Saturday, January 03, 2009

We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For

Over the holidays I reflected on what I thought might be next in contemporary art, what will happen now that the market is no longer driving longer "the story" of contemporary art. In doing so, I should note, I considered "contemporary art" as a dialog between artists, curators/museums, critics, collectors, fairs, and yes even galleries, although clearly artists are the raison d'etre for the rest of us. With that in mind, I'll save my thoughts on how any of this applies to artists until the end and work through the other players first. Before that, though, permit me to set the stage for these thoughts (you may want to grab a coffee first, this one goes on for a few gigabytes):

Context for My Conclusions
Early on in his career, Andy Warhol embellished his paintings of cartoons and other Pop images with drips and "expressionistic" passages so that the world would know to take him seriously as an artist. Or so the story goes. More likely he simply hadn't reach the point at which he understood himself what he was working toward...who knows for sure?

Yet now that we're this side of Andy's choice to abandon the obligatory tell-tale signs of "seriousness," we can point to it as evidence that art movements have a down-side to them. They can keep artists from clearly focusing on where their explorations might otherwise take them. The "rules" of a movement that might provide the structure for mining deeply into a rich vein also keep directing adherents (or worse, those who see adherence as their only access into the "dialog") back into choices others have predetermined as valid.

Still, often one hears in the cacophonous contemporary art world a longing for a return to the days of movements or at least a salivating anticipation of the "next big thing," either of which will presumably provide some direction, something to really rally behind or invest in. Like waiting for Godot, it borders on tortuous, this sense that their must be something that will bring clarity or at least a wider urgency. I'd like to suggest we take a cue from the improbable new President-elect and consider instead that we are the ones we've been waiting for.

The clarity we seek will not, I suspect, emerge in conjunction with the rise of a dominant voice or bold new direction by a band of brilliant artists (the essential "art world" is probably too dispersed for that now), but rather with a broader point of view, a step back if you will, that permits us to recognize that Pluralism isn't a temporary brainstorming session, but rather a progression into a richer and wider cultural inter-connectivity. I'll explain more in detail below what I think that means in a fine art context.

First, though, for broader context, consider that socially we're already way ahead of this notion and increasingly very comfortable with it. When I check the stats on this blog, I see I enjoy a daily dialog with people living in virtually every corner of the world. My "friends" on Facebook live in nearly every continent and that circle keeps expanding. What we lose in intimacy with such environments, we make up for in immediacy and quantity. Yes, there's plenty of flotsam bobbing about in the blogosphere and social network sites, but there are absolute gems that come to those who put even the tiniest of efforts into finding them as well. But even the flotsam, especially in its database-convenient accumulation, becomes a ponderous thing, a raw material that provides satisfaction via its quantity (think: hit counters).

Of course, there's more value in this than merely the daily dispensing of digital pellets of personal validation. I don't mean to valorize sitting at a computer, but rather to point to how these tools are enriching our off-line social lives. When I meet someone at an art fair who comments on the blog or am prompted to visit an exhibition by a previously unknown "friend" of a "friend" on Facebook (someone whose profile and mutual friends I can see in preview), for example, I encounter these folks with a remarkable jump-start on real-world intimacy. An artist friend of mine just admitted the other day she finally gave in and joined Facebook because she felt she was missing out on too many invitations to events that everyone else seemed to know about.

Furthermore, we are collectively creating an exhilarating and phenomenally accelerating new
lingua-franca (centered in English, which is rapidly closing in on 1 million words) through such tools, one that keeps blending all of recorded human history into an ever-widening pool of referents. (See this list of words added to the Oxford Dictionary for new "English" words range from Scotland to East Africa to Japan, some of them just now, nearly 100 years after first coinage, and much of them created in response to the need to discuss new technology among ourselves).

More than that, though, we are collectively sorting through the content of recorded history and tagging essence, through the Internet we're building the most remarkable content management system (CMS) the world has ever known. Consider Wikipedia or YouTube. How much money would it have cost someone to find and input all that data, let alone add all that metadata, let alone refine the quality of the data (via ratings and/or feedback) in a socially relevant way? These are truly historic projects, and we're all contributing to their generation (willingly and for free I might add). (Yes such systems suffer from the bane of any database [i.e., garbarge in = garbage out], but I'll get to that in a moment.)

Moreover, with the speed with which you can now access information that the Internet provides, more of history, more of contemporary life, more of everything is quite literally at your fingertips. I recall, for example, a bit they did on Monty Python decades ago and within seconds I'm watching it on YouTube. If I want to share its significance, I no longer need to summarize or transcribe the telescript, I send out a link and voila, we're all watching the exact same bit. This ability accelerates what I can communicate more accurately. It connects us more succinctly (especially as I would have undoubtedly remembered it incorrectly had I been left to summarize it from memory).

Finally, this ability (and more importantly, our collective acceptance of communicating this way) permits me to draw more casually and eventually more effectively from all of history (images and titles and text and video) to try to convey something. When I wish to suggest humorously that the order for the New Year is Hope, it takes me mere minutes to provide a series of images that reach back millennia. A few key strokes and voila, history condensed and sewn together with ease to underscore my point.

It's not just the access (dedicated travelers or scholars could always spend their lives researching dusty volumes or the back roads of the world and then regurgitate what they found toward their own ends), though, but the ease of it. The speed of it begins to blur it all a bit. Indeed, all of world history and human accomplishment is our fertile playground and the ravenous rate with which we can consume it is changing how we feel about boundaries between times, places, and things. It didn't take me a week to make an appointment with a library and then hours of searching to find the Monty Python sketch, during which any number of life events might have derailed my quest or interest. I found it in seconds and combined it with another idea and moved on.

But why isn't this bad, you might ask? This speed surely leads to shallower observations or offerings, no?

Taken individually, perhaps (depending on the effort or the skills of the person offering it), but collectively I would argue the opposite. The following is an excerpt from something I wrote for the Daily Constitutional, Issue 6, Summer 2008:
It's widely accepted that programming has advanced to the point that no mere mortal will ever again consistently be able to beat the best computer applications at playing chess. The best that even the World Chess Champion can consistently hope for is a tie. And that may be but a momentary situation. Indeed, the notion has been raised that the brute force of intelligence available to a computer now produces the same results as the most intuitive human mind (leading to the situation where humans now prefer to pit their machines against each other at chess tournaments). In terms of processing future possibilities, things have reached the point at which quantity becomes indecipherable from quality.
Effectively directing such quantity into meaningful connections (it's not enough to take your opponent's queen if that then facilitates their checkmating you) is still an achievement of high purpose, though. And for human purposes that will always require understanding what is important from a human point of view. Against this furious backdrop, this new rapidly evolving reality, then, what reflects most accurately what's important now? How can you elevate one idea or achievement or time period over another in such a sea of arguably equal options/sources/references? The answer seems to be you don't. Not in the manner you used to at least. Perhaps moving forward, you assess what's important (to you or to society at large if that's your role), not solely through a chronological canon of individual achievements (although those are still essential elements), but rather through our new-found ability to see deeper, more complex, more subtle connections, independent of linear history or place.

What that means for the players in the art world constitutes the balance of this post:

Two "trends" (if you will) or perhaps simply emphases in curating seem to be acknowledging that inter-connectivity is important now. The first is overt collaboration, as evidenced most succinctly perhaps by the collective What, How and for Whom (WHW; Ivet Curlin, Ana Devic, Natasa Ilic and Sabina Sabolovic) who formed in 1999 and will be curating the upcoming Istanbul Biennial. Second is the growing interest in mixing historical with contemporary art or older historical works with more recent historical works...any dismissal of linear time seems of urgent interest (see, for example, this, this, this, this, and this) to present a more accurate overall picture of the works' significance or, as the recent exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum called it, to "draw connections." This achronological approach has captured the imagination of nearly everyone I speak with about it these days. Part of the enthusiasm is admittedly designed to correct what's seen an "imbalance of commercial interest." But I suspect more of it is because of the synaptic connection it sparks...evidence of how it answers a floating question about our times.

Art on Paper has been carefully balancing its coverage of the medium it's dedicated to, independent of the year the work was created, since the early 90s (see their summer issue reviews for a range of their interests)
. Their medium-specific mission has permitted this connecting thread across history more easily than that of, say, Artforum or other art publications dedicated to contemporary art, but the history of that publication has been one of continuously widening its scope. It's not irrelevant that its publishers are Peter Nesbett and Shelly Bancroft (the brains behind the sometimes controversial and always thought-provoking non-profit space Triple Candie [currently without a physical location]), two art world insiders with a knack for seeing the big picture.

The depth and breadth that focus permits is but one part of what I think art criticism must provide at the moment, though. The writers at the New York Times cover an incredible range of exhibitions, spanning all of art history, and still maintain more credibility collectively than any other daily publication in the world. But that, I believe, is their strength...their collective voice. Other publications have identifiable points of view or voices, but a singular point of view for any publications' readers increasingly seems a fetishization to my mind. So much so that I suspect publications with only one art critic will benefit greatly from those critics also voicing their opinions via other, perhaps less-formal channels, to permit these (non-edited) critiques to balance out their formal contributions. Blogs are one such channel, but other (less time-consuming channels) are being used effectively by writers for this as well.

A high-profile contemporary art collector (a fairly brilliant man recognized as such in his industry) recently noted with great enthusiasm that he had moved past the point in building his collection of only buying "brand" names and had found great joy in also acquiring work by less-established artists that complemented or connected his trophy pieces. He had learned enough about contemporary art to connect the dots, so to speak, he said. Juxtaposing works based on formal or conceptual connections had become his new passion. But more than that, the line that cut through from a budding artist to a highly celebrated one seemed more relevant than any individual piece.

Indeed, I suspect such collections will prove to be more important in the future than deep assemblies of brand names. They will prove to have been more insightful of what was really happening at this time. I know I can't say that without seeming to indict a wide range of what are considered very important contemporary collections, mostly because of their remarkable depth (how many pieces they include by "significant" artists), but having informally surveyed visitors to such collections they nearly universally report the ennui such visits left them feeling. Why? I began to wonder. What is it about such an approach that seems so ho-hum now? Why is the idea of connecting the dots so exhilarating?

Two years ago we were invited to participate in Art Chicago, which I had never done before (this was the year of its rebirth via the Merchandise Mart team) and we were excited to try it. Upon seeing our placement at the fair, though, I grew rather anxious. We were surrounded by galleries with programs so different from ours (a secondary market gallery that sold important Modernist works, a print gallery, an old Masters gallery, and contemporary galleries that I considered to be having a very different dialog than the one we're investing in [which is my nice way of saying they were too commercial for my tastes]) that I didn't know what to expect. Most of the fairs we had done before were much more consistent in their scope. A few of them were all but homogeneous (you'd find the same well-selling contemporary artists in several booths). Oddly, though, as the week wore on I began to love the context. To see the connections between what our artists were doing and what had come before, sometimes long before, was very eye-opening. Of course I knew the references that were obvious, but sometimes a subtle connection would reveal itself and it was, indeed, exhilarating.

Now that the market has cooled down, I do wonder whether fairs that had focused on traditional (i.e., older) works but began to embrace contemporary art or contemporary fairs that expanded to include more traditional work will back off that trend. I think that would be unfortunate for the public, even as it might be necessary temporarily for some organizers. The homogeneous art fair increasingly has the same impact that the too-indepth collections have on viewers if anecdotal evidence counts for anything.

I suspect we're going to see more exhibitions like the one that just ended at Kinz and Tillou, pairing the photography of contemporary artist Kim Keever with paintings by Hudson River School artists. Indeed, if a contemporary art gallery's role is to explain to the public what an artist is doing and why he/she is important, such exhibitions are surely much more effective than lengthy press releases, no? Another gallery presenting work in this manner for years now to great effect is Pavel Zoubok Gallery, which strategically deals in both the primary and secondary market more seamlessly than any other gallery of its size. Presenting their contemporary artists' work alongside historically important work in an ongoing series of group exhibitions, they connect the dots brilliantly (not to mention improve their odds in any market climate).

More than that, though, galleries will see education on inter-connectivity as a solid means of selling work. A friend of mine who owns a gallery rocked my world when she described her program, which seems consistent to me but confuses some of their collectors from time to time, in terms of imagining that each gallery artist were a segment on a color wheel. You have connections between the artists that mimic the relationship of complementary colors and those that are more akin to the relationship of colors next to each other, both formally and conceptually. It may not be immediately obvious how artist A makes sense in the same program as artist B until you see how one completes a segment of the same wheel.

Not all galleries strive for consistency in their programs, of course, but the same thinking can be incredibly useful in connecting certain artists in one's stable with the artists in a collection. Using the axis system of a color wheel and the main categories of formal concerns and conceptual concerns, connections that may have required painful lengthy explanations may be easier to communicate (provided they're actually there, of course).

If we accept that the role of contemporary art curators is to investigate and present what's important among the studio practices of living artists, then the two "trends" suggested above should be reflected in what artists are doing, no? Collectives are certainly alive and well, even as their membership, raison d'etre, or output ebbs and flows (as is the norm with collectives it seems): from Fluxus to the Gorilla Girls to Forcefield to K48 to What is to Be Done? and countless others, contemporary collectives continue to form in response to issues or merely a convergence of interests and time and place. Whether curating collectives have any meaningful connection to artist collectives is a fair question though.

Collaboration is also not only alive and well, but seemingly reaching a critical point as a medium unto itself among contemporary artists. Not only are artist teams still thriving (husband and wife [or husband and husband or wife and wife] teams seem everywhere interestingly enough), but we're seeing artists now who see collaboration with a wide range of others (artists and non artists alike) as the main thrust of their practice. Most interesting among such approaches (especially for me admittedly) is that practiced by Christopher K. Ho, described by Jonathan Neil as "collaboration [that] implies or even necessitates a certain antagonism. [Ho's] favored analogy is to the tennis match, where two players not only compete against one another but also collaborate in the creation of the match itself, which
somehow exceeds the inevitable outcomes of victory or loss. Here, ‘working together’ is stripped of its hackneyed utopian veneer and set up as a constant and never frictionless negotiation."

So while friction is in abundance still (evidenced as well by the individual goals of artists that can drive collectives apart), a deeper understanding of the value of collaboration is emerging. Indeed, the "match" (the collective series of points, the back and forth, the connection between the players that creates the drama, and the rules that facilitate the accomplishment) itself becomes what is most interesting for the viewer. Any individual play might indeed make all the highlight reels (even go down in history as spectacular), but the satisfaction comes from witnessing the accumulation of individual plays, some fabulous, some merely moving the match forward.

How this seems relevant to artists not working in collectives or using collaboration as a medium is perhaps best illustrated by looking at two ongoing trends in art making that seem to be converging. One is what I'll call the accumulation (connect a thread through Yayoi Kusama, Tara Donovan, and Daniel Zeller to name but a few) and cataloging processes (connect a thread through Mark Lombardi, Jennifer Dalton, and Danica Phelps, again, to name but a few)
trend. What these processes have in common is an approach to organizing vast amounts of information, seemingly the greatest mental challenge of our time. The second trend is the battle to realize the 2-D object (read: painting) in space trend (connect a thread through Elizabeth Murray to Frank Stella's wall sculptures to Matthew Ritchie [and yes, Ivin Ballen]).

What the mutation of these seems to be heading toward is a complex approach to composition that incorporates a huge amount of information and presents it in multi-dimensions (I've seen Rauschenberg-esque photog-collage canvases cut into all manner of forms, painted over in parts with outrageous palletes, and installed such that it's all coming out into the room and along the floor recently...exhilarating, but still in the resolution phase I would say. Not to be confused with installation or scatter art, this effort is a single wholly connected object, not architecture or sculpture unto itself either, but a painting in which the artist confines his ambition to a singular composition.)

But even that, I would submit, is only the beginning of where the foundation being laid now can take art. Talking with three of the smartest people I know in the art world in Miami (Jonathan Neil, Franklin Boyd, and András Szántó) it was suggested that where this is heading, these achievements in visualizing so much information, is an incorporation of the fourth dimension, or in other words, the temporal. I'll leave it to artists to figure out what that will look like.

So it seems to me that what some of us are missing, as we're anxiously anticipating the next big thing, is that it's right here, right now, under our noses and that we, in fact, are actually all participating in it. The systematic connecting of the dots across all of history, the uploading and tagging of the videos, the databases we're voluntarily building in social network sites, the knowledge base we're creating and constantly refining in Wikipedia, all of this is a necessary part of building the foundation for the coming new way of seeing and processing the world around us. We're collectively creating a massive content management system, but it is simply a tool, not the product. This multi-dimensional interconnectivity is merely the new "Perspectiva!"

I suspect it's an evolutionary survival strategy, actually. We simply must be able to process information more quickly to survive. But it must be noted again, that as in any content management system, the output (or what you can actually do with the system) is only as good as the input. In other words, the quality of the individual paintings or photography or video or installations that go into this system, that we tag and collectively connect the dots to, is as important as what anyone ever expects to get out of it. Quantity must be directed by high purpose to reach its quality potential. (The real potential there, again, is something I can't wait for artists to show us.)

What this means I feel is that artists are free to focus intensely on their individual contributions, in the media of their choice. Free of adherence to any manifesto other than their own. This, I know, is where we are...the Pluralism that defines our time, and yet, still, you hear the frustration that the lack of a dominant movement has created in talking with one another about what's important now. I would argue that what's important now is what we are collectively doing. It must come first, and in a way it's an essential part of the art of our time.

UPDATE: Ben, of Emvergeoning, offers a thoughtful response and a few counterpoints:
[A]rt world observers still looking for “the next big thing” need to take a deep breath and accept that fragmentation is here to stay; and this is, in fact, “the next big thing.” This isn’t a crisis, it’s just a way of being.

Labels: art trends


Anonymous Joao Henriques said...

Visionary! Thanks for your effort on writing this.

1/05/2009 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

the quality of the individual paintings or photography or video or installations that go into this system, that we tag and collectively connect the dots to, is as important as what anyone ever expects to get out of it.

Hear, hear. To put it more simply, 'garbage in, garbage out.'

As the process of extending plurality, incorporating vast amounts of information, and working collaboratively grows, I really hope that we, collectively, get a little smarter about perceiving and valuing quality, consistency and cohesion in the outcome. Too often I have seen the process of working collaboratively fetishized over the results.

You see it in grant committees such as Creative Capital, which make their first round of cuts on visual arts applications without looking at any visuals; with gallery programs which emphasize concept and process to the exclusion of aesthetics; with curators who fling artist's work together willy-nilly, with only a tenuous conceptual thread which frequently doesn't jive with the artists' intent at all.

The truth is, collaboration and integration is very hard to do well. Great art is not designed by committee. My hope for the future of art is that we learn to work together synergistically, appreciating and maximizing one another's strengths and uniquenessess, not levelling them out to the lowest common denominator.

1/05/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

As the process of extending plurality, incorporating vast amounts of information, and working collaboratively grows, I really hope that we, collectively, get a little smarter about perceiving and valuing quality, consistency and cohesion in the outcome.

I wonder what form that will take, though. We've had filters already (criticism, the market, etc.), but folks still greatly disagree on the importance of work in the system. I cringe to think it will end up being a rating system akin to what you see on YouTube (because the criteria are different), but I do suspect we're heading that way.

Great art is not designed by committee.

I suspect attitudes about that are bound to change, to be quite honest.

1/05/2009 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Myartspace Blog said...

Wow. I'm going to step back and take some of this in. Great post Ed.


1/05/2009 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Revolutionary, The single most interest blog post I have ever read.

When I wrote the blog post "Nodal Time" this is what I weas referring to. There was 'what happened in the good old days' and there is now.

It's a whole new world and the young get it.

1/05/2009 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger wisesigh said...

I apologize if I put my comment through twice -- it did not look like it went the first time.

A really interesting post, Ed, but egad, I hope we don't go to art designed by committee.

I would like to add a couple thoughts. Rapid exposure available on Internet heightens visibility of simultaneous actions and pursuits, and speeds up the influence of today’s work on tomorrow’s work, consciously or subconsciously. Contemporary artists are keenly aware of situating their work within critical discourse, as this has become a necessity, not an option. In these ways, there effectively is mass collaboration underway … although (and limiting) the backbone of critical dialogue itself still seems to be set by a much smaller group.

1/05/2009 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I hope we don't go to art designed by committee.

Understandable. I suspect we'll have both though: strong individual accomplishments and strong collective accomplishments with (hopefully) a strong individually guided purpose. It's too soon to cite examples of what I mean by this without opening them up to harsh critiques (like I noted about the complex "painting" that wowed me...much of this work is still being resolved), but the groundwork seems to be being laid for it.

1/05/2009 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I hope we don't go to art designed by committee.

Thats the old thinking, what about Picasso and Braque, Gilbert and George, Kate and Laura, not to mention the Beatles etc.

Contemporary artists are keenly aware of situating their work within critical discourse, as this has become a necessity...

Other artists get you into the critical discourse? This isn't what the internet is doing, it's making all information more easily available, not just what ends up in the art mags but the whole of art history. History makes todays art possible.

I can see the idea of the "collective" as being a substitute which facilitates focused artistic developments with a cohesion similar to what once were 'art movements'.

1/05/2009 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

PL said: "Too often I have seen the process of working collaboratively fetishized over the results."

I think that if we were to take a step back we'd see that this in turn is a reaction to a very long [Western] tradition of fetishizing results (commodities).

Another way to look at it is that art is about perfecting process to a point where the manifestations ("results") are such that they bring the viewer closer to the ephemeral process. In other words: it's really always been about process.

(is that a stoned thought?)

1/05/2009 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger wisesigh said...

"Thats the old thinking, what about Picasso and Braque, Gilbert and George, Kate and Laura, not to mention the Beatles etc."

Different places in the spectrum and hardly design by committee, especially in the case of Picasso and Braque. Musical groups like the Beatles probably could come closer in that there are more than two of them in the group and they also may have to make compromises with producers, etc, on content, but in my view mixing artist examples with musician examples is mixing apples with oranges.

The "old thinking" included "collectives" in the sense of organized "art movements", and artists who worked together. So there's nothing all that old or new at this point about the idea of two or a group of artists choosing to work collectively.

Needing expertise from multiple disciplines to realize certain artwork also necessitates input on the design with specialists in other fields -- perhaps that is newer, though at this point separation of conception and mode of production has gone on long enough not to be particularly novel. It doesn't have to devolve to design by committee. Involving other specialists, for example, scientists, directly in conceiving work, is perhaps newer thinking but is more on the order of dialogue leading to the work and does not have to devolve to design by committee.

The notion of "design by committee" -- perhaps it's just the phrasing -- on the other hand brings up all sorts of corporate and politically driven compromises probably unconnected to the artistic expression, either conceptually or aesthetically. It occurs with graphic arts and public art commissions because of the different interests involved in such work and commissions. I would not want to see it predominate art in general, and I suppose, if that's the old thinking, I am stuck there.

1/05/2009 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I think the "designed by committee" idea was inferred into Ed's comments and isn't what he meant at all. I threw up a few examples to provide an alternative and even they are more conventional than what will probably occur.

It's quite possible we will see art made by "companies" artists working together under one umbrella but sharing the credit etc. Currently we have artists like Hirst and Koons who employ a large number of assistants who get little if any credit for what they contribute. This will continue but it's not the only way.

I think Ed's way ahead of the curve with this post. Something very significant occurred over the last ten years and it's partly about how we access and share information. The very fact we can discuss this from anywhere on the globe is fantastic. How young artists adapt and react to the new information environment is going to have a profound affect on the culture.

1/05/2009 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think the "designed by committee" idea was inferred into Ed's comments and isn't what he meant at all.

I think 'created' by committee, as in a collaboration with its own, viral rules--an online exquisite corpse or other such offerings are going to be common--whether they'll be any good or not is another matter.

1/05/2009 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed, That's what I thought you meant.

1/05/2009 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I heartily agree with you about "greatest hits" collections being boring, but disagree about collecting individual artists in depth. Particularly in this economy, it's important to keep supporting the artists we really believe in.

1/05/2009 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger AdNauseam said...

I find that collaborations between artists or within collectives often times mimic the relationships that exist in other forms of art or media (i.e. actor/director, singer/songwriter, etc.). Collaboration can be a necessity in other artistic disciplines but in visual art is often seen as a novelty.

I've hypothesized with some of my peers that a new system could develop in which a gallerist takes on the role of a Hirst or Koons and employs artists to make work on their behalf. If a dealer knows what sells and the known artist doesn't make the work anyway, why not take them out of the equation? Not entirely realistic but it might be a worthy experiment.

I also wonder if the curatorial trend in mixing contemporary work with historical work might lead to any collaborations between museums and artists (or collectives) to make new work that's created with the intention of it being placed with existing works in their collection. Similar to the Kara Walker show at the Met, but if she had made new work specifically for that show. When seeing the 'anyspacewhatever' at the Guggenheim I thought it would have been fitting to really give those artists free reign and let them use the museum's collection at their disposal.

A bit of blurring of lines between the roles of artist, curator, and collector seems fitting in light of these larger trends.

1/05/2009 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

I agree with emvergeoning Ben about concocted historical narratives, I mean, do you really need to see Julian Schnabel's painting beside the masterpiece he refers to? Who is this serving, really? Caravaggio, do you think? No. And the long tail is intriguing - I'll be bold and imagine that if I got an email advertising Jude Tallichet's charm bracelet before Miami, a lot of other people did too. And maybe this is what "Artist's Dreams" will be made of. Think of it, investor's can do the Donor's Choose sort of thing, funding a myriad of small production lines, only in this case not for the children but for their own gain. Accumulation, cataloguing, and painting in space, did you say?

To go further is idle conjecture. (And the disclaimer: I have no idea what Artists Dreams is or does.) But I do want to point out that this is a gallerist's blog, a gallerist who is honing an identity, "realising his freedom in the actual present." Is it a measure of the pulse of things as they are, or the strategy of a business that sees opportunities it can steer for ahead (if not already under way)? It has to be both, and in the specificity of these interests is inviting friction even as it stands for a we.

1/05/2009 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

You know how they say it takes a few years for a decade to actually become that decade? Well, it has taken almost a decade to become the new millennium. This post is as good a marker for the start of it as I have read.

Just one question, Ed: Any idea what you might have written about today if the (art) market hadn’t crashed?

1/05/2009 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I do want to point out that this is a gallerist's blog, a gallerist who is honing an identity

None of which has ever been anything less then entirely worn on my blogger sleeve. Also, as the anecdotes and examples throughout were included to indicate, this is something I've discussed with several other dealers, all of whom have very different programs from mine.

but disagree about collecting individual artists in depth.

I don't think they're necessarily mutually exclusive. I'm not suggesting depth isn't relevant or important (in fact, I know it is), but to the exclusion of breadth, I'm not sure it won't result in a collection that seems less "of its time" than others. Not that that has to be a concern of all collectors, but it seems to be something that is sparking enthusiasm among some.

Any idea what you might have written about today if the (art) market hadn’t crashed?

I'd like to think the same thing. This is a gathering of several dozen conversations I've had reaching back 6 months.

As Ben notes, there's nothing particularly new about his...this post was merely an opportunity to connect those conversations under an umbrella discussion.

1/05/2009 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

But I do want to point out that this is a gallerist's blog, a gallerist who is honing an identity, "realising his freedom in the actual present." Is it a measure of the pulse of things as they are, or the strategy of a business that sees opportunities it can steer for ahead (if not already under way)?

Well, excuse me but how does the fact that Edward is a gallerist have anything to do with this article other than represent an opinion and an observation on the world. Are we to make a different judgment if it was written by an artist, collector or curator?

Edward starts off saying, "Over the holidays I reflected on what I thought might be next in contemporary art", a question which I believe a number of people think about for their own reasons. For another 4000 words he goes on to examine the current cultural moment, one pregnant with change, and offers us his perception of how recent history might affect future developments in the arts as well as the culture itself.

To suggest that the ideas presented here might be self serving is an insult, it suggests that just because someone is a business man, they cannot reflect on the world around them. To the contrary I am surprised that his post has not elicited a more inquisitive responses from the audience.

1/05/2009 07:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post for the New Year, Edward.
I like Joy’s response about process, too!.

I was having a chat with a friend last night about their work. And they were talking technology, expediency, and redundancy. And as we chatted I was also looking at the work of an artist living on the other side of the globe from the friend I was currently chatting with. I made some comment using the piece’s production method, which incorporated the tradition, the state-of-the-art, and, importantly, the eye and the idea. Somehow I thought I didn't have the information straight, kind of leaning towards my advantage. So while still chatting I mailed the artist whose work I had on the wall to get a clearer less leaning picture. Answer came within minutes. Things stood straight up. I cut and pasted that into the box and sent to the person who now was taking the dog for a walk. That person came back from the walk, had some funny stories to tell, and guessed the artist’s name I had mailed [wasn't going to give that away.] By coincidence that artist had a show on the other side of the world, (same side as the one I was chatting) and had stayed at the home friend early last Spring. The Cellar Bar looks and works like this now. It's op-ended 24 hours. And you can still take the dog for a walk and experience circumstances in the closer-to-home world. There remain some restrictions.
Our chat continued awhile, but it had changed somewhat. We had traveled vast distances in virtually no time while attending to keeping the sidewalk user friendly. Coincidences had also popped up. This, to my mind, was great communication [collaboration before the fact]. A tiny thing had changed, as if nothing had changed. And nothing would be the same again.


1/05/2009 08:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I think you've described your world accurately enough. And I do mean yours.

I agree that the state of pluralism is permanent and widening in extent, but not that the progress is towards "wider cultural inter-connectivity." The outcome will be an increase in the quantity and specificity of niches. Technology may make it possible for me to share with you any number of interests, but the resultant behavior causes a gathering of interest around a smaller range of concerns. The news media have known about this for a long time - as the sheer quanity of news increases, so does the necessity to select, and as a result, people tend to pick news streams that correlate to their political preferences. That has frightening implications for political life, but when it comes to culture I think the net effect will be positive. Cultural developments form around a small, comitted core of practioners, who now can find each other with greater ease than ever before. My latest musical interest is Nerdcore, a rap genre with arguably a dozen practitioners but with firm traction in the gaming community. MC Frontalot was the headline at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), which was put together by the authors of Penny Arcade to celebrate gamer culture. You probably have no idea what I'm talking anymore, which is my point. Meanwhile, the total attendees at PAX this year, estimated conservatively, hit 58,000 people. They are paying just as much attention to you as you are to them.

In '07 I reviewed a show at Merry Karnowsky of work by an artist/illustrator named Kent Williams, and did so fairly positively. My regulars thought I had really blown it by praising it. But the post got picked up by a fantasy art discussion board, and these guys kicked me up and down the street for failing to recognize the man's genius. I expect this kind of thing to happen more and more in the future. In theory, one could argue that they are not the art world that matters, but I don't see how you prove them wrong when they turn around and make the same argument about you. In the world described in Ed's formulation of "contemporary art" in paragraph #1 overhead, "mattering" consists mostly of muscle memory based on ill-recollected events from the 20th Century.

The problem with a statement like this...

This achronological approach has captured the imagination of nearly everyone I speak with about it these days. Part of the enthusiasm is admittedly designed to correct what's seen an "imbalance of commercial interest." But I suspect more of it is because of the synaptic connection it sparks...evidence of how it answers a floating question about our times. that there are now enough artists making enough kinds of work for enough people to justify anything as a significant movement. Despite this, curators in "contemporary art" (Ed's usage) have locked on to an excruciatingly narrow range of artistic priorities that fall out of a single premise: the inclusion of ever-widening phenomena into the category of art is good. You end up with scatter art in the museum because of the pinched view from that particular aesthetic ditch. So now achronlogical approaches have captured their imaginations? Whoop dee do.

Instead, I'm operating on the idea that the downturn is going to temporarily force curators to work more locally, less ideologically, and at lower price points than they've been able to get away with. This in turn will force them out of the ditch for a little while, with the collectors and critics following their lead. I think this is a decent time to forget about collaboration, interconnectivity, and process, unless they interest you, and keep doing your thing.

1/05/2009 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think this is a decent time to forget about collaboration, interconnectivity, and process, unless they interest you, and keep doing your thing.

All that just to come to the conclusion I did...must be something to it after all.

1/05/2009 08:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

That did rather go on a bit, sorry...

1/05/2009 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That did rather go on a bit, sorry...

Not relative to the post, actually. :-)

I should note that I think some of the responses to types of art used to make my point seems to have shifted the comments a bit from the central idea...all this inter-connectivity is not art and not being offered as presumably interesting as subject or process or whatever for a wider audience than it enjoys today. As George has noted, the point of all this is how the ongoing collective cataloging is unquestionably changing how we access and share information, and that seems destined to change how art is made and viewed.

1/05/2009 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

George: It is not an insult to point out that Ed is a gallerist - he is always upfront about this, he doesn't even need to say that he wears it on his sleeve, because he does. We've heard that before, most recently on his taped interview with the bad at Sports guy. Ed, what you RARELY do, however, is outside of a press release put your own artists into a narrative on this blog - THAT is unusual, it is taking a position within the contemporary field AS A GALLERY. There's no need to defend or apologize, it's simply what is there, and it does complicate the "we" as a specific address from within it. What do you think friction is again?

1/05/2009 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...


I never attended PAX but I attend yearly at Arcadia in Montreal. I'll admit I'm the only one among my friends who go there, but if you ever feel like screaming out at PAX in a giant megaphone "I bet nobody here know about Edward Winkleman, huh ?", well, beware, because I might just happen to be there and I don't think you want to meet me. ;-)

With all these talking about the future of art, I've been wondering if I missed a post on a review of 2008. I mean, what did people see in 2008 that rocked their cradle?
What exhibits received crowning by the press?


Cedric Caspesyan

Ah well....

Here's my own tentative top:

Artists I especially loved in 2008:

Borre Saethre: You could see with the 3 works at PS1 that this artist is going somewhere, and I'm not sure exactly where that is, but I'll surely be following where that leads. Most intriguing and promissing artist of 2008 (though apparently he's not a newbie, but someone should put him on a bigger stage).

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: All his works seen in various places in 2008 (public park, partys, festival) was interesting. I especially loved the moving chair assembly at Bitforms. I love surprises and when this perticular work starts moving it is very surprising.

David Altmejd: incredible solo at Andrea Rosen, and some other works from that group seen elsewhere, and The Index (Venice Biennial installation now in Toronto) is all WOW !!!! I wouldn't call him a revelation anymore, but he's probably my fave overall artist for 2008.

Lynne Marsh: Who said video art sucks ? I've said it more often than anyone else. Here is a video artist that understands what it means to do "video installation", and it's some of the best you'll meet in that genre.

BGL: The world are missing on this devilish Quebecois art trio, who mostly exhibited in Toronto this year. I'm a fan and they're often on my yearend list, so consider this inconditional.

Pipilotti Rist: I'm sure that gigantic musical cube at Moma is on the top list of many because it was magical and the most accessible art made by a conceptual artist in a long time.

Zaha Hadid: Someday someone is going to reveal that Zaha Hadid is in fact an extraterrestrial designing furniture for some foreign xenomorph species about to invade us, but for now that passes as art for us. Nevertheless, the pieces seen at Sonnabend were totally banging.

Yannick Pouliot: Yes, another Québécois artist, because 2008 was the year where it became clear that someone doesn't have to have any concept about an artworld happening in New York and still make compelling art standing above anything else. Have you seen his Louis XVI labyrinth??

Sophie Calle: "Take Care Of Yourself": Very touching this exercise of asking 107 women to reply to her ex-boyfriend's breakup email. But this would have actually been a very annoying exhibition (there was material to read and watch for hours) if it wasn't for the book that accompanies it. EVERYTHING from the exhibition (texts, DVDS, etc) are included in the book, which is the BEST CATALOG EVER that I've seen for an art show in my whole life !!!!!

Ok, I swear this isn't the first time I do such list, but the first where they are so many canadian artists. I'm not chauvinistic, I'm really going be the feeling.

Museum shows:

Louise Bourgeois: Nah ! I actually missed it, because I intend to catch it in Washington. But seen it online for parts, and I just know it was the best retrospective of a contemporary artist this year.

Poussin: I don't know if we'll have a fair museum overview of Da Vinci, Michelangelo or even Raphael in a long time. But in the meantime we can always have a recapitulation on Poussin. Not exactly a full one, but the best Renaissance solo show seen this decade.

First Triennale De Montreal: If you haven't followed, the rumour in Canada is that Quebec artists rock these days. This show intended to prove just that and it succeeded in some aspects (some greatness among some crap). It made me want to be part of it.

Design And The Elastic Mind: Non-Art exhibit of the year. In case you wanted to be now where people will be in 10 years?

WACK: Let's face it: MEGA exhibit like you rarely see them. In fact I hope it's well documented because seeing it in person was VERY overwhelming. But the girls did a great job as the Best historical group show of 2008!

The New Man: A scary museum show focussing on early modern art that demonstrated that maybe the nazis were simply victims of wider currents of thinking that occured in those times, following scientifical discoveries on the atom and cellular bilogical evolution.

Murakami: You hated it, I loved it. Gigantic cartoon extravaganza. I don't care if those are made by crews of 30 people, the paintings and immersive rooms were fantastically crafted. Don't compare automatic warholian crap to this, please ??

Alfred Kubin: Curiosity of the year. A macabre show of nightmarish drawings. I didn't see this one coming at all. Almost saw it by mistake.

Gilbert And George: It's not so much the individual works than the major installation or seeing them all seemlessly bound together. Like a mega visual commentary on the power of cathedral glass as an art medium. Logistics or curatorial-installation prize of the year?

1/05/2009 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger patsplat said...

The discovery and subversion of new conventions of behaviour is the primary aim of collaboration.

For 8 years I've been collaborating through an institution called Open Ground. We don't produce collective work. We aren't a gallery. Being an artist is a constant process of learning. I collaborate with other artists to discover unexpected similarity. As I find emerging cliches, I can play off art history that hasn't been written.

A followup point is that the tools and techniques of collaboration integrate disparate moments of authorship. Whether those moments of authorship are from multiple individuals or the same individual is a matter of taste.

As a professional programmer I use digital tools to integrate the work of different authors, and artistically I use digital tools to integrate disparate moments of authorship. Like collaborating with myself over time.

1/06/2009 02:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, what you RARELY do, however, is outside of a press release put your own artists into a narrative on this blog - THAT is unusual, it is taking a position within the contemporary field AS A GALLERY. There's no need to defend or apologize, it's simply what is there, and it does complicate the "we" as a specific address from within it.

You say "complicate"...I say "clarify."

I'm not so sure what the big deal about this is, to be quite honest. So I'm sharing that through my friend the dealer who introduced me to the color wheel-gallery roster concept I've been provided me with a means to bring together my thoughts about this trend I've been seeing with my job of selling art. And that as my thoughts on this topic have come together, I'm excited to see how it relates to my program (just as I would assume any artists or writers reading might be pleased to see how it relates to what they're already doing).

I stated at the top that my definition of "contemporary art" included a dialog with galleries. I cited several other galleries as well and many other artists. I'm not at all sure why that's problematic, but I'll accept that for you it is.

1/06/2009 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Im sorry Catherine but I think your being disingenuous. You went on to say "Is it a measure of the pulse of things as they are, or the strategy of a business that sees opportunities it can steer for ahead (if not already under way)? It has to be both, and in the specificity of these interests is inviting friction even as it stands for a we."

Now, there is not any question that Edward runs an art gallery and that this particular fact will shape his point of view. This is made clear early on in this essay. It was also clear that what he was writing about was a reflection on the world of today, and in particular about the art world.

Other than the obvious connection that Edward's taste and intellectual interests both shape what he chooses to exhibit and therefore must also inform some of his speculations here, I see no reason to infer that there is some other agenda at work.

It was clear to me at least that while Ed's ideas represented his point of view that they also attempted to examine what we might expect in the future. What surprises me is how narrow minded some of the responses are.

1/06/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...


Okay so I have been trying to find the video I saw recently (another modern task-organizing all the information) of a lecture on the future of internet technology, but to no avail.

If i remember correctly, it had to do with how the internet has evolved from a few connected computers to many more connected web sites to interconnected posts and now to billions of tinier, interconnected bits of, anyone?

But, on a wider sociological spectrum, I do think that it is all adding up to a new socialism/collectivism that is/will be born out of necessity. The hope we have for Obama is that he can direct the polyphony into focused paradigm shifting measures that basically and literally save our asses. I think he has that wider-spectrum type of intelligence needed to do such a task/s.

1/06/2009 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I gather that Catherine sees Ed's business concerns as undermining the credibility of his wider observations, causing some kind of unspecified (and I would guess unspecifiable) problem she calls "inviting friction." On the contrary, any fool can spout theories - it takes courage to translate them into action, at risk of one's assets. Most people in this little slice of civilization are risking no more than their pride.

What surprises me is how narrow minded some of the responses are.

I know, George. Can you believe it? Come on, people.

1/06/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger patsplat said...

There is definitely a new kind of art being made that is pluralist not only in subject matter, but also in formal practices. Separating painting from conceptual art isn't an interesting classification anymore. The arguments are evolving and it isn't limited to the artists at Winkleman.

I think the temporal aspect Ed mentioned is key. There are some art forms that stick around. There are others that are ephemeral. These qualities have a very real effect on how a work is presented, experienced, and remembered.

1/06/2009 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Hey people:

There's about 6 or 7 secrets to happiness and one of them is "Live Now".

The future is Now.


1/06/2009 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger elizabethbriel said...

An incredible summary, thanks for that.

"origins for new "English" words range from Scotland to East Africa to Japan, some of them just now, nearly 100 years after first coinage, and much of them created in response to the need to discuss new technology among ourselves"

As you've said, technology has made connections & borders more porous than ever before. Internet english is a global language - it's our 21st century pidgin (originally the lingua franca of trading ships around the world). Cambodian, Chinese, and Thai friends of mine use english to communicate with one another via SMS, as their phones are too cumbersome for their characters.

The art world - and especially its collectors - is growing more diverse as wealth is no longer concentrated only in the hands of Europeans & Americans. This is changing the focus of the art world...particularly outside NYC.

1/06/2009 07:33:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Great, thoughtful post Ed.

"Why is the idea of connecting the dots so exhilarating?"

This is called thinking. I know a collector of contemporary art - I know you probably know hundreds - he's quite brilliant in his choices and collects on a limited budget, so he's not buying names. I have come to realize that this collection represents his thought, and because it's expressed in art, well it's very exciting for someone whose brain works the same way and has established many of the same connections, and I appreciate the quality of his thought.

The trend you describe: the collaboration between artists, across media and forms, connecting the dots across history, all of these things resemble thinking.

I'm sorry if this point seems banal. All I'm pointing out is that perhaps if the market has slowed down, everyone just has a little more time to think about what really might be good ideas.

Another way of putting it might be to say that the internet and the social networking sites resemble how we think, and help us in a tool - use sort of way, but this is different from saying that we will now start thinking like the internet.

1/06/2009 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger The Reader said...

Ed wrote

"the point of all this is how the ongoing collective cataloging is unquestionably changing how we access and share information, and that seems destined to change how art is made and viewed."

Yes, the extent to which we are externalizing cultural memory in such an easily accessible form has to be important to the way any artist works. This is a process that began when we started to write things down rather than pass them on orally, and surely what we are witnessing now with the internet is an equally profound technological shift.

The beauty of creativity and critical thinking is that this easy access to our collective memory is just as likely to trigger thoughts about what we lose when we externalize so much of what once would have been committed to the old kind of grey-matter memory. I'm not talking about naive reactionary approach to the current climate but rather a nuanced way of working with technologies of the word and image that recognizes that these technologies shape us as much as we shape them and that older technologies (such as the mnemonics of strictly oral cultures) can add a richness and depth to all that comes to us via these screens.

1/07/2009 03:54:00 AM  
Blogger William said...


Your basic thesis here sounds a lot like the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Have you read any of it? Specifically Deleuze? I'm really just curious if you have any philosophical/theoretical influences you'd like to reference or if you are just putting the pieces together based on observation and inference? Fascinating post on nomadic thought here by the way if you are connecting the dots. I am amazed how technology is making many of Deleuze's concepts visible.

1/07/2009 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Barker said...

A new lingua franca must be Esperanto?

Please try

1/09/2009 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Next Big Thing is when you realize the gig is up and the icy fingers of The Long Decline begin to rob you of all these ridiculous and self-important delusions. The world is not flat and the age of modern industrial civilization is beginning its final convulsive spasms. Enjoy the cocktails and re-arrange those deckchairs. You might just distract yourself enough to not see the iceberg.

1/10/2009 04:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the key is to down enough cocktails so you don't feel it when the iceberg hits. The problem with that is that you have to be prepared. You never know when the iceberg is going to hit so you need to have a secret stash of cocktails on hand for just such an occasion.

another anon

1/10/2009 11:45:00 AM  

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