Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Propping up Persepolis?

UPDATE: Be sure not to miss the always insightful João Ribas's article on how tough it's getting to be a struggling artist in NYC on Money quote, as it relates to the Times article cited below:
And although creative workers contribute significantly to the city's economy—$14.5 billion in 2000, according to the Freelancer's Union report, plus untold intangible value—the city is doing little to directly address the problem: Of the $131 million the city plans to spend on cultural programs, according to study, almost all of the money is earmarked for institutions, rather than direct support for artists.
There's a legend you'll hear whispered if you listen carefully in darkened alleyways or musty private corridors about a time when New York City was not the undisputed cultural capital of the world. Blasphemous mumblings about supposed predecessors with ancient names like "Paris" or, if I recall correctly, "London" and "Berlin." And if you dare push even further down such corridors past the heavy wooden doors with the rusty hinges into the place they call the "vault," you might just hear the highly improbable tales about places called "Persepolis" or "Constantinople" or "Rome" or, what was it? oh, yes, "Athens" (right, like that's a real name). Not that I lend any credence to such nonsense, mind you. I'm merely reporting what I've heard.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the lengend was true when I read the Times today:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city would create a new office to "aggressively pitch New York City around the world as the nation's art and cultural capital" by helping nonprofit organizations, especially those in the arts, cope with the high costs that threaten their survival.

"We won't and can't be complacent," Mr. Bloomberg said, adding that he was determined not to cede New York's status as a world cultural center. "In the creative sector, as in so many other areas, at one time New York City didn't have to compete with other cities," he said at a conference at the Museum of Modern Art that brought together 220 officials, artists, business people and academics. "Now we do. Other cities are quickly learning the benefits of being a creative hub."
OK, so by now you're probably thinking, "yeah, so...what's with all the sarcasm at the beginning? Surely, you Ed, if anyone, would support the idea that New York stay culturally competetive."

You'd think so, yes. But reading further you come across a number of remarkably self-centered ideas by community leaders about how best to manage this, including this gem:

Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Federated Department Stores, which owns Macy's, said that because once-bohemian neighborhoods were no longer affordable, "what is vital is to make sure that our transportation system is effective," so creative workers who have been priced out of Manhattan can still reach their jobs and even form new communities of artistic ferment.
Notice, he hasn't argued that so-called creative workers be given rent subsidies or somehow better wages so they can thrive in Manhattan. No, Mr. Lundgren's solution to astronomical real estate prices is to find better ways to transport artists in and out of the city, where he works.

On one hand that seems a rational objective, but once you begin to really think about it, the question you have to answer is "transport how far?" From Flushing? From Jersey? From Pennsylvania? Where does Mr. Lundgren and the other consumers of culture, who I've heard moan and groan for years about making their way out to the relatively very close community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, expect this new Bohemia to spring up exactly? (Yes, there's a part of me that resents having had to cross the river to survive.) Have they seen what's happening to rents in the Bronx and Astoria and elsewhere? And why do they assume that once it does spring up that the creative workers will still wish commute in to where it's easy for them and their friends to hang out? The article goes on:

James Schamus, a co-president of Focus Features and a producer of the film "Brokeback Mountain," said that since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the tighter restrictions on entering the United States have made New York seem less hospitable to international artists. Widely reported abuses of American-held prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in Cuba and elsewhere have also taken their toll, he said. "Water-boarding your potential clients is really not good for the culture," he said, referring to a form of torture, and he received scattered if nervous applause.

Mr. Diller seemed swayed by some of those arguments. "We're certainly not an inviting place that greets people with a big happy smile to come into the melting pot," he said.
Indeed. Yesterday internationally renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, testified before Congress about how increasingly difficult it has become for non-American artists to even enter the country:

Mr. Ma said barriers to foreign musicians "have become extraordinarily high." He cited the case of two Iranian musicians, Siamak Aghaei and Siamak Jahangiri, who have visited the United States eight times with the Silk Road Project since 2000 and must still wait months before receiving visas. They have to fly to Dubai for a consular interview and then fly back to pick up the visa. In the last year, Mr. Ma said, they went a third time because the visa printer was out of order. The latest procedure lasted three months and cost $5,000.
The bottom line is the conditions that first led to New York becoming the arts capital it did have changed. Even when I arrived, 12 years ago, it was remarkably easier for a young artist, from wherever they hailed, to find a small studio in the city and begin to change art history. Today, if they're lucky enough to legally live here, they're very unlikely to find studio space anywhere convenient. The business leaders may understand the importance of culture to the vitality of the city, but they seem to not get that artificially propping it up isn't conducive to the environment in which great art flourishes. By all indications, it's inevitable that some other city with that magic combination of location, cheap rents, liberal values, and laissez-faire attitudes will call to the world's best artists, and as has happened again and again throughout history, the world will beat a path to their doorstep.

In other words, it's about the art and what makes its creation possible. If New York has evolved into a place where that's no longer possible, New York will lose its number 1 standing. No city adminstration that's catering to the concerns and convenience of business leaders will change that either. Bohemia happens where it will. It's not something you can cook up by committee. Not and expect to get art of any value out of it anyway. I will be sorry to see some other city knock New York off its perch if it comes to that, but I'd be sorrier to see the Disneyfication of the New York art scene, and that's what this effort will surely lead to the way it's being conceived.


Anonymous onesock said...

Now, dont get me wromg, I love NY, but as an artist not living in NY I am excited by the idea that culture is diversifying. I dont think just one city will bump NY into 2nd place- I dont think MY will necesarily ever be in 2nd place. What seems to be happening is that other communities like MIami, Atlanta, Seattle, etc. now have a chance (if cards are played right) to enliven their arts communities. If the talented artist, curators, dealers, etc, no longer regard NY as the absolute mecca then perhaps they will move into other communities and make things happen there. But of course those communities need to be inviting as well.

I am actually writing an article on my city's lack of support for the arts (or I should say misdirected support) so this info is helpful, thanks Ed!
ALso does anyone out there know of any successful artists and musicians from Jacksonville FL? ( I know bout Ray Charles)

4/05/2006 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly Edward. NYC should be 2nd to none and it is getting harder and harder for people at the lower end to make ends meet here and these people have so much to offer.

They are turning Manhattan into a mall and we all lose as it becomes a part of Generica.

4/05/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger JD said...

Yes, Ed, this is so sad. I grew up here, and NYC used to have a much more middle-class and bohemian feeling. Because of the whole rent thing, it's getting harder and harder to create art communities: where can we all live and work close by each other? And when does anyone have free time in NYC? We're all working too hard, and it makes us less social. For me, the blogs fill a bit of that gap. . .

4/05/2006 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's snowing in NYC

4/05/2006 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Like Ed said - you can't cook this up. It's going to move or not based on the usual factors: economics, cosmopolitan profile and tolerance of alternative community.

I am with Onesock in my excitement for the other cities that are sprouting strong arts communities. Each is likely to spread its own interesting influence. It excites the hell out of me that London is big on art. Atlanta is an awesome city, with gajillions of smackeroos surging through it. LA and Chitown each have their own flavoring of the culture. I'd like to see my hometown, St. Louis, get hopping; there's enough money moving through that town that I think it might be possible.

IMO, more art centers mean more market. Paris maintained some cultural hold after NYC took over, just as Rome maintained some cultural hold after Paris took over. So I think the established centers will always have something to offer.

But I'm a cultural mutt to begin with. I come from everywhere. More centers excite me and ring of greater opportunities.

4/05/2006 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Also, Ed, you forgot two important words: The Internet. The world doesn't need one art captial any more. Art is anywhere and everywhere!

Well, maybe not just yet, not entirely. But a lot more than it used to be. Look at the bridge you and J.T. and I made from D.C. to Jersey to Chelsea. Not common 12 years ago (although I was on the Internet back then -- and I'm still waiting to get rich quick).

I myself have sold drawings across the world via eBay. That's pretty cool.

4/05/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger The Artist Extraordinaire said...

What a shitty greedy attitude to have. It’s like the Princess Leia line in the original Star Wars:

Governor Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, you will join me at a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.

Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. (via IMDB)

This only re-enforces the negative image of NYC. The fact is, that to remain #1, and to get there in the first place, NY needs/ed the rest of the country and the world. Artists from all over have to want to be there. Talent comes from all over to the city. Some is indigenous, but a lot comes from elsewhere. Places like those mentioned above. But now art scenes are growing up everywhere and that is more interesting. Artists and art people are seeing they have a lot to offer where they are, and they may indeed be better off in terms of rent, cost of living and so on. It is much more exciting to think of art as being everywhere. And to think of all the different cities, big and small that good, really good, work is coming out of.

Besides, you can always fly out to NY. Not the same as living there, but as the Macy’s guy pointed out, the official powers that be attitude is, just travel here to us, drop off your art or whatever, and go back to wherever it is you came from.

That NYC leaders need to have a big press conference about staying in control of culture says a lot.

4/05/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous paul said...

I agree with Chris. The Internet is why I don't live in NY. Most of the artists I'm most interested in live in NY, but I already know most of them because of the WWW. We collaborate and discuss ideas on blogs and through email. They bring me there for shows, and I bring them here for shows. I miss out on some things, but it's balanced out by the lower cost of living here which gives me a lot more time and space to work. And I def couldn't afford to run a gallery in NY!

Art will probably become much more decentralized in the future.

4/05/2006 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

I don't have too much sympathy for artworld insiders who complain about the decentralization of NYC. Galleries are contributing to the dilemma as much as anyone - the more they pander to rich collectors (or capitalize on their greediness) the more NYC becomes a playground for the privileged rather than a cultural haven for artists. Art fairs are also fucking things up. No one needs to shop here anymore.

I know this is a double-edged sword (artists need their galleries, so bringing in money is never a bad thing) but until people get their priorities straight and put artists first (which they never will because they're too fucking in love with money) this problem will persist.

What we need is for everyone to stop trying to compete on such superficial levels. Rather than trying to be the best, or the biggest, NYC should put its energy toward being the most important. That would mean getting our fucking integrity back by putting less $$ into luxury condos and shitty institutions and subsidizing artists instead.

4/05/2006 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Here is what I know, and this has been true for years and years, collectors in Los Angeles will fly to New York to buy the work of LA artists rather than buy it here. The continued, undeniable, prominence of NY in the art world has everything to do with that. The social class that is serious collectors of art are very conservative when it comes to business. Limit risk. Art in a New York gallery has climbed to the top of its class. This cachet means a lot to collectors, who are also highly attuned to the semiotics of the interaction. A big part of collecting at that level is building social networks and moving among the powerful. Appearances are everything in that game and buying in New York is an easy thing to accomplish that adds value.

Given all that, NY hasn't been the center of art production since about 1970. The arrival of an international style around then has made it possible for artists to work anywhere and compete on the world stage, and sell in New York.

Los Angeles' signature artists, Chris Burden, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy, (my testosterone soaked brain is having a hard time thinking of a female artist of similar stature right now) don't show here at all, or very rarely, and in fact seem to skip over NY even and show mostly in Europe. I suspect this has to do with the institutions funding big pieces over there.

As for artists being close to their jobs . . . huh? those bozos are clueless about art and their words will disappear without a trace.

4/05/2006 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I just read Norman Mailers book on Picasso. It seems to me that things are not as different today as they were then. While everything is bigger now, the stage is similar. The artist is living on the margins of society, can't afford the rent until they become successful and have a hard time becoming successful without being in the academy (modern gallery system replaces the old academy). It's more or less the same anywhere you go.

4/05/2006 06:07:00 PM  
Anonymous edna said...

George, no way! It is definitely not the same everywhere you go. New York is much, much more expensive for artists than almost any other large city in the world. I can't think of anywhere else that charges a minumum of $2/sq ft. for a crappy share! It is totally outrageous.

4/05/2006 08:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

No doubt rents are lower elsewhere, but often you need to factor in the cost of owning a car. Also, that day job doesn't pay as well in other places. I won't argue NYC is not expensive, just that artists have almost always lived at the margins of society.

4/05/2006 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous onesock said...

but i think the argument here is that the margins are going further and further away from the core.

4/05/2006 09:48:00 PM  
Anonymous edna said...

Maybe the core is widening. Maybe the core in mainstream and over.

4/05/2006 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous edna said...

i meant "is mainstream" not "in mainstream." sorry.

4/05/2006 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

George -

Yes many artists have lived "at the margins," but there are certainly degrees of marginality. In Chicago, for around $1000 dollars you can get a 2 and often 3 bedroom apt. (1000 sq. ft plus with a dining room that can be a studio or the 3rd bedroom for that matter) in a NICE neighborhood. Even with a car and wages factored in, NYC can't compete.

The NYC art world is conservative and mostly irrelevant, except, of course, as a market outlet for all the interesting work being done elsewhere - mostly Europe. I'm still mystifed why anyone would choose to move there. I mean if you're going to pay THAT much to live somewhere, why not Tokyo, Zurich, Copenhagen, or if you're North America bound - San Francisco or Vancouver?

4/05/2006 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Because New York is truly a great city.

As a point of reference. When I was a young artist living in LA, I worked as a carpenter, 1 week of work paid a months expenses, so if I worked a full month I could take two-three months off and paint..

When I moved to NYC in 83, that number was about 2 weeks and now its probably around 3 weeks (not including any edu loans) So I agree it is getting harder to make ends meet.

The where to go question is a tough one, especially if you are a young artist.

4/05/2006 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous edna said...

Yeah, dilettante, I must agree with George on this one - people choose NYC because it's hands-down the best city in North America. If you think NYC is conservative and irrelavant you are either totally retarded or just jealous.

That said, the rents are f*ing ridiculous.

4/05/2006 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous edna said...

I called someone retarded yet I can't even spell irrelevant. That makes two retards.

4/05/2006 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

hmm, a pair of retards, can you dunce in them?

4/05/2006 10:46:00 PM  
Anonymous edna said...

Don't make it a trio, George.

4/05/2006 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Oh, but I did, the minuet I clicked my mouse.

4/05/2006 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

Jealous? Classic NY delusion...NY is a nice CITY, but there are more factors in choosing where to live (for me) than the strictly urban qualities of the place...San Francisco has any number of urban amenities - highest per capita artist population in North America (depending on the meaures, as I saw LA as #1 but that figure included nearly all movie employees - like grips and lighting people), great public transportation, world class restaurants, etc. AND it has spectacular natural beauty that's EASILY accessible - NY, for all its wonders, does not have redwood forests 35 minutes away it has more of itself 35 minutes wine country, yes upstate/finger lakes, but be PCH either...and NYC climate is not for me hot summers and cold winters...i'll take SF's 60 degree (nearly) year round sunshine thanks...So I think we (obviously) have different tastes.

But I WILL stand by my assertion that when it comes to art, NYC is conservative by nature - due to its market dependence. It simply can't compete with Europe's state subsidized artist class. And the real estate prices make it all but impossible for DIY scenes to be able to have the space/time to flourish - I know there's plenty of activity, but in cheaper cities, an average (wage worker) individual can afford to rent an exhibition space. This whole conversation is pointless I suspect in that it's clear we value very different things.

4/06/2006 12:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring back the funding for arts commissions and programs like CETA in San Francisco in the 70's that employed all types of artists to do great artsy things for their cities, that included all levels of society, not just the culturati. It was a brief but bright moment.
When "ordinary people" feel like they are a part of the art scene in some way large or small, and they regularly have some chance of genuine, reciprocal interaction with artists besides the narrowly defined, art-business world type interactions, artists will become way less marginalized and the whole culture of the city will increase in depth & vibrancy.
The notion of what's allowed to be art & who's entitled to be an artist will also be automatically expanded & revitalized.

4/06/2006 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I chose to move here pretty recently (2003) because:

*I hated living in Southern California
*I wanted to reduce my CO2 footprint (NYC is, believe it or not, good for the environment)
*I think the art world here is more democratic than LA's--more open. I dislike what cars do to social space. Everything's a private party in LA, and so either you're invited or not. There is something extremely egalitarian about all these people mixing in public space. I don't need an invitation here--I just need the gumption to say hello to a stranger.
*I have had a romantic fantasy about living in NYC since I was a child.

And really, I am not that disappointed, but I tell you that a two-artist family here is a sketchy financial proposition. I live in a neighborhood that is soaked in benzene and is still gentrifying out from under me.

But I have lived in harder communities. Many cities are just as bad---San Francisco is just as outrageous rentwise and there are fewer opportunities to make that high rent make sense. And Boston? Fuhgeddaboutit.

All that aside, it would be smart and progressive if NYC figured out how to halt the arc of gentrification and commodification by subsidizing "color" and keeping rents lower (why no new rent controlled apartments? why are lofts such a sucker's game?).

And yeah, this transportation maven in the original post is going to eventually turn all 5 burroughs into a giant, too-expensive Disneyland.

4/06/2006 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

I'm an artist currently living in NYC but, as a boy who grew up in a town with a population of 99, I eagerly anticipate a return to a rural environment. Unfortunately, I'm all too aware of what I'll lose in the way of Art World connection by doing so.

Sure, the growing "virtual" correspondence - emails, blogs, personal sites, etc. - between artists, dealers, critics and collectors is impressive and exciting, but, at the end of the day, the Art World is an industry like any other and the dealers are more likely to grace a studio with a visit if it's in Queens or Brooklyn than if it's in the Adirondacks or, God forbid, Topeka. Pressing flesh is what this business is about and, though I continue to pretty much suck at it, my presence here has almost certianly helped get my name into conversations and my work into shows.

If a young curator finds your work online - on a slide registry or personal site - and wants to include it in a group show, it's much easier for them to hop on the subway and pop out to a borough for a studio visit (not to mention the money they'll save on insurance and shipping costs).

I'd like to think these details don't matter, but...

Once I'm again out of the city - looking sooner than later - I'll be happier and, hopefully, this will be good for the work, but I will miss some aspects of the Art World which make me tear my hair out now. It's the very insularity of the place that can also be it's appeal. In the last month alone, I've had over ten studio visits with other artists (both at my studio and theirs). The comraderie and the feedback is valuable and appreciated. Also vital are suggestions and word-of-mouth connections made as a result. During a visit you notice something in the work that you feel would suit a particular dealer well and you later email the dealer, telling them to look at this artist. I'd had it happen to me and I've returned the favor. It's a community, flawed and ugly as it sometimes is...leaving it will almost certainly result in fewer shows and connections. In my case, my mentality demands that sacrifice.

4/06/2006 03:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can say it many ways… And I don't think it has too much to do with location…
‘No matter how large the achievement IS a questioning of ITS roots achieves greater’ and that "no small mistake should go unnoted” ''the larger the cleavage, as it may appear, the greater opportunity'.
It all comes down to the confounded and risk-taking. When you get a group of people of a similar and fighting ilk…is it locational? Tribal? Or something else?

Agreement, or disagreement, what is best? What manages in us our best to come forward?

4/07/2006 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is already a city that's pulled ahead of New York in the's called Los Angeles...

I moved here a few years ago from New York for many of the reasons cited in your post. Like evert New Yorker, I arrived with an air of superiority, but have been blown away by both the quality and dynamism in all the art communities.

More than ever New York seems to have a whiff of Paris about it...A place to go to see the way things WERE rather than the way they WILL BE. And like Paris, New York still hangs on to delusions of grandeur. IMHO NYC has already slipped far further than its residents even realize.

4/07/2006 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Javier, is that you? ;-)

4/07/2006 09:48:00 AM  

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