Dear David, Haiti is a place, not a word

Dear David,
Haiti is a place, not a word.

by Katrina Neumann

I had just come home from work and walked up the stairs to my apartment when I had found that the September issue of Artforum had discovered my new address. I grabbed the issue and went up to my dapple sunlit kitchen to flip through the magazine. Normally, I skim for artists first, then to the authors (a difficult task in the advertisement-heavy publication) to see if anything is worth returning to. Through my previews, I came across the Matthew Barney exhibition at Gladstone Gallery and was informed that Nicola Tyson finally has a new show. One advertisement, though, stuck out because of my recent 3-week volunteer excursion in Haiti. It was an advertisement hosted by David Zwirner in conjunction with Christie’s at Rockefeller Plaza. From September 6th through the 10th, the show will be up at David Zwirner and then at Christie’s from September 17th through the 20th; most likely reaching an absurd number of 100 million dollars or onward in the name of Haiti.

In small text, you have the name of Marlene Dumas and info on her painting, My Moeder voor sy Moeder Was, which is featured on the same page. Juxtaposed is a list of today’s leading tycoon artists including Adel Abdessemed, Francis Alÿs, Mamma Andersson, Louise Bourgeois, Cecily Brown, Chuck Close, John Currin, Marlene Dumas, Urs Fischer, Dan Flavin, Jasper Johns, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Glenn Ligon, Paul McCarthy, Chris Ofili, Raymond Pettibon, Neo Rauch, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Rudolf Stingel, Luc Tuymans, Zhang Huan. Overall, it is a good art-savvy politically correct collection of artists including different races, nationalities and genders. Hm, keep these peeps in mind for a bit later . . .

I want to focus first on just the visual aesthetics meekly attempted in the advertisement itself. The typography used for the title, “Artists for Haiti” differs from the simple but over used Arial-type font seen in the rest of the advertisement. The header has more of a third-world-chic-finger-painted-appeal-in-terra-cotta-earth-red look. First of all it annunciates this American ideal that Haiti is in fact completely ghettoized and destroyed for eternity and is about as ignorant and simplistic as the tribes from over a thousand years ago[1]. Say, in comparison, to the modern and classy logo for Christie’s or David Zwirner. Need I say more? A Terra Cotta finger painting over classy black Arial font . . . Even local Haitian art and market stands to their own posters have more class than what is dignified in the font given in this advertisement.

Just a ballpark estimate, the advertisement itself must have cost at least $5,000 to be placed on the right-hand side of the page, full spread and full color in Artforum. In my former life before becoming a graduate student, I used to work as the advertising director (one of the many hats) at an under paid job in an over priced gallery outside of New York City, pushing third-grade impressionist works to empty mansion owners along the Long Island sound. In 2008, the gallery I worked for forked out $1400 (at a discounted price) one month to be featured in Art + Auction. Yet, we’re talking Artforum. . . ART – FORUM.

What strikes me the most, aside from the actual physicality of the advertisement, was the question: ‘Do the people of Haiti know about this auction held in their honor? Does that one kid from the tent encampment who hung off of my arm at playtime know that a gallery in New York City is raising money for him and his future countrymen? Does my friend from the volunteer base know that he is getting a portionable check in the mail from David Zwirner to be able to start his free music school that he has imagined, or, perhaps the chance to finally study professional music at Berklee College of Music?’ Someone should tell these people that they should get ready, hold onto their egg-lady sandwiches, Tampico juice bottles, and mangoes, the market-driven art world is going to finally do something noteworthy, life changing, and huge. The $5,000 shelled out for Zwirner and Christie’s advertisement is actually just a smidgen of what the Haitians should expect to receive after the last hammer drops at Christie’s in Rockefeller Plaza on September 20th.

Or, has indeed, the once respected David Zwirner reached his own feat in the crashing market and is suckered into using Haiti, as a word, not as an actuality. Nowhere on the advertisement page does it specify where the money is going and to whom it is going to . . . “what is going on?” Ok, well, maybe I shouldn’t ask that, as it is apparent. Zwirner and Christie’s, like companies from the Red Cross to the United States[2], have adorned themselves in the literal drowning bodies of brothers and sisters or moms and dads like a necklace, dangling it as if it were the hope diamond and asking for millions. They play on the one thing that has not been trained out of us as humans, they play on our empathetic want to help others where and however we can, ahem, within convenient reach (of our trendy cell phone benefit text-a-thon).

So, maybe it might not come as a surprise that yet another gallery dealer has reached an all time low. I mean, the art world is in general unregulated and at times slimy- especially a majority of gallery directors, I believe you have to be literally declared as bi-polar to run a legitimate market driven space[3]. Don’t take just my word for it, ask any interns or underpaid gallerinas, they can nod their heads ‘yes’ to this one.[4]

What about the artists listed above? Where does this leave our historical heroes that I have goggled at many times over? Were the pieces donated for “the cause”? Are the well-regarded avant-garde artists like Francis Alys and Glenn Ligon leveled to the same degrading playing field as David Zwirner? Do these artists really care or are they as unaffected as the rest of the international (art) world, always using words, never actualities? Jerry Saltz once credited my up-and-coming art generation as the ‘Lost Generation’. Then, was the one prior to mine, Saltz’s generation, the ‘Generation of the Blind’?  Or, is the media still turning a closed eye to the works that really matter.

Well, Mr. Zwirner, “You’s gots some s’plainin to do” . . . and some checks to pass out. Better yet, let’s just stick you in Cité Soleil for a month and then ask you to do a benefit auction afterwards.




[1] To counter the common misnomer, Haiti is extremely beautiful with gorgeous landscapes, the friendliest caring people who were always well-dressed and they served delicious food.

[2] Yes, that is not a mistake, I mean the United States as a company, because it is now at the status of a failing and faulty corporation like any other business out there.

[3] Note: not all galleries, I did once intern for a Frankfurt Am Main-based space in Chelsea and they were amazing people to work with, they were German not American.

[4] Remember when Meghann Snow was fired from Mike Weiss for not looking good enough. Mm-hm. Enough said.

[5] This is not to discredit the act of doing something good. I thoroughly encourage it. Nor is it an act to fully discredit David Zwirner or the head haunches at Christie’s, I bet they are regular people working like the rest of us who are attempting to help people. Maybe this is more a question of what really is the best way to help someone aside from what we think might be the best way for him or her. Only by spending a lot of time in a community does one begin to learn to listen what people need.


Comments are closed.