High-Brow Aspirations

Lady Gaga often mentions that she aspires to be more than just a pop-star. Her idols are high-art superstars such as Marina Abramovic, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons who created a sculpture of LadyGaga for her latest album ARTPOP.

Gaga is not the only mainstream musician with such aspirations. On the 10th of July, 2013, Jay-Z performed an Abramovic-inspired endurance piece at Pace Gallery in New York City, where he lip-synced for six consecutive hours the lyrics to Picasso Baby whose opening lyrics are: “ I just want a Picasso in my casa / No, my castle.”

Like Gaga and Koons’ collaboration, Jay-Z’s hobnobbing with the echelons of the contemporary art world is an attempt to gain high-art/white-gallery street cred, but it’s also an opportunity to harness the derivatives of their interactions into commercial marketing channels—Jay-Z’s performance was filmed and edited into a music video. When Jay-Z name-checks artists in his lyrics such as Jeff Koons, Jean Michel Basquiat, Shepard Fairey, and Mark Rothko (Lyrics from Who Gon Stop Me: “Pablo Picasso, Rothko’s, Rilke’s/Graduated to the MoMA, and I did all of this without a diploma.”), he is communicating the idea that he is both an art aficionado and wealthy enough to spend millions of dollars collecting art-objects. After all, it’s much expensive to buy a Rothko painting than it is a new Lamborghini. Purchasing expensive art is one of the few ways that the super-rich can truly distinguish themselves, and gain access to art-circles that ‘commoners’ could never even dream of attending.

Art snobs proudly present their aesthetic dispositions in order to alienate themselves from commoners while believing that they are elevating their own social status. However, there can never be a clear divide between the aesthetic taste of different groups of people. Culture is generated by conversation, and high-brow and low-brow constantly intermingle as exemplified in the kitschy pop art of Eduardo Paolozzi or Roy Lichtenstein—who appropriated images from DC Comics’ Secret Hearts series.

One of the most prestigious contemporary art fairs is Frieze which takes place every year in October in London’s Regent’s Park for approximately four days–not including the VIP private view the day before the fair is open to the public. While Frieze is primarily a commercial art market that brings together the world’s top art galleries into contact with ultra rich collectors, it has also incorporated a series of free artist and curator talks akin to a pop-up university. Nevertheless, you’d be naïve to think that Frieze caters to the masses. In fact, in 2013, Frieze reduced the number of tickets sold to the public by 20% not because there was a lack of exhibition space for visitors but rather to ensure that the ratio of invited visitors isn’t too diluted by the general public—creating a situation where everyday of the fair in 2013 was sold out for the public.

While Frieze 2013 presented some works art that would be ilegible to the laymen, most of the works were accessible either as conventionally beautiful objects that are often shiny or as humorous and incongruent objects/images. Indeed, you don’t have to have a degree in art history to be entertained by Dan Perjovschi’s Freedom of Speech 1, Elmgreen & Dragset’s witty Tombstone dedicated to Tomorrow, or by Nicola L’s comic and surrealist Woman Ironing Table.

DanPerjovschi

[Dan Perjovschi, Freedom of Speech 1, 2010, Galerija Greggor Podnar]

Elmer&Dragset

[Gravestone dedicated to Tomorrow from Elmgreen & Dragset at Massimo De Carlo, 2013]

Nicola_L

[Nicola L, Woman Ironing Table, 2005]

Takashi Murakami’s ‘super flat’ style is also highly accessible to gallery newcomers as it appropriates pop cultural elements such as comics, capitalist consumerism and fetishized sexuality. Murakami has also contributed to popular culture through his long-lasting collaboration with Louis Vuitton’s series of handbags.

Murakami_NakedSelfPortrait

[Naked Self Portrait with POM (Gold) by Takashi Murakami, 2013] 

Murakami_PinkCircus

[Murakami’s Pink Circus: Embrace Peace and Darkness within Thy Heart, 2013]

Strolling through Frieze Art Fair, one can almost forget that this is a marketplace rather than a museum. And yet, What on earth would move someone to pay over $10 million to purchase any of Jeff Koons’ sculptures (One of Koons’ balloon dog pieces was recently sold at Christie’s for $58.4 million) ?

JeffKoons

[Jeff Koons’ sculptures at the Gagosian gallery booth in Frieze; including Sacred Heart (Blue/Magenta) ]

According to acclaimed sociologist Bourdeua “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.” Perhaps, the buyer of a Koons piece believes that he/she is projecting an immeasurable amount of wealth and prosperity while indicating some sort of sophisticated aesthetic. And yet, one can’t help but wonder if that money could have been spent more wisely. Overall, the incestuous relationship between high-brow art and pop-culture can produce some magnificent products, but in an a-la-Gaga manner, it can also falter towards a ‘bad romance.’

Posted in Contemporary Art by admin on May 9th, 2014 Comments Off

The bitcoin of the Art World

Checkout issue 6 of The Unlimited Magazine with my article on s[edition] and digital art:
http://theunlimitedmag.com/issue-6/

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 2.41.22 AM

Virtually Real by Etan Jonathan Ilfeld 

As Walter Benjamin has pointed out, art that is mechanically reproducible is perceived differently than traditional art such as painting. Not surprisingly, it took a while until photography was considered high art, and began selling for considerable prices at auction houses (e.g. Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96, 1981, sold in 2011 for $3.89 million). Video-art has faced similar challenges, but thanks to digital technology, video-art is becoming democratized and affordable. Putting a price on a film has always been complex. Although cinemas have commodified the feature film such that the same ticket price will apply to a $200M blockbuster as it will to a low-budget independent film, the pricing of video-art remains elusive and transient.

Traditionally, video-art followed in the footsteps of photography and featured a limited edition series, where the price of each piece increased with the sale of each additional piece so that the last piece in an edition is the most expensive. However, it was a lot easier to collect, preserve, and display photography than it was video-art, which requires electricity and maintaining a technology that can quickly fall out of date (e.g. VCR Cassettes).

s[edition] aims to change all of this—its online platform and marketplace make digital art accessible to anyone with internet access. s[edition] sells limited editions of photography and video art, maintains a centralized registry, issues certificates to buyers, and helps store the artworks in a digital vault. The collector doesn’t have to worry about preserving the work and can display it via the apps that s[edition] develops for iPads, smart TVs, and web browsers. s[edition] also has a secondary marketplace that allows collectors to sell the pieces they purchased once the edition has been sold out.

Is s[edition] a sort of rich-man’s Vine or the bitcoin of the art world? Although the jury is still out, s[edition] has done a great job in getting celebrity artists to join its ranks. Tracey Emin already sold seven different art works, such as Love Is What You Want, a video-art piece in her typical neon-art style, an edition of 2000, priced at $80. Meanwhile, you can buy a stunning mandala-like photo, Idolatry, by Damien Hirst for as little as $10, or a Bill Viola video, “A Phrase from ‘Chris’,” from hisTransfiguration series, for $200.

s[edition] also serves as a social network where you can follow different artists and collectors, as well as showcase your own collection. For example, while following artist Aaron Koblin, you’ll be able to see that he is selling his Flight Patterns video, that he has 96 different collectors on the platform, as well as 417 followers, and that he has collected four art works: a Wim Wenders photo that a few others had purchased, a video piece by Sougwen Chuno, and two video pieces by his former mentor at UCLA, Casey Reas. In addition to its curated blue-chip artists, s[edition] has recently opened its platform to emerging artists, who already feature a wide range of innovative works. Perhaps, the 21st century’s Picasso will be discovered on the Internet.

 

Posted in Contemporary Art by admin on March 19th, 2014 Comments Off

Binary: The Graphic Novel

I’m delighted to share that the graphic novel that I’ve been developing over the last few years is now available on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1484862740

BINARY, a graphic novel based on an award-winning science fiction book, has been published by London-based Ilfeld Comics.

Written by Christopher Hinz and illustrated by Jon Proctor, BINARY reimagines the events of Hinz’s “Liege-Killer,” which won the Compton Crook Award for best first novel and earned a nomination for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. In BINARY, a soldier from Earth’s violent past awakens into peaceful space colonies to hunt an assassin who exists simultaneously in two bodies.

Hinz, who has scripted comics for DC and Marvel, is the author of “Spartan X” and the Paratwa Saga trilogy that begins with “Liege-Killer.” Proctor has drawn high-profile characters such as Batman and Wolverine for major publishers.Lettering is by Comicraft and the cover by Stephan Martiniere, a Hugo winner for best professional artist.The graphic novel includes an original prose story by Hinz set in the universe of the Paratwa Saga.

BINARY was produced by Stuart Moore and Marie Javins of Botfriend Productions, and by Etan Ilfeld. It is available in print through Amazon and digitally via Comixology.

Posted in Books by admin on May 26th, 2013 2 Comments »

Gender at the Oscars

Checkout my latest essay on the Academy Awards and gender, which considers whether actors will be able to win best actor(ess) in the future based on the gender performed rather than the actor’s actual gender.

Posted in Uncategorized by admin on March 29th, 2013 Comments Off

Beyond Contemporary Art

I’m so excited to have published my first book, Beyond Contemporary Art, which is an image-driven contemporary art book and spans disciplines ranging from science, design and architecture to new media, film-making and performance art.

Beyond Contemporary Art

You can also watch a video about the book here:

Click to watch the video behind the book with Ilfeld

Posted in Uncategorized by admin on December 16th, 2012 Comments Off

Deepak Chopra interview

I recently had a great interview with Deepak Chopra after reading his book, Super Brain:

Click image to play Deepak Chopra’s interview with Etan Ilfeld

Deepak emphasizes that the brain is an extraordinary part of ourselves, and that it has a profound influence on our bodies (e.g. a healthy and happy brain improves our immune system and vice versa–our health influences our emotional balance).

When I asked Deepak what was the hardest thing about being a celebrity, he explained that too many people forget that he’s a regular guy and that they project unrealistic characteristics unto him.

Deepak’s long term goals are to catalyze a critical mass of people that advocate a mind-body and spiritual connection. He’s definitely well on his way.

You can listen to the interview here:

Deepak Chopra Interview with Etan Ilfeld

And there will be more content in issue 33 of the Watnkins Mind Body Spirit magazine, which can be bought at Watkins Books.

Posted in Uncategorized by admin on December 16th, 2012 1 Comment »

Books to read

This is my first blog post, and I’m just a few days ahead of the end of the Mayan calendar… Hopefully, the humanity shall survive, after which, I’m looking forward to hibernating in Lonodn: reading books, watching movies and just spending lots of time in bed.

Books that I plan to read this winter include: You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier, Watching the British by Kate Fox, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window by Jonas Jonasson, and The Sexual Life of Catherine M by Catherine Millet.

Posted in Books by admin on December 13th, 2012 1 Comment »