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The Recession Hits Big Art
April 28, 2010 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Jeff Koons, Charles Ray, Claes Oldenburg, and Robert Therrien are just a few of the artists who, over the past thirty years, have used Carlson & Co. to engineer and fabricate large scale, technically complex sculptures. Last week Carlson & Co. laid off its 95 employees, and will close.
posted by R. Mutt (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article was unclear on why they have to close, given that they have several large projects still underway. Unless they badly misquoted at the start, I don't understand why they can't at least finish up current works.
posted by fatbird at 4:09 PM on April 28, 2010


posted by R. Mutt

Eponysterical. On so many levels.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 4:15 PM on April 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Miguelín does not approve.
posted by mattdidthat at 4:35 PM on April 28, 2010


Tough titties.
posted by fire&wings at 5:01 PM on April 28, 2010


We'll be back to making balloon dogs out of balloons, I guess.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:02 PM on April 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Something like "Train" might make more sense during times of excess anyway.
posted by melt away at 5:35 PM on April 28, 2010


This is actually a really terrible thing. Though I wonder if it says more about contemporary art than the skill of Carlson & Co. Engineering in the service of art shouldn't be taken for granted. Colossal public art made of metal really isn't something any of us can or should do, or something that just any engineer can or should do. It's a craft and one of the best shops is closing. Very unfortunate.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:38 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The end of an era.

Now, artists have to have some sort of skill to make art.

.
posted by vhsiv at 5:48 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


After viewing their website, I can reaffirm that I really don't get contemporary art. Though, the art world began to lose me sometime around Picasso. I'm sorry for the people who have lost their job, but I don't think the world will be less for one more giant lamp stationed in front of an office building or replicas of a folding table and folding chairs in an art gallery.
posted by Atreides at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2010


You get paid after you comlete a job. You still need enough liquid capital to pay time and materials upfront.
posted by edbles at 6:39 PM on April 28, 2010


While I really feel for their engineering and fabrication staff, looking over their portfolio, I'm can't really say that I'm hugely disappointed that they seem to be getting less business. I've been clicking at it for a few minutes and I've yet to find anything in there that's particularly compelling.

I admit that's unfair to the people doing the engineering and fabrication — it's not like they get to really design the things, they just execute ... and FWIW the technical execution looks great. I'm sure the engineers and fabricators are all artists, real artists, in their own right.

But if this was the sort of public art that was getting built, I'm not sure that we're losing much. It's sad that this was the sort of stuff that was getting funded (particularly the stuff that presumably came from tax dollars), as opposed to things that are really inspiring — I'm a big supporter of public art when it doesn't suck — but there's a lot of crappy public art going on in there. (Not all of it, there is some neat stuff in there. But there's a lot of totally incomprehensible abstract stuff going on there too, and that stuff just doesn't interest a lot of people without MFAs.)

May all the engineers and fabricators find good jobs quickly. To hell with the sculptors; as a group, too many of you gave up on engaging with the public and retreated into abstraction and crap that only works in conjunction with some bullshit-laden Artists Statement, so no whining now that the public has given up on you.

Whew, feels good to get that off my chest. I've been working on that screed ever since the office building I work at put up this really heinous piece of "sculpture" in the courtyard. I swear they must have spent more time on the Artists Statement than they did designing the damn thing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:47 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


You get paid after you comlete a job. You still need enough liquid capital to pay time and materials upfront.

As a web developer, I usually get half up front. At the manufacturer at which I used to work, we paid a third up front to a company that makes convention booths for our slot at the Housewares Show. I have trouble believing that a company accepting jobs in the millions would be expected to front all the needed cash. I'm starting to think that mismanagement is as much to blame as a slow art market.
posted by fatbird at 7:14 PM on April 28, 2010


On a purely technical level, this shop was the Artworld equivalent of DARPA. It is a loss.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:26 PM on April 28, 2010


It doesn't matter how much you get up front if you consistently underestimate your jobs.
posted by digsrus at 7:28 PM on April 28, 2010


I just heard about this at work today and am utterly stunned. Those guys were wizards. I'll never forget the first time I ever went to that facility.

Apparently Koons has moved a lot of his fabrication to Germany. What a heartbreaker.
posted by ducky l'orange at 7:49 PM on April 28, 2010


Unreal.
Those people were probably art school grads without the money to hire reps, etc. But they were so good at so many things that now they will be, oh I don't know...maybe "overqualified"?
posted by swooz at 8:07 PM on April 28, 2010


Claes Oldenberg is one of my favorite artists; I am delighted whenever I see an iteration of Typewriter Eraser or Three-Way Plug. I don't know how someone couldn't enjoy an excessively large obsolete office tool. What's not to love?

So yeah, while I don't know enough to have an emotional attachment to this place, this is nevertheless sad news.
posted by silby at 8:13 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not favorite enough to spell his last name right though. Ergh.
posted by silby at 8:14 PM on April 28, 2010


Kadin2048: "I'm a big supporter of public art when it doesn't suck — but there's a lot of crappy public art going on in there. (Not all of it, there is some neat stuff in there. But there's a lot of totally incomprehensible abstract stuff going on there too, and that stuff just doesn't interest a lot of people without MFAs.)"

I know some people who would be intensely interested and engaged by a lot of this art, and who don't have MFAs, and do you know who those people are? They are six-year-olds, who still have a modicum of imagination, and are willing to wonder and ask questions of the world.
posted by oulipian at 8:41 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing though: if you don't like the art, how is that the fault of those executing the design? After all, it isn't the designers or artists that are closing up shop. If anything, disliking the art should make you irate that the fabricators don't get a bigger cut of the profits.
posted by dubold at 9:23 PM on April 28, 2010


My god this is crazy! My ex-wife AND my father worked at this company in its 90s heyday.

I myself utilized the resources of their Sheldon St. fabrication center (prior to their move to Sylmar) to refinish a '63 Fender Jazzmaster.

Some great people worked there...this is a sad surprise.
posted by retronic at 9:38 PM on April 28, 2010


Koons has a rep for bankrupting, or nearly bankrupting galleries and institutions. His installation at LACMA, while really fascinating, and I would argue important, is very close to impossible to pay for, and he has isolated a number of important backers Nationally and in Los Angeles. The lack of surety with that project I think is one of the reasons why Carlson got shut down.

Vshiv, Koons is a master draftsmen, and an important painter, Oldenberg's drawings are fascinating works into and unto themselves, and Ray's works on paper are a highlight of this years Bienalle. They have skills in the material that I am assuming you are foregrounding. As well, for hundreds of years, artists have had schools, foundries, and assistants who helped them make epic work.

This is a major loss, and it is a major loss because new and emerging artists who wish to be epic, to have the balls to make something as overwhelming as the Typewriter Eraser or the Puppy Dogs are not going to have the funding or the skills to do so...

There has been a bit of epic sculpture in the last few years, but I worry about finding the new Franz West, for example...
posted by PinkMoose at 10:12 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


At the manufacturer at which I used to work, we paid a third up front to a company that makes convention booths for our slot at the Housewares Show.


Mark-ups are usually in the 15-30% range. In a slower climate that pushes markups to the lower end of the scale 30% upfront + 15% markup leaving 55% liquid capital necessary to build the job. That's all if you aren't thinking about having to maintain standard operating costs. Although I guess I have to concede that in 30 years they should have had the time to build up a solid capital base.
posted by edbles at 4:07 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


oulipian: “I know some people who would be intensely interested and engaged by a lot of this art, and who don't have MFAs, and do you know who those people are? They are six-year-olds [...]

And that's great, but public art, by definition, ought to engage the public, which contains only a minority of 6-year-olds. If a piece doesn't engage and resonate with the people who walk past it every day, if it becomes merely some really expensive furniture or trimwork, then it fails as a piece of art in that context.

I'm not against public art and I'm not even against nonrepresentative / abstract public art. Some of it works. (As a recent example, I'd perhaps use the new Air Force Memorial; it was designed by James Freed of Pei Cobb Freed, it's abstract — at least in terms of war memorials — and was not uncontroversial when it opened, but it nonetheless works.)

dubold: “Here's the thing though: if you don't like the art, how is that the fault of those executing the design?

It's definitely not, and I think it's really unfortunate that the people building these things are going to be out of work. The execution of some of the pieces on their website is pretty phenomenal. But it's kind of a buggy-whip situation. The public regards the stuff they were doing as an extravagance that they're no longer willing to pay for. That's not to say that incomprehensibly abstract public art won't come back into vogue again someday, but for the moment nobody is willing to pay for it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:12 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: according to the "Carlson & Co." link: "The use of high-end fabricators like Carlson became increasingly popular in the past decade as billionaire art collectors hunted for pricey large-scale artworks to fill private museums and foundations."

(emphasis mine)

Based on the information in the article, I don't think it's entirely fair to paint (ha!) this as a reaction by a disgusted public to the excesses of the art world; rather, those people who previously purchased big expensive art haven't been buying as much of it.
posted by dubold at 12:20 PM on April 29, 2010


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