Craveable - The Culture Craver Blog
This week, Culture Craver’s co-founder, Julia Levy, had the chance to talk with artist Adriana Farmiga, who just completed a solo show at LaMama. Adriana discussed her formula for figuring out what art to see and the importance of forming your own opinions rather than becoming a disciple of any one source. She also became the first Craveable interviewee yet to relate creating desire for art to preparing borscht.
Julia: How do you decide what to see next?
Adriana: At this point I have a formula that I’ve developed. I grew up around New York City so I consider myself a New Yorker. I went to school here. I show here. I teach here. I enjoy life here. I’m a New Yorker in all senses of the word. Really, it’s a combination of things: I still read newspapers. Then there’s the incredibly active, informative and critically minded cyber community of artists and critics, which is an amazing and an invaluable resource. There’s always the ubiquitous Facebook. Besides your friends, if you get yourself networked into the people who are either critical within the art world or critical of the art world, it ends up informing your choices of what you should see. If you’ve been around long enough, you end up forming those connections to that kind of community. One of the perks of being part of a larger community like that is essentially having a really big bulletin board.
Julia: So everybody is posting different events and people are responding?
Adriana: Yeah. For example, there was a post this week — Gallerist New York did a story about Artists Space. I was checking Facebook waiting on a line to pay for something, and came across it. And both Ken Johnson, (NYT critic), and Jerry Saltz (NY Mag) posted links to the article with their own commentary, each diametrically opposed to the other's. It was amazing and funny to be able to navigate through the fine print of the article itself, then to be able to parse through what Ken was saying, then Jerry — and then to see how their followers, either hallelujiah'd, or disagreed with it. That’s a profound thing when you consider that wasn’t happening ten years ago.
Julia: The immediate feedback and opinion?
Julia: Do you find you are always in one camp or another camp, or do you go back and forth in who you trust?
Adriana: I’ve learned to pitch my own tent. It's all too often that someone feels they need to pick a camp, or, rather, picks a socially designated arbiter of culture to follow. It's a disservice that inflicts that individual with tunnel vision. A lot of the art critics that are active on Twitter are very vocal about the “post disciples” that Jerry has on his Facebook account, so it’s fascinating to contrast the formats of Twitter to Facebook, as an example, where the arc of criticism and tone of dialogue can vary dramatically.
Julia: So, you check out everything and then, using your own filter on the world, figure out what’s worth your time?
Adriana: Yeah. I have friends. I have colleagues. There’s a massive community that I feel constantly plugged into. That’s part of the benefit of having lived in New York as long as I have and been able to navigate through many different facets of the art and entertainment world. I consider it a blessing. It’s great.
Julia: So, is there anything you’re dying to see right now?
Adriana: Well, the Whitney Biennial is coming up.
Julia: That’s on my Crave List on Culture Craver.
Adriana: There's a constantly revolving carousel of gallery shows and I just have to keep updating my list. The Triennial just opened at the New Museum, and my former studio mate and friend, Julia Dault, has work in it. I’ve already caught a few commentaries and write-ups on Twitter, so I feel like I’ve at least gotten the flavor of it. I’m coming off of a big solo show myself, so I’m still in need of taking a nap. [See images below]
Adriana: I do it all. I feel like that’s the only way to experience this city.Julia: That’s fair. Do you mostly focus on visual art, or do you go to film, music, theater, any other art forms?
Julia: Do you find that most people are like that or most have a favorite art form?
Adriana: I think it varies. I probably have more of a unique set of circumstances: one, I grew up in the area; two, I grew up in a tightly knit Ukrainian immigrant community, so we were always immersed in the arts. We couldn’t just dance — we had to dance, play the piano, swim, take art classes, poetry lessons — and this was all during the week — not to mention Saturday School and scouts. My cousin, who's more like a sister to me, is the actress Vera Farmiga, so I get to live vicariously in the entertainment circuit through her. But at the same time, I'm able to identify movies or films that are at Anthology Archive or Film Forum that have nothing to do with her or Hollywood.
Julia: So, I want to move to the idea of creating desire. Culture Craver is built around the idea of Craving — allowing people to say, “I want to go to this.” If you’re not making an active choice, it’s silly in a world where there are so many options and you have limited time. I’m really interested in how people creating art are thinking about their eventual audience. Maybe it’s not your job — maybe you don’t see it as your job — to create an audience. But I’m interested in that pathway from the creation to the people who end up going.
Adriana: As an artist, I’ve had a really interesting trajectory. A few years ago, I was able to work for the collector Peter Norton. Through that experience, I was able to see the very opposite end of the art world from which I came to as an artist. It was kind of like having this Wizard of Oz experience: where from one extreme to the other, there is this complete demystification that happens. It’s all of the levels and strata in between that make things see so much more complicated.
Julia: What surprised you most when you were on the other side of the curtain?
Adriana: Just how accessible a lot of these collectors and museum directors can be. Meaning, they’re people, who are just as curious and invested in all of this as I am. That’s what surprised me. I’m sure it holds true for any other structural format. Don’t people always say horrible things about middle management? I’m not saying that that end of the art world is pure in any sense- it's never that black and white- but this experience allowed me to see the human element of it, for which I'm grateful.
Julia: How does this experience relate to the idea of “craving”?
Adriana: I saw an accessibility with that experience that allowed me to see the way the art world functions in so many other and different ways. It made the picture much clearer for me. Part of my experience there was going on site visits for the Peter Norton Family Foundation … we would go around to X number of nonprofits that had submitted proposals for funding. This was every month — a revolving door of proposals and submissions from 501(c)(3)s, that said hey we want to do this or we really need X amount of money for this specific show or for general operating, etc. Participating in this process allowed me to appreciate and understand the nonprofit structure in a very unique way. To me, it kind of felt like post-graduate work in a sense because it wasn’t informing the work in my studio but it was informing the way that I perceive my studio in the larger context — the context of a larger art world. So now, I’m a working artist, a showing artist, but also a programming advisor to a nonprofit. I’ve been able to place myself in a position where I get to create opportunities for artists or projects that wouldn’t be possible in the commercial Chelsea machine. So, to me, part of that process about creating craving, generating desire is very much a grassroots model.
Adriana: Here’s an analogy: When you make a good borscht — and I give my students a recipe for borscht the first day of class —
Julia: How many actually make it?
Adriana: I don’t know. I should have them make it and bring it to class. When you make a good borscht, the magic happens on many different levels at the same time. It’s a synchronized magic. And you can’t say: “Oh, it’s all about the beets,” because that's just beet soup.
Julia: You’re saying it’s all of the different elements in the soup. It’s not just a marketing guy saying, “Hey, you should go to this” that brings people through the door. It’s the whole evolution and it all coming together that leads people to come.
Julia: Has that always been, or has the way you make the soup changed over the course of your career?
Adriana: Somewhat. I think you get keener to the ingredients.
Julia: So if you were advising students or someone who just moved to New York about how to make sense of the art world, what would you say?
Adriana: You have to leave your computer and go see shows. You can’t look a show up or a relevant project up and have the same experience seeing it online through a gallery’s website as you can in a physical space. That’s how I started, so I feel like it makes sense to get my students started in a similar direction.
Julia: By just going out and experiencing things?
Adriana: Yes. And that part is hard because we have so much opportunity in terms of information and how we can access it. There’s this site and that site: there’s ArtCat, there’s WNYC, there's Paddy Johnson's Art Fag City, there's Hyperallergic, Brooklyn Rail, Time Out, and on and on. And now it's all in your phone or in your computer, so in a way it gives you an opportunity to back out of going to something because you can read the two line review or the 140-character review and decide that you don’t want to see it, but often that may not align with your personal assessment and undermines the capacity to generate your own opinion. There are trustworthy sources, but ultimately you are your own source.
Julia: Because it’s all about personal opinions and as you said earlier there were two different critics today who have totally different, valid opinions.
Adriana: That was brilliant. I literally laughed out loud. That’s how genius this has become.
Julia: I wonder if they follow each other.
Adriana: Oh, of course! Everybody knows everyone. You and I are probably two steps removed … I just think it’s really important for individuals to be able to create their own itineraries, and formulate their own critical analysis of what’s out there. It’s one of the dangers of having packaged information so readily available to you. But there are also huge advantages to that. I think it’s learning how to balance the two … This is a massive city. There are many opportunities, many studios, many artists. The one curator who discovers that one artist that no one has gotten to first that then ends up in the Whitney Biennial — everybody will be glomming onto that artist (or curator) next. But there remain hundreds of artists still worthy of the same opportunities, and until the right series of clicks happen in the carousel, they can be overlooked. So, I think there’s a danger of having packaged culture because you run the risk of that happening.
Julia: So, it’s making sure that things that don’t tend to get attention can bubble up — and that there’s room for exploration.
Adriana: That’s why you can’t stop listening, you can’t stop seeing or paying attention, or allow yourself to get too comfortable. If you do, you'll forget that the margins are much wider and the horizon line actually continues.
Former Mayor Edward I. Koch, 87, isn't shy. Since he governed New York City, in the 1970s and 1980s, he has shared his opinions on public safety, foreign affairs, fellow politicians, and films (yes films).
The avid moviegoer usually heads twice a week to the movies and writes reviews, doling out a plus (+) to the movies he enjoys and a minus (-) to those that don't meet his expectations. He takes his movies at the cinemas — like other regular New Yorkers, shunning private screenings. "I'm not a buff ... I'm not an auteur," he insisted when he spoke with Culture Craver's Julia Levy. "What people like about my movie reviews is that they're very honest." He joked that his fans like his amateur movie criticism more than they appreciate his political commentary. We're not so sure about this, but we do see the clear appeal of his personal, funny, matter-of-fact reviews.
In a Q&A, the Mayor discussed how he decides which movies to see and divulged that at least 40% of films endorsed by New York Times critics turn out to be "terrible."
Julia: Which of the Oscar contenders should we try to see before the awards are announced?
Mayor Koch: Help. I loved it.
Julia: What did you like about it?
Mayor Koch: The subject matter, which was segregation in Mississippi. One of the proudest moments of my life was when I went down to Mississippi in 1964 to represent young black civil rights workers. I’m very proud of being part of what happened in that very important year. Seeing that aspect of if — segregation itself — was just very, very impacting, and I think people should see it.
Julia: In general, how do you decide what to see, what not to see?
Mayor Koch: It’s easy: I have a radio program on Friday nights. It’s from 7 to 8 on Bloomberg Radio. And then, from there, I go to the movies. So I have to find a movie that begins somewhere between 8:20 and quarter to 9. There are not so many because I have to get to it from the Bloomberg studio. So, I read the New York Times, and I figure out which are the movies that they think are worth seeing. After I take their advice and see only the ones that they think are really good, 40% of them are terrible. Generally, I will give them a “minus.” While The Times doesn’t give stars, the language of the commentary conveys that they are outstanding and should be seen. I pick one of those outstanding, good movies reviewed on Friday in the Times, and whichever one is going to be screened Friday night somewhere between 8:20 and 8:45, that’s the one I see.
Julia: Despite this very regimented process, you find that almost half are not worth seeing?
Mayor Koch: Forty percent minimum are terrible, and they find them good. I’m amazed. These are different reviewers at The Times.
Julia: Is there any rule you’ve figured out to outsmart them — to figure out in advance which ones are going to be terrible?
Mayor Koch: No. There’s no way of knowing. The reason I read The Times that way is I don’t go to advanced screenings; I only go to regular screenings. I think they’re totally different than the other kind where everybody thinks he or she is an expert. I don’t like that. So, there’s no way of my knowing whether The Times is right or wrong. I have great respect for them, but 40% of the time, I have found, they’re wrong.
Julia: Do you go to the movies every single week?
Mayor Koch: Normally, I see two movies a week — on Friday night and Saturday night. Saturday nights I’m obviously able to pick my time as to when I’ll go, so therefore, the array of movies available to me is much larger.
Julia: Do you review all of them?
Mayor Koch: I review every movie I see. I see two a week and I review two a week.
Julia: How many people are tracking your reviews?
Mayor Koch: I have no idea, except that I have a mailing list, which I send out, which is at this point 10,000 in number, but Mayor at the Movies is a website that plays me every week and the Huffington Post does it too — with music.