Binary Takes on Contemporary Art : Open Thread
I like to think that many things that were framed as either "good or bad," "black or white," and "you're either with us or against us" by that
Last night at the MoMA opening for Gabriel Orozco's fabulous new exhibition, Bambino and I had a chat with a well-respected art critic about another oversimplified binary feud that still seems alive and well in the contemporary art world. We've touched on it a bit here, but the discussion last night centered on the terrific NYT article on William Powhida. (Full Disclosure: Bill and I know each other fairly well, and Bambino and I own a few works by him. He has collaborated with Jen Dalton on a Compound Edition, and we regularly disagree about things. I admire him greatly.) Here's a snippet of that article:
The art critic at MoMA last night expressed disagreement that the issue is that binary, though. I wanted to take notes, the critic's exact phrasings were so sublime (but alas, a head cold and too much medicine has left me with a short-term memory lapse, so I'm left paraphrasing). It's not like you have the anti-establishment artists eschewing the commercial side of things and everyone else is a sell-out, the critic argued. There's a universe of options in between. Moreover, it really is possible to ignore how much any work costs and train yourself to focus on how that work does or doesn't speak to you. Time and energy are well spent in doing that.
“The bubble never burst, it just got smaller,” Mr. Powhida, 33, said, standing over the poster-size drawing. “For the people on the outside the oxygen ran out.”
Put another way, he said, “this is about how out of touch the art world is with economic reality.”
Income disparities and class, many in the art world say, are subjects that get short shrift in the contemporary art represented at shows like this one, which cater largely to rich collectors. Over the last two years the Great Recession has seemed almost entirely absent from the thousands of works at Art Basel Miami Beach and most of its offshoots. With a few exceptions — usually art depicting consumerism or the dollar in various forms — the largest economic shock in decades and its fallout seem to have gotten little play at the nation’s most comprehensive contemporary art extravaganza.
Mr. Powhida (pronounced pow-HIGH-da), who lives in Brooklyn, stands out here not only because he is one of the few artists to regularly address these issues, but because he takes them on in the context of this very world. Though he is unassuming in person, he has become known as something of a gadfly in the art establishment, with work that uses humorous text, draftsmanship and careful painting to lampoon some of its biggest stars and institutions.
Again, I don't do the author of those sentiments justice here, but I wanted to springboard off that take on things to ask whether or not the debate on being a sell-out has been oversimplified. We're a nation addicted to snap polls and top ten lists. We like things boiled down to their bite-sized nuggetness for us. But in discussing the impact of the art market on the historical importance of the art being made now (always my yardstick), have we gone far too binary?
Consider this an open thread.