Art World Survival Ideas on the Brooklyn Rail: Part One

by Whitney Kimball on February 11, 2013 · 7 comments Long Reads

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Lately, arts writers have been crying the end of criticism and jumping ship. Wah wah wah. If you’re in this for the long haul, then it’s time to start working on a new art world.

Thanks to Martha Schwendener, this month’s Brooklyn Rail includes a long list of alternatives to the art world status quo from a wide variety of thinkers– Artforum editors, academia, activists, gender studies theorists, museums, co-ops, artists– just to name a few. It’s a nice change from last month’s crisis-themed edition. I’ve rounded up the must-reads from the first half, with more to come:

Arts & Labor’s Alternative Economies Resource Guide
Occupy Wall Street’s Arts & Labor group has published a resource guide for artists, covering everything from affordable housing to pay-what-you-can acupuncture. Very useful.

“One Thing,” David Levine
The art world needs to get out more; David Levine suggests theater.
If the refreshing combination in Levine’s own work is an example of collaboration in action, then it’s a great idea.

“Alternatives,” Coco Fusco
Everybody’s talking about how money corrupts art fairs and auctions, but few are addressing how it’s shaping arts education. “Does anybody ask where the money is going?” Coco Fusco wonders. I love this: 

… how much longer should we endure our own version of a subprime loan crisis before we consider how art schools seduce relatively inexperienced consumers into borrowing huge sums for degrees by trafficking the same myths about art and the art market that they purport to “deconstruct” in required lecture classes?

Then she offers an actual solution: Fusco herself wasn’t able to get an MFA, but instead learned through assisting artists, finding mentors, and writing while living in a low-rent apartment in Brooklyn. “I traded teachers for multigenerational friendships,” she writes. While many of us are now unable to afford low or unpaid art jobs, experience is at least free.

“Artists Supporting Their Own,” Paul Schimmel
“Artists have never let me down,” MOCA’s recently departed curator Paul Schimmel writes, cryptically. He praises artist foundations for their commitment to working artists:

With the hundreds of artists foundations already existing in the U.S. and many more to be formed by the wealthiest generation of artists ever, their legacies will become among the most important not-for-profit institutions to directly support the arts.

Re-hire Paul Schimmel!

“Kelly Lake Store,” Chris Kraus

Chris Kraus proposes to use a Guggenheim Fellowship to revive a closed general store in Minnesota, bringing back a community center and local employer. It makes you wonder about the merits of any singular art career in a bad economy.

“More Cooperatives,” Members of the Park Slope Food Coop

“…since the Co-op was founded at the same time as venues like Artists Space, White Columns, P.S. 1, and A.I.R. (the first artist-run gallery for women in the United States), what would cooperative museums look like?” wonders the Park Slope Food Co-op. They remind us that not only do food co-ops lower everyone’s spending, but it also empowers the community to form networks and engage politically. We should have more co-ops.

“A Modest Proposal,” Sean Elwood
Creative Capital director Sean Elwood seconds Schimmel’s assessment that artist-endowed foundations are going to play a bigger and better role in the art world than large, private institutions are now. He writes:

I agree with the conclusions of the Aspen Institute’s formidable study, “Artist as Philanthropist” when it concludes that because of the number of aging, successful artists, and the precedents of recently established and apparently thriving artist-endowed foundations, these kinds of organizations will probably proliferate in coming years. Good. The Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, and other such foundations do good work and we need more like them.

He proposes that modest collections left behind from artists, collectors, and dealers should be aggregated and used as community funds.

“A Different One Percent,” Lucy Lippard
Lippard’s been grappling with this issue for decades through her work with the Arts Workers Coalition and conceptual artists in the 60s and 70s. She mentions one idea that never panned out:

It depended on “famous” artists abandoning their dealers and entering into this scheme as equals with their less fortunate colleagues. All art workers would donate one percent (I think) of their annual income, kind of an independence tax. One night, in high spirits at a bar, several rather successful artists agreed to it. The next morning, not. The major sticking point was frankly expressed by Al Held: “I’m not telling the world how much I make.

This was part of the problem with the Artists Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, a contract that would have guaranteed the artist fifteen percent of the profits from every subsequent sale of their work; unless everybody plays along, the effort fails. Lippard doesn’t anticipate major systemic change without a true revolution.


Jim VanKirk February 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm

These are old and failed notions every one.

uffthefluff February 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Not Coco Fusco’s proposed solution.

Some Painter February 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I don’t understand what Coco Fusco is complaining about. She has a Masters and a Doctorate. No MFA, but come on. She went to Brown and Stanford. Oh, boo hoo.

WhitneyKimball February 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm

So? She’s right

Some Painter February 11, 2013 at 9:31 pm

OK, I like her idea of trading/bartering, but her opinion is problematic. You make her sound like a starving artist who lived in a low-rent apartment, but she went to elite universities and then presided over a lot of teachers losing their jobs when she became chair at Parsons. She is hardly one to talk. It’s like a wealthy liberal saying how great communism is, when they haven’t had to struggle a day in their life.

WhitneyKimball February 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Yeah, well, take any art worlder advice with a grain of salt, I guess. She was lucky- she also had a low-rent apartment in Williamsburg, and lots of free time. Nobody can get that now. I didn’t read her alternative as preaching, though, just sharing something that did substitute for an MFA, and anyone can do. I think that’s valuable no matter who says it, since it’s not something you hear often, and obviously it worked for her.

Diablo 3 February 18, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Haha, wonderful! Thank you for sharing that. I wish all of our critiques were expressed so creatively.

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