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I just finished reading the book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson, a detailed overview of the art world from the perspectives of gallerists, auction houses, collectors and more. Sometimes snarky (very clear warnings are given to new-to-the-game collectors who think that buying fresh art from art school grads will result in later profits), sometimes awed (by collectors such as Charles Saatchi), Thompson maintains his truthful tone throughout the book. I felt as if I was getting inside information that most people weren’t privy to–an internship in a book.

After reading two books about the art sphere I feel as if I need a break: even the people who are most closely involved with auctions and the art trade can’t fully explain why a Picasso goes for $78 million at auction–it is difficult to extrapolate on assumptions that paintings are worth that much after a certain point, since the foundation is so unstable. Regardless, for paintings under about $30 million, the price scales are easier to comprehend, and the various stories that Thompson provides about the art trade are engaging.

A few fun facts:
1. Le peau de l’ours was the first art fund (like a stock fund, but with its managers betting that art will gain value in the future instead), and it was wildly successful in the beginning of the 20th century. There are two competing theories for the reason behind the name: either it was named for the bearskin hanging on the wall in their office or it was named for an old french folktale in which hunters sold the skin of the bear before catching the bear itself, a tongue-in-cheek statement about what they were doing (and my preferred theory).

2. Santiago Serra, a Spanish/Mexican artist, is famous for his bold artistic moves: on top of his decision to burn down the gallery in which he was showing as a form of protest towards its commercial orientation, he once traded prostitutes heroin in exchange for the right to tattoo a line down the center of their back and photograph it. He also barred the entrance to the Lisson gallery in London with metal grates, so that the upper class gentry that flocked to his exhibition could feel the sting of being excluded as the masses did each day. Another work was proposed at the Kunsthalle in Vienna, where he wanted to strip all of the museum employees to the waist (from head curator to janitor) and display them in a progression of skin tones from dark to light as a commentary about the relationship between privilege and skin tone.

Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, for which the book was named, sold for $12 Million (reportedly) to Steve Cohen.

I loved this book, and no, I don’t own any kind of copyright to it.

One of my favorite things about visiting a new city is that moment in which you know that you have crossed the divide between commerce and life–in some cities, there is none: the infrastructure is too big, and the flash that the city maintains is actually where the typical resident makes his home. In some, however (and I can think of two specific cases on opposite parts of the globe) the edges of life are more well-defined.

In both Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Bruges, Belgium, there is a long entrance from the highway to the inner city, well-decorated with indicators that you are, in fact, on your way to the heart of the city. Grocery stores, smaller antiques shops, restaurants line the proverbial yellow brick road. Then, excitement hits as you set your sights on the heart of the city and see what was once described to you via the internet or Fodor’s. Famous bathhouses, clock towers, lavish shopping pacify visitors who don’t realize that what you’re exposed to is in some ways a shell of a city: the majority of people who call the city their home live in less crowded, more elemental surroundings.

The moment when you understand the break is always refreshing after days of crowded markets and unregulated rush.

The break in Bruges.

Went to the Masur Museum for the first time this summer, can’t wait until I can start putting together my own exhibition on John Baeder (next week!).

Anyway, here are some of the photos I never uploaded from Europe.
 
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One of my first days in Paris, in front of the Maison Internationale opposite my dorm.

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Francisco at the park in the 14th arrondisement.

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Me at the park in the 14th arrondisement.

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Amiens, France

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Amiens, France

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Amiens, France

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Bruges, Belgium

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Canal in Bruges

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I kind of went to Finland (Brussels, Belgium)

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Belgium Babys.

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Well, this turned out to be an extremely random assortment of photos–I was pulling from the disorganized mess I pulled from Fco’s hard drive that was filtered through the lens of tiny horrible thumbnails.

I will probably upload more.

 

The Netherlands are truly incredible. It’s hard to write with all these thoughts spinning in my head and finals at my tail, but something was truly great about that place, its art, and its people.

France is fast-paced, ludicrous, high tension, ever-running, competitive, ancient, steeped in history and in blood, passionate about everything and sensitive to it at the same time, where nothing is isolated and conserved by one emotion but complicated, always complicated. In France you are beholden to everything and everyone, and as a foreigner or a Frenchman you are a part of the social fabric, you have a role in society no matter what role it is, and everyone around you is intensely aware of the point in space that you occupy. There are free times, of climbing trees and seeing films, yet they are built into the structure of everyday life, planned for but embraced with the heart and soul of the people living those experiences. Two lovers in a park will completely disentangle themselves from their daily lives for an afternoon in the park, enjoying each other and the sun exclusively before resuming their wonderfully hectic schedule, allowing the meaning to seep into their infinitely productive states of being.

It’s amazing how different a society three hours north by train can be so completely different.

The language knocked me off balance at first. For someone who is moderately well-traveled, I have never been in a place where I could not speak bits and pieces of the language before. Then the people knocked me off balance. They were kind but never relinquished, well-spoken and intensely aware of the culture that they have created for themselves–it is no accident that the Netherlands ended up the way that they did. The people have a sure and open acceptance for those who come to the Netherlands looking to embrace it, not overpower it. There was very little illusion, but there was magic sewn into its architectural and artistic being. To my knowledge, there was no modern controversy over the Iamsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum as there was for the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre–the sign is, and will be, and has integrated itself seamlessly into what the Netherlands represent–carefree love, bound by intelligence and common sense, bordered by quiet pride.

The first day we spent in rolling through parks, stopping to glance in the Van Gogh museum (uncluttered; conscious of its own strengths; flawlessly curated) and taking a dip in a shallow fountain that became a spontaneous public pool in the middle of the spring. The gait was always fast but people walked for the joy of walking.

The red light district was dark and full of contradictions, contorted into a shadowed playground for the lost. Even in the fast-food restaurants, shopkeepers dangled sweet donuts in front of your face, eat this in place of going there, doing that. Amsterdam was electric and alive, and for once I felt not like I was walking through a ghost town populated by the descendants of history past, but as if I was in the here and now, living as history was being written.

The rest of the Netherlands thrived off of that same sense of self cultivated in Holland. I spent Sunday sailing near Zwolle in a sailboat without a motor, tied to the air and the sun and the water below me as I helped adjust the sails and direct our path, like learning to walk again after being reborn. I spent the day in quiet, sunburnt bliss.

If you’re reading this, Robert and Indira, thanks for one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.

I need to start practicing my cycling.

I’ve had six bedrooms in the past two years: six different beds that I have considered my bed, and six different places that I have tried to personalize and recreate the previous living space. Two years ago, if you had asked me where I come from, I would’ve said California without hesitating, giving the ‘halfway between SF and Lake Tahoe’ description I’ve been using to indicate my fairly unknown, nondescript town of origin. Lately, though, with my house in California out of reach and my official change of residence to Monroe, Louisiana, I’ve called myself Louisianan (and therefore an expert on all things made with crawfish, seafood and rice, as people are wont to believe). Living in Chicago has further complicated matters, and the change of beds and living conditions at the start of each year doesn’t make anything more clear; neither do my sojourns to Santiago or Paris.

I still consider California my point of origin, with snippets of Louisiana living added in once every few months, and I still get giddy when I meet people who are familiar with my part of the state (like yesterday’s “Your boyfriend is from Walnut Creek?! I was born there!”), but I wouldn’t describe myself as settled in any particular place anymore.

I bet there are a lot of people here in Paris who feel similarly given the range of languages that I encounter on the Metro each day. I’m not sure how I feel about this–maybe I’m just floating around until I make my next big move. Odds are that it won’t be soon.