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All’s Fair at the Fair: Eric Shiner, Warhol Museum’s Director, Defends Getting Cozy with Commerce

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Eric Shiner, director, Andy Warhol Museum, chats with vistors at the Armory Show in New York
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In today’s NY Times review of the Armory Show, Karen Rosenberg described Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner‘s close participation in this commercial art extravaganza as “the boundary-blurring of a museum director playing curator at an art fair (and justifying this decision with the old Warholian saw about art and business).”

I’ve already issued some cutting commentary about this “old Warholian saw.” As I said here (in a post about Shiner’s shine for Brillo), the business-friendly practices of some artists, like Warhol and Murakami, “doesn’t give museums license to loosen their [own] ethical standards” regarding the promotion of commercial interests.

I queried Eric about this when I ran into him Wednesday at the Armory Show, for which he served as curator of Armory Focus USA, which aims (in his words) “to give a barometer of what contemporary art from America has become.”

Here’s what Shiner said to justify his applying his talents to enhancing a selling show:

When I first was approached, I thought, “There’s always a divide between the commercial world and the museum world and many people are afraid to tread over those borderlines.” And I thought, “We are always working together with commercial galleries for exhibitions and loans to museums. We certainly have a symbiotic relationship.”

And I thought, “What other opportunity am I ever going to have to curate something within a commercial environment and to perhaps make fun of that environment and perhaps tweak it a little bit from within?”

And I then realized that if anyone was able to do this, the director of the Andy Warhol Museum would be able to do something like that, because Andy saw no discrepancy at all between art and business [emphasis added]. It was the same. That gave me enough confidence to move forward to do this sort of thing, and I really wanted to see what it would mean to do a creative section within the commercial environment.

The Brillo boxes [stacked at the entrance to the fair] are a very good example. We’re giving those away for free, inside a commercial environment, which you wouldn’t ordinarily expect. They’re by a young artist named Charles Lutz, who did his own “Warhols.”

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Flattened by visitors for easier transport: Charles Lutz’s Warholesque boxes. 2013
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

We’re giving 200 away a day. And we rebuild the pile, which is in the form of the Tower of Babel:

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Charles Lutz, “Babel (Stockholm Type), 2013, before being dismantled by visitors.
(The purported Warhol “Stockholm” boxes themselves had a problematic history.)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

We have built a focus room so you can go inside. Liz [Magic Laser, the 2013 Armory-commissioned artist] conducted a series of focus groups as her project. We wanted people to be able to go in to watch this there as a performance unto itself—the ultimate enactment of the commercial artworld.

A scene from video of an Armory Show focus group, project of LIz Magic Laser Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

A scene from video of an Armory Show focus group—a project by Liz Magic Laser
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

This statistical teeshirt is one of Liz’s “limited edition artworks”:

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Shiner wasn’t the only museum dignitary imparting his luster to this event. Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (the beneficiary of the Armory Show’s opening party), addressed the scribe tribe at the pre-preview press conference:

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MoMA’s Glenn Lowry at the podium. Seated: Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who also spoke); NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin (who didn’t)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Other MoMA-ites roaming the piers included President Marie-Josée Kravis (decked out in a splended coat)…

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Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

…and President Emerita Agnes Gund (facing camera), chowing down with Lowry (on the right):

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To get a sense of how I felt about some of the art that I randomly encountered as I trolled the aisles (including a couple of things that I wanted to take home with me), you’ll have to consult my Mar. 6 @CultureGrrl Twitter feed. Twitter seemed to me the best journalistic genre for capturing how one flits among booths at this fleeting event.

Here’s one sample tweet:

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Maybe I ought to revisit this show, in a more buoyant mood now that my fabulous ophthalmologist, in cataract surgery yesterday, has miraculously restored my distance vision to the 20-20 (without glasses) of my teenage years. (Now if only he could do something similar for my physique!)

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