Power Surge: The Art Review 100

Scrolling through the 2010 Power 100 of Art Review, I almost immediately had two reactions.  First, I’m not on it!  (Bloggers get little to no respect.)  Second, so many of the artists (and only 18 of the 100 are artists) are either unfamiliar to me or, maybe worse, too familiar.  Any list is suspect purely by nature.  The makers of this list claim that it’s “[f]irst and foremost,… a guide to the general trends, networks and forces that shape the artworld.”  What such lists really provide is something for people like me to talk about.  What I find myself talking about is the way the list reflects the true source of power—in the hands of gallerists, curators, and art fair directors and, disturbingly so, not in the hands of artists or critics.  What does that power surge to those who aren’t creating or critiquing mean for art today?

Larry Gagosian (shown above with Jeff Koons) sits comfortably at the top of the list, rising from the fifth slot he occupied last year.  The listmakers admit Gagosian’s rampant arrogance is “not appealing, but it’s the behaviour of power in excelsis, when all competition has vanished from the rearview.” If Gagosian’s truly lapped the field, then maybe the field needs to begin following his lead. Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Swiss gallerist Iwan Wirth, German gallerist David Zwirner, and MoMA Director Glenn D. Lowry round out the rest of the top five.  Like the art world it aims to reflect, the list circles the globe in terms of occupants.  Europe and modern art still dominate the art world, usually in some intimate combination.  Seeing the name of Charles Saatchi languishing at number 81 reminded me of how far the once mighty have fallen. Although bloggers find no love, the e-flux Website did garner the 16th position, mainly on the strength of acting as the hub of electronic communication in the art world.

I found it slightly dismaying that The New York Times senior art critic Roberta Smith slipped in at number 80 when more gifted critics such as Christopher Knight or Peter Schjeldahl can’t crack the century mark.  It would also have been nice to see some academics, such as Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, or James Elkins, find a place.  Such voices help the art world of today measure up to the accomplishments of the past by shining a new light on them.

Even more dismaying might be the appearance of the first artist at number 13—Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  As the listmakers hint at, Ai’s political activity as a resister against the repressive Chinese government may have won him the position more than his actual art.  More familiar names follow in the persons of Bruce Nauman (17), Cindy Sherman (27), Marina Abramovic (35), Takashi Murakami (39), Gerhard Richter (55), Anish Kapoor (62), and Neo Rauch (69).  Glory hounds Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst came in 47 and 53 on the list, with Koons plummeting all the way from 13 last year.  I smiled at the inclusion of Maurizio Cattelan at 68.  Cattelan’s attention grabbing middle-finger sculpture almost single-handedly (single-fingerly?) won him that spot.  A slew of other artists I know barely or not at all round out the field: Mike Kelley (26), Franz West (29), Peter Fischli and David Weiss (31), Tino Sehgal (44), Rirkrit Tiravanija (88), Wolfgang Tillmans (89), and the artists’ consortium known as the Bruce High Quality Foundation (89).  I’m sure they’re all talented artists, and I freely confess a less than encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary art, but none of those names resounds with the familiarity of Koons, Hirst, or even Murakami in the modern art market.  I wonder how many casual art fans could name any of those artists.

It would be nice if these artists represent the new wave of art that makes a dent in the cultural zeitgeist.  But I sincerely doubt it, not based on their failures or lackings but on the undentability of culture today by an individual artist who fails to play the insider game and prostitute themselves in the process.  Sure, people like Abramovic enjoy a greater profile today thanks to retrospectives, but the dues she paid in the years leading up to the international renown more than compensate for any game-playing today, especially as her insider activities help promote performance art itself as much as her personally.  I’d like to see more artists—and more artists of aesthetic rather than economic significance—on the top 100, and, dare I say it, more critics than gallerists and museum directors.  Trends should come from the creators and those who help push them to create.  Of course, museums critique as well, but the economic choices they face force biases—just try to think of big museums as critical voices the next time they line up a big, fat, crowd-pleasing Impressionist show for the thousandth time.  A power surge in that direction may be what it takes to energize art today and make it relevant to the world again.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

How humans evolved to live in the cold

Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Surprising Science
  • According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
  • Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
  • Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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