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stefan simchowitz: my kind of scum

Stefan Simchowitz has attracted a lot of negative attention in the art world. The New York Times labeled him the “The Art World’s Patron Satan.” For example:

Critics charge that Simchowitz often preys on vulnerable young artists without gallery representation — some say without talent — and buys up huge quantities of their work, then flips the pieces back and forth at escalating prices among a cultivated group of buyers: a network of movie stars, professional poker players, orthodontists, nightclub promoters, financiers, football players and corned-beef magnates, many of whom hold Simchowitz in such high esteem that they’re willing to purchase the pieces he acquires for them sight unseen, artist unnamed. In March, in an online screed for New York magazine, the art critic Jerry Saltz tore into Simchowitz with unusual ferocity, dubbing him a “Sith Lord” and the Pied Piper of the “New Cynicism.” Simchowitz’s artists may enjoy a temporary surge in prices, his critics argue, but they typically see little of the upside; in any case, or so the story goes, once their bubbles pop, they’re left for dead.

Many important galleries have blacklisted Simchowitz as a buyer, forcing him to take extreme measures to secure desired work, including using consultants as undercover mules. Simchowitz told me about a recent scheme in which he had a consultant buy three pieces from Essex Street, a Lower East Side gallery. The purchase was nominally on behalf of another client, but the ultimate recipient was Simchowitz; by the time the gallery suspected the ruse, money had already changed hands, but the pieces had not been delivered. The gallery requested that Simchowitz not only cancel the purchase but also return another piece by the same artist that was already in his possession, which he did. Moreover, the gallerist, furious over what happened, called the other client to inform him that he was colluding in fraud, an accusation that heartily amused Simchowitz. (Asked for comment, the gallery responded, “Essex Street has never done business with Stefan Simchowitz.”)

I am a lot less alarmed by Simchowitz and even delight in his irreverence and trash talk. Aside from the trash talk, one reason that he draws controversy is his embrace of the market side of art. He thinks “flipping,” which is just another word for “quickly selling at a profit,” is great and has argued that it indicates strength of an artist. Another source of the controversy is patronage of young artists. One could argue that being so dependent on one person creates too much risk.

I tend to think these arguments, for the most part, are misplaced, or overblown. For example, almost all relationships in the art world have ups and downs. People can get traditional gallery representation and then have stalled careers. There are routinely lawsuits filed against galleries because of shady business deals. Artists can get burned as well. Private “dealers” like Simchowitz have no monopoly on good, or bad, business decisions.

If an artist strives to be in the “right” collections, Simchowitz, and flipping in general, may not be optimal, but he’s still preferable to not having a career at all. He’s probably equivalent to having a good, but not elite, dealer behind you.

On a deeper level, I have to give Simchowitz a thumbs up simply because he puts his money where his mouth is. If he likes it, he pays in cash. The trade off is that you are locked in. But, so what? That’s a standard way to reduce uncertainty. Also, he’s like a good business manager in that he provides personal support to help younger people who may not know how to deal with the business side of things. And worse comes to worse, if you hate him, it seems like you can “paint your way out of it,” in the same way a musician can finish a contract by just chunking out the last few records.

He may be crass and direct, and he may embrace practices the art world deems inappropriate. At the end of the day, there’s some artists who stayed in the game and succeeded because he gave them a room and ten thousand bucks. I wonder if he’ll take my calls?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

April 7, 2015 at 12:01 am

one of my peeps once told me to check out witold lutoslowski but i never followed up. so here’s to you avi-p, still [heart] u, man.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

April 5, 2015 at 12:02 am

enter: the sucklord

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

April 3, 2015 at 12:01 am

orchestra data

Via Shamus – a website with a big data set on the history of the New York Philharmonic:

The New York Philharmonic played its first concert on December 7, 1842. Since then, it has merged with the New York Symphony, the New/National Symphony, and had a long-running summer season at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium. This Performance History database documents all known concerts of all of these organizations, amounting to more than 20,000 performances. The New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives provides an additional interface for searching printed programs alongside other digitized items such as marked music scores, marked orchestral parts, business records, and photos.

In an effort to make this data available for study, analysis, and reuse, the New York Philharmonic joins organizations like The Tate and the Cooper-Hewitt in making its own contribution to the Open Data movement.

The metadata, which is released under the Creative Commons Public Domain CC0 licence, is located on the New York Philharmonic’s GitHub page.

Sounds like a feast for a musical orgtheorist. Go to it!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

March 31, 2015 at 12:03 am

Posted in big data, culture, fabio

what higher ed might share with the ferguson p.d.

This has been hanging in my mind ever since the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson police department came out a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been loathe to write about it for fear of trivializing the events in Ferguson. Also, it seems somewhat obvious. But I think it’s important to highlight how the problem the Ferguson PD is facing is not a problem unique to the criminal justice system, but that it shares with other social institutions. Since I haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere — though feel free to comment if you have — here goes.

In its damning indictment of the Ferguson PD — an indictment that has already cost the police chief and the city manager their jobs — DOJ points to the city’s focus on generating revenue as causing many of its problems. In combination with systemic racism, which the DOJ report also documents, the city of Ferguson has come to see its residents — especially its African-American residents — as cash machines rather than citizens it is meant to serve and protect. In the words of the report,

The City’s emphasis on revenue generation has a profound effect on FPD’s approach to law enforcement….Officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued. Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.

Sometimes I worry that something analogous is in the future of higher ed. Not just that budget cuts will starve it into a shadow of its former self, or that it is coming to serve more as a mechanism of social exclusion than mobility. (Though I worry about those things too.)

My biggest fear is that a similar focus on revenue generation — on seeing students not as people to be educated but as income streams — will essentially corrupt the institution. And it will do so in ways that are most harmful to the least advantaged.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by epopp

March 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm

crate digging with neneh cherry

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!! 

Written by fabiorojas

March 8, 2015 at 12:01 am

collective memory & presidents – a guest post by raj ghoshal

This guest post is by Raj Ghoshal, an assistant professor of sociology at Goucher College. Previously we discussed presidents and collective memory in these two posts: Warren G. Harding is awesome & popular presidents kill people.

Presidents’ Day had me thinking about presidential rankings and collective memory. We commonly learn that a certain set of our presidents were great, while others were not – and for presidencies we (or our parents) didn’t personally live through, history textbooks and teachers are often the messengers. But how do presidential historians determine greatness? Are there sociological patterns worth noticing?

I looked at Wikipedia’s aggregation of U.S. presidential rankings by historians. A few patterns jumped out:

  1. Era matters greatly. Presidents who held office during broad periods of prosperity or national success are more likely to be considered great. Of course, presidents influence a country’s well-being, but the size of the era effects suggests historians are like the rest of us: they give individual presidents more credit or blame than they deserve. The first seven presidents, associated with the country’s birth and rise, are all ranked positively—this should be only 0.8% probable, if ratings are independent of era effects. The twelfth through twenty-first are all rated negatively, with the striking exception of Lincoln. (Perhaps Lincoln was genuinely greater, perhaps others could have been equally successful in leading through the Civil War, and/or perhaps his star dims the lights for those who came around him.) Presidents leading up to the Great Depression are rated poorly (#s 29-31), those in the era coming out of the Depression are rated positively (#s 32 to 36), and the mixed economic and social trends of the last five decades have yielded mainly average presidential ratings. Across these periods, the clustering is clear enough that individual differences between presidents are unlikely to be the sole cause.
  2. Presidential historians’ collective memory is stable, as the surveys show great consensus over time (this doesn’t mean that individual historians agree, since each data point is a survey). The only two cases out of all 43 where there’s even moderate evidence of changes in historians’ opinions after a president leaving office are Reagan and perhaps Nixon, and those changes are small, even though their supposed rehabilitations were widely discussed in the press (G.W. Bush’s standing among historians fell, but the drop came while he was still in office). While memory projects or changing norms can alter historical figures’ standing, this doesn’t seem to be very common with American presidents. More broadly, studying change is often interesting and revealing, but we should remember that change is usually the exception rather than the rule.
  3. For the five presidents where there’s data, future ratings closely follow the ratings a president had while in office. These five cases also suggest that historians tend to evaluate currently-in-office presidents fairly positively, at least at first. It’s impossible to disentangle this from era effects without more data, though.
  4. I didn’t look at how closely historians’ opinion follows public opinion, economic news, wars, or success in getting one’s agenda enacted, but those all probably matter too.

Feel free to use the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

February 24, 2015 at 5:41 pm

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