Monday, September 10, 2007

Blinded by Blood Lust

The first time I watched the single-channel video "Revolution" by our artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev, I was a bit confused. After a masterfully edited montage of live footage of the Summer 2005 coup of the corrupt Kyrgyz government, climaxing in a syncopated delirium with the fervor of Edvard Grieg’s ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ and harrowing scenes of the widespread destruction that followed in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the video fades to black and reopens on a silent performance, a close-up of two hands slowly, methodically cleansing white stones that had been covered in dark dirt (based on a regional shamanistic tradition).

When I asked the artists about this stark juxtaposition, they noted that as awful as the violence of a revolution can be, the reality is that the changes afterward can bring better lives for the population, that every such overthrow carries with it hope. There are, of course, no guarantees, but it has been known to happen. Indeed, as a nation born out of a revolution, it's ingrained in our consciousness that good things can follow one, lending them a morality one would assume their inherent violence contradicts. As Jefferson noted: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

So it would be false for me to suggest a revolution in the art market wouldn't offer the same potential for cleansing, and it leads me to be more patient about sharing my knee-jerk response to statements like this one from Holland Cotter's review of third annual Art Parade in today's
New York Times:
Death is going to be big in art this year. With Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull in the news, and Goth whatnots still in fashion, mortality is shaping up to be a thematic mini-trend of the kind cooked up to keep sales moving through the season. Or at least that’s apparently the hope, although frankly, if the economy keeps shape-shifting, Chelsea could power down fast. Would this have any effect on the Art Parade, with its here-today spirit and throwaway work? Would it become the larger, even fringier, truly go-for-broke event it has the potential to be? Can’t wait for 2008 to see.
Of course Holland doesn't come right out and wish for Chelsea to power down fast, but there's an implication that if it did, things might be more interesting.

Which brings me to a point I'd like to make. I sense a rising enthusiasm among those I'll call the art market death watch cheerleaders (note: I'm not, based on this one quote, including Mr. Cotter in this; his quote merely triggered this response) and it's beginning to strike me as somewhat akin to blood lust. Yes, yes, yes, I have a lot invested in hoping that the art market doesn't nosedive, so I'm hardly an objective observer, but put yourself in the shoes of someone who's just built out a space in Chelsea or an artist who's just beginning to make enough money from selling their art to consider quitting their day job or any of a number of other people for whom the strength of the art market has meant a better life and you'll see how such seeming ambivalence (or the outright glee some express over the potential of a crash) might be annoying.

The popular assertion is that money is ruining everything, with the unstated implication that we'd have better or more interesting art if only that were not the case. But the truth is that events like the Art Parade, which is sponsored by one of the city's most successful galleries and a not-for-profit organization and magazine that are undoubtedly benefiting from the current market in terms of how it adds to resources they have available to help fund such events, are made more possible because of the strength of the market. In other words, it's possible to have both a strong market and wildly popular (and I'd argue, important) fringe festivals. The Art Parade has grown in size and popularity despite the market being stronger each year since its inception. The two can co-exist.

Labels: art market, art parade


Blogger Tyler said...

Personally, I don't understand why so many critics -- especially NYC-based critics -- spend so much time fretting about the art market. I'd like to think that their role/job/specialty/etc. is to write about art, not to be stock market analysts.

9/10/2007 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Tyler said...

(I mean, the market has been around for hundreds of years. Centuries ago did the Florence news media spend endless ink on whether the bottom would drop out of the fresco market? And if anyone did, is any of that coverage still remembered?)

9/10/2007 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger eageageag said...

Yes these little art world Nostradamuses are tedious at best. Even if they bother to back up their ludicrous predictions (Charlie Finch, et. al.) with facts (which they do a very very poor job of) it is impossible to accurately predict complicated future events in the art market. They should really say "I would love it if the art market crashes and here is why..."

Also, regarding the quality and general worth of contemporary art, there is so much of it and so many different kinds of it, that it is ridiculous to make general statements about it. There is something for everyone. People might be unhappy about the fact that certain artists have been extraordinarily lucky or that much art is obscure or difficult, but there is plenty of traditional genre work being done, in painting and sculpture, and it is absurd for anybody to complain about the elitism of high art. Search on the Internet and ye shall find. No matter what kind of art you want to own someone is out there making and selling it. Also, if you don't like the art that is being made by living humans than make your own!

9/10/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Of course critics think about the market. The market has an undeniable effect on both the quality and qualities of the art created within it.

I think about the market because I see lots of evidence of its power. I see a lot of fearful artists who sense higher stakes. I see a lot more professionalism and a lot less fun than I might in a different market. And I see rhetorical strategies that used to be critical turning into allegories of frivilous wealth.

I don't think that this situation needs a value judgement attached to it, and think that what Ed_ terms "blood lust" is inappropriate. But the market's effect on art and artists is worth watching and describing.

There are two ways artists can deal with a market like this one. We can all play the game and make lots and lots of safe and salable work for art fairs that cleaves to a specific set of manners.

Or we can trust that the money and interest is there for the asking and make more serious leaps of faith and more serious commitments to projects than was ever possible in smaller markets.

Without looking at the market and seeing what is possible and how, what are the chances of ever doing anything fun and interesting?

9/10/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

After fisher6000's wonderful take on this, my thinking is going to sound churlish, but what the heck. Part of me is hoping the art market collapses because so much lousy art is being shown. It certainly is bloodlust!

But then part of me feels bad about that. Everyone should be successful doing what they want, right? And a big art market means more room for me, too. And more room for my friends, who all create the best art ever -- of course.

As something of a critic -- just an amateur critic, but anyway -- I don't know much about the art market and don't really pay much attention, except for what Ed says about it here. When I think about the market, mostly what I think is: How do all these galleries stay in business when all they show is crap?

9/10/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks for that measured statment fisher6000. I think we're getting to something critical here, which I'll get to in a moment, but first:

I see a lot more professionalism and a lot less fun than I might in a different market.

The Art Parade is an example of fun coinciding with the professionalism of the current market, though, no? I'm not convinced it has to be one or the other.

But what I think is critical is the suspicion I have that there's nothing but financial ambition stopping any artist during any market from doing work that's "fun and interesting." Financial ambition is fine, in my book, but it's not compulsory.

I'll admit to getting a little confused here, but the notion seems to be that while there is money to be made, it behooves artists to make that work that will sell, but that when the money dries up, artist can return to doing more daring and/or fun and/or interesting work, because, why not?

But my question is where does the pressure to do what you call the safe work come from? I think it comes from each individual artist, no? And if so, each individual artist is responsible for changing that then, no?

Yes, if you have a gallery that knows one body of work will sale, they'll encourage you to produce more of it, but you're not obligated to produce what they want, even if you are obligated to produce something by contract (which is rare).

Again, I come back to the belief that artists who can't stomach the idea of making work for the market still ultimately hold the power to make what they want. If that doesn't coincide with what sells, they can build new market models (a la Hirst or Pierogi), or they can just accept that for the time being they might not sell all that much. Moreover, they can work in other ways to help change attitudes about their work and increase its importance in the minds of curators and other tastemakers.

9/10/2007 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Yes, Chris, you are among those I would call an "art market death watch cheerleader." Don't forget your megaphone and varsity letter sweater... ;-)

9/10/2007 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

It's not just the art market. I'm waiting for the housing market to collapse, too.

9/10/2007 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


9/10/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I know, I'm a bad person.

At least I don't watch reality TV.

9/10/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you can't find a representative to sell your art and you can't invent a market for your art you should come to grips with the fact that you will have to earn money in some other way besides selling your art. I would rather see better writing about actual works of art in the ARTS sections of the major newspapers and magazines rather than poorly researched "analyses" of the art market. Obviously art scribes should not ignore social/political realities when they discuss specific works and exhibitions, but they should remember that they are not professional economists. If you say that there will be a housing or art market collapse year after year you’re bound to be right at least once.

9/10/2007 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan T. D. Neil said...

Does anyone feel, as I do, that the impulse behind the "art market death watch" comes from a certain romanticized notion of those relatively recent moments (SoHo in the late-60s/early 70s; the East Village in the late-70s/early-80s) when a depressed economy coincided with what appears (often in pictures) as "fun" and "daring" art? I mean, who isn't in love with the image of Matta-Clark opening up a restaurant in Soho and jacking up cars under the B'klyn Bridge, all in the name of 'art'?

The problem is, economic recession--which is what will lead to a depression in the art market as opposed to some instantaneous collective decision by the Artnews Top 200 collectors to hold onto their wallets--is not going to be "fun" for anyone. Hollis Frampton wrote in his letters to Carl Andre and others about his downtown squatters loft getting broken into on a regular basis, with god knows how much film equipment wandering off. Yes, he was able to continue to make exceptional and important work, even during that period, but it sounds a lot more like struggle, not "fun". And one can struggle in the current economic climate just as easily, and assuredly, as one will struggle if we have the ill fortune of a coming recession. Personally I'm fearful of accepting the the economy as ultimate art "critic", the one that will supposedly get rid of all of the "bad" art out there. This is market fundamentalism in its worst form.

9/10/2007 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous LICPainter said...

If the money drops out of the art market, it will be dropping out of a lot of areas as well, which means many artists who don't survive by sales of their art will also lose their source of income. Freelance jobs such as artists assistants, art handlers, decorative painting, etc. will disappear, and even people who aren't directly working in their art world will be affected as well. This would only be fun for rich people who think it's cute for 10 artists to live in a loft space in a distant area of brooklyn with no heat.

9/10/2007 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Hey, it's not as if I'm not slogging away at a day job myself, you know.

JTDN sez:
Personally I'm fearful of accepting the the economy as ultimate art "critic", the one that will supposedly get rid of all of the "bad" art out there.

It is true that a downturn would also get rid of all the good art. If there were any.

9/10/2007 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

You can find a thousand good excuses to not make the art you feel that you could make if only. . .

The economy, the quality of the market, the focus of curators and critics and museums on this or that trend. . .

I think that artists have more ways to get their work out there now than they have ever had before. Some of those ways may be profoundly unprofitable (now), but they do exist. It might be up to some creative folks to find ways to really make them work.

I think Ed's right on when he maintains that it's the artist's job to keep the work fun and interesting, if fun and interesting is what he/she is shooting for. To rely on this or that state of the market is to concede too much of what you do in your studio to forces outside of your control.

9/10/2007 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ed, thanks once again for starting something. Jonathan and Licpainter, thank you for your comments. Licpainter has it exactly right here: If the primary businesses go out of business, so do the related businesses. That’s going to leave a lot of artists going after food stamps and the same need-based grants.

Fisher and Ed, I can only speak for myself, but while artmaking for me always remains interesting (and sometimes transcendent), I'm not sure I would ever call it fun. It's a job.

I have no answers for this post, but some observations and a lot of questions.

While the Dow and the real estate market and the art market have always gone in cycles, it seems we’ve never been in quite this same situation before. The Dow has never been as high, which means it’s (potentially) poised to plunge to greater depths. When rich-people money dries up, that's the end of the art market, no?

The real estate market poses a different (related) problem. In the past, it’s always been artists who have had to vacate when the rents got too high. Now dealers may face the same thing, too. When the first round of 10- and 15-year leases comes up in Chelsea, which should be, oh, right about now, what will happen if (when?) the developers up the rents to untenable levels? Where will the galleries go? (We’ve talked about this before, but it’s not a one-shot conversation, clearly. Really, where will the galleries go? To barges on the Hudson?)

The art market has also seen cycles, but the art fair boom is the wild card. It has never existed before as it does now. It’s huge. Will it crash? Deflate slowly? Expand even more then crash? Keep expanding infinitely? (There are even more fairs slated for Basel/Miami this year than last.) Will it take over the function of brick-and-mortar galleries? Will it contribute to their decline?

Meanwhile an ever-increasing number of artists are coming out of school with BFAs and MFAs eager to get a low-paying part-time job to pay for an expensive studio --er, start a career.

We’re all ever more crowded into one large metaphorical boat with a fast engine and a fairly uncontrollable keel. But whether we're in steerage on or a top deck with a great view, it’s still the same out-of-control boat. Remember the Titanic?

We all have a stake in this, like it or not. Oh, god, I've really bummed myself out. What a weight to drag into the studio today...

9/10/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Heart As Arena said...

Here's what I think. Usually a fan of Cotter's, I really enjoyed the article until he made that bad leap to connect the prevelance of death themes to the art market. Yeah. Death is going to be all over the place, but it has NOTHING to do with a dying or not-dying art market. It's the blood, stupid. And while he was focusing on the dot-connecting he missed something that was right in front of him.

9/10/2007 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous LICPainter said...

I just want to point out that my previous comment was written at the same time as Jonathan T. D. Neil's - now it appears like a response to his comment that just restates (in a less thorough way) what he said, but in fact his wasn't up yet when I commented. Zeitgeist.

9/10/2007 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Joanne sez:
...artmaking for me always remains interesting (and sometimes transcendent), I'm not sure I would ever call it fun. It's a job.

I have a great time when it's going well. I had no idea how great until I had the studio at SVA.

But you know those bumper stickers that read "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work"? I want to make one for artists that reads "A bad day in the studio is WORSE than a bad day at work." When art goes badly, holy crap, does it suck.

9/10/2007 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I'd amend that to: A bad day in the studio IS a bad day at work.

9/10/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

For some of us it's still a hobby, alas.

9/10/2007 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I haven't read everything yet, but I want to clarify a couple of things:

1. There is no inherent reason that "extremely interesting or even revolutionary" and "financially worthwhile" can't co-exist. Right now they seem to, but there is no reason that has to continue.

2. I think professionalism and fun, and even professionalism and revolution can similarly co-exist.

In fact, these days I think they must. Punk rock is a manner. It's meaningless.

9/10/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I disagree with the implication that the art market is too complex to predict. The art market is reasonably correlated with other financial markets and allowing for time lags (of about a year) tends to trend higher in the aggregate. It is this fact (see Mei/Moses) which was one of the causes for the increased influx of capital buying art over the last 5 years.

Like all financial markets, the art market is subject to up down cycles, and they tend to trace the overall economy. At the moment, the US economy is reasonably strong but weakening, subject to a severe drag that is being caused by the current contraction in the housing market. In spite of what the government officials may be saying, he housing contraction is by no means over and will continue to deepen throughout the winter. Even though this may not have a direct financial link to the art market, any further negative news will have a strong psychological effect on auction prices

So I think it is inevitable that the art market will contract and most likely within the next two years. Markets which become overpriced (frothy, speculative, and have seen rapid price appreciation) always revert to the mean. This can occur two ways, a sharp but relatively short decline in prices, or a period of stagnation where prices are soft for a number of years. Because of the recent increase in the size of the art market, it is hard to predict how deep any contraction may be, deep enough to be painful I suspect.

For Chris, be careful what you wish for. The art market collapse in the seventies ushered in conceptual art and earthworks. Since nothing was selling (in the low-mid range) artists made stuff without worrying about how or if it would sell.

In general, I think fisher has a fairly good handle on it. It appears to me that when there is a lot of capital floating around the art world, it acts (in the broad sense) as a barrier to maintain the status quo. The result has a psychological affect on both artists and the gallerists.

9/10/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

For some of us it's still a hobby, alas.

And can remain such for many artists unless they make it a job. Which isn't advice for anyone to quit their day jobs. But it is advice to treat your studio practice like your second job.

9/10/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous pp said...

"Artist, the shit-face, is always an opportunist".

- Joseph Beuys, as cited in Venezia Biennale catalogue

Well, most are.

9/10/2007 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

It appears to me that when there is a lot of capital floating around the art world, it acts (in the broad sense) as a barrier to maintain the status quo. The result has a psychological affect on both artists and the gallerists.

I agree. But I think that the real intellectual work is figuring out how to overcome the barrier and truly take advantage of all this capital while f***ing s*** up!

There are probably one million good strategies for getting one's ass into Chelsea and using the platform to pull off some truly fantastic coup that makes Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle not just look smalltime, but more importantly, make it look like the boring spectacle of self that it was... the name of art!

Grousing about all the capital one has at one's disposal to achieve this goal doesn't sound like one of them.

9/10/2007 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


But I think that the real intellectual work is figuring out how to overcome the barrier and truly take advantage of all this capital while f***ing s*** up!

I hear ya, but I also think that's just part of the trap.

9/10/2007 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I have to admit, all of these discussions are purely theoretical in my case, rather like the discussions with my friend the fashion designer, who was constantly pulling frilly polyester calico dresses off the rack and saying, 'isn't that cute?!!' when I do not consider polyester fit for human use, and thus whether the dress was cute or not was purely an academic question. I make my living as a bodyworker, and make a lot of gorgeous paintings which do not sell because I have utterly no idea how to find the right dealer. Like Edison, I've tried nine hundred and ninety-nine things that don't work.

But recently someone left a comment on my blog, that 'looking at this painting was as good as 8 years of psychotherapy,' and this, in my book, is unqualified, fantastic, absolute success beyond my wildest dreams, because I created a painting that, at least in this once instance, caused someone's mind to transcend the subject/object duality.

9/10/2007 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous kelli said...

I don't get the schadenfreude. I was excited when all the galleries Wallspace, ATM etc. opened up their block. More opportunities for more artists. The current market is benefiting female artists, young artists, people who previously might not have had the connections or trust funds to have art careers at all. For the vast majority of artists money equals time, time to make art, not a country house.
People like Damien Hirst will always have careers. The market suffering will hurt only the artists in the middle and the bottom.
I guess the question is why has the healthy market resulted in more conservative not less conservative art? Maybe because if people see a brass ring in sight they want to grab it. Maybe artists have missed out on spending a few years in a hovel hating the world and rejecting everything they are expected to make. I wouldn't have skipped that part myself but if people stay in the hovel forever nobody sees their work.

9/10/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Cotter is prone to facile and vague revolutionary sentiments like the above. I disregard them reflexively.

There have always been tensions between the lofty ideals of art and the petty drives of the people who make and handle it. This makes for good copy, and despite what Tyler said about critics covering the market, he specializes in commenting on these tensions. (His fine work covering the Barnes dramas, for instance.) As well he should, by the way - he's good at it, and it's a valid enterprise. As coverage of art in print clutches its throat and falls like one of Darth Vader's admirals, Tyler occupies a powerful position.

Tensions of this clarity and magnitude used to exist within art itself: between high and low (circa 1960), between figuration and abstraction (circa 1950), between the salon styles and the independent movements (circa 1880), between drawing and color (circa 1820), and so on. But grand battles like these require armies. We don't have hegemonic styles anymore. Have artistic ambitions become too modest, too diverse, or too misplaced to register the kind of drama that the market provides, at least at the level that the NYT would write about it? I tend to think so.

9/10/2007 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes George when things are bad all over, artists suffer along with the masses. Is this a deep insight? No. I guess the real lesson is that artists need to be frugal, gather their acorns, when times are good, so that they can continue to make stuff while eating Ramen noodle soup three times a day. I also don't see anything wrong with being an artist as a second career. When successful artists or critics talk about how great it is to be an artist/writer full time and how horrible it was to be an artist/writer part-time I believe they are doing a disservice to the universal artistic ethos. Obviously economic downturns are nothing to laugh at or take lightly. Obviously the art market is connected to the overall economy. If all of the graphs are sloping downwards chancing are hedge funders and aristocrats will spend less on art. But many of these issues boil down to the lifestyles of individuals. If you are living on the edge financially and you have no alternate job training/skills you better be prepared to work in the customer service or manufacturing sectors. Art should not be done in a vacuum and it never hurts to have alternate, marketable skills.

9/10/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But grand battles like these require armies.

And generals.

My question though would be which grand battle is currently worth fighting over (beyond on the blogs, which are designed for making mountains out of molehills, I mean)?

And just like the world at large, don't we ever get to enjoy a sustained period of peace? Or does that automatically put folks to sleep?

9/10/2007 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Yes what I stated should be obvious. Unfortunately it's not always the case. The financial markets often end thier declines with what amounts to a panic, how is it that all those smart people wait until the end to panic?

9/10/2007 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...


Depends on what you mean by trap. I think that there are two traps, and that they intertwine, but that they should be ignored.

TRAP ONE: Dissent is no longer an effective strategy for changing or moving anything. Irony, "bad" painting, using garbage, acts of artistic fiat--all manner, no meat!

These old-school strategies of dissent are now very effective ways of excusing and confirming the power of the superrich, and we haven't come up with any better strategies for actually "f***ing s*** up" yet. So it is not just possible but probable that a huge number of well-intentioned would-be radicals (including myself) are not going to hit the mark, and are going to wind up a part of the problem and not the solution on an intellectual level.

TRAP TWO: Because we are between effective strategies, and because it is so much easier to just cling to what the rich people are paying for, there is little reason to stick one's neck out. It's much easier to play it cool and not offend anyone's preconcieved notions of what exactly they are buying. The superrich flock to Chelsea for facsimilies of "f***ing s*** up."

Not only is it possible that you could miss the mark if you were genuinely trying to be radical...

...genuinely radical art (ideally) looks nothing like the pretend-radical jankypunkrockironiccleverantibad that pervades Chelsea because that is the manner we all learned in the academy.

So it is entirely possible that you could be such a freaking radical that you wind up ignored by a marketplace full of people wh think that you are just a nerd.

But is this any reason not to try? In reality, the stakes are awfully low. Either you play along and get a little play for a couple of years and make a bunch of stuff for art fairs that spends its whole life in crates and worry the whole time about what you said to whom, or you just put on a really big hat and go talk to as many people as you can and just put your foot in it. If what you are doing is recognized, great. If everyone ignores you, then at least you won't have any distractions.

Either way, the chances of anyone paying sustained attention to you are so low that you might as well do exactly what you want, what you think is best.

9/10/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I guess what I was getting at is that thinking about the money can deflect ones attention away from what one is doing.

9/10/2007 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


To take it a tad farther, the money, ‘quality’ and/or radicalness become problematic when they cause ones activity to be directed outside oneself.

What is radical? Being yourself. No one is you, no one can take that from you, and no one can copy you, they will always be a step behind. It’s ok if the idea of ‘being radical’ is who you are, so is ‘being skilled’ or ‘being conceptual’, as long as it is being who you are and not what you think you should be.

If I think of any artist I admire, regardless of style or medium, one consistent thread for me is an awareness of the artists identity, a sense of his or her uniqueness. After all we talk about this ‘Picasso’ or that ‘Mondrian’ and I think that it reflects on one of the qualities we admire and require from art.

9/10/2007 04:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

My question though would be which grand battle is currently worth fighting over...

There is none. Everyone has to make that choice for himself now. I personally fight for the visual aspect of visual art. I hope to encourage other people similarly inclined, but I would do it by myself if I had to.

...don't we ever get to enjoy a sustained period of peace?

I guess not. Thankfully this is metaphorical warfare. But there is such a thing as too little tension. The artistic tendency I was describing a couple of days ago as "lazy" could also be described as a practice with too little tension, something that is not tackling a sufficiently rich or challenging problem, or is not doing so in an adequately productive way. That plagues all kinds of art, but some are more prone to it.

What is radical? Being yourself. No one is you, no one can take that from you, and no one can copy you, they will always be a step behind. It’s ok if the idea of ‘being radical’ is who you are, so is ‘being skilled’ or ‘being conceptual’, as long as it is being who you are and not what you think you should be.

I agree with this to the letter.

9/10/2007 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here we go again.... . In circles, a dog after it's tail....

The artist-victim thing, the only ones that suffer, and the "I am above it all" line. Wait! Now we can call the economic crash a Revolution! Wow!

How disingenius, Tyler and EW.

Plenty of art out there about the market, collectors and Chelsea. We can't talk about it, origin? Plenty of spit about it have we read in many blogs, here, Artnet, Art Salon, and others. Cotter is only saying how it is for him. Old, leftie, and generous soul with political minorities Mr. Cotter. Well, he is not the last word unless the NY Times is and defines your world.

Art and market have always co-existed. Always.

The Art parade is Mardi Gras, period. 20 year olds with nothing better to do and older ones looking to get laid. On a Saturday? Dad is paying the bills of course. A middle class "event" for you all...very much like 2/3rds of Chelsea.

Was there any BEER? Full bars?

9/10/2007 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

What is radical? Being yourself. No one is you, no one can take that from you, and no one can copy you, they will always be a step behind. It’s ok if the idea of ‘being radical’ is who you are, so is ‘being skilled’ or ‘being conceptual’, as long as it is being who you are and not what you think you should be.


Don't get me wrong--I don't think that everyone should be radical anymore than I think everyone should like dogs and not cats!

What I meant is that the current art market privileges an academic, mannerist style that teaches everyone how to pretend to be radical.

Sorry if there was confusion, I agree with you wholeheartedly!

9/10/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

How disingenius, Tyler and EW.

Arghhh! Will no one rid me of these anonymous pests?

What exactly is disingenuous to you here, whateveryournameis? I see nothing that Tyler and I agreed on here that might justify that libelous charge. Come on, out with it. What?

9/10/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan T. D. Neil said...

I know I'm going to get skewered for this, but here goes...

What is radical? Being yourself. No one is you, no one can take that from you, and no one can copy you, they will always be a step behind. It’s ok if the idea of ‘being radical’ is who you are, so is ‘being skilled’ or ‘being conceptual’, as long as it is being who you are and not what you think you should be.

This is sentimental, second grade, free-to-be-you-and-me tripe. This entire thread is filled with denunciations of other (unnamed) artists who are called out as "mannered", "entitled", "trustfund" "pretend radicals" who--guess what?--are likely just being who they are.

If you know differently, if somehow anyone on this thread is such a supreme judge of subjective authenticity and can tell as much through the art that others make, then, as they say, put your money where your mouth is. Give us examples, and many of them. Take a side (which no one here has done yet). Don't just whine "Chelsea" this and "chelsea" that. It's a pathetic and cowardly dodge.

If you mean us to believe that your aesthetic acumen is honed to a razor's edge and that you can wield it with confidence then do so.
You'll make enemies, of course, but you'll make friends too, and maybe, just maybe, the conflict will prove productive. Anything is better than everyone holding their breath out of deference to decorum while waiting for the market to bottom out.

And as for this promotion of identity to the pinnacle of what we prize in others; this is exactly why there are no "grand battles", no "armies" at the moment. Loving identity only gets you the pluralism you deserve.

9/10/2007 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I don't think you're wrong--it is sentimental to think that the answer is "be yourself."

But I don't think that this thread is about denouncing other artists. As one of the people you skewer, I have to remind you that I have implicated myself in my argument again and again, and that I see this as a systemic, not an individual problem.

The market creates an impression of high stakes, and therefore heightens the potential for fear in any artist. To make matters worse, it is easy for any artist to think of oneself as a "radical" who is positioned "outside the system" because we all learned how to use these now outmoded tropes of radicalism and dissent in school.

I do not see myself as either outside this system or immune to the powerful look and feel of a lot of money.

But I do think that the appropriate response to all this money and fear is not to collapse but to stand tall and figure out what to do with it.

Forgive me. I don't see how that is whining.

9/10/2007 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Permit me to be more blunt.

Declaring an identity is what is all about. Artists who fail to do so are relegated to the dustbin of history, there are few exceptions. ‘Identity’ cannot be borrowed, hence my ‘sentimental’ paragraph.

In the real world they call it ‘branding.’

Of course, there is always the dusty world of academia where one can over-analyze the problem intellectually in a circular fashion for years.

FWIW, I’ve been around the block and I tend to avoid discouraging younger artists unless provoked, what’s the point?

Finally, yes, I mean you to believe that my aesthetic acumen is honed to a razor's edge, it’s generally something I keep to myself.

9/10/2007 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan T. D. Neil said...

But I don't think that this thread is about denouncing other artists.

No, of course not. But yet it's the inauthentic art that feeds, and so is complicit with, the market which is apparently so detrimental to the possibility of the genuine article. And this thread is about debating that point, which is why I don't see how we can begin to make headway if standing tall and figuring out what to do can't be articulated at least somewhat concretely here.

9/10/2007 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan T. D. Neil said...

Finally, yes, I mean you to believe that my aesthetic acumen is honed to a razor's edge, it’s generally something I keep to myself.

But why? And the point is not to discourage younger artists, the point is to encourage the ones you think have talent and to send the others on to something else, be they young or old.

9/10/2007 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Will no one rid me of these anonymous pests?

On we verbally beat the snot out of them. Works for us.

And as for this promotion of identity to the pinnacle of what we prize in others; this is exactly why there are no "grand battles", no "armies" at the moment. Loving identity only gets you the pluralism you deserve.

I agree with this too.

The question was not what would be good, but what would be radical, and given that the art world will sanction nearly any behavior including a wide swath of illegal ones, being true to yourself is the only option. But I'm talking about individualism marked by integrity and probity, not the fetishizing of identity and certainly not the elevation of personality to something allegedly meaningful. That said, even individualism is no guarantee of quality, but a good version of it entails the self-awareness and self-criticism that make quality possible.

9/10/2007 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I don't teach, so I'm in no position to judge anyone here.

9/10/2007 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

I've never thought myself sentimental.
I do agree with Jonathan T. D. Neil.

Thankfully we are all build differently [Is it ok to do bold here?].
I look for extreme difference in an artist and it's usually there in their work. I'm not talking the stereotypical model of artist as different, but it's usually pretty easy to see & tell, put 2 and 2 together.

Just to meet a few comments–

I've found nothing particularly wrong with following one's own inquisitiveness. I've never lived in a hovel, so I'm not sure if that always fits. In all seriousness these are great times. Even, perhaps, and quite possible, a market now can challenge an artist into making tougher work. And as different, or reconsidered, models become recognized [identified], a whole market and spread of art will be out there. It is challenging -- something already identified and met by the artist.

Sorry, the topic is why critics spend so much time discussing the market? I guess because it's the topic of the day -- probably a matter of wanting to turn the page for no other reason than because the current one open has been read, and digested.

9/10/2007 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...


It baffles me that these words are so readily offered on this thread without any discussion of their intended political significance. What do people really want, specifically? Are we really only concerned with a kind of aesthetic radicalism? Isn't this the old trap of modernism -- falsely substituting revolutionary aesthetics for actual political intervention, as if a new style of art alone is capable of transforming real-world power dynamics?

If artists are truly dissatisfied with the power relationships that dominate their artistic opportunities -- that is, the control that elites exert over non-elites, as reflected in the powerful nature of the market -- then it's going to take much more than imagining or advocating for a new kind of aesthetic in order to affect change.

The first step would be to stop confusing radical aesthetic practice with actual political intervention. Artists and activists need to work together. I don't think art can affect change unless it's acting in concert with larger political strategies. This doesn't necessarily mean that art has to act as a form of "dissent," as DF so clearly despises, or that artists must serve the needs of activist organizers. Rather, both groups could teach and empower each other.

I realize that this probably seems like a rather unattractive concept for many American artists, as most were raised to be fiercely individualistic, but I'm especially drawn to forms of art that directly confront power as part of larger social movements. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra is one of my favorite examples as such (the Rebel Clown Army would be another). "Performance art" that shuts down military recruiters and hampers the racist efforts of the minutemen, how awesome is that! Although I doubt that either group would be so pretentious as to label their activities as such.

9/10/2007 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I’ll take it back to the markets.

We are living in an unique time, the recent expansion in the art market is unprecedented in modern history. Some of the reasons are economic and some are demographic. The end result is that the art market is changing before our eyes and most participants are still using the old vision as a model, it won’t work.

Pluralism was briefly mentioned, while it’s a pomo term used to indicate the acceptance of a plurality of styles and concepts, it is also a hint on how the art world is changing. The hegemonic style is a thing of the past, it may appear to be revived momentarily but only within an art world sub-category. The causes for this are mainly demographic, there are so many more artists working today it is unlikely they would ever coalesce, adopting a single style or movement.

Further, the recent rapid expansion in the art market has disrupted the normal order of things. I think this will prove to be temporary and the various players will restructure the marketplace into an economically tiered system. The closest model I can think of is the fashion industry (not the music industry)

So, I think why there is so much discussion of the art market is partly a result of disbelief, disbelief because the current conditions wildly outstrip anything anyone living has ever experienced before. Further, information technology in changing the way business can be done and these developments are still in their infancy.

9/10/2007 08:59:00 PM  
Anonymous kelli said...

Maybe critics are pretending to yearn for some sort of vie de boheme return to artists being poor when they actually have a conservative desire for a return to an art world which is compact, familiar and easy for them to grasp. Contemporary art being made by other cultures ( India, Africa),by young artists or artists not manufactured by the institutions where they also teach threatens their boundaries.
But then la vie de boheme and dillettantism have alays been inherantly made by angry, drunk white dudes with trustfunds like William Buroughs etc. Can anyone really be nostalgic for that crap?

9/11/2007 01:24:00 AM  
Anonymous kelli said...

Note to self:
Move to overpriced artist's garret. Drop 40 I.Q. points possibly through an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Hook up with either an old school, drunk, brooding jackass guy painter OR a new model crystal meth addled high school dropout making goth art for middle-aged people. Get knocked up at least once. End own artistic practice and get new career as a nude artist's model. Act as a muse for artists making crappy neo expressionist figuration. Or just do meth with them.

9/11/2007 01:32:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Personally, I yearn for an art world in which I am well-to-do.

9/11/2007 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

By the way, the phrase "crappy neo-expressionist figuration" is redundant.

9/11/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

By the way, the phrase "crappy neo-expressionist figuration" is redundant.

Chris, you do understand that the courtesy extended you by folks who don't criticize the particular work you like, or make, will expire at some point and then be expressed in equally snarky sentiments, no?

9/11/2007 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I wasn't aware anyone was extending me any courtesy. They can stop right now.

9/11/2007 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Everyone here is expected to extend everyone that courtesy, Chris. It was my way of asking that you consider the feelings of folks invested in Neo-Expressionist figuration so they consider those of folks invested in Modernism.

9/11/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Is anyone actually still invested in neo-expressionist figuration? Come on. It's not like I was insulting, say, conceptual artists.

And, darn it, I'm not invested in Modernism, I'm trapped by it!

Anyway, I never consider anyone's feelings. If I did, I'd never post at all.

Quiet! I know what you're all thinking!

9/11/2007 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous kelli said...

Ed I should be taking the flak for this one. I'm joking around and being sarcastic and he just joked back. I wasn't talking about Cotter either ( who goes out of his way to see less publicized shows, is the only critic I can think of who's reviewed a show made by a trans artist, and probably wrote the best review about all the feminist art retrospectives ). I don't think he's conservative in the least. But I think some others are and the nostalgia for some is a longing for a past where the art world was smaller and more restricted. Hence the snarkiness.

9/11/2007 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not trying to make too big a deal out of this (which is why I tried [and obviously failed] to make a joke out of it in the first place). Just trying to ensure the tone stays on the friendlier side.

9/11/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

You need to work on sounding like you're kidding, there, Ed.

9/11/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous kelli said...

Sure Ed, my apologies. I take responsibility for my snarkiness. Which wasn't directed at Cotter either.

9/11/2007 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

I realize I'm coming to this discussion late, but it seems to me that no one really addressed why so many "art market death watch cheerleaders" are on the scene, especially since the death knell of the market will surely mean less opportunity for unestablished artists and plenty of stress for those already inside the machine.

I believe the vultures wait on the sidelines because too few are willing to critique and affect change of the contemporary status quo. Artists are an idealistic bunch. Could it be that we've become complicit in conquering our ideals, attached to capitalistic machinations which are showing signs of impending collapse (two hundred years from now, if not before)? Is the "death watch cheerleader" our superego chipping away from a prison of denial?

I have mixed feelings about this issue. Not only do I work a part-time job that offers healthcare and accounts for the bulk of my annual income, but I feel all artists should work part-time at something away from the studio, whether volunteer community service, teaching, waiting tables, or what have you. The work is good for the spirit and the mind, enhancing the creative process and allowing you to duly respect the time in the studio.

Furthermore, the contemporary market turns art into a luxury item, devaluing the social or spiritual role it should 9and once did) play. If one finds luxury markets - fine wine, diamonds, prestige clothing or automobiles - abhorrent, as I do, it is then difficult, if not impossible, to participate in the art market without some degree of serious discomfort. This is not new, of course; most of the western canon was guided by commerce, but as the cultural and information exchange has continued to expand, the individual works in the Art World proper have less and less relevance to society and more and more importance as vanity license plates. (As opposed to other, more popular commodities, which are traded freely over the internet, like Kanye West albums or politically motivated videos.)

Sure, we all contradict ourselves, containing Whitman's multitudes, but if your heart aches, you'd better make sure you're not bleeding yourself dry, both in the studio and in life.

9/15/2007 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

HH sez:
...I feel all artists should work part-time at something away from the studio....

I think your prescription should vary depending on the artist. I think some artists are so good, and their products so worthwhile, that their best contribution should be to make art and only make art.

Likewise, I think some artists are so dreadful they should be banned from the studio. They're much better off doing community service.

9/17/2007 09:37:00 AM  

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