graphic, and follows.

    Close Look at Human Arm Finds Host of Microbes

    Hold out your hand, with the palm facing skyward. Pull the sleeve of your shirt up to your elbow. Now take a look at the fleshy part of your arm, about halfway between your wrist and your elbow. What do you see?

    Nothing, probably.

    But that's not what Martin J. Blaser of New York University School of Medicine sees. With the help of the latest scientific tools, Blaser sees a complex, microscopic world teeming with a vast array of microorganisms.

    "The skin is home to a virtual zoo," said Blaser, a microbiologist who last week published online the first molecular analysis of the bacteria living on one small patch of human skin. "We're just beginning to explore it."

    The analysis revealed that human skin is populated by a diverse assortment of bacteria, including many previously unknown species, offering the first detailed peek at this potentially crucial ecosystem.

    The work is part of a broader effort by a small coterie of scientists to better understand the microbial world that populates the human body. Virtually every orifice and the digestive tract are swarming with bacteria, fungi and other microbes. By some estimates, only one out of every 10 cells in the body is human.

    "If nothing else, this should be a shot across the bow to the scientific community that says, 'Hey, don't you think we should be taking a closer look at this?' " said David A. Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist. "To me it's still surprising, humbling and shocking how little we truly understand about the makeup of the human microbial community."

    Scientists suspect these microbes play important but poorly understood roles, assisting crucial bodily functions and potentially helping prevent or cause many diseases. One recent study found that obese people appear to have a unique mix of microbes in their guts, which could partly account for the obesity epidemic.

    "This type of work is setting the stage for a second human sequencing project — one that examines our microbiomes" — the genes of the microbial communities populating our bodies — Jeffrey I. Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis wrote in an e-mail. Gordon reviewed Blaser's paper for publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "The result of this human microbiome project will be a more comprehensive view of our genetic landscape and should provide insights about which of our 'human attributes' are derived from products of our microbial self," he said. "This could lead, in turn, to new ways of defining health, new ways for predicting disease predilection, and new ways for treating illnesses affecting various components of our body, including the skin."

    Blaser decided to focus on the skin in order to begin to understand the microbial makeup of the body's largest organ. Similar studies have been conducted on the mouth, colon, vagina and other parts of the body.

    "No one had really done modern work on the skin," Blaser said. "This is really the first attempt to do something like this."

    Previous studies of microbes on human skin have been limited to examining those that can be grown in laboratory dishes. But scientists have long suspected that only provided insights into a small fraction of the creatures present, because many organisms cannot be easily grown in the lab.

    Blaser's team swabbed an area of skin about the size of silver dollar on the right and left forearms of three healthy men and three healthy women. They then used sophisticated molecular techniques to amplify and analyze fragments of bacterial DNA captured by the swabs.

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    The analysis revealed 182 species, the researchers reported. Of those, 30 had never been seen. They identified an additional 65 species when they sampled four of the volunteers eight to 10 months later, including 14 new species.

    "We found a lot of diversity — both in terms of distant relatives but also cousins. And not just first cousins, but second, third and fourth cousins," Blaser said.

    On average, each person's skin harbored about 50 species, but only four of them were found on all six people, suggesting that the mix of bacteria varies significantly from person to person. But those four species accounted for more than half of all the DNA sequences found, indicating that a relatively few species tend to dominate. And when the researchers analyzed the bacteria using a broader classification, phylum, they found three phyla on all six subjects that accounted for 95 percent of all present species.

    "It appears that there is a conserved infrastructure or scaffolding of organisms that's common in human skin, and then a lot of transient or uncommon organisms that are person-specific," Blaser said.

    "It's like New York City. About 8 million people live here, but there are about 40 million tourists in a year. So at any one time the residents outnumber the tourists, but in aggregate the tourists outnumber the residents," he said.

    In fact, when the researchers sampled four of the six volunteers a second time, they found many of the species detected earlier were gone.

    "This indicates that there's a lot of tourism going on," Blaser said. "There's a lot of transiency."

    Blaser's team did not examine what any of the organisms were doing.

    "This is how you start this kind of exploration — first you ask the question: What's there?" Blaser said. "It's like when people first went to Africa or Antarctica to start to fill in the map."

    Scientists assume that most of the organisms have a symbiotic relationship with their human hosts and play some type of beneficial role. But the next step will be to try to characterize their functions.

    "We're interested in understanding how we interact with these organisms and how they are communicating with human cells and vice versa," Blaser said.

    Some of the organisms may also play a role in diseases such as eczema and psoriasis.

    "These are chronic inflammatory diseases of the skin of unknown cause. If these microorganisms have something to do with skin disease, knowing what's there may help us diagnose or perhaps treat these diseases," he said.

    Blaser noted that human skin probably has myriad distinct ecosystems, noting that a similar study looking at fungi produced similar results but also found tremendous diversity in different parts of the body.

    "If we looked at the armpit or the scalp, who knows what we'd find?" Blaser said. "It's like we're at the zoo, but so far we've just looked in the primate house. We haven't even gotten to the cat house or the elephant house."

February 20, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Waterproof digital wrist camera

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From the website:

    Digital Hero Sports Wrist Camera

    Flyweight at 4.5 ounces, the Digital Hero is so light you will forget you have it on.

    Comfortable neoprene strap secures camera.

    Great for paddling, surfing, biking, hiking, etc.

    Functional to 30 feet underwater; waterproof to 100 feet.

    32MB of onboard memory stores over 250 photos (640 x 480) or 32 ten second video clips (320 x 240).

    Connects to PC or Mac via USB — no driver required

    Included AAA battery will last for 200+ photos.

    Shockproof polycarbonate casing.

    Locks flat during activity (below).

    Pivots up to get the shot (top).

    Self-timer.

    Whether over ski gloves and a jacket, on a child's wrist, or strapped to your favorite gear — one size fits all.

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$79.99.

Need more resolution?

No problema.

Their new 3 megapixel model is just your ticket.

$139.99.

February 20, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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