Weekend Reads: A Plague of Plagues

by Whitney Kimball on April 6, 2013 · 3 comments Word Center

ABMB Hooverville, 60" x 44", Graphite on paper, 2010 William Powhida with Jade Townsend. Image courtesy of williampowhida.com.

Maybe it has something to do with the dismal economic forecasts, but it’s been a reflective couple of weeks for the blogosphere. Several members of the community have come back around to familiar issues that continue to thrive in the art world like the plague. For that reason, we’ll be giving their thoughts a second read this weekend.

1. William Powhida, Lecture Notes

This is the condition that society finds itself after decades of neoliberal policies that have promoted privatization of everything from education to prisons to museums.  The dictum is basically, “make everything more efficient with Capitalism!”

William Powhida compares the commercial art world’s situation to the crisis at MoCA: we’re broke and beholden to rich people. As such, we now see sensational and celebrity-oriented shows with frequency, and it’s not towards the end of art reaching larger audiences. Attendance is largely irrelevant because the art world depends entirely on the .01% to cover their staggering operating expenses. If your program can’t grow to acquire a stable of all-bankable artists to cover those expenses (difficult, given that the best sellers are monopolized by the largest galleries), then you’re out. The mainstay Postmasters is one such example; it plans to move to the Lower East Side this summer, after their rent in Chelsea rose to $30,000 per month.

As Powhida sees it, Leo Koenig, a dealer who will take over Postmasters’ old space, isn’t choosing art over business. He cites a 2005 New Yorker article depicting Koenig as a shrewd businessman as evidence, along with his high turnover rate of artists. Koenig is just one of countless dealers in New York who easily pick business over art, so it behooves the artist to find new models of production and distribution.

2. Jerry Saltz on the Death of the Gallery Show

Saltz addresses many of the same issues raised by William Powhida. He looks at signs like Postmasters’ move and the decentralization from New York and concludes “There is no “the” art world anymore.” He writes:

If the galleries are emptier, the limos gone, the art advisers taking meetings elsewhere, and the glitz offshore, the audience will have shrunk to something like it was well before the gigantic expansion of the art world. When I go to galleries, I now mainly see artists and a handful of committed diligent critics, collectors, curators, and the like. In this quiet environment, it may be possible for us to take back the conversation.

It’s a good thought, but who’s going to archive the conversation? Not facebook. Certainly not our publications, which no longer offer most writers a living wage. And once Luhring Augustine moves to town, we’ll all be priced out of our homes. Big cities are no longer a tenable means of building artist communities.

3. Nayland Blake with Jarrett Earnest

In an interview with Jarrett Earnest for the Brooklyn Rail, Nayland Blake addresses the problem of capitalism in the galleries.

I really see the trajectory from the ’60s and ’70s artist-built institutions, which were structured to support each other’s work and provide critical responses. Through public grants, among other things, these marginalized communities actually had platforms to address a larger public and the intellectual discourse of art widened and became richer. Reagan and his intellectual heirs were about privatizing public discourse as a way of returning those voices to the margin.

The conversation goes on to touch on the problems of understanding performance from documentation, and a new desire to broadcast your work to as wide an audience as possible. The value, for Blake, doesn’t come from cataloguing. He says:

…I feel that we have to re-learn that culture is separate from information. There is an abundance of information but it doesn’t matter. I can find images of “white supremacists” and “bestiality” and “Austrian Gothic Lolitas” and all of it requires the same thing which is just some typing and none of it puts me at any sort of risk or reveals me.

They discuss the pitfalls of branding 90’s work as “identity work,” since, he points out, art now has more to do with packaging and presenting your identity to the art world, whereas there used to be a tendency to leave the exploration open.

They weren’t confirming identities, which is the fallacy of calling this “identity politics” work. People have taken an exploration as a confirmation or a closing down. From the outside that is more comforting because if someone else is confirming their identity that means you do not have to question yours.

4. Carolina A. Miranda, Ken Johnson Kerfuffle 2.0

C-Monster responds to Ken Johnson’s letter clarifying his controversial writings on ‘The Female Gaze: Women Art­ists Making Their World,” and “Now Dig This!,” which were seen as insensitive and pigeonholing by sex and race. In it, he explains that he was merely following in the logic in titles like “Female Gaze,” positing the assumption that women have a different point of view, or “have something very particular to contribute.”

“Johnson has a real bee in his bonnet about shows built around gender or identity,” Miranda writes, though she doesn’t entirely agree with the backlash to his writings either. She says a close read reveals his attitude to be narrow-minded; to group women and non-whites together into the difference category lumps their work by group, whereas, in Johnson’s writing, white men get to have an identity, distinct from each other. What’s most refreshing is to hear someone discuss the issue not in terms of Ken Johnson, or scandal, but the artists who Johnson’s representing. Miranda writes:

What bums me out the most in all of this is the artists — the ones who won’t get a nuanced criticism of their work in the New York Times because of who they happen to be.

5. Carolina A. Miranda, Denise Scott Brown

If you see gender discrimination as a bygone problem, Miranda interviews Denise Scott Brown about the boys club that is the architecture world. (There’s a petition circulating for Brown to be retrospectively acknowledged for the 1991 Pritzker Prize, which went solely to her husband and long-term creative partner, Robert Venturi). Brown’s accounts of sexism are damning, not limited to being called a “bitch” and drenched with whisky when she spoke up about being overlooked. It’s disgusting.


Up & Coming April 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Good read! I have been wondering were is the art “world” going? It’s not all doomed but it’s not a bright future ahead… Things are changing very fast an a lot of artist, galleries, museums, art dealers, etc, are going to be left behind if they are not willing to be honest with their work and with their audience.

WhitneyKimball April 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Yeah, I agree, things are definitely shifting. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I hope we can find something more sustainable than the trends we’re seeing in New York.

Carolina A. Miranda April 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

wow! thanks for the double shout-out, you guys! 😡

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