Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Time to Short These Links

Robert Boyd

I quit! Sarah Thornton, author of the highly entertaining and insightful Seven Days in the Art World has decided to to stop writing about the "art market." Her reasons are:
1. It gives too much exposure to artists who attain high prices.
2. It enables manipulators to publicize the artists whose prices they spike at auction.
3. It never seems to lead to regulation.
4. The most interesting stories are libelous.
5. Oligarchs and dictators are not cool.
6. Writing about the art market is painfully repetitive.
7. People send you unbelievably stupid press releases.
8. It implies that money is the most important thing about art.
9. It amplifies the influence of the art market.
10. The pay is appalling.
She goes into a little detail on each of these reasons, and these reasons seem like a more than adequate justification for walking away from this weird and twisted field. Especially reason 8. But the problem I have with this article is that she implies that the high-end market--the market of Sotheby's and Gagosian Gallery and Art|Basel--is the entire market. It may account for the majority of dollars that changes hands, but not the majority of artworks. There are plenty of small and/or regional galleries they stay afloat selling work that cost a few thousand dollars or less. There are artists who sell work out of their homes that do the same--aren't they part of the market? What about Etsy and 20x200? What about arts and crafts shows like the Bayou City Arts Festival? To me, she was missing some pretty interesting market phenomena by looking solely at the big-money plays. Furthermore, if she changed the word from "market" to "economy," she could discuss the world of money in non-profits--a vastly under-reported field, in my opinion. ["Top 10 reasons NOT to write about the art market" by Sarah Thornton, TAR Magazine, Fall 2012]

I quit! (part 2) Not to be outdone, elderly critic Dave Hickey is throwing in the towel, too. As befits his lifetime habit of cranky contrarianism, he throws out a few choice parting barbs.
If it's a matter of buying long and selling short, then the artists he would sell now include Jenny Holzer, Richard Prince and Maurizio Cattelan. "It's time to start shorting some of this shit," he added.
He also believes art consultants have reduced the need for collectors to form opinions. "It used to be that if you stood in front of a painting you didn't understand, you'd have some obligation to guess. Now you don't," he says. "If you stood in front of a Bridget Riley you have to look at it and it would start to do interesting things. Now you wouldn't look at it. You ask a consultant."
Hickey says his change of heart came when he was asked to sign a 10-page contract before he could sit on a panel discussion at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. ["Doyen of American critics turns his back on the 'nasty, stupid' world of modern art" by Edward Helmore and Paul Gallagher, The Guardian, October 27, 2012]
Wasn't it always so? Didn't they value highly works by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier in the 19th century that crashed instantly on the artist's death. Didn't the rich look to such consultants avant le lettre as Lord Duveen and Bernard Berenson to make their art purchases? Hickey's 71, so why not retire and toss a few barbs at the art world? But he shouldn't pretend like the current state of affairs in this neo-gilded age is anything new.

All power to the artists and critics! Political art is on a lot of people's minds, especially since the 2012 Creative Time Summit earlier this month. Stephen Duncombe & Steve Lambert of the Center for Artistic Activism respond with an open letter to critics, giving them advice on how to write about political art. They include some seemingly obvious (yet little-followed) advice, such as:
Does it Work? We don’t mean: does it work aesthetically? but does it work politically. This entails asking more questions. Questions like: What does the artist want to achieve with their work? What change do they see happening through their work? How will this change happen? Who is affected, what affect will the work have on them, and what actions will these people take? ["An open letter to critics writing about political art," Stephen Duncombe & Steve Lambert, October 20, 2012]
I think this is a very good question to ask, especially since as activism, so much political art is utterly ineffectual.  (But they left off one obvious question: "Why is this art?" In other words, why make an artistic project out of a piece of political activism? If you are doing community organizing, for example, why graft "art" onto it?) The problem with this open letter is the problem with so much political art--it hectors and insults the very people it is trying to reach. It basically says, unless you do it this way, you are part of the problem. That's the kind of moralistic message that I find easy to ignore.


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