Weeks

Is Jeff Koons as Passionate About Uniqlo as He Sounds? Why Is This Unicorn Named After Picasso? + Other Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News


Curiosities is a column where I comment on the art news of the week, sometimes about stories that were too small or strange to make the cut, sometimes just thoughts on the circus.

Below, some questions posed by the events of the last week…

 

1) What Is Pacaso?

The logo of property co-ownership sales and management platform Pacaso on a smartphone screen. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The logo of property co-ownership sales and management platform Pacaso. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Founded only last year, Pacaso is, I’m told, the youngest start-up ever to reach “unicorn” status—a valuation of more than $1 billion. A glorified time-share scheme that promises to “democratize second home-ownership,” its mission is to finally let America’s wealthier enclaves know the joys of having your neighborhood become an Airbnb hotspot by selling fractionalized stakes in mansions in places like Napa Valley.

Since you are reading an art site, you are probably already wondering, “Is the name inspired by… you know…” The answer is yes. And the answer to your follow-up question—”does Pacaso’s innovative model of fractional real-estate investment carry on the legacy of Cubism?”—is also yes.

From the company’s Our Story page:

We are inspired by Pablo Picasso’s revolutionary thinking, the way he challenged norms in early 20th century art. He is credited with co-creating Cubism, which brings together individual elements to create a new and innovative whole. That resonated with how we’re approaching second home ownership. We decided on Pacaso to honor Picasso’s legacy of innovation.

And, truly, what an honor it is! Per Planet Money, “No Pacaso” signs are quickly becoming a hot accessory in the nation’s tonier areas. Some poor sap who bought 1/8th of a $4 million mansion recounts showing up for his slot at his new vacation home—which had been dubbed the “Chardonnay” house by Pacaso, and is described as having “a distinctly modern and high-tech feel”—only to be greeted by a sign that read, “The Pacaso House Is the Big One on the Right With No Soul.”

 

2) What’s Jasper Johns’s Flag Got to Do With Jurassic Park?

Installation view of the "Jasper Johns and the Whitney" in "Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror" at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Installation view of the “Jasper Johns and the Whitney” in “Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror” at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Here’s a bit of trivia I didn’t know until I went to the “Jasper Johns and the Whitney” room of the New York museum’s big Jasper Johns show. Just after Michael Crichton wrote and directed the original Westworld in 1973—but long before he wrote Disclosure, created ER, or became one of the world’s most high-profile climate-change deniers—he had a side hustle writing art catalogues. Specifically, the catalogue for Jasper Johns’s 1977 Whitney retrospective.

Let me tell you the story. Johns wanted someone to write about him who was “not an art critic.” By his own admission, Crichton had never read an art catalogue. Asking around, he couldn’t find anyone who had ever actually read a catalogue either, and decided that what people wanted was facts about the artist and the works—“none of that art interpretation stuff.”

Copy of the 1977 catalogue for Jasper Johns's Whitney show, on display at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Copy of the 1977 catalogue for Jasper Johns’s Whitney show, on display at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Honestly, this is not bad advice! I hate it when you open a catalogue looking some helpful historical context instead get 30 pages of musings on Giles Deleuze or Fred Moten.

Despite this “just the facts” approach, Crichton’s catalogue contains a pretty fun account of a car trip he took with Johns where the artist resolutely refuses to offer directions to get where they are going:

Once I drove him from his house at Stony Point into New York City. We were going to some destination I did not know. I asked him how to get there. “Well, I’m not sure, I’ll know when I see it, as we go.”

We drove for a while longer, crossing the George Washington Bridge. I asked again. “Well, I don’t know. Turn right here, and we’ll figure out the rest later.”

I love how closely the description of a Jasper Johns outing follows his well-known art-making mantra: “Take an object / Do something to it / Do something else to it [Repeat].” Or, as Crichton narrates Johns’s thought process, “We are going down this street now, and when we get to the end, we will decide which way to turn, and having decided that, we will wait until it is time to make another decision.”

Jasper Johns: important painter; demanding road trip companion.

Crichton accepted a small painting from Johns in lieu of payment, and according to author Don Thompson, he later turned down $5 million for it from Larry Gagosian. For that reason, the 1977 Whitney Museum catalogue is sometimes regarded as the most lucrative piece of art writing ever done.

 

3) Is the Male Gaze in the NFT World Really Going to Be Decentered by Playboy?

Playboy has enthusiastically gotten into the NFT game. On the one hand, it is looking to sell its back catalogue of vintage cheesecake as NFTs; on the other, it is out to smash the patriarchy.

Specifically, the magazine has partnered with the Sevens Foundation on a new NFT commission (open to applicants through October 1!) called “The Art of Gender and Sexuality.” The initiative, we read, recognizes that “the fight for equality and representation that continues to define the art world at large is particularly urgent in the fast-moving world of NFTs, a primarily cis-male dominated space.”

I would make a joke here about how “I support Playboy for its social justice mission to decenter the digital art world” is the new “I read Playboy for the articles,” but, you know, Playboy did publish some pretty good articles.

 

4) Will Koons’s Uniqlo Line Redefine Basic Fashion?

“Sophisticated pop artworks by one of the greatest contemporary artists, Jeff Koons!” boasts the website of Uniqlo, the fast-fashion juggernaut from Japan that has just launched a Koons capsule collection in coordination with the soon-to-open “Jeff Koons: Lost in America” show in Qatar.

The exclamation point certainly proves they are excited—but what’s so “sophisticated” about these works?

Craft, craft, it’s all about craft, according to the interview with Koons on the project’s micro-site (which also features interviews with curators Massimiliano Gioni, Elena Geuna, and Yuko Hasegawa). We’re talking here about the craft of… printing pictures of Balloon Dog and Rabbit onto basic cotton Ts and hoodies.

Here’s Koons waxing Koonsian about the globe-spanning merch collab in a series of words that sound as if they have been put into Google translate from English to a foreign language and back again (but he speaks with such conviction!):

I enjoy very much how Uniqlo is in contact with my generation but also a younger generation and it really communicates across cultures and everybody enjoys very much their clothing. We are just people who are seeking to be connected with each other. By working with Uniqlo, making a T-shirt that can be connected and communicate to somebody else that I care about them—I embrace that opportunity.

Of the collection’s various options, my favorite has to be the Jeff Koons sweatshirt featuring his work Play-doh (1994–2014). Not exactly pushing the boundaries of graphic design, as far as I can tell, it offers the giant words “JEFF KOONS” next to an image of sculpture.

I assure you that as a work of art, the massive, precision-designed Play-doh actually is impressive and huge and detailed in its craftsmanship. But rather than seamlessly “communicating across cultures,” when its image is printed without scale on a shirt, like nothing so much a sturdy pile of rainbow doggy-doo (maybe from Flower Puppy).

Screenshot of Jeff Koons x Uniqlo sweatshirt featuring Play-doh.

Screenshot of Jeff Koons x Uniqlo sweatshirt featuring Play-doh on the Uniqlo website.

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Is a Bored Ape Tattoo the Ultimate Flex? Since When Is Uranium in a Museum Not OK? + More Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News


Curiosities is a column where I preserve for posterity the “you can’t make this up” parts of the art news.

Below, some questions posed by the events of the last week…

 

1) When Will This Outbreak of Bored Ape Fever Peak?

I am really trying to not make this an NFT news column, but here we are, with the news of the week being Sotheby’s two-lot, $26.2 million online sale of 101 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs (or: pictures of apes dressed like people) and 101 associated Bored Ape Kennel Club NFTs (or: pictures of dogs).

A collage of the Bored Apes offered up in Sotheby’s “Ape In!” sale this week. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

A collage of the Bored Apes offered up in Sotheby’s “Ape In!” sale this week. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The 277-year-old auction house referred to the sale as “a testament to the enthusiasm and the strength of the close-knit BAYC [Bored Ape Yacht Club] community.” We are talking about a community whose roots run deep—all the way back to April 2021, making it a venerable classic, with the same deep place in the cultural mind as the Justin Bieber song “Peaches” or the bad new “Mortal Kombat” remake.

Amy Castor has written a great explainer on the Bored Apes, whose most high-profile collectors include Jermaine Dupri and AriZona Iced Tea. I was curious about this “close-knit BAYC community,” so I looked around the internet, and I can assure you that the 5,000-plus shrewdness of Bored Ape collectors (a group of apes is called a “shrewdness”!) is indeed strong and deep. Observing them egg one another on via Twitter has a bit of the vibe of watching a cocaine-fueled game of Truth or Dare at a meet-up of Adult Swim fans.

At this point, everyone wants a piece of the Bored Ape heat, and the hype is producing some very weird mutations. Perhaps the best thing I found in my casual investigation was this Bored Ape tribute rap from Raleigh, North Carolina–based ExtraGramKen.

It’s worth the price of admission for this great verse paying homage to the randomly assigned drip of the Apes alone:

Rainbow, ooh, that’s rare

I love the one that’s rocking the gold hair

Laser eyes, better watch where you stare

So many clothes, my ape don’t know what to wear

Thus far, however, the Bored Ape anthem to beat is probably Bored Ape Rave Club, by mid-tier Dutch electronic act the Bassjackers. They’ve been cranking it every chance they get. Here they are at an outdoor venue in Ford Lauderdale last month.

According to the New Yorker, part of the appeal of the Bored Ape Yacht Club is that members feel like they are getting in on the ground floor of some great new IP that could launch a media empire like Disney. Whether these blank-faced, randomly bedecked simian avatars are the next Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck or the next 12 Oz. Mouse and Drinky Crow remains to be seen.

At least one aspiring webtoon serial, “Yawn of the Apes,” is making the case for BAYC as a vehicle for internet comedy, promising exciting appearances by “apes owned by top influencers in the NFT space (j1mmy.eth, Ronin The Collector, Pranksy) as well as cameos from your everyday NFTer.” Episode 2, “The Ape Factor,” dropped recently, and stars Ape #1092 screeching its way through a BAYC-themed singing show, giving ExtraGramKen and the Bassjackers a run for their money. It has the slightly desperate dada vibe of a lot of internet humor—but, you know, it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen (and it’s an improvement from the first “apisode”).

But perhaps the truest measure of the scene’s frothing enthusiasm is the rash of BAYC fans declaring their undying love for the five-month-old NFT initiative by getting inked with Bored Ape Yacht Club tattoos. I would go so far as to say that the bar has been raised: you are not a true Bored Ape stan unless you have made the definitive crossover from digital to IRL by permanently branding a Bored Ape somewhere visible on your body.

One collector known as @half_ape, who describes herself as a 26-year-old mother of two, posted on September 11, “I want to fill my arm with my favorite NFTs so when people ask, I can explain what an NFT is! And also because I want all this awesome art on my body.” She then showed off her fresh Ape ink.

If you are reading this and thinking that there is something slightly… cultish about the whole thing, well, after @half_ape posted a second image yesterday of her tattoo to prove it was permanent, a chorus of largely delighted BAYC fans took gleeful note of the assault rifle casually posed in the background.

So, I guess what I am saying is: Do not mess with the Bored Ape community. All hail our ape overlords.

 

2. What Could Go Wrong with a Museum Show Devoted to Deadly Toys? 

The promo for the Napa Museum's "Dangerous Toys" show.

The promo for the Napa Museum’s “Dangerous Toys” show.

In Yountville, California, the Napa Valley Museum is scheduled open “Dangerous Games: Treacherous Toys We Loved As Kids” at the end of this month, billing it as “the original exhibition devoted to the wacky, whammo, wonderful world of the Slip ‘N Slide, Lawn Darts, Creepy Crawlers, Clackers, and other tantalizingly toxic toys.”

In an exuberant initial press blast, the show boasted that it would highlight the 1950s-era Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which sought to inspire children toward careers in the burgeoning field of atomic science. The kit offered samples of actual uranium ore for children to experiment with, as well as beta-alpha, beta, and gamma radiation sources, and a Geiger counter, among other instruments.

A warning on the original U-238 set cautioned potential lil’ nuclear scientists: “Users should not take ore samples out of their jars, for they tend to flake and crumble and you would run the risk of having radioactive ore spread out in your laboratory.” Teasing the show, Napa Valley executive director Laura Rafaty was reported to joke that “to be on the safe side… the museum may have the Napa Bomb Squad visit.”

Alas, the promise of exploring potential irradiation was not the light-hearted draw everyone had hoped. The museum soon issued a corrected press release labeled “OOPS! CLARIFICATION,” stressing, with undimmed enthusiasm, “There are no dangerous chemicals in the exhibit and we’ll let you know if we have to call the bomb squad!” Still, the show has already done its work of hearkening back to a simpler time, when exposing your child to uranium was considered excellent parenting.

 

3) What Is Going on In VR Machu Picchu?

Screenshot of promotional blast for Machu Picchu VR experience.

Screenshot of promotional blast for Machu Picchu VR experience.

Via a press teaser for the big “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” show, opening October 16 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, we get a promise of the “First-Ever Virtual Reality Experience of the Mythical Fortress in the Sky.” And let me tell you, you will never have as much flirty fun in your life as this couple immersed in the glories of VR Machu Picchu, as they (I imagine) behold the legendary Intihuatana Stone…

 

4) Are These Guys the Bob Ross of VFX?

Bob Ross fever remains almost as high as Bored Ape fever. And so, enjoy this video from YouTube’s Corridor Crew, digital effects artists who usually critique Hollywood special effects. In this very special ep, the team raced against each other to recreate a Bob Ross painting tutorial with digital animation instead of paint, in the same half-hour time frame. And darned if they don’t do it.

While substantially less soothing than watching the beatific Ross, the VFX duel is fun, and the bucolic landscapes they conjure have a kind of next-gen charm. Not to ruin the ending, but if you’ve always dreamed that someday worlds might collide in a Joy of Painting crossover with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt—well, that day may be closer than you think!

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MoMA Survived Ten Weeks of Protest. But Inside the Museum, Some Employees Are Feeling the Strain


They stood outside, chanting a desire to “burn this fucking empire down.” They blocked the museum’s main entrance, leaving confused tourists to amble through some alternate corridor of the institution. They hosted teach-ins that covered everything from American racism to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. They unloaded boxes of plantains and spilled a container of red-dyed water because they believed trustees were “washing their hands with the blood of our people.”

But after ten weeks of protest, the dozens of activists who sought to dismantle the hierarchies controlling the Museum of Modern Art found themselves pushing against an immovable force. One month after the campaign’s end, the museum appeared outwardly unaffected by the demonstrations. Behind the scenes, however, the combination of the external pressure and shrinking staff has left signs of strain at one of the country’s most prominent institutions, according to several employees. 

***

The Strike MoMA Campaign, which ended on June 11 with a final march through Midtown, involved a number of activist organizations that called themselves the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings. The coalition formed in response to news that the billionaire Leon Black would leave his position as the museum’s chairman after widespread pressure from artists and activists over his ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. (Black remains on the board.)

Activists rally at the Museum of Modern Art. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Activists rally at the Museum of Modern Art. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Demonstrations were primarily led by members of Decolonize This Place, an organization that had led a nine-week protest campaign at the Whitney Museum which ended with the resignation of the vice chairman, Warren B. Kanders, who activists said was not fit to serve as a trustee because his company, Safariland, sold law enforcement and military supplies, including tear gas.

No such concessions were given at MoMA, where Glenn Lowry, the museum’s director, described the protesters as forces intending to “destroy” the beloved institution in an April email to staff.

“Do we have a lot more work to do? For sure,” he wrote at the time. “Can we be an even better institution? For sure. Is the protesters’ call to destroy MoMA the solution? I don’t see that helping anyone.” 

The conflict reached its boiling point on April 30, when the museum said it was forced to shut its doors after protesters attempted to force their way inside without abiding by health and safety rules. “The protesters chose not to act safely or peacefully,” a MoMA spokesperson told Midnight Publishing Group News after the confrontation. “The museum will always act to protect the health and safety of our staff and visitors.”

According to the spokesperson, two guards were injured by protesters. One protester said that she was punched by a guard when trying to access the museum through an alternate entrance. 

Police and Strike MoMA protesters. Photo: Zachary Small

Police and Strike MoMA protesters. Photo: Zachary Small

The museum later announced that five activists would be permanently banned from the institution. Dozens of police officers and several unmarked police cars started appearing at the protests. During another demonstration in May, which centered on the plight of Palestinians, a protester was tackled by police and arrested near the museum.

Some employees would come to the museum windows and look across 53rd Street on Friday afternoons, watching as activists congregated in the nearby plaza to raise their “Strike MoMA” flag. And when the protesters were initially locked out of the museum in April, at least two staffers walked out of the museum in frustration. 

It was a rare show of dissent within an institution that has largely avoided controversy or rank-breaking in a year when staff at large museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim have publicly confronted leadership on subjects like equity and diversity. 

***

Although the protests have ended, the mood inside MoMA remains tense, according to several staff members. The pressure from external forces coincided with an unprecedented moment of strain within the institution. Last summer, Lowry said in a video conference that his institution had reduced staff by nearly 160 employees and slashed $45 million from its overall budget.

MoMA has also experienced significant departures through the COVID-19 pandemic beyond what has been previously reported on its termination of contracts with 85 freelance educators. There have been buyouts and early retirement packages offered, and all three senior deputy directors have left the museum, with Ramona Bannayan, senior deputy director of exhibitions and collections, leaving in May.

A Strike MoMA action outside the museum. Photo: Zachary Small

A Strike MoMA action outside the museum. Photo: Zachary Small

A MoMA spokesperson did not respond to several requests for comment for this story, although a source close to the museum board said that a communications executive had informed trustees of this article before its publication.

Low morale and widespread feelings of burnout in what has become a middle-heavy organization have left some employees questioning the decisions of MoMA leadership, according to five staff members, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. 

Several employees said that the museum’s communications strategies inside and outside of its walls had become a source of division. “There isn’t space to talk about anything,” one said. “Our staff meetings involve questions that are all vetted beforehand.”

Another staff member estimated that nearly half the museum supported the protesters’ goals while the other half objected to them. But the fact that the museum had initially told staffers in a meeting that demonstrators would be allowed inside the building, only to lock the doors, stoked feelings of distrust among the employees who spoke with Midnight Publishing Group News.

“From the outset, there was a lot of anxiety from senior leadership and trustees that a majority of staffers might stage a walkout in solidarity with Strike MoMA,” said one employee. “So the museum decided to hide behind its security officers… putting staff, who are predominantly people of color, in harm’s way” when protesters arrived at the front doors. 

So many security guards had accepted early retirement packages that the department was excluded from a later buyout program, staffers said. Some employees speculated that the museum’s decision to reduce its security detail during the pandemic resulted in a situation where personnel were overextended and understaffed for the protests.

Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

“It’s bad enough that we don’t have any shows lined up for the special exhibition space, it’s that we don’t even have the manpower to put them up,” said another employee. “Art handlers aren’t allowed overtime anymore and people in temporary positions have been termed out. The museum isn’t currently trying to fill those positions.” 

***

During the final protest in June, many demonstrators interviewed by Midnight Publishing Group News said that Strike MoMA symbolized a beginning—not the end—of a larger movement aiming to hold cultural institutions accountable. Their actions, some hoped, would also expose the inequalities within the museum system—but they also served to illustrate just how large a gap remains between their goals and methods and those of traditional museum leaders. 

“The abolition of slavery should be followed by the abolition of the museum, where plunder continues to be cultivated as private property,” said Ariella Azoulay, a professor at Brown University who spoke to activists during an online component of the protests.

“A practice of repair,” Azoulay said, echoing what some employees inside the museum told Midnight Publishing Group News, “should take over the infrastructure of the Museum of Modern Art and become its guiding principle.”

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