Worst of 2015

by Michael Anthony Farley on December 30, 2015 Lists + Opinion


Outrage continued to be the defining quality of the art world’s internet habits this year: people just love to be pissed off. And when they are, they like to share it.

So what were the most scandalous stories of 2015? That’s a question that’s easy to answer just by looking at our site stats. Below, here are our five top-viewed stories of the year—all of them negative—from right-wing journalists crashing Art Basel Miami Beach to the Lucien Smith Halloween party that seemed to offend just about everyone.

And just how much more do people love to be enraged than uplifted? A lot. I’ve paired each wildly popular negative story with news that I wish received a little more attention to provide a sense of scale for the magnitude of the internet’s viral rage.

1) FOX News Trolls Art Basel Miami Beach 

Jesse Watters troll ABMB

This year, FOX News personality Jesse Watters visited the Art Basel Miami Beach vernissage in an attempt to make the left-leaning art world look idiotic and vapid—with the help of heavy-handed editing. I was one of the attendees approached by Watters, and transcribed (to the best of my ability) our full, unaired conversation. The exchange ended up being pretty embarrassing, as Watters revealed a nearly complete ignorance of topics ranging from the events preceding the Syrian civil war to the demographics of police brutality—subjects he approached with an air of haughty authority and total lack of nuance.

I’ve since received a number of phone calls and emails from readers who, after years of shouting at their televisions, felt vicariously vindicated by the article, so its popularity isn’t surprising. Despite being published less than a month ago, it’s already the most shared and read AFC post of 2015 by far.

Compare this to a great discussion I had earlier this year with artist/activist Graham Coreil Allen, where we touched on a few related issues and talked politics with a critical—rather than partisan—perspective. Graham was well-informed, open-minded, and amiable. Unfortunately, those qualities don’t lend themselves to hate-retweeting, apparently. That far more informative interview only received 1/35th of the attention as my confrontation with Watters, despite being online since May.  

2) Georg Baselitz Defends Sexist Bullshit

georg-baselitz is a dick

Earlier this year, Georg Baselitz said some pretty stupid shit about how women aren’t as good as male painters. Naturally, Paddy justly responded and produced our second-most-read blog post of 2015. While we can all agree that Georg Baselitz is an asshole (or maybe just senile) maybe we should actually pay more attention to women artists we love and less attention to sexist assholes we hate?

In 2015, we wrote (mostly glowing) reviews of solo shows by talented women such as Michelle Segre, Lu Zhang, Miriam Simun, Frida Kahlo, Pam Lins, Esther Ruiz, Sara VanDerBeek, Elektra KB, Deborah Kass, Marilyn Minter, and Yayoi Kusama. I mention these 11 seemingly unrelated women artists because collectively they received less than half the attention of Georg Baselitz’s misogynistic comments. Yes, the math is correct on this one: the combined clicks on 11 headlines about solo exhibitions by women artists (from the art-star-canonized to the emerging) totalled less than half of the number of views for an article about a man saying the art world is justified in ignoring women. Let that sink in.

3) The Armory Show Tanks  


The 2015 Armory Show was a vapid trainwreck so boring it was almost not worth covering, or even reading about. Nevertheless, our third most-read post of 2015 was a synopsis of how unworthwhile the fair was. But in 2015 we also visited artist-run art fairs in Baltimore and Miami Beach that we loved and wrote passionately about—even christening the Artist-Run Art Fair “The Art Fair That Doesn’t Suck”. Combined, our positive coverage of those art fair alternatives received just one third of the views as our negative coverage of the lackluster Armory Show. Why are we still giving six-times more weight to commercial spectacles than to awesome culture producers who operate on the fringes of the market? The Artist-Run endeavors we’ve highlighted are what the future of the art world could look like. How about we stop hate-endorsing the big boys and pay more attention to art we can actually enjoy (and even afford)?

4) The New School Fucks Over its Workers

David Van Zandt

New School President David Van Zandt.

Thankfully, our fourth most-read post of 2015 did call attention to an abuse of power with real-world, detrimental effects on our peers. The New School is seriously screwing over its faculty and students with abhorrent anti-union policies, dismissals, and pay-freezes that could impoverish dozens of teaching artists and designers. We all should’ve been pissed and doing something about it.   

But in the spirit of this listicle, I have to ask: why did so many more people share this bad news than good news from the Bruce High Quality Foundation University? The alterna-art-school launched applications for its FREE courses for the second year in a row this summer. The news that a big institution was fucking over artists grabbed about twenty-seven times as many eyeballs as an opportunity for artists to participate in a different model of arts education—largely based on what information social media users decided to disseminate.

5) That “Bronx is Burning” Thing Really Had People Pissed-Off

Artist Lucien Smith with a party guest. WAS HER COSTUME "SPECTER OF WHITE GENTRIFIERS"? Probably.

Artist Lucien Smith with a party guest. WAS HER COSTUME CONCEPT “WHITE-WASHING THE BRONX”? Probably.

Did anyone else get sick of hearing about Lucien Smith’s Macabre Suite Halloween party? Weeks after the incident, artist Avery Singer turned down an offer for a studio visit by Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn (the gallerist who co-hosted the party along with developer Keith Rubenstein) and sent a screen capture of the email exchange our way. We published it, and in less than two months it became the year’s fifth-most-viewed post.

To play Devil’s Advocate, it seems like a lot of the oversized backlash over the party was fueled by out-of-context images and anecdotes—after all, former warehouses are common venues for art openings and parties just as bonfires are fixtures of outdoor entertaining in October. Neither of those things scream “ruin porn” to me. It’s worrying that this politicizing of aesthetic minutia served as a distraction from a troubling greater context of injustice that’s larger than any of the entities involved in this scandal. Then again, the popular hyperbole surrounding a party that was in poor taste might reflect other anxieties: many people in the arts are (justifiably) concerned with being viewed as part of the gentrification problem and are therefore quick to draw black-and-white “good-guy/bad-guy” lines. Or, as evidenced by this incident’s digital footprint, click “share” on someone else’s outrage as a way of symbolically aligning themselves in opposition to the villains.

Obviously, we believe it’s worthwhile to criticize the wrongs of the rich and powerful—we do it because we realize it’s necessary and not just clickbait. But we also want to encourage readers to proactively become a part of the solution beyond consensus-condemnation of the problem’s symptoms. To that end, we organized the Stay In New York conference on affordable workspaces and housing at the Queens Museum. We posted the program guide here, which includes information and contacts to get readers involved in resisting gentrification. If you want to share one story about gentrification in 2015, I’d encourage you to chose this one—so far it only has been viewed about a third as many times as Singer’s email, despite containing vital resources for moving beyond armchair activism. Or spread the word about the Small Business Survival Act, which would protect commercial lease holders (such as artist studios and your local bodega) from rent hikes in the face of condo conversions and chain stores. Whitney Kimball’s rallying cry around this legislation has only been viewed one-twelfth as often as the latest in the Macabre Suite drama.

In short: the whole point of stirring the pot is to mix things up. We don’t want you to be mad for the sake of self-righteousness. We do what we do because we want you to (in the words of Le Tigre) GET OFF THE INTERNET. I’LL MEET YOU IN THE STREET, but you have to show up too.

And so, my suggested New Year’s resolution isn’t to stop being pissed off about the right-wing, sexism, bland/corrupt profit-driven institutions, or gentrification. It’s to channel your energy into alternatives. Hate-filled media personalities like Jesse Watters have no power if we don’t pay attention to them. Divest your rage from their bullshit and invest in listening to people who know what the fuck they’re talking about. Is it really that much easier to condemn a figurehead of entrenched sexism than to actually pay attention to women artists? The commercial art world isn’t going away because you hate it, but artist-run alternatives will if you ignore them. Seriously, a round-trip Bolt Bus ticket to the free (and better) Artist-Run Art Fair costs less money than entrance to most mega-fairs. Similarly, we should be supporting actual non-profits who do great programs like the BHQF with the same passion we channel into critiquing the establishment. And for the love of god—act now for lasting policy change and grassroots resistance in the face of gentrification. If we don’t, the New York of 2016 is going to be nothing but bad news. That might be great for our site stats, but bad for our souls. We’re here every day because we love art, artists, and all the weird and wonderful stuff they accomplish in the face of so much crap. Next year, let’s tip the scales a little more toward remembering that.

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