Dave Hickey Makes the Squad
Being egocentric, I would have answered the question "Who gets hurt in an art bubble?" with "Young galleries; careless collectors." Maybe that's because I don't work with any greedy artists (we're very careful about prices in our space, for this very reason: to ensure they don't get hurt).
Art bubbles are great.
Art bubbles suck money into the art world.
Who gets hurt in an art bubble? Greedy artists; stupid collectors.
Who else? Nobody with their wits about them gets hurt in an art bubble.
---Dave Hickey, "Schoolyard art: playing fair without the referee," a keynote speech delivered at the Frieze art fair this year (as edited on The Art Newspaper).
Friends of mine who attended Hickey's lecture at Frieze came back raving about it. I only got snippets from their reports (the snarkier snippets), and immediately my guard went up. How dare this heretic? Condemning the art market at one of its most holy sanctuaries? No, no, no, my friends reported. He was funny!
And reading the lecture online, I see he was that and much more. Hickey weaves around and then dashes straight through the issues of the contemporary art market in a fashion as entertaining as it is insightful. And he spares no one in this critique of how ridiculous the system has become, not even himself:
The art market in the 20th century is first of all a finite market which means there are always more works of art than there are people to buy them.Where he gets really interesting, however, is in his diagnosis of why we're stuck here, in this suspended stage of no stylistic development:
What does that mean? It means, as Leo says, that somebody has to buy two.
Somebody has to buy four or five.
If the art does not change, nobody’s going to buy two.
To maintain itself in public vogue, art needs perpetual reinvestment, an artist needs one show after another show, one essay after another essay—all these are occasions for stylistic development.
If I happen to have written about your frog paintings last year and if you put up another show of frog paintings, I’m not coming by.
But, if Barbara [Gladstone] calls me and says: “You haven’t seen the salamander paintings, Dave,” then I’m going to rush right over.
In 1968 Bruce Nauman invented the plywood box.Entertaining as it is, Hickey's final conclusion is merely a more sophisticated routine from a seasoned captain of the art market deathwatch cheerleaders:
Do you remember the plywood box? I’ve been in every plywood box in the universe.
You could not make the plywood box go away.
I’ve been in plywood boxes with coal on the floor, with cotton on the floor, I’ve been in plywood boxes you climbed into with a ladder, I’ve been in plywood boxes in which there was nothing there except for, written on the wall, the tiny word “boogie”.
All of this created a steady-state market place in which there was nothing to drive style change.
The logic of an institutional market is: “We don’t care.
We’re just filling up this hole in our schedule.” It’s really more important [to institutions] if the person building the plywood box is a Zuni [Native American] warrior than if we’ve ever seen the plywood box before.
And the presumption is: We don’t have style development anymore because history is over.
I date the end of history to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968.
When they shot JFK everybody said “Oh God, it’s so terrible it’s the end of the world.” When they shot Bobby, everybody said: “Oh no, not again.” And the end of history is pretty much marked by: “Oh no, not again.” The problem is that even though history may be over—time keeps on going.
Not having history doesn’t disable ennui.
The art world works on ennui, that’s the only thing that makes it go.
I am bored with giant cibachrome photographs of three Germans standing behind a mailbox.
It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means I’m fucking bored with it.
One day one dealer may say to himself: “I’m going to gather power the way Leo did, I’m just going to show stuff I really believe in.” That’s going to really change things.This ending is disappointing. As it is with all deathwatch cheerleaders, Hickey seems to be longing for the next new thing, not because he can even assume it will be better than what we have now, but merely because it will be new, something to look forward to, and he won't be so fucking bored by it. That's not a good enough reason for me. First and foremost, whether Hickey agrees or not, I know dealers who truly believe they are only showing stuff they truly believe in. So if that's all it took, Hickey would have his change now. What I think Dave is really arguing for here is for someone else to end his ennui. The old Pet Shop Boys lyrics spring to mind: "We were never feeling bored, cause we were never being boring."
And the art world as we currently know it will disappear.
As exciting as this moment is now, imagine how exciting the collapse is going to be.
It’s really something to look forward to.
Boom! Thousands of Icari plummeting into the surf.
Eventually all the windows where you sell your soul are going to be closed.
Labels: art criticism