Monday, December 2, 2013

Dealer Fever – David Zwirner etc.

Bill Clinton, Ben Stiller, David Zwirner 

For those of you living under a rock (or in the real world), and you haven’t read the profile of David Zwirner in the current issue of The New Yorker go and do so now, or as soon as you can spare a few moments, or whenever really.  The profile is called Dealer’s Hand and it is written by Nick Paumgarten, a young, sharp-witted writer who has a wide swath of journalistic curiosities such as culture, sports, art, economics and anything else that any fine cosmopolitan may want insight on.  His lengthy, though briskly readable, piece on David Zwirner and the inner world of an art dealer, has art people in a froth, or at least me, and I consider myself very unfrothable so I can only imagine what it is doing to the rest of this petite bourgeoisie called the art world.
What makes this such a captivating read is that it gets to the thick of things and with the clarity of an outsider.  Paumgarten is not from this world and he writes that way and wants to be seen as such.  There is a reason why Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic emeritus at The New Yorker didn’t write this expose.  One, it’s not Schjeldahl’s style, it’s a form of journalism that just isn’t his deck of cards.  It would be like asking a cat to sing.  Possible, maybe, but not pleasant for anyone to witness or attempt.  Anyways, Paumgarten talks about Zwirner and the art world that is his empire in making in the same way any good journalist would on any subject chosen.  There are facts given, backgrounds placed and quotable insiders to back things up throughout.  What had me enthralled was how right Paumgarten got it, it being the art world and it’s apparatuses and recent histories.  Facts reveal, even in the most secretive of industries, and it is refreshing to see this possible.
The profile is about David Zwirner, who he is, how he got there and what he is doing to make himself so damn successful.  He is not the king, aka Gagosian, but there is something more cunning and subtle to him that makes him seem like old money while Gagosian is the gawdy nouveau riche.  The way that Zwirner comes off is carefully relayed with consideration but there is also stark reveals here and there from the words quoted out of Zwirner’s own mouth and others.  But it must be said, this is more then just a profile of David Zwirner, it also peels away some of workings of how things are on top and what is involved in staying there and rising. 
Things such as the importance of secondary market sales, auctions, the HR, PR of sales and how things are priced and sold, the meaning of a building, the meaning of an artist gained or lost are all divulged, even if only in discreet bites. 
Those that are in the art world know most of what is written in this piece.  This strata, that Zwirner exists in is only participated, in real degree, by a handful of top galleries but the emulation and the stratagems used there are being replicated down the gallery food chain.  This is a new type of art world.  It is a professional, market strategy driven world and it is wildly successful and becoming painfully formulaic.  This is not only Zwirner’s doing or fault.  In a way, after reading this you have to admire his ‘professionalization’ of this bananas art market.  He is attempting to make chaos reigned, bottled and corked for sophisticated consumption.  Everyone likes fancy, reserved, rare or at least the illusion of it.  Even with the knowing though it is another thing entirely to read/feel the avalanching snowball about to hit your face that is the art world of the now and future. 
There are a few dissenting voices, as any journalistic piece of this sort has to inject, but there is no hint of alternative, or a changing tide.  The saddest thing to see in print is another known truth.  “Meanwhile, many of the most established and esteemed gallerists (Marian Goodman, Barbara Gladstone, Paula Cooper) are over seventy.”  Pang in heart.  Notice they are all women besides.  Anyways, the truth is that there is a generational shift occurring and there are very few that have ability or merit to sweep up the artists left in the wake of the inevitable closings of such legends in this field.  Cringe at this thought, it’s like somehow the thing called ‘a soul’ will dissipate in the art world when this happens. 
The Zwirner profile was quite possibly the clearest paraphrase, profile, insight, what-have-you, on this bizarre, money obscene art world that we exist in.  In a corresponding audio conversation that Paumgarten has with Schjeldahl on this subject/article they talk of the art world in a big culture way and at one point they are talking about auction results and the record breaking bids of late.  They both say quickly that this money, these auctions, are not effecting the way artists are making work today.  This, I have to sort of disagree with.  I think that the auctions do affect art making today.  The game of art, the intention of art, the structure of art has definitely changed because of the impact of money.  There may not be a direct one to one but the way that money has made art an industry, a huge industry with programs, professions, and all else feeds off this potentiality.  This does effect the way an artist beings, enters, finds themselves in this world and also how they want to participate and be seen in this world. 
Another article that is related in a way but very different in tone and form is Joel Mesler’s (co-propieter of Untitled Gallery in New York) article in Gallerist, called The Art of Art Dealing.  It is a satire doing what satire does, tells the brutal truth with a twist of eye-rolling glad-handing.  It’s a post-it-note of another type of revelation to follow your epic de-Zwirnering of the art world read. 
Enjoy both.  Don’t fret, it is as bad as you think it is but isn’t that truth sometimes so surreal/insane that it seems beautiful in a way?