Friday, July 31, 2009

Tired of Art?

With all the gallery closings, devaluing of artists’ oeuvres, and a general malaise in the art world, at least from the perspective of collectors who speculated and dealers who sold, maybe the reality is just that people are tired of art. At least, tired of the current model where one artist after another has his or her solo show then, miraculously (if they sold enough the first time, or perhaps if their contracts stipulate it,) two years later they show again.

In the interim, they dutifully count the months, and their collector base dutifully waits with baited breath.

But what if something’s wrong with this model – wrong because two years is an eternity in the art world, wrong because two years won’t necessarily make someone’s art innovative, wrong because the market is a fickle place that twists and turns and somehow becomes a self-perpetuating behemoth beholden to nothing but itself.

Art today almost invites one to be tired of it. At the other end of the biannual exhibition spectrum is the endless stream of flickr posts or Facebook updates that reduce every creative act to a post, make everything perfectly identical, reduce it to pixels and almost obliviate its value.

Artists operate in a strange place where the dealer/artist model seems ripe for revision. Collectors and speculators alike want access, questions of taste seem entirely meaningless. It is as if the entire process has been reduced to cashflow and guesswork, hoping, usually beyond hope, that the one artist you might be interested in has the potential to “crack it”, as they say, to make it big, to take off, to be something other than his or her other classmates from an MFA program. Anachronistically, we speculate that someone might have “the right stuff”.

The problem is that this mysterious “stuff” is just as elusive to the gallerist and the collector as it is to the artist. Every artist has to operate under the self-deception that his or her work has the potential to be the best ever made.

So now, in an endless sea of speculative works, everyone experiences what I will term vision fatigue – a neverending stream of hopes and desires spread across a range of media so diverse that no one can be an expert in them all.

What happens? Well, for the most part people simply retreat to the TV. My new favorite game is speculating on who might have made that exceptionally cool – though also somehow nondescript – artwork that just flickered by on the screen. I’d try to remember what it looked like, but I’m tired, so tired, I’m on the verge of falling asleep.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Keep Dumbing it Down Until Everyone Gets It

I suppose it’s how you approach it. As a curator, I spent many years in the South Pacific, exploring themes of globalization, territorialization, isolationism, cultural studies and related topics only to find myself within the confines of the American south. What is so surprising about the south is how far within itself it remains, how the discourses that should be paramount become subsumed within the overall veil of the culture wars, how art has a voice that teeters sometimes on silence and how, somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Many years ago I sat in a conference with keynote speakers Lynne Cooke and Elizabeth Sussmann, and four days later in the same space as the late Kathy Acker took four hundred culturally and creatively intrigued listeners on a fantastic journey.

Somehow, sometimes, the periphery becomes the center. Displacement is overcome by distance, and isolationism is replaced by its multifaceted international doppelganger.

I raise these issues because it appears that art maybe teetering on an edge of irrelevance. Not so much in part because it has nothing left to say, but in part because what it has to say is so often said into the face of deafening silence.

Dialogues are now more often than not carried out within the confines of a tweet, subtly placed within Facebook pages, or subsumed by the assumption that somehow meaning always transcends.

Instead, what it does is teeter on the edges of repetition and pastiche. The recent death of Dash Snow made me realize just how short our memories are, as if Larry Clark’s Tulsa had never existed, as if Nan Goldin had never snapped an image, if the eroticism of George Platt Lynes in the face of legal and social consequences had never happened.

What seems surprising so far, however, is that the laudatory missives seem absent, suggesting that maybe, just maybe we’ve pushed art as far as it can go. Maybe we’re at the point where we’re not so much interested in the naked as in the nude, where excessive consumption isn’t indicative of innovation, where somehow, somebody or bodies is trying to determine how the whole world of art is going to continue to be relevant.

It’s hard to imagine that the days in which a three-minute attention span courtesy of MTVs twenty-four hour videos now seems an eternity as text messaging and tweets whittle our capacities for expression into smaller and smaller fragments. Artists works become digital experiences sorted through Google via resolution, all the better to be displayed on non-calibrated monitors in various NSFW environments.

And yet somewhere, there on the periphery, in the Antipodes or Aotearoa or China, somewhere on the Pacific Rim or on the edges of Africa, somewhere crossing into or through the occupied territories is a discourse on art that isn’t always already prefigured by its Puritanism or its reservations. Instead, it is positioned by intelligent discourse confident of the opportunities and the potentialities it faces.

But here while I sort the possibilities into two columns, “job-keepers” and “job-losers”, I wonder just where we lost the ability to engage with complex ideas in intellectual ways.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's All About the Title

As the art world feigns disinterest, intelligent artists young and old spend time applying for a coveted spot on Bravo's "Untitled Art Project", something that or the Village Voice suggested was the perfect title already. Cuts have been made, with a friend learning that they had not in fact proceeded to the second round.

But unlike a culinary competition, or one that focuses on design, how does a profession that is already marked in part by its superfluousness - one does not "need" art, despite protestations to the contrary, whereas one "needs" clothes even to the extent that their absence creates a legal liability - create a result that has the capacity to change the winner's world?

Over lunch today I was discussing this very conundrum. Our conversation went something like this:

Artist: I didn't even know the auditions were on.
Me: Would that have made any difference?
Artist: No.

Artists themselves may be struggling with what this will mean as professionals anticipate the challenges. "Today is the life drawing challenge," as pixellations cover our cultural inabilities to accept we all have a body; or, "Today, contestants, you will make a sculpture from what you can find in the junkyard in the next ten minutes" - cut to exciteable artist crashing into rusted hulk, cue medical attention.

In any event, hopefuls in four cities are auditioning, hoping that somehow this will catapult them into being the next big thing.

Remember the last big thing died in a room at the Lafeyette Hotel last week, and his name was Dash Snow. Ever seen his work?