Tuesday, March 11, 2014

is the contemporary art world in trouble? (smirk)

party at art basel, miami beach, 2013

aLfReDo tRiFf

steven zevitas writes about contemporary-art insomnia for the huffington post. 
If you were to walk through the aisles of any one of the dozens of art fairs that now take place globally on an almost weekly basis, you would get the sense that the art world is a happier place than Disney World. Big art, big artists, big dealers and big money play their roles in a hypnotic and well-rehearsed production, and toothy smiles abound. Yet this intoxicating spectacle is just the most public manifestation of a problem in the art world that has become increasingly obvious over the past decade: more and more, the cart is pulling the horse.
"the cart is money and lots of it" concludes zevitas. we agree.

@ miami bourbaki, we've tried to define the money cart (more of this later).

the cart pulls the "contemporary art" horse. how does it work?

money goes where profit is to be made & profit necessitates a well-defined domain, i.e., the art market. now, let's analyze what makes art art. is there a standard for "contemporary"?
(...) in fact, that the word "consensus" has come to be all but synonymous with another art-world favorite, "quality." Their combined weight, piled on layers of subjectivity, has, over time, exerted enough pressure to create a very strange substance: virtual objectivity.
well said. zevitas is showing the redundancy behind "quality."

if "quality" is grounded on "consensus," and the latter is produced by layers of subjectivity, then "quality" ends up an empty norm, a sort of naked king bestowing fashion standards. zevitas' idea needs a bit of scaffolding:

why is quality an empty cipher?

zevitas describes how quality is subsumed under "consensus."  
Right now the "consensus" is that serious art involves raw canvas, a smattering of paint, possibly an exposed stretcher bar, and a "who the fuck cares if it looks done" attitude -- some of this work is quite good, by the way. The "context" that this work is presented in is the hippest galleries and art fairs in the world. And collectors who do more listening than looking are lapping it up in large amounts and at absurd prices.
after duchamp the "fuck how it looks" position became part of the game, but many 20th century avant-garde movements still regarded the old idea of inherent quality traits as an art norm. the problem was that the cart was being pulled by the idea of "the new."

with post-modern art "novelty" became the norm. now "quality" was redefined as novelty. this is the proper birth of contemporary art. the paradox is that "contemporary art" is not -really- new. it cannot be. "contemporary art" is a redundant presentist paradigm with no past & no future. 

at miami bourbaki we propose: 

whatever is "contemporary" is *automatically* accepted  

but "accepted" doesn't necessarily mean good. there are lots of artists working within the "consensus" that never make it. only a few gain access to the contemporary-art global olympus. what's the secret?
what turns young emerging artists into future superstars is arthoodication, a process of market legitimation.

if "consensus" is the perception-element, then arthoodication is the acting-element.

who are these artists?
(...) a small group of mostly young white male artists such as Joe Bradley, Jacob Kassay, Lucien Smith and Oscar Murillo start to sell work for six-digit amounts, it should raise a lot of red flags.
we're glad zevitas brings up murillo. @ miamibourbaki, we analyzed the rubell's arthoodication process of murillo. we advanced:
how does arthoodication work?

1- commission an in situ production of 50 pieces!
2- print a catalog, with an interview by hans ulrich obrist, (starcurator maximus & master of interviews --a predominant arthoodication trampoline) and essays by liam gillick, jonathan p. watts and nicola lees).
3- devise a publicity blitz, which includes numerous articles in some of the art market's favorite outlets.
in closing, zevitas tries to "fix the mess" --as he puts it, but his recommendations waver between naïveté and self-importance:

to artists: "avoid consensus." & why would they do that? didn't zevitas acknowledge that consensus is what yields "quality," the supposed criterion of acceptability? artists have spent years producing creative dispositions toward contemporary art styles. they are known, their works sold, etc, because of this consensus. they would find the advice to stop doing what they do (even if they couldn't or wouldn't see market forces behind it) preposterous.

to magazines: "allow exhibition reviewers to take stances that might be in conflict with the interests of your advertising department."  is zevitas dreaming? it won't happen. the reason is that art magazines are fighting for survival. they desperately need the ca$h generated by publicity & sponsors. conflict of interest will keep proliferating like fungi on putrid soil.

to museums: "expand your boards to include a wider demographic." why should they? museums do just fine exploiting the current culture-as-spectacle model where financial status & celebrity rule.

to collectors: "think for yourselves." but they do, which is why they advocate collecting art as a "social exercise."

to art dealers: "refuse to do business with anyone whose motives are even remotely speculative." is zevitas kidding? art dealers speculate as naturally as frogs leap.


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