Is Challenging Art Hot? (Or, Ed Eats a Bit of Crow)
In Chicago (hereafter known to Bambino and I as "The Capital of Brrrrrr"), among many wonderful get-togethers, we had the pleasure of brunch with a collector who noted that she's frequently surprised by the number of guests who recoil from many of the images on her walls. Singling out one particular artist whose work is known to reveal a perhaps less sterilized side of life, she said she understood why certain visitors wouldn't like it. I responded that I didn't understand, actually...I can't quite grasp the mindset that eschews the "real" and chooses to surround itself in only sugar-coated versions of humanity. I appreciate beauty for beauty's sake, but I can't sustain myself on a diet of eye-candy alone. The collector and I agreed that it was her visitor's responsibility to consider why someone would be so attracted to such images they'd line the walls of their home with them, not her responsibility to apologize for finding beauty in them.
This all came back to me while reading an article in the LA Times this morning about the collection of Tim Campbell and Steve Machado, who "have amassed a 40-plus-piece collection of artworks speaking to terrorism, racism and other -isms of our time, and yet their home still manages to be warm, welcoming and unapologetically beautiful."
And this then led me to realize that now I have to eat a bit of crow.
"I don't find it difficult to live with difficult art," Campbell says matter-of-factly, without any hint of conceit. "I would find it difficult to live with beautiful, pointless art."Prompted by the war abroad or social ills closer to home, more people are sharing Campbell's sentiment, choosing to wear their hearts on their sleeves and their politics on their walls.
In the last two years, galleries have seen a growing demand for politically conscious artworks, says Peter Selz, professor emeritus of art history at UC Berkeley. "We saw a similar rise in this kind of work during the Vietnam War," Selz says. "But now there's an enormous interest in this, and much of it is coming from
The challenge, of course, comes not only in piecing together a collection that reflects one's passion, but in living with it — somehow maintaining a home that still feels like a home.
I was having a discussion recently in which I passionately argued that the art market is maturing...look at the more challenging work in galleries that had until only recently been all about, as Tyler Green so painfully but accurately put it, "glue and glitter" I insisted. My patient and considerate debating opponent noted that this too was happening in response to the market, and not necessarily an indication of maturation. I somewhat acknowledged that as the market continues to go global (and collectors from Europe and other countries with more of a taste for challenging work are increasingly interacting with US galleries) that this could be read as a response to the market, but I didn't feel that explained it entirely.
But then there it was in print: "galleries have seen a growing demand for politically conscious artworks." OK, so I'll distance myself a bit from the read of Professor Selz in that I don't think the more challenging work we're seeing is limited to politics or a response to the war. Conceptually more rigorous (one might even say dryly intellectual) work is on the rise, in my opinion, in response not to the art market, per se, but in response to the financial success the hot market has brought. In other words, now that they have some money, the glue-n-glitter galleries want what all nouveau riches eventually desire: respect. (And let me request that in any discussion of this we not name names here, please...seriously, let's assume we know which galleries that means, even if in reality we have different opinions...please.)
But who cares? So long as the work is being exhibited and, presumably, purchased, does it matter what's prompting the shift? My only concern is that the change is not about the war, or globalization, or gallery maturation, but rather the cyclical nature of tastes (i.e., fashion). And even "concern" is hyperbolic, actually. If the tide turns and artists working in a differnt vein are now getting some much deserved attention, that's a good thing. There's room in the art market (just like there's room in any given collection) for both types of work, no?