More Evidence that the Answer Is "No" : Open Thread
As I'm sure will surprise no one, I voted "No." Times of recession are not good for art, in my opinion. Of course, we've been all over this question on this blog with some arguing that too much money in the art market tends to make the art more boring as younger artists (in particular) get swept up in producing to meet demand rather than gestating or working through their ideas thoroughly enough, or something like that. [UPDATE: Don't miss this round-up of a MoMA-hosted ADAA panel discussion titled "Is The Killer Art Market Killing Art?" on Joanne Mattera's blog.]
But two recent articles by the husband-wife super critics of New York, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith, seem to indicate that there's a flavor to this question that isn't only important to consider, but, much more importantly, vindicates my point of view. Specifically, once you conclude that times of recession are good or bad for "art," the next question becomes "whose art?"
Although I still believe the jury is out on whether hot art markets are good for up-and-coming artists, I'm pretty sure now that hot art markets can be very good for artists who've been overlooked. Indeed, in his January 24th article that included a review of a show by one of my favorite contemporary painters, Joyce Pensato, Jerry stated it perfectly:
One of the good things about the supposedly evil art boom—setting aside for the moment the notion that it may be destabilizing right now— is that underknown mid-career artists are getting second chances at recognition.Then today in The New York Times, Roberta writes a glowing review of the current exhibition by Doris Lee at D. Wigmore Fine Art. Who and where you ask? That's precisely my point:
[The exhibition includes] around 50 paintings, gouaches and drawings by Doris Lee (1905-1983), an artist whose name initially rang no bells at all. Ms. Lee’s sophisticated fusion of folk and modernist painting ran the gamut from Grandma Moses to a rather prim Abstract Expressionism. The arc was clearly intriguing, as was D. Wigmore Fine Art itself. It is in a building on Fifth Avenue near 57th Street along with other galleries known to me. Inside, it looks like something that Douglas Sirk might have dreamed up. Three trim desks sit squarely in the exhibition space, and the paintings are hung cheek by jowl on brass rods descending from the molding. Deco-ish high-gloss South American rosewood paneling here and there radiate an impossible sheen.
If D. Wigmore Fine Arts struck me as a place where time had paused a bit, that may be because history, as you think you know it, becomes unsettled here. Ms. Wigmore is one of several New York dealers who mostly represent estates of mid-20th-century artists who are suffering from at least momentary neglect.
Since she began handling the Lee estate in the mid-1980s, she has mounted around 10 shows of the artist’s work. Ms. Wigmore’s view is that while her artists may never again be part of the current scene, they can always re-enter history.
My central argument here is still technically unproven, I'll admit. Essentially I'm attributing the ability of overlooked artists to "re-enter" history to the fact that there's so much money about in the art market that galleries can afford to highlight them (which can also be read as the galleries have run out of inventory on their other artists). That doesn't seem to be the case with Wigmore, who focuses on such artists, though, but I'm pretty sure the amount of money about helps that mission too. I'm also leaving out museums or not-for-profit spaces that might on their own take a fresh look at a previously overlooked artists, but there again, the hotness of the market impacts the number of people lining up to become trustees (i.e., donating money) and helps expand their capacity in this regard as well.
So given all that evidence, I'll conclude that I'm more right than wrong and smugly move along to getting myself a cup of joe. Consider this an open thread on overlooked artists, re-entering history, and the impact of the market conditions on both.
See image at NYTimes: “The Violinist, Woodstock” by Doris Lee.