Freeze @ 20 : An Example of Artists Leading, Instead of Moaning
Twenty years after Damien Hirst launched the YBAs in an exhibition called "Freeze," the 16 artists who were there are reuniting, reports the Guardian.Their timing is perfect. For me at least. I was wondering how to address the comment Franklin made yesterday about the statement I wrote in yesterday's post. First my statement:
"Freeze 20" opens at the Hospital Club next month with 16 works, including two from the original event — Anya Gallaccio's molten lead poured onto the warehouse floor and a drawing by Stephen Park — and several from the time period. Also included are Hirst's first work in formaldehyde, featuring a fish, as well as pieces from Mat Collishaw, Angus Fairhurst, Gary Hume, Abigail Lane, Sarah Lucas, and Fiona Rae.
The entryway to the exhibition will boast an archive of cultural ephemera and newspaper headlines from the late '80s, while the exit will show a 20-year timeline plotting key moments in contemporary art, particularly those involving the participating artists.
Says curator Duncan Cargill: "This exhibition is not just about nostalgia — it's about questioning what the effects of 'Freeze' were."
I have repeatedly supported the notion that if artists are not happy with the terms of the system they have every right to change those terms. Implied in that opinion, though, is that the work of changing the terms falls to them.and Franklin's response:
Let me note two preliminary, framing ideas myself to clarify my point of view on this. First, I don't see myself necessarily as any more "inside the system" than many artists who have been exhibiting in commercial galleries for longer than I've owned one. I didn't invent the system. A few hundred years of artists wishing to sell their work has led us to where we are. If there were, readily at hand, better ways for artists to conduct such business, I'm sure we'd have them already. In fact, I'm sure some are on their way even as I write this. The system evolves, more in spurts than steadily, but it does evolve.
I fully agree with this. But it's a touch galling - just a touch - to hear it coming from someone on the inside of that system. Let's note a couple of aspects of coming up with one's own terms:
1. That it not only involves coming up with some means of fiscal survival that doesn't compromise the integrity of one's work, but that entire structures have to be generated by any number of like-minded people in order to garner critical recognition. The system as it stands involves galleries, museums, critics, and curators, and the news-making portion of that system reserves serious regard for a far narrower slice of working artists' priorities than they will typically admit to. However inadequate the observation that "art is, above all, about personal expression and craftsmanship," I'll take it over the notion that art is, above all, about ideas and issues, and there's no question about what contemporary museums prefer given a selection of mid- and early-career artists. Cutting a new path that doesn't involve this system is going to require extraordinary endurance and business acumen that most artists by nature don't possess. So while it may be true that the artists who don't like the system have the responsiblity to create their own situation, the choice is between being chained to an oar in the slave's galley or throwing oneself into the open ocean. Thus not all of that bitching is misplaced.
2. That the system is going to kick and scream as alternative terms become successful. For instance, criticism (not just art criticism, but all criticism), in the 20th Century form that we've come to know and occasionally love, is dying. It is moving to a shorter, more populist, worse-paying form on the Web. Hardly any critic regards this as a good thing, but something of a mini-industry of snobbery has sprung up to bemoan the allegedly consequent imminent death of critical thought. (See Lee Siegelpuppet, et alia, who are so sad partly because we all know what's going to happen to them.)
Secondly, when I say it's up to artists to change the system it's not because I'm resistant to such changes and neither are the other dealers I respect (in fact, I've incorporated several tweaks to how we run our business based on ideas I've heard from other artist-centric dealers...ideas such as formalizing the split of resale profits with our artists, working out a clear system for when and how it's appropriate to discuss changing the 50/50 split, and more). I say it's up to artists to change the system if, and only if, the way it's currently going doesn't suit them and what they need to have it suit them requires new thinking, new energy, new direction, etc. among the rest of the industry. In other words, I wouldn't presume to know what those things should be. Artists have to tell and then convince the industry where they're heading, with or without the rest of us. Artists have to lead.
Just like the Freeze artists did:
Freeze had an impact, it seems, because not only were the included artists still students but also because of the very way in which the exhibition itself was packaged. There was aura of professionalism generated by the show's large scale and glossy catalogue, itself including an essay by a respected writer, Ian Jeffrey. Resultantly, it was striking because it was the antithesis of the usual student show. Goldsmith's, as a result largely of this exhibition, has been seen as the birth place of the 'Yba' phenomena. Another element to be factored into this construction was the presence of Goldsmith's tutor Michael Craig-Martin, who encouraged and fostered not only the use of a conceptual visual language, but also the importance of selling the artist. Another point to be considered in relation to the emergence of the 'Yba' was the economic climate that surrounded them, with their work first shown on the cusp of the boom and bust of the late 1980's. The result was not only a glut of empty retail spaces in which to display their work, but also a new generation of collectors who made their money in the halcyon days of the late Thatcher years.So I'm sorry that the industry itself isn't busy inventing some means whereby artists stewing unhappily about it can "com[e] up with some means of fiscal survival that doesn't compromise the integrity of one's work." But that doesn't mean we won't recognize a clear advance when someone forges one. I would offer the same advice, by the way, to a dealer who was unhappy with how some part of the system runs: don't just bellyache, work to change it.
The parts of the system that kick and scream, as opposed to seize the opportunity to support such efforts, will fall by the way side, so who cares if they kick and scream. If you build it, and it's worth noticing, they will come around.
Labels: gallery-artist relationship