July 10, 2020

Lullabies, look in your eyes...


Posted by Dennis at 3:19 PM | Comments (0)

The New Normal Gallery


What would a new design criteria for a gallery look like in the "New Normal"?

The question of what will remain or will be regenerated of our art world in the wake of the worldwide pandemic will not be fully answered until the opening of the coming Fall season. There are a flurry of writing chewing the fat of this issue, here are two worth looking over.

Taylor Dafoe wrote an article in ArtNet in anticipation of NYC's phase 3 aperture this week, allowing galleries to open in the city: New York's Galleries Are Preparing to Reopen to an Uncertain Art Market This Week. Will Anyone Show Up? Caution is the watchword, hand sanitizers and scheduled appointments seem to be the order of the day. Interestingly, there was a mention of asking every gallery visitor to register their identity upon entrance, for purposes of facilitating contact tracing.

Barry Schwabsky weighed in with a mediation on the future of the gallery system post COVID-19: What Are Art Galleries For? No conclusions were arrived at in his article, he let the question hang heavy in the air.

There will be more friction to view art in galleries in the months to come. With the lingering super abundance of caution gripping the world, it's probable that there will be a timed-entry basis for museums and gallery openings, and now doubt this will reduce the population of willing art viewers. Reports are arriving now about museum layoffs and similar effects in other associated institutions. One such institution is the contemporary art fair. Many art fairs have cancelled or moving their schedules, the repercussions of social distancing remains to be seen and there are a few art observers who are already anticipating structural changes to this sector.

Art Fairs have been increasingly regarded in several quarters of the art world as an odious symbol of the pre-COVID NeoLiberal era. Basically, the art world was running on an old 90's model as the Fairs and auction houses altered the landscape in the first two decades of the subsequent century. A flood in the population of artists and the evaporation of the influence of criticism added to the mix. The idea of value became muddled and art became seen as a fungible form of money when it wasn't seen alternatively as an irrelevance. That the art fair arrogates collector attention from the local habitat of the gallery to one place and time, this is natural to its' design. That there have been an explosion of art fairs worldwide, pushing event calendars past the seasonal towards nearly every month means not only that galleries are obliged to hit the road at an exhausting tempo but more importantly, local knowledge of art by collectors has evaporated. What is lost in the process is more than knowledge but also intimacy, commitment and love between what artists make/think and what collectors collect. Now that the behemoth of the art industry as exemplified as the art fair system has had a spanner thrown into its gears, the moment is now for galleries to rethink how they present art and possibly recover their audiences again... before the art fairs do.

I've written elsewhere in this weblog about the need for the restoration of love in the our art world. The topic of this post is another way to talk about re-centering our regard for value. I am referring to this -perhaps obliquely during studio visits with fellow artists, when I ask "...where do you think we are in art history and where do you think we are going?" I'm looking for an art that is not about churning out more stuff, but instead imbued with purpose and vision that has a regard for the grandeur all that art has become to this moment. We need every player in the art scene today moving forward to find motivation in an intensity of the regard, another word for love. Collectors should consider themselves as expressive with their collections as artists are with their art materials. Galleries should do likewise demonstrating their behavior as a model for collectors, presenting artists that they not only believe in but also invest in as well. Skin in the game. Value is the measure of the unwillingness to part with something. Price in the market is the degree that unwillingness is overcome. Yes, the juxtaposition of these two ideas are paradoxical. The antonym of this particular paradox is mediocrity, the commonplace, another way to describe the state of art world after the manifestation of zombie art.

So, how could this impact the schematic design of a gallery?

The entrance.

Something that is precious will be guarded carefully. Access should be therefore controlled and vetted. Like members only websites, it is at least feasible that gallery visitors could register to enter, providing usernames and passwords to enter. It's interesting that Taylor Dafoe reported in the ArtNet article above that galleries will be asking for information to conduct contact tracing. It seems that this idea is in the air already. Sign in books have long been a matter of course in galleries worldwide. It's a small shift from voluntary to a requested sign in. Managing this data could be quite a valuable aid in getting to know who the gallery audience is and how it could or should be grown, a level of analysis yet untapped in the art world but commonplace elsewhere. At least until the pandemic passes, the open door policy of the past will not be possible. No doubt many galleries are thinking about how to manage exhibition openings. Should there be more than one, perhaps a week long series of nights of calibrated populations? Such a distribution would inevitably be ranked from VIP's to lesser VIP's. Whatever develops, it's not far fetched to imagine that access to art viewing will not be what it was.

Constricted access could be compensated with longer exhibition runs. Before the pandemic, galleries were already tilting towards extended calendars since the art fairs had hoarded all of the attention, luring the collector community into a singular time and place. Concerns about the expense of travel, transport, the sheer material needed for convention spaces are important but little attention was paid to the deleterious effects on local gallery collector audiences. The question of how global art fairs will recover is open for at least another year, but in the meantime galleries will have a chance to present a more attractive alternative.

The reception.

The reception space should be pointedly hospitable. Long ago, galleries used to provide food and drink a la the classic German gallery model as a matter of course. It is interesting that this custom had faded into the years that art became a brute commodity to be sold and as fast as it is forgotten. Hospitality can take a range of forms and the field of experimentation is wide. Refreshments are only one dimension, public speaking is another. Already, round table discussions have been sporadically hosted and once in a while a welcoming expression of gratitude and introduction to the art work on hand can end with toasts and applause. These grace notes point to value in art in presentation, an inculcation of the notion of the possibility if not probability of pricelessness.

The exhibition.

Front room and back room, this is the general parti of galleries since their inception. Public space and private space. The former has taken many forms, usually signaling the image of the museum at one degree or the other. The latter usually has been offices and storage, usually an afterthought. What could happen if more thought was invested in both? What if the backroom could be supercharged? Something that is precious will be guarded carefully. The back room should be the place where precious objects are guarded and lavished with jealous attention for the select few who would barter for possession. Dark walls, focused lights in framed spots on the priceless. Carefully designed storage racks that allow ready access at hand and guard the condition of the objects. A sofa, chairs, coffee tables, refreshing beverages to assist extending viewing. This is the atmosphere of value.

With the front room and back room in this general parti, the back room is amplified and the front room is condensed and intensified. The gallery proper should be singular and ready for any installation. It should be smaller than the current convention, and just big enough to deliver a precise impact. Tighten the aperture and fluid velocity increases. I've been fantasizing about the exhibition space as a theatrical machine, a deus ex machina delivering the denouement. With the floors, walls and ceilings floating, they can be built and rebuilt ready for any reconfiguration.

The underlying drive in this blogpost is the desire to restore love in the art world. Value in art has been increasingly questionable during the first decades of this century. We can't ask a collector to invest not only their money but their psyche into art unless galleries do it too. Some artists do this but not all. This means that galleries must become more like collectors, guarding works they deem priceless until paradoxically, price overcomes it.

Posted by Dennis at 3:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 6, 2020


Chapter 12:

1. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

9 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.

10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.

11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Posted by Dennis at 7:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2020


My partners Gerry Smulevich and Alberto Barcia Fernández and I had to postpone our planned AIR.CAT summer artist residency program. We are going to do some interesting things in the meantime...

AIR.CAT Press Release, Summer 2020

Due to worldwide travel limitations imposed by the COVID19 pandemic, AIR.CAT (Artist in Residency, Catalunya) has been forced to postpone its planned Summer 2020 artist residency program for next year, Summer 2021.

AIR.CAT is an artist residency program based in Tossa de Mar whose mission is to bring artists from around the world to Costa Brava to learn about Catalunya and the special character and history of Tossa de Mar, make art and exhibit their work in Tossa's Municipal Art Museum, the first contemporary art museum in Spain. Tossa was the destination of international artists who sought refuge from the turmoil of war in the 20th century. In those years, artists such as Marc Chagall, André Masson, Georges Bataille, Oscar Zügel, Otho Lloyd and Dora Maar and many others lived and created and exhibited art in the seaside town of Tossa. AIR.CAT's ambition is to restore Tossa as a destination for active contemporary artists.

Rafael Benet called Tossa the "Babel of the Arts" and since then this phrase has been proudly adopted by Tossa to convey this special distinction. AIR.CAT seeks to reinvigorate the spirit of this distinctive identity with a yearly recurring flow of artists who will have the opportunity and time to reflect on contemporary issues that preoccupy the international art world. The four-week program will expose these artists to the artistic treasures of Catalunya with field trips to Barcelona, Girona, and the Empuries. Tossa de Mar has several dimensions of natural wonders that the artists will explore such as hiking, kayaking the coastline and exploring the undersea world of the coastal Mediterranean.

Since AIR.CAT can't bring the six selected artists of the summer 2020 program to Tossa, we have decided instead to bring Tossa to the artists!. In a monthly virtual meeting, various personalities from Tossa will be introduced and interviewed in a group online chat that will be recorded and archived for future reference. People such as local representatives of the Ajuntament, builders of historic architecture, historians, chefs, archeologists, and many others will share with the six artists their experiences and offer insights into the special character of Tossa de Mar and Catalan culture. With this exceptional circumstance of postponement, we hope to "turn lemons into lemonade" and take the opportunity to enrich next year's participating artists with a deeper understanding of Catalunya that is certain to deliver a richer and rather special summer program for 2021.
Posted by Dennis at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2020

ReZumthoring LACMA

During the pandemic lockdown, news began to filter about a quiet demolition of historic elements of the LACMA campus:

In April, while all but the most essential workers were home under shelter-in-place orders, demolition crews began tearing down the three structures by LA modernist architect William Pereira that were part of the original 1965 scheme, as well as the never-loved 1986 addition by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. As of last week, the museum's Bing Theater reduced to a pile of debris.
Now, these aren't such stellar historic structures, iconic civic jewels such as the Tower Records building or Union Station or the Hollywood sign, even. It's inevitable to wonder if there wasn't a softer option for its director Michael Govan. Charting the way forward for one of Los Angeles' premier art museums is tricky business. Consider the numbers and general situation. The Pereira building needed asbestos abatement, which is a monumental exercise. It's of a scale that itself would provoke a complete demolition and redesign to follow in suit, instead of renovating the shell of a building that remains after that process. A classic good money after bad.

Even before the construction crews enter the campus, LACMA was already staggering $443 million in total debt. Imagine if you were the director facing this situation and charged with charting a path forward. Apparently, Govan's solution is to build an epic design of a replacement building, of such star power that could attract enough contributions in fund raising to overpower the liabilities and cost of construction. Easy, right? Not so fast, architecture will take you to the limit, in patience, temper and budget, it always does. Preliminary cost estimates range between $650-750 million. The final numbers always dwarf the preliminaries, I'd say that planning on double the initial estimate is a rational frame of mind in almost any architectural project. We're in the well over a billion territory and counting.

[Jump cut to Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems. Most of the ruling class must be exactly like that character.]

So, the gamble is a billion and change in dollars. Maybe two. As the director, you have to find an architect to pull it off. Govan chose Peter Zumthor, not the most well known name at the time of the choosing. An exquisite sensibility. He is well respected in architectural circles for projects that were tiny in comparison to what is about to go down in Los Angeles' Miracle Mile, smack dab within the La Brea Tar Pits. What ominousness overtones! LA's boom and bust Day of the Locust and "It's Chinatown, Jake." Miracles, indeed. And pools of upwelling crude that have drowned struggling creatures for millennia. The whole prospect is as scary as it is enticing.

Cat nip for architects.

Cutting to the quick here, my critique is that Zumthor delivered a lazy cartoon. I think that LACMA is better off left as it is for the time being... for this generation at least. The asbestos is best left undisturbed until LACMA pays off existing debt and stores up enough energy to take on the ultimate obligation of rebuilding itself. But Govan pulled the Cortez option, there's no turning back now.

If you're going to revamp the exhibition program, then try to swing for the bandstands. If you're going to make an icon of the tar pits, don't extrude a doodle. From the g-d's eye view of an architect standing over a plan, Zumthor drew an outline of a pool of liquid and initially colored it black. Levitate the squiggle a couple of stories over the site to evade the problematic sticky ground plane, extrude and BOOM, you have a world class museum to pull off in LA what Gehry did in Bilbao.
After the phenomenal success of Gehry's design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, critics began referring to the economic and cultural revitalization of cities through iconic, innovative architecture as the "Bilbao effect".  In the first 12 months after the museum was opened, an estimated US$160 million were added to the Basque economy. Indeed, over $3.5 billion has been added to the Basque economy since the building opened. In subsequent years there have been many attempts to replicate this effect through large-scale eye-catching architectural commissions that have been both successful and unsuccessful.

A Bilbao Effect is a flash which is destined to fade as the world rushes to imitate in diminishing resonance. The Big Bang and Heat Death over and over again, turtles all the way down. Contextual circumstances are instructive. Bilbao was challenged with shifting from a declining shipping industry to another better horizon. Tourism in Spain garners between 12-25% of their GDP and the decision to choose a starchitect to reestablish Bilbao on a cultural tourism industry made a lot of sense. The sensibility, history, and European context of the Basque people and post-Franco Spain was a most unique context. It takes more than an architect superhero to pull off another Bilbao Effect.

A constellation of factors aside, let's examine LACMA's new design. Zumthor's elevated planar squiggle forced the program into a tightening lasso.

...announcements by Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, were always reassuring: don't worry, the new structure replacing the four existing gallery buildings on the East Campus would equal their total square footage, though the gallery space might be a wee bit smaller.

Then the bombshell exploded: the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) released in late March slapped Angelenos to attention when they learned they would be paying $650 million to get a building that would be 105,108 square feet smaller than the originals, with 53,000 square feet less gallery space.

A single floor, the design relied on an undulating glassed perimeter which imposed huge limitations on the exhibition program. Art work must be arrested in time and entropy and even ambient indirect sunshine is a conservator's ulcer, limiting what can be shown on the walls, that are all facing a view that over-competes for the visitor's attention. Light controlled exhibition environments are the square footed remains of the plan minus the corridor belt, the "nucleus of the cell", as it were. Add to the list of constraints, the thickness of the plane itself, in compliance with the extruded puddle doodle, a uniform ceiling height regimenting all exhibition spaces.

All of these issues are not-so-insignificant irritants, but the biggest has to be fact that it will be a smaller building than the one it will replace. How to deal with this shortcoming? To increase the performance of a museum gallery, we can't use a turbo charging concept since super-compressing a volume of people is inhumane and a travesty to art. Instead, the idea is to overclock the exhibition schedule, speed up the rotation of exhibitions and flow more people through the turnstiles. This reminds me of what happened in fashion in the past thirty years where the yearly season cycle went from four to five to -fast forward- past twelve. The effect on the fashion industry? It's called "Just-in-Time" design and manufacturing, a hamster wheel from hell where creativity is shrunk to the limbic and the twitch response is amplified fearfully. Map what happened in fashion's design offices to what will happen to LACMA's curatorial offices, if you will.

This is becoming a tirade of a critique... but hey! I'm just getting started.

Both Peter Zumthor's LACMA and Richard Meier's Getty Museum share something in common. Both faced pressure form their clients to fundamentally subvert their designs. (I will leave the question as to whether their careers were subverted, like a loaded pistol on a tabletop.) Meier's entire oeuvre up until the Getty project was based on an architectural dictionary derived from Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye. In 1920, Corbusier published Toward an Architecture, unleashing his famous quote "Une maison est une machine-à-habiter" ("A house is a machine for living in"). Meier made an architectural canon from this, a catalog of machine components recombined into a career of projects which branded him quite effectively. When the day came that Meier's Getty clients insisted on a switch out from his typical white anodized modular metal exterior cladding, he should have smiled and said no. Yes, like Roark did... and not particularly for Randian reasons... but yeah, like that. The same goes for Zumthor, who was asked to switch out the initial bitumen black finish he first envisioned for... what I imagine he thought was something more SoCal: desert beige. (SoCal is a multitude of microclimates, actually.) You see, the only quality that could have possibly allowed his doodle to fly was an inky petrochemical blackness, which should have been everywhere, maybe even inside the galleries and parking garages, the sun and the world be damned. But no. This was not to be. The color change, doubly untethered to the subterranean tar pit site of inspiration, sent associations to other places... to the freeway overpasses, unfortunately.

So, what to do?

Well, I can imagine an alternate future. What if we could go back in time after the Govan meet up, when the roll of tracing paper first laid over the site plan? What if we ReZumthored LACMA?

Let's do it.

LACMA1.gif Ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between, I present an alternative LACMA design. The allure of the tar pits is too strong, sending us towards an allusion of the art world itself. Quicksand and sticky bitumen of oblivion, the pickled archive of mother nature as the ultimate conservator, the upwelling of memory, levitating gasses of curation, entropic time arrested, a nearly combustive atmosphere of curatorial swamp gas... There his no way to go in reference to this mother load of contextual associations but directly into eye of the hurricane of verisimilitude. Abstract any distance less and the result would be Just Pathetic.

Let's use the Bilbao Effect. Let's employ the eye catching star of the show main exhibition space and express it as a machine for showing art in. Go for it, a deus ex machina on steroids. Light control, artificial and skylight. Reconfigurable wall systems. Aircraft elevator floors lifting up modular exhibition elements from a preparator's staging workshop below deck. Also below, art storage, conservator's studios, Offices, admin, curators, support staff, you get the idea. An architectural parti is a diagram either in words or in a drawing that concisely conveys the intention of a design. For example, Gehry's Bilbao is a multiple front end collision of curvaceous and standard boxy galleries and support spaces. At the impact zone, upwelling clouds of now-standard Gehry fare.

The parti for the ReZumthor is geometrically roughly similar, except that there are multiple nodes, one centrally large with smaller satellite exhibition spaces in the surround. Instead of a material accident, drainage. Rectilinear galleries framing double loaded irregular corridors all trickling towards the sinkhole where art erupts. The procession in circulation spaces are slippery meandering rivulets trickling towards a simultaneous burbling drain and upwelling source. All this beneath a bulbous bituminous integument. A shimmering oleaginous membrane, swollen with imaginative surprise.



Posted by Dennis at 6:27 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2020

Art: Pro-Practice

Last Spring, I received an email request from a friend:

I am writing to you because I am teaching a Painting MFA seminar here at [XXXX} University this semester centered on exploring issues of "art context" and "art mediation." Part of our class time is dedicated to interviewing different people that work in different roles as agents or actors in the for the lack of a better term "art world" to try to see things from their point of view. The idea is to try to discern the complexity of the value systems, networks, and social dynamics in which art practices are inserted. We have interviewed artists, docents, curators, writers, art historians, etc. 

I thought about inviting you to join us for a conversation.

We used to call this topic "Pro Practice" back in my day. This is a grad seminar designed to prepare young artists for the world they are about to embark. After the Zoom talk, I pulled much of the conversation into the notes below and elaborated a bit more. My abiding theme was a description of two worlds: the real idealistic world and the unreal realistic world.

The former is about a fidelity to inspiration, creativity and the courage to accept the consequences of the hazards of wider audience receptivity, to reconcile oneself with oblivion, to simultaneously steel oneself against it by striving to create art objects that survive dissolution by a demonstrable self evident value that resists the destiny of the landfill. The latter is about an ecosystem of egos operating within an economic marketplace that has in recent years become more and more corporatized and bureaucratized despite the erosion of modern late Industrial Revolutionary disruptive innovations.

Promises of Success

Art schools have been suffering under the pressure to promise at least some degree of career success when graduates sally forth into the world. The truth is, no one knows. Two forces run sometimes in concert and sometimes counter to each other: one advances the historical argument and summons with universal acclaim, beautiful surprise; the other is akin to chance molecular connections of entities in Brownian motion. Maybe something like a Darwinian survival of the fittest brings the fittest art to the world stage. Maybe greatness would lie hidden in plain sight, undetected until oblivion erases all traces from human memory. The best an artist can do is to strive, to summon the superlative from the core of their being... and then allow their reverberation to travel via the medium of the art community at large. The rest is destiny.

The list of the particulars concerning the marketplace that could be discussed in an art school setting but generally isn't: What is value and how does pricing art work? When is pricing real and when is it artificial? What is the business relationship between a gallery and an artist? What is the difference between a primary and secondary market? What is a contract, either implied or written? What is the history of art dealing, who are the major figures and how does character and circumstance shape their destiny? Similarly, what is the survey of the art city past and present, and how does historical circumstance shape them? How do the mechanics work between galleries, museums, critics, art fairs, etc? How can the art system be gamed? What different kinds of collectors are there, what motivates them? What is money laundering and what are the signs? If art is sold depending on perceived prestige, how is is prestige created, grown, simulated and/or destroyed? This is a list that I can whip out in a single sitting. Young artists who leave school unequipped with this compass are easy prey.

Don't let them know you're hungry. Back in the early aughts, my gallery shared an exchange with another artist in the stable. The artist wanted to tell the gallery how much he needed them to sell his art work. If that wasn't bad enough, he relayed his concerns with such desperation that it shook the gallerist and not in a good way. It was then as I listened to this account that I resolved never to let a gallery know how hungry I was. We need our galleries to sell our work with confidence, conveying the sense of the value of our work to the collector. We don't need to hazard the seep of undertones of desperation to the world at large. Our confidence in the greatness of our work must be total and rooted in reality. Our survival is our own responsibility and can never be laid at the foot of the people who sell -or buy- our work.

Modeling the Art World

Art school is a virtual version of the art world, a necessarily simplified model. Art education is a schematic of a community of peers, a studio, opportunities to exhibit and gatekeepers in overwatch. The recent notion (growing within the art world for the past twenty or more years now) that artists can and should emerge from school hot into the marketplace has been a catastrophe for wisdom, common sense and a sensible art world. What is inevitably missing are the dimensions of the dialog in print (criticism) , the participation of collectors, the intermediary of the gallery and the ecosystem of the marketplace. This is true for all education, for all careers: a diploma marks only the beginning of an education. No art school can guarantee success nor make any promise in the direction of art career success, much less survival.

Realm of artist communities in collaboration... the loamy soil. Circles and circles of friends: real, strong and reverberating. The Aether of the social. The medium of friendship is where the expanding waves of the energy of influence moves. It wouldn't hurt to look up waves in the scientific sense in Wikipedia for interesting metaphors for the various dynamics of camaraderie. Being a service to the community is universally appreciated. Visit studios and talk about the work more than you talk about career. Curate your friends into a show. (Beware of ingratiatingly including yourself, it's a bad look.) Write a review. Band together with friends and open your own space. Don't get preoccupied with finding where the best party is in town. Have your own party. Be attractive, unforced. Get to know the history of artist friendship and rivalry. Like the Athens of Pericles, sometimes we find ourselves in the company of a group of brilliant people. Kismet. What do you do when this happens? What do you do when it doesn't?

Art and Value

The nature of art and the market. We operate within a marketplace but we are not OF the marketplace. The framework undergirding this arrangement is the distinction and relation between implicit and explicit value. Objects that are traded in the marketplace are vested with value in subjective and objective terms. Commodities (water, food, fuel...) and services have value that is easily formulated and calculated. Beauty is intangible and sensed differently in each and every mind. Commodities such as a refreshing beverage begin their existence explicitly in value and can arrive possessing the implicit, subjective, iconic value of, say, Coca-Cola. Flip this script for beauty. Art of every type begins existence endowed with perceived value that is implicit in nature. The social machinery of perceived value is established at the origin of the creating artist and proceeds into world in successive expanding waves of acquaintance within a social medium. The art world is not something outside of you. It begins within you if you are an artist. Your success will be the measure of its' realization. The velocity and amplitude of this energy can arrive delivering a value that is explicitly demonstrable in terms of money. The value of art, whether it's in the primary market of an emerging artist or the secondary market of an auction, depends on the degree that it is regarded as priceless. Note the wink of irony in that jealous possession is overcome by the ratcheted offering of price. The highest price is fetched by that which is mostly-yet-nearly impossible to be parted with. A conquest of fidelity. A stolen romance. An orgasm of seduction.

Structure of the Art System

There are artists who make art and gatekeepers who interlock into the architecture of the art system. Let's take a look at the components.

Collectors. They complete us. But too many today don't collect like they used to do, like artists making art. Too many rely on art advisors. Too many think of art as a fungible form of money. Once in a while, you could encounter someone who loves your art work as much as you do and will want to keep it near, to let others know you regard it as priceless. The jealous regard of pricelessness is the prize... this is what fetches the highest price.

Commercial galleries. The world of the gallerist is extremely tough, high stakes, so have some compassion for the honest ones. They come in sizes small, medium and large. Anyone could create a gallery, but do it for enough time, survive and thrive and this stability delivers them to the second category. The prize is access to the circles of elite collectors whose passion rivals that of the best artists. This schema is not as simple as it seems, and the gallery world can be a step through the Looking Glass. The problems that galleries have to contend with include managing rapid flows of income and outflows of expenses, retaining the investment in artist careers in the face of pressures on artists to migrate to stronger galleries who may or may not offer a stronger potential marketplace of passionate collectors. How does an artist gain gallery representation? This is like the question: how does a person fall in love? The answer is simple: you become fetching and available. The earlier discussion of the medium of friendship is important here. This is how a gallery gets to hear about you, through other people. Let that happen. Make this easy to happen. The game: garnering the trust of collectors beyond the periodicity of calendric time that could sustain a business economically. This is the measure of the strength of the "two list model" (my coinage): galleries have two lists. One is a list of collectors and what they want. The other is a list of artists and what they make. Are the correlations strong? Are they beyond enduring, do they grow?

There is of course a complex of institutions public and private. Every institution is an ecology of personality dynamics. Note the galleries who are tuned into that frequency. they owe their existence to the legacy of Alfred Barr, who created the model of curation and collection that endures to this day. Museum collections: every artist wants to be part of one but not everyone can get included. Museum curators: they see patterns in what artists make and present this to the world. Their popularization has weakened their power in recent years. Original thinkers among curators remain, but are hidden in the middling crowd. The silver lining when everyone wants to be a curator is that their visitations to the studio make them good honeybees of viral reputation transmission.

The art press is an institution in transition in this Information Age. Criticism, is it dead? When you think of a critic, try to characterize their creative contribution. Clement Greenberg ("Avant Garde and Kitch", Ab Ex) Raphael Rubenstein (Provisional Painting), Germano Celant (Arte Povera)... they're easy. Not so easy with most of the contemporary critics practicing today. The best critics are imaginative, perceptive, creative, peers of the best artists, in command of their craft of language. That their population is fewer today could be because of the dispersing force of the Information Age that has diluted their power and reach. They directed the force and concentration of prestige, who will take their place today, especially after the impact of the pandemic's social distancing when we can't witness the strength of the throng for ourselves?

Gaming the system

Every system gets gamed. Big system, big game. Small system , small game. Today's art world is a very BIG game. Don't game the system (else art becomes a cover for the real objective of power for its own sake)... but be aware of the games in play. The art world today is humongous, compared to its' nascent years when in one evening of gallery openings, you could meet ALL of the major players in the art scene. In the past, the population was small but the larger culture couldn't care less. Today, the danger is to be lost in the clamorous noise of our own making. The number of artists were smaller then and larger today but the population of true vision and talent has remained roughly the same. How to stand out from the crowd? By catering to dominant curatorial themes? Beware of art devolving into illustration.

The impact of the swollen Art Fair calendar has the overclocked art market. The art fair has existed since the beginning of modern art but it became what we know it to be today with the success of the Cologne Art Fair in the late 80's. Success breeds success as they say, but it does so ad nauseum. Like the California Gold Rush, seekers of fortune poured in by the droves, multiplying fairs to crowd the calendar, obligating galleries to support a road show that never stops, that never knows a break. Prices become goosed in this artificial environment, art only of a certain salable type gets shown and ultimately the population of collectors are gathered into one time, one place to the detriment of the conventional gallery ecosystem, starving them of their buying audience. Meanwhile, art fairs pin the gallery to the legacy model, preventing them from adapting to evolving circumstance by selecting galleries on the precondition that they occupy real estate and run a conventional program. Into this bind, they have in recent years started to undercut the curatorial function of the gallery by dictating what artists' work to exhibit in the fair. In this way and others, the art fair has evolved to an attenuated form where it starts to resemble processed food: hyped, overpriced and devoid of nutrition.

Artists can game the system by catering to its demands. The artless do this baldly, but the cunning can do it artfully. I call this "biting the hand the feeds you"... and this can be done via brute independence or in a false, theatrical manner, conforming to expectations. Examples of the former: Bruce Conner, Picasso, Carl Andre immediately come to mind. Some, more than a few, collectors love to demonstrate power by allowing themselves to be humiliated. Think of this as a taste for bitterness, the favor for "difficult" art. (*1) The kitten's ferocious gnaw. "If you can't be good, be notorious, right?" (a quote snatched on the fly from "The Eddy", Netflix series) History is a chronicle of bad behavior, art history even more so if every generation refusing the straitjacket of the previous is bad behavior. Independence is the most dangerous agent to any system. What happens when genius doesn't mitigate the asshole, when time doesn't tell, when theory blurs, when some players in the system find a way to game this aspect?

Staring Into the Abyss

Sometimes methods of survival are counter-intuitive. Steer into the skid. Relax when you are drowning. Similarly, it's wise to befriend oblivion. When we come out of school, we shoot for the hot out of the box success. The wunderkind. The prodigy. The genius newly emerged on the scene. If that doesn't manifest, we hope to be the discovery five years after graduation. "Hey, look over here!" The necessary gestation outside of academy's womb. If that doesn't manifest, we hope for that recognition after a ten year maturation. Then twenty. Then thirty. If that doesn't manifest, there's always the chastising "Hey, see the genius that we had overlooked!" If that doesn't manifest, there's the charitable indulgence of the octogenarian solo show. And if that doesn't manifest... we plan for posthumous recognition. Therefore, we must make art work that can argue -on its own power- for its sheer existence. Art after it is made, is in constant movement between the museum and the land fill. It might begin this journey in a living room, but it could move to a bedroom, hallway , closet or garage. It might be donated to a museum, but it's siting is not guaranteed. It might be hung on the walls for all to see, or it could go into storage or deaccessioned, and the cycle could possibly begin again. By befriending oblivion, you don't have to surrender to it. This reality instead can make you stronger, make your art stronger. The sheer acknowledgement of oblivion places it on a radar to be navigated, to be contended with. This, a contest no artist can evade.


Some Books:

Rogue's Gallery, a history of art dealing. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia, a beautiful friendship.

Art Tribes, artist circles in and around 1968.

Bohemian Paris, artist circles in turn of the century Paris.

The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck, more artist circles in turn of the century Paris. I came to love Alfred Jarry after this.

Leo and His Circle, The life of Leo Castelli by Annie Cohen-Solal, a tale of the emergence of the NYC art world.

Posted by Dennis at 5:48 PM | Comments (0)