Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Babylon Rising? Bring It On!

Tyler and Dennis have already commented on Jerry's annual SOTU address, but even arriving late to the party, I'd like to add a few comments. [I link to artnet.com's version rather than the Voice's, because, well, artnet adds pictures...including a few of Andrew's new space, which I covet in nearly Biblical terms (the space, jftr).] And if all this first-name-only-dropping business strikes you as obnoxious, well...that's sort of the point.

From Saltz's rant:

Everyone maintains there's new content. If so, there should be new forms to house this content. We need to reimagine what a gallery is. Galleries shouldn't be seen primarily as shops or salesrooms but as test sites and arks. Few gallerists are flesh-eating zombies who only want to sell art; most want to shape culture. Many are disgruntled with only being managers of the trading floor. Galleries should have attitude. Most already have positions. These positions have to be heightened and emphasized, which is where attitude begins.

Other not-for-profit and profit-making models need to be considered. Alternatives need to be tested. Nonjoiners and lone wolves can take private stands. Galleries might band together. After losing his lease, Andrew Kreps has opened a three-floor temporary space in which much of the programming is being carried out by artists. Meanwhile, alternative spaces could really step up. A few are. In Chelsea, the Kitchen has sprung to life under Debra Singer, while the dynamic director of White Columns, Matthew Higgs, fires a shot across everyone's bow, asserting, "I want to change the New York art world in 24 months." That's attitude. So is gallerist Michelle Maccarone beginning her latest press release, "Maccarone is fuckin' psyched to announce its Anthony Burdin exhibition."

Sigh...we spent a year in my gallery mocking the standard art gallery press release with similar openings (one actually even used "psyched" [see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]). Did Jerry notice? If that's what passes for a revolution in the art world these days, all I can say is don't...yawn...bother televising it...yawn... been there, done that (no offense to Michelle, her program is bleeding edge...it's just that Jerry's pointing out the most superficial/nonimportant aspect of it, and in that way misrepresenting it).

Now I agree that the NYC art world could use a jolt. I was truly exhilarated to see what Andrew's done with his new space, but as is widely known (and he confirmed to me) it's only temporary. More than that though, IMO, what's needed is obvious in Jerry's first observance, if one backs up and puts things in perspective: "Everyone maintains there's new content. If so, there should be new forms to house this content."

In this part of his rant, I think Jerry's misguided. Why focus on how gallerists and such should seek out new forms to house it? If there's new content, let it speak for itself. Better yet, let it dictate the form and/or exhibition space. The problem isn't a lack of "attitude" among gallerists (are we on MTV here?), the problem is a lack of context within the wider art world...and I don't mean new exhibition models...I mean a critique. As Jerry notes himself:

In private many say most of the shows they see are safe or conservative. Yet most reviews are enthusiastic or merely descriptive. Too many critics act like cheerleaders, reporters or hip metaphysicians. Amid art fair frenzy, auction madness, money lust and market hype; between galleries turning into selling machines, gossip passing as criticism and art becoming a good job; the system, while efficient, feels faulty, even false.
But rather than critiquing the system, Mr. Saltz, why not critique the art? You're absolutely right that most reviews are enthusiastic or merely descriptive. Even as a dealer, who wants enthusiasm in reviews of our exhibitions, I'm bored to tears by the overall critique of contemporary art. You want a rebellion? Start one! Seriously, I could not agree more that "Disagreement and criticism are ways of showing art respect." The disrespect stems from merely descriptive reporting, as if art criticism were akin to covering a trade show.

In other words, you do your part, and you'll see the galleries rise to the challenge and do theirs. Guarantee it. So long as you and your colleagues are cheerleading them on, why would you expect them to change what they're doing?

Am I asking for trouble here? Damn right I am. Bring it on. My God, but we could use a more challenging critique in this city.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not, Edward, you start one? Is it that you are all waiting for the one to start the one, or any other one, and find yourself beside yourself helpless of nudge to any way of for or by yourself. It's rude, I know but let's think about what you are demanding from a particular art world personality, and the word complacency!
Sorry at this moment I prefer to remain Anon.

9/20/2005 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

No need to remain Anon. You're absolutely right. I need to rise to the challenge as well. No, screw that...I need to charge forward with what I think is important and ignore "the challenge" or defeat it while en route.

I'm not "demanding" anything of Jerry, either (I doubt he reads this), but rather trying to do for critics what you're doing for me: highlighting that the roles we've assumed come with their own power to change things.

I do feel helpless sometimes, it's true, but I'm done with that. The whole system's reached a state of decadence and lethargy that makes me want to chew my arm off, just to feel something.

Jerry's right the time has come...a storm is brewing...but everyone has a role. His is to fire up his critique. Mine? Let's just say, it's in the works.

9/20/2005 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

It ain't THAT bad. Change is happening all the time. Sometimes it takes a push, sometimes events help to move it along. Forced change usually produces not so good stuff. Wow, I hope the MacArthurs are reading this!

9/20/2005 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It ain't THAT bad.

You're probably right. It's just that you can cut the tension/anxiety/frustration with a knife and when it gets to that, everyone wants to believe something huge will come along to release the hounds, or whatever.

9/20/2005 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Wow, I hope the MacArthurs are reading this!

Holy Motivation, Batman! $500,000??? Give me that paint brush...out of my way. ;-)

congrats to all the recipients!

9/20/2005 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

The provincialism Saltz mentions in his critique rings as the most true, most urgent, and most challenging obstical I've encountered here.

I don't see just strictly geographic provincialism, but also a blindly provincial approach to class and culture. So much work I see locally leaves me saying 'big fucking deal.'

In my experiences outside of NYC (which far outweigh my single, measly first year here), we never had that large critical mass of a gigantic local art scene. We had to work hard to make sure we reached larger audiences just to ensure a packed opening and gallery traffic that made our exhibitions meaningful. For the most part, the work was guaranteed not to sell, so sales was no measure of success. As artists, we found ourselves challenging ourselves and each other. How can we make work that speaks to the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers? When people's job isn't to look at or buy art, how do you snag them, slow them down, keep them, and then haunt them after they leave? That is how you, to use Saltz' words, "shape culture."

9/20/2005 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nice comment James.

I would agree up to about 98%. Seriously. But I'm gonna flesh out that last 2% here a bit.

In general, I'm very impressed with the scope of the visions I've seen in places outside the usual art centers. The artists there do seem, as you note, to reach out beyond their own circle and often their vision is breathtaking. Unfortunately, though, the ideas they're exploring that are part of the dialog seem sometimes watered down by that concern, at least to the folks examining the details within a similar exploration more closely.

Not sure where that "should" matter, but I'm rather sure it's important to progress across the board.

That is how you, to use Saltz' words, "shape culture."

In the immediate sense, perhaps, but not in the longer term. Saltz was charging galleries with shaping culture, but applying that to artists as you have here, I think there are artists who shape the culture at-large and those who shape the culture of other artists. We see this in most fields (an artists' artist, we call them in ours), people who are perhaps a bit too involved in the minutae to really speak to the butchers and bakers, but who impress the socks off their colleagues who understand what they're up to.

New York is a draw for such folks, I think. The butchers and bakers are arguably better off here in someways as well, given that they either make the effort to see and understand (and many do) or they go artless.

9/20/2005 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

The butchers and bakers

I'm getting hungry! Would we feel this stagnation if we were the artists or galleries making the big bucks? To make a leap, I feel so much frustration towards the events of the world, war, incompitence, natural disasters also. We desperately want the art world to be different.

9/20/2005 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

We desperately want the art world to be different.

Yeah, but different in what way?

Different in that it excludes all that ugliness? Would that just make the art world yet another ranch in Crawford?

Of different in it being (becoming) a place where excellence and competence reign over cronieism; where an understanding of science can coexist with a sublime, sensual, and philosophical awe for existence; where the values we cherish can be celebrated and shown to be functional and sustainable when applied? Or is that just too damn utopian for your tastes?

I definitely don't have the answers. I'm just asking because I'd really like to know where y'all are coming from. With current state of the world, I think now is not the time for complacent isolation. So I'm asking.

And I share in your frustrations, Mark. These frustrations have colored how I've been looking at art lately. I got burnt out on the overly didactic political work of a decade and a half ago, but now I get both depressed and angry when I see so much empty work being celebrated. But at the same time, I never want to toss out any babies with their bath water... (unless they can fly)

To get back to Edwards's response to my first post: I agree that there is value in the work of artists' artists. Some of my favorite work likely falls into that category. But my deep concern is that too many successive generations of programs focusing specifically on that sort of work can easily lead to an echo chamber.

9/20/2005 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Oh dear God,

if you artists are that confused, what help is there for the rest of us?

Just kidding...righteous rant, James:

Of different in it being (becoming) a place where excellence and competence reign over cronieism; where an understanding of science can coexist with a sublime, sensual, and philosophical awe for existence; where the values we cherish can be celebrated and shown to be functional and sustainable when applied? Or is that just too damn utopian for your tastes?

It's a start. Although Utopia is unachievable, reaching for it is always productive, IMO...until it become destructive...the key is to have a set of principles that guide you and then pull you back once you cross them (in short, being and remaining a decent human being).

But my deep concern is that too many successive generations of programs focusing specifically on that sort of work can easily lead to an echo chamber.

Or worse, to decadence.

But I hope the path away from decadence is not necessarily a fundamentalist cleansing...again, being decent human beings, so that we pull ourselves back away from the precipice, strikes me as the best way forward. YMMV.

9/20/2005 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Ed: right on, brotha!!!

9/20/2005 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger mountain man said...

Babylon, my ass. It's just the same old art world. Artists, dealers, curators, critics all need money to keep doing waht they're doing. Why pretend that there isn't a financial structure behind it? This doesn't have to preclude idealism.

9/21/2005 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Happy to agree MM. Would you point me toward some of that idealism, though?

9/21/2005 08:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Mountain Man said...

Ed...I will try. I will certainly try. First I need more coffee.

9/21/2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

First I need more coffee.

I hear ya, brother.

9/21/2005 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger la.dauphine said...

I very much agree with your post. Why put all the burden on galleries? Yes, NEW YORK galleries should be at the highest standards and shouldn't just exhibit what we've all seen a zillion times already, but by the nature of them - commercial enterprises - how can you blame them?

We need more edgier non-profit spaces, curatorial projects, younger artist exhibitions at museums,etc. But I do like his article being a 'call to action' since it's certainly gotten a lot of people talking.

Btw - your PRs made me smile!!

9/26/2005 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous BoredWithBabylon said...

Stunning that mr. saltz followed up babylon this week with UPS and DOWNS which is so uncritical and tansparently supportive of his status quo. several shows that he applauds as UPS are total bombs (Adam C. at Bellwether who has looked much better in the past, Bernhardt at Canada who shined a few years back and in his review of her several years ago, but whose work has not expanded since then). THe usual galleries he reviews (for whatever reasons) ATM, Bellwether, LFL. Although his challenge to M. Pare and Dzama seems warranted. This seems like Babylon Boring.

9/26/2005 04:27:00 PM  
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10/02/2005 06:27:00 PM  

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