Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Delicate Arrangement: Postscript

I sincerely had no intention of igniting the firestorm of emotion that resulted from the post on the SVA MFA exhibition held at Zwirner last week. I simply thought the approach that led to the exhibition was extraordinary and something worth noting. When the thread was hijacked and it turned to a diatriabe against the perceived preferential treatment students get by galleries in these speculative times, I was a bit miffed, to be quite honest. I felt something positive and optimistic had been derailed. There simply ain't enough positive and optimistic stuff in this world to dismiss the little that comes along.

But, having noted that, I do understand the frustration that leads to the comments posted. I hear such comments from friends all the time. But I think the frustration got ahead of a few commenters. It didn't actually appropriately apply to this exhibition. For one thing, from the catalog it's clear that rather than infants being snatched from cradles a large percentage of the SVA graduates are in their 30's. Clearly having waited to attend graduate school, one assumes because life interceded.

And there are other reasons, but I'll let the words of a participant in the exhibition speak for themselves. The following comment was posted to the initial thread by "Zuke" (not sure if that's the artist's real name or not). It's wise, balanced, and a very good example of the energy and attitude I was trying to highlight originally:
I was in that Zwirner show and I just got back from the de-installation. I am tired and sweaty: I've got paint on my clothes and spackle clotted in my leg hair. I am not particularly young and I'm not particularly rosy-cheeked (unless I've had a few cocktails.) In fact, the show was largely organized by a group of SVA MFA students who were post-30, having been out of the educational system of the better part of a decade, if not more. People who'd worked full-time at jobs outside the art field, who had relationships and commitment to friends, family and lovers that far outstrips the "youth" found in gradate art programs. Yes, yes, we're relatively young in sidereal terms, but old enough to dig in and work as hard as humanly possible.

We organized the show for several reasons...

1.) This show was staged as an attempt to patch egregious holes in the architecture of the SVA program due, mainly, to the lack of guidance and/or direction from the MFA Fine Arts Department Chair, David L. Shirey. It was a 100% student organized exhibition and we consider it a loud and vivid protest against the failure of current administration to have the slightest bit of ambition for the program. The current system works as follows: our thesis shows are broken into thirds, allowing only 10-11 students at a time (out of a class of 31) to show their work. In the case of the first thesis show, it was scheduled to open three days before fact, before that particular group had even met with a thesis advisor. The second thesis show went up in mid-January, a mere week AFTER those students were assigned thesis advisors. The third thesis show batch had a little more time to meet with thesis advisors--the show went up in mid-March, during SVA's spring break--but it still highlighted the fact that the the MFA Fine Arts department had a very dismissive attitude towards our output and studio practice. Wah wah wah, I know: we're teary-eyed, spoiled children in a rarefied system, complaining of its failures. Say what you want, people, but most of us came to SVA to have an educational experience, to work closely with our thesis advisor to create a coherent, disciplined body of work. It was, realistically, the final installment in our formal education: we came to dig in, to learn and to be challenged. As the current program exists, they do very little to rise to our dedication to the educational experience other than exposing us to a few "big name" artists during our sojourn within the studios, and assuring us that the Winter/Spring Open Studios matter far more that the thesis shows. Sad recompense, if you ask me.

2.) This show was also designed to give us, the Class of 2006, as sense of community and completion. I felt an enormous sense of community during that Zwirner show. I had spent the previous two years hearing, seeing (and, sadly in many cases, smelling) the presence of 30+ students in my class. I had varying degrees of affection/dislike for these people but I never regretted submitting myself to their presence. So to have one final gathering of both the student population and the WORK of the students was an amazingly satisfying experience for me. It was psychologically boosting. Laugh, if you must, but it was. I put myself in debt for the next decade for a good dance, and a good godd*mn dance I got at the opening on Wednesday night.

3.) And, finally, why not? Why effing not? In this day, in this ridiculous art market, why not do everything we can to gain attention for ourselves? The organizers of "A Delicate Arrangement" were tired of reading articles in the Times and the New Yorker about the Yale and Columbia grad programs. So why not us? The administration was willing (and eager, in my opinion) to fail us but, considering the crippling financial obligations we'd assumed by signing on to SVA's MFA program, we were NOT willing to fail ourselves. So we stepped up and did the work ourselves. Dan Cameron was an absolute catalyst. He was supremely supportive and encouraging throughout the entire experience. But we did everything we could to meet the challenges he threw at us and--at the risk of sounding cocky--we met his challenges with every gram of grace, talent, discipline and enthusiasm at our disposal. And we--Dan and the Class of 2006--succeeded.

I am proud of our work. And, I assure you, we worked hard every single day that we had access to the studios. In fact, our hard work manifested itself outside of the studios: we made this show happen. So excoriate us if you want. But we earned this show and, I guess, your excoriation.
Indeed. Why effing not? Once again, congratulations to the SVA class of 2006 for their faith in themselves and their refusal to accept that there was nothing they could do to change how the system was stacked against them!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ed, thanks for being so concientious. you rock too!

6/25/2006 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Ok, 98 per cent of us didn't see that show and weren't going to see that show. We're not even in New York.

So we should stop pretending the thread was ever ABOUT the show.

We simply jumped on the opportunity to relate to the topic of youthness in the artworld because many of us find it prevalent.

I didn't know the artists we talked about were around my age, I thought they were younger.

I don't think it's any grumpy, depressive, derailing and unoptimistic to argue that they are great artists who start their career at 35.

Maybe we were in fact talking about some artists included in that show, future will tell.

Cedric Caspesyan

6/25/2006 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Good followup.

6/25/2006 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Edward - With respect, in my opinion the reason "why not" is that the relationship between galleries and emerging artists is unclear to begin with, and this event makes it less so.

Forget the red herring about ageism. That's a side issue and not very relevant. As a mid-life professional taking art classes in an effort to try his hand at a different line of work, I have no problem about young artists getting the recognition they deserve. Some of my teachers have been younger than me (one of them a freshly-minted Eli, no less). As someone who also understands the problems of graduate school (albeit not art school), I have no problem with the reasons given for the current show.

But it never needed to happen at a gallery. Most importantly, as someone trying to understand what it takes to emerge into the world of professional artmaking, I have begun to understand that that the most often accepted route is via juried exhibitions, with which an artist builds a resume, and with luck, a critical buzz. By jumping straight into a gallery -- for the purposes of airing grad-school grievances or otherwise; and at the age of 10, 20, 50 or otherwise -- the gallery and the group of MFA students have compromised this understanding.

There's no longer any reason Gagosian should refrain from hosting next year's Yale MFA exhibitions, and no reason every BFA and MFA program in the country shouldn't start calling famous galleries around the world to arrange similar shows.

When Plus Ultra is the only gallery in NYC whose schedule is without a student show in July, will you start calling around the various high schools of art to arrange their senior exhibitions? I don't want to make any unwarranted slippery-slope arguments here, but I respectfully submit that I think a door has been opened which is quite possibly to the long-term disadvantage of students, working artists and gallery directors.

6/25/2006 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

if 98 percent of you are not from new york, and 98 percent of the remaining 2 percent hate 99 percent of the work they see in new york, i would say then that 'a delicate arrangement' had a pretty fair showing.

i was glad that 'zuke' weighed in. that was a great perspective to get. the fact is though that you have to expect 'excoriation' when entering into a critical sphere. and that its not always a bad thing. its good to be critical, its good to be always questioning. its how we collectively elevate the culture, and challenge ourselves to be better than we are. it is not healthy to be totally dismissive, thats why an open dialogue is supremely important.

i am not so interested in how hard you worked. many people are working very hard all the time and getting no congratulations for it. this show was not good because of the hard work put into it, or because of the quality of the actual work that was in it- some of which was very good. it was good because of the creative use of gallery space, and the balls it took to pull it off. i hope that the exhibition will serve as a model for future shows with similar arrangements.

its funny how it was assumed that graduate students are not older than 27.5

6/25/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Having read Zuke's comment only here, in Ed's follow-up post, I now find I'm sorry I missed the show. I didn't follow the earlier thread, missed the hijacking, and so forth: I'm in a downswing on the Web right now, and the topic didn't excite me.

But Zuke's comment does. Wow, that is one great manifesto. That's the kind of thing I love to hear. Instead I hear more from people jerking around on PainterNYC or whining on Anonymous Female Artist (myself included). Or Henry coming in and explaining "why not," his reason basically boiling down to "because I didn't think of it." Anyone going into the art world thinking there are rules, that there's some proper way of starting and maintaining an art career, anyone with that mentality, they deserve what they get. It's art, not license plate manufacture or cellphone testing, not Hollywood or advertising. It's ART.

6/25/2006 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

juried shows legitimate? nah. out here if you're not repped by the time you get out of school you're a has been/never were. The market is a brutal mistress and if you think what they told you in school about being patient and waiting your turn was anything more than self-protective coloration then you missed half the point of hanging with all those aging artists that call themselves teachers. Which is to grow a thick skin and recognize BS for what it is.

Jump right on in, the water is cold, but oh so refreshing.

. . .

yes, I know it is hyperbole, makes for more interesting reading, no?

6/25/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Anonymous onesock said...

Yeh to many artists who are of the installation persuasion, site reponsive and all that, juried shows arent practical. Anyway, what a fantastic response from Zuke! And as someone who just graduated from an MFA program last year (i am also 30ish) I can attest to his situation and feelings of being let down by the departmen. Mine certainly paid more attention to the undergrads, Which is fine in my case really. I remember the sentence I heard and said many times in grad school- "You get out of it what you put into it yourself" And it appears the SVA students put in a lot and deserve the experience and attention. I offer my congratulations to all of them- I wish I could have seen the show.

6/26/2006 01:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

As someone who lives outside the states and New York, I find your Blog to be really insightful. It provides a clear picture on the current state of the artworld. Information that is hard to come across.

6/26/2006 02:34:00 AM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

Chris Rywalt said....Anyone going into the art world thinking there are rules.

Kudos on breaking the rules Zuke...
Long live the next rule to be broken.
Long live the next breaker of rules.
Long live the next rule to be broken

6/26/2006 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Kudos to the students for making this happen. I know it took a lot of energy and balls.

Please, though, don't forget the gallery. Even though the students helped, I can tell you that turning around a four-day show is murderous. It's not just the installation but the publicity and everything else that goes along with mounting an exhibit.

I hope, for both the gallery and the students, that there is more than just fifteen minutes of fame for the endeavor.

6/26/2006 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger serena said...


6/26/2006 04:50:00 PM  

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