Monday, March 11, 2013

The Art World Sort Of Sucks Right Now

It was just New York art fair week part I, otherwise known as Armory Week, (part II is around the bend with Frieze and its satellites in May) and living through another one of these weeks has concentrated my already deep sense of gloom and ennui towards the art world at large.  Maybe it’s just that I am burned out, and that is probably a large part of it, but I also think that there is something bigger, more entrenched that is occurring that is making the art world sort of terrible at the moment.  Below are a few things why the art world, to me, is at this suckage point.  Agree with me or not on any or all, that’s not the point, but I think anyone who is participant or audience to the art world can feel that things are just off, off, off.

So firstly, the art fairs.  They have become the reflection pool of the art world.  Let’s be real, it’s all about money honey.  The big one this past week, The Armory Show, is trying to re-brand itself and stay in the game as Frieze NY practically kicked its butt in relevancy last year.  There were leadership shakedowns and new ownership that have tried to PR tailspin it back onto course.  Did I go to this year’s Armory shows? No.  I am that far gone in caring, but the efforts were still felt.  The whole reason why one doesn’t actually need to go to it, or any art fair really, is that once you experience it a few times, it is all the same.  The same dealers, the same artists for the most part, the same vibe, the same parties, the same people, the same layouts, all same same same.  There is always a little twist of the new, or an attempt at it, but in the end that lipstick and pig thing is apt. 

Art fairs have taken over the ways in which collectors, curators, and dealers interact.  This is great in a way but it has now become a formula for ultimate capital realization and little dialogue.  I know the words ‘art’ and ‘dialogue’ are so academics 101, but it is actually sort of important.  As I have written in past posts about the art and money connection, it’s something that is unavoidable at this stage.  Art needs money and in an odd way money needs art.  It is foolish to think that this will stop but wow, people, everyone, can we all just take a step back and see that this whole art fair system is like a cancer that is draining so much of what art can be?  Also, working at them in the present and past, makes one brutally aware that there is entirely too much art out there and that there is entirely too much bad art. The saddest thing of all is that so much of this bad art is being produced and the people, the collectors, all love it.  They eat it up, buy it and thus continue the bad-art-money cycle.  It’s cringe worthy to witness and it makes one realize that populism reigns.  Populism is definitely not a bad thing but when it infects art and its standards, it makes me very personally want to burn it all down via laser eyes. 

People in the art world and artists are fully aware of this art fair money conundrum.  The Armory this year had Liz Magic Laser as their commissioned artist in which she brands and creates related work for the fair.  Her video, The Armory Show Focus Group, 2013, is a video of art world insiders who discuss her participation and roll as the commissioned artist, down to the invites she designs, and the reasons why she was the artist selected, etcetera.  Her branding and focus was in a corporatized vain and VIPs were made aware that they were number --- out of 12,000+ and that a booth at the show costs about 24k as reveled on the official tote.  This revelation subversion is apt for the investigations into the art fair model and the direct relationships it has with money, power, access and perceived exclusivity.  Liz Magic Laser’s selection is on point with The Armory and an art fair’s desire to reveal itself.  They and everyone participating know that art fairs are now at absurdist’s scale and to be able to self criticize is the most engaged thing to do.  This actually is also what is really bothersome.  To be able to be self-critical does not excuse anything.  In a way it feels like some sort of karmic plus one in its attempt to diminish its detriments to art and its structures.  It is using subversion as a tool to negate external criticisms and that is frustrating because it shows even tools of subversion are being co-opted, even if it’s in a wink-wink way.  There is no way to fight it though; there is no way to beat the battle boat that is art fairs.  They are here to stay because they are money making machines and if art is the price paid for it, they will continue to leech it till it’s dry. 

Another thing about subversion has also been playing in my mind on why art is so flaccid at the moment.  Someone recently mentioned McKenzie Wark and it made me remember him again and most specifically his book A Hacker Manifesto, 2004.  2004 seems like ages ago but some of the things he wrote there are still very relevant to 2013.  I scrolled through an abstract version of this online and some things in it re-peeked my mind. He speaks about the hacker class as being one that is excluded from mainstream and that it is disparate and unknown fully even to itself and who and how hackers function.  He says that hackers,

…produce new concepts, new perceptions, new sensations, hack out of raw data… While we hackers create new worlds, we do not possess them.  That which we create is mortgaged to others, and to the interest of others, to states and corporations who monopolies the means for making worlds we alone discover… Hackers are not joiners.  We’re not often willing to sub-merge out singularity in any collective… History is the production of abstraction and the abstraction of production.  What makes life differ in one age after the next is application of new modes of abstraction to the task wresting from freedom from necessity.

Wark is smart and familiar in his Situationist positioning and although this seems mildly dated, I do believe that somehow the sincerity of these ideas and these types of ideas has been put aside and more frustratingly have also been co-opted by and for opposing forces.  The irony of critique is pervasive in art making, criticism, writing and conversation.  It is now a tool of branding and ownership that is more a style then a way of thinking or living.  This is happening everywhere and the ones that are masterful in using it apply doses of wit and humor to make it more personalized.  There are those that are practicing and being a form of what Wark calls the hacker, but the general usages and participations seem and feel antithetical to the possibilities of it.  Artists and art practioners who use subversion as a tool of validation and authentication is b-a-d for art.  It’s tacky and vile, as it makes clear that there is nothing that can’t and won’t be used as to be a seen as avant-garde, if that even exists anymore. 

What is probably the biggest cloud over art is art itself.  I was having a conversation recently with a person whose ideas on ‘what art is’ is at once consuming and crippling in its purity.  Purity and art is a tangled mess of an idea but bear with me.  They were saying how art should be, needs to be “honest.”  This resonated with me as I, in my basic jargon in talking of art and life in general, often describe things in what is “right” or feels “right.”  This person and I speak and think differently and possibly mean those words differently but the core is the same, I believe.  Art has become a gimmick, a way to participate in a culture, and subcultures that are full and rich with ideas and people.  I think that society, or at least developed ones, are severely depressed and unhealthy.  People, all of them, know and feel this in some fundamental way.  Most ‘norms’ get through this by wholly embracing what is set out around them and they invest and strive to consume, meet and achieve artificial, yet actual, goals.  Even in this process though there is an overwhelming disconnect and sense of off-ness, at least for most.  Then there are those in the creative class who love being ‘non-norms’ and have created a parallel but cordoned off group, community, network, and sector for themselves.  They need this as it is the measure of their enlightenment, differentness, and gives a sense of belonging but not with the society as a whole. 

Most of the participants in this are hangers on.  The actual need and desire to be a part of this or anything in general, to me is a false desire.  But we live in capitalism land and we are living, breathing, thinking beings, and survival, although deformed in a way, is the name of the game.  We as a species need to function and interact with other beings.  Communication is the key word. This is our means of survival and the ultimate drive and reasons for our progress.  Art is a tool of communication.  It is a beautiful form that compresses and reveals what it means to be human and what this whole existence thing is about.  Art that does this, that touches upon this is the best thing ever but there are so many people participating in this that don’t give a flying crap about art and only care about being a member of this class.  That to me is the reason why there is so much bad art.  Why there are so many structures, why there are so many groups, barriers, leagues of vetters and doers that just glut art to the point of commercial device.  We are all collectively killing little art baby and that makes me very sad.  What is honesty or rightness in art?  It is not something specific or quotable but I know when I see it or come into contact with it that it hits a little nerve in my brain our my guts that makes be go “wow.”

Okay enough gripping for today.  I don’t really think art is completely doomed.  It is the best thing ever when it is doing its magic dance but for the time being I feel like we all need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves, or wreck art at least, and try to pull back on some of the mirage we think we are living in.  Things won’t get better just because we say it sort of sucks.  They also won’t get better by bowing out, which is the impulse I have at this very moment.  We are in a moment of too much everything and it’s almost as if we are all to damn smart for our own good.  We have to start being versus analyzing.  We have to start being versus projecting.  We have to start being versus posturing.  We can do it.  I know we can.  On a final positive note, art did make me tear up a bit this past week and from a most unlikely source.  There was a link online for Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present show at MoMA, 2010.  It is a clip in which Ulay, her once long time lover and collaborator sat across from each other, during this performance. Abramović and Ulay last saw each other in 1988 when they walked the length of the Great Wall of China, met at the middle, embraced and didn’t see each other again till this interaction.  Find it and watch it.  It makes one realize art has the capacity to be beautiful and powerful because it has always, and will forever be about what it means to be human.