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Magazine Review: ARTnews

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ARTnews is a major publication in the contemporary art scene. Published monthly in New York City, it’s an energetic explorer of the sometimes bizarre collage that is today’s art world.

Money makes the world go round, and the art world is no exception. A lot of art news is about disputes over big money, and so you’ll find a number of stories in ARTnews about these fights.

I’ve been leafing through the April issue, and find reports on accusations of fiscal mismanagement and trafficking in stolen antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, operator of the Getty Museum; the controversy over authentication of a number of supposed Jackson Pollock canvases that surfaced four years ago; and a couple of stories dealing with the return of art works confiscated from Jewish collectors by the Nazis before and during World War II.

Amid all this depressing stuff are a couple of nice pieces about small museums with rich collections that are expanding their exhibition spaces despite being in fairly restrictive physical locations. One is New York City’s Morgan Library, filled with treasures amassed by the legendary J.P. Morgan; the other is the 85-year-old Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, the country’s first modern art museum.

This issue of ARTnews also has a fairly long feature on Berlin’s recent development as a center of contemporary art, lured by the availability of large spaces at low cost, something that has appealed to artists over the ages. Reporter J.S. Marcus notes that there’s a “near total lack of local collectors” of contemporary art in Berlin, but adds that the Internet as a vehicle for displaying art has solved that problem for the artists and gallery owners in the city.

Other articles examine contentious issues in contemporary art, such as the use of photography and software like Photoshop to help create paintings, and the increasing tendency of artists to work in a number of genres at the same time, including video, presenting found objects and using of all sorts of materials (one artist recently exhibited works employing batik, oil paint, thread and KY Jelly).

I liked a profile of Tom Otterness, a whimsical artist who even designed a Humpty Dumpty float for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last year. It’s nice to see that good whimsy can make money: the magazine reports that his bronzes sell for up to $200,000, and his monumental sculptures for up to $1 million.

The back of the magazine contains some of the most interesting material, reviews from gallery shows in New York, elsewhere in the country and overseas. The first New York review, from the China Institute, has nothing to do with contemporary art. It’s about an exhibition of Ming Dynasty porcelain from the first part of the 17th century that was created explicitly for the Japanese market, using simple rustic motifs then popular in Japan and very different from traditional Chinese designs. Oddly, this “rustic movement” in the Japanese art world of the time was caused by intense dislike of what were considered considered “ostentatious” Chinese porcelains imported in previous centuries!

Some of today’s gallery shows are truly weird. In one from New York, reviewer Sean Kelly reports that performance artist Marina Abramovic used a video to explain what she claims are Serbian peasant sexual rituals to ward off evil spirits or attract a mate. An example of the latter: “A small fish stuffed into the vagina overnight and then ground up into the intended’s coffee apparently works wonders.”

As with virtually all art publications, a main attraction in ARTnews is the advertising, where you can see what’s being featured in galleries today. The range of imagery is vastly entertaining.

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About Ed Rust