It's NOT the Art Market
"Not for Sale,” the 46-person mishmash at P.S. 1, is a thankfully rare case of “When Bad Ideas Create Passable Shows.” Before we look at this slipshod exhibition, let’s consider the flawed notion that created it. Alanna Heiss, the trailblazing but here totally misguided curator, writes that “Not for Sale” contains only art that can’t be bought. Thus, the exhibition—which will be open for another week—is composed of work that artists either kept or, in a couple of weird cases, sold then bought back. By this curatorial criterion, nearly every artist on earth could be included. Heiss compounds the problem by haughtily stating that the show evinces her “unfortunate allergy” to the marketplace.Now, I haven't seen the exhibition (and generally worship the ground Ms. Heiss walks on for all she's done for art in New York), and I don't mind saying I appreciate that someone somewhere is brave enough to stand up to the power players calling the shots in this age of art fair feeding frenzies and sold out exhibitions of MFA student work, but I have an allergy of my own that I've noted time and again here, which is one against using art to make poorly thought-out political statements (again, I have not seen this exhibition...my opinions here are in response to its theme). My biggest beef with such efforts is, as I noted a while back: "[A]rtwork [or exhibitions] built around a naive POV but offered up as if it had been handed down on tablets from God. What this leads to often are laughable cartoons, easily (and rightly) dismissed as shallow....]. Jerry nailed the essence of why such exhibitions fail:
I admire Heiss enormously. Having founded P.S. 1 in 1976, she helped invent the alternative-art movement, and has kept its flame alive. But for the director or curator of an institution that relies on the largesse of artists and dealers—who in turn depend on commerce—to claim an “allergy” to the marketplace is not only smug, it’s deluded and hypocritical. This goes double if that curator’s institution, like Heiss’s, is affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art, the very pinnacle of institutional power. As if her organizational premise weren’t thin enough, Heiss’s jokey description of her curatorial process, if you can call it that, is flimsier still. She writes, “I called artists whom I know well and who happened to be at home.” Really, the show should have been called “Journey to the Center of My Rolodex” or “Friends of Alanna.”
The market is an issue that needs examining. The feeding frenzy of the current moment is so invasive and pervasive, it’s hard to say how it eventually will have changed the ways art is presented, perceived, and produced. Is the market creating a competitive environment that is compelling artists to make good work, or is it mainly helping to foster more product? Is it a money-addled popularity contest based on greed, good luck, and connections, or is it simply allowing more artists to make money from their art without having to take full-time jobs? None of these issues are addressed in “Not for Sale.” Instead, Heiss kidnaps this important idea, then fails to develop it. Her purported allergy has become little more than bait.
Also, as Jerry notes, anyone who's done as many important exhibitions as Heiss has is entitled to a few clunkers, but if, as it seems, she's singling out the market as some demon, as opposed to simply a factor that deserves honest, objective examination, like many others, this show is not serving anyone. It creates an air of moral superiority, but ultimately does nothing to solve the important issues at hand. There's a back story passage on Saltz's review (which I'm not sure whether he wrote or not) that offers a very smart observation by Gerhard Richter:
“The much-maligned ‘art scene’ of the present day,” he wrote, “is perfectly harmless and even pleasant, if you don’t judge it in terms of false expectations. It has nothing to do with those traditional values that we hold high (or that hold us high). It has virtually nothing whatever to do with art. That’s why the ‘art scene’ is neither base, cynical, nor mindless: it is a scene of brief blossoming and busy growth, just one variation on the never-ending round of social game-playing that satisfies our need for communication, alongside such others as sport, fashion, stamp-collecting and cat-breeding. Art takes shape in spite of it all, rarely and always unexpectedly; art is never feasible.”
Again, I haven't seen this exhibition. My opinions here are meant to be in response to the review and elaborate on earlier ideas shared on the blog, not a critique of this exhibition, per se (can I say that enough times?). Perhaps a smart show about the current art market would require too much analysis (a CPA and a hedge fund manager might have to curate it) to be visually interesting or pleasing, but that's not a license to simply say "it's bad" and not prove it or offer any interesting insight into what makes is so. An exhibition doesn't have to be a thesis statement, but by not illuminating anything important about its subject, it's disposable.
Labels: art market