Monday, September 13, 2010

Brand Fatigue? : Open Thread

As I noted in a post about a visit from some Russian-speaking journalists to the gallery, when put on the spot to explain what is hot today, I blurted out without much reflection that:
Brand names from the 1960s and 1970s that the market had mostly overlooked seem to be the hottest artists at the moment.
I'd fine tune that assessment a bit today and replace "brand names" with simply "Artists from the 1960s and 1970s" (some well-known, others overlooked even outside their regional support circles). As I had noted, the New Museum's current exhibition of work by Brion Gysin is a good example of this seemingly renewed interest in the era, but so are two new gallery exhibitions that just opened this past week.

First is the fantastic show up at Derek Eller's of drawings from 1967-70 by Karl Wirsum, one of the artists who participated in Chicago's legendarily influential Hairy Who, which (I'll admit) I had to look up to recall exactly, er, who they were:

From the Art Institute of Chicago:
Hairy Who was a self-titled, self-organized series of three exhibitions held at the Hyde Park Art Center from 1966 to 1968. Under the tutelage of Don Baum, the six participating School of the Art Institute graduates, including Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum, mounted exhibitions featuring their perverse, psychedelic and silly prints, drawings, and paintings.
The exhibition of drawings from Wirsum's sketchbooks of that era is an education (as I had never seen his work) and a total delight (as each is more inventive and fantastic than the last). One of the things that jumped out at me straightaway while viewing them was how much they've clearly been part of a scene that has influenced younger artists I do know and really like, such as Tony Fitzpatrick.

The other exhibition up right now that reaches back into the 60s and 70s to produce a delightful education is at Ronald Feldman's titled clearly enough Hannah Wilke, "Early Drawings." Wilke's work I am more familiar with, but I was still not prepared for just how good these drawings are. Walking around the show with another very talented Feldman artist (and almost impossibly generous human being), Bruce Pearson, we both commented independently on how remarkably strong these works were and how, despite certain telltale signs of their era, they looked so much fresher than many similar works being made today.

Bruce and I later discussed what it is about this time that is making these shows seem so relevant and even revelatory. Bruce replied something that I immediate recognized as how I thought, but not something I would have ever consciously concluded on my own. In discussing these hidden gems from art history, versus the work from that same era we all know much better, Bruce noted that although the known work remains strong, we've seen so much of it (and by that I took him to mean at art fairs, in galleries, at auctions, in catalogs, in museums, in homes, etc., etc., etc.) that we've grown somewhat fatigued by them. OK, so fatigued is my word...Bruce was a bit more diplomatic, but that was the essence of his point.

This made me recall a story a New York artist told me of visiting Chelsea galleries with a German artist this past weekend and how the German was reluctant to be dragged into one of these exhibitions, saying he wasn't interested in historical shows. The New York artist and I in discussing this were both surprised. We were highly interested in such shows, which made me wonder if there's not some significant difference in sensibilities right now between Germany (which is reportedly enjoying a long-over-due [imho] reassertion of its identity and if so, rightly more focused on the future) and the US (or at least New York in particular) which seems to be very much in a reflective mood in many quarters.

Or are we simply experiencing what I'd call brand fatigue? The mobs at the Rob Pruitt exhibition opening would seem to counter that somewhat, but even as much as I enjoyed that exhibition it didn't leave me as hungry for more as
Wirsum and Wilke exhibitions did (and no, that's not because of all the food at the GBE...I didn't eat any). Fortunately, for both of these historical exhibitions, their respective galleries have brand new catalogs you can purchase (OK, so I think the Wilke catalog, with a the monograph Hannah Wilke by Nancy Princenthal will be availble during a signing on Sept wait until then to get your signed copy).

Consider this an open thread on whether a seeming fatigue with big brand names is a New York only phenomenon or whether it's even as prevalent here as the shows most capturing my attention would seem to suggest.

Labels: brands, gallery exhibitions, open thread


Anonymous Gam said...

Art fatique or simply our human it ch for discovery and the new?
Interesting column on the information gap @ the science of eavesdropping.

In short, we as humans tend to want to fill in the gaps, we are drawn like moths to a flame where the data patterns are left unfinished. So possibly the desire to see prior works that were not fully explored and discussed is part of this seeking to fill in the data pattern gap. If we already get the art, we tend to dismiss it as old hat, we need something more to in turn "get" it.

So, maybe the "fringe" art of the 607080s lets us explore data gaps yet connected for us. Or maybe we just missed the vintage stuff the first time around.

Intriguing your observation of the differences in the two art markets.

9/13/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting older doesn't have many benefits, but but one of them is that art history and one's personal art history are intertwined. I was in art school when Eva Hesse was emerging. I was active in the art world when Hannah Wilke was making her chewing gum labia. I learned from teachers who went on to make their mark. So for me these shows are not relics from another era, but part of the river of art I've been swimming in for some 40 years.

I find it curious that artists and dealers--people who should be thinking outside the box in the same essential way they breathe--are often the ones who are the most blindered to art, art history and that glorious river in which we're all immersed.

PS: My word verification: "Waterman."

9/13/2010 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

It's all about making a buck. These artists have historical validation which makes them less speculative and an easier sell. Moreover some of the artists were marginalized (unfairly in my mind) by the New York art Mafia and relegated to secondary status because they didn't fit into the big NY picture.

Wirsum and the Hairy Who artists are a good example. While successful in Chicago they were all but dismissed in a MoMA POP Art catalogue as unimportant.

What's happening now appears to be a search within the ranks of seasoned artists, for higher quality artworks which haven't yet become overpriced in the marketplace. In the expanded artworld there now room for these once marginalized artists.

9/13/2010 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I see the history of art as a rope. Each strand added by successive artists. Each new divergent effort and insight and exploration woven back into the rope, otherwise becoming a fray that will fall off over time.

Maybe its our human way to scale the heights by creating a stronger and longer rope through time, reaching forward to our future peaks and backwards to our roots and the mountains foot. (Maybe its biological like a dna strand weaving and reweaving its genetic connections together. ) To refind these artist (among others) can only strengthen that rope of art.
Really good to hear that you are still creating art to add to that rope of history.

George, a lot of sports teams have farm clubs and they help younger athletes mature towards some sort of fruition, so has the NY art market search for higher quality and reasonable prices not been addressed by younger artists similarly?

Is this a lacuna on the galleries side resulting in them needing to search into the past or is it the collectors finally catching up to these artists? (as in auto dealers migrating their clientele to higher costing models)

9/13/2010 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

@Gam, I get the farm system concept but that wasn't what I was railing about. In addition to artists which have slipped out of favor, the politics of the past's smaller NY artworld, systematically excluded and marginalized women, regional and foreign artists. The evidence is there in the historical writings and while it may have been for good reason, the expanded artworld now has at least the conceptual room to revisit these works.

9/13/2010 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

So George, if Eds observations hold true on the shift in market interest (not in NY so I cant know) do you consider the "expanded artworld" as a shift in the collectors attitudes versus a change in the gallerists' attitudes?

9/14/2010 06:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe it has something to do with the current fascination with alternative history. as the historical thru-line pluralizes exponentially - gaining more and more narrative variations as people discover new things with new tools (internet, et al), our aperture for new connections is more open. bryon gysin is a great example - his show at nm gives us a better resolution to the 60s and 70s, as well as some of the 80s with the people gysin influenced (like genesis breyer p.orridge)

9/14/2010 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

@Gam. It's all about money. "Branding" is a tern no self respecting artist would have ever used thirty years ago. And while I understand the similarity to "style," "branding" reeks of commerce not to an artists stylistic identity or aesthetic philosophy.

On the plus side, the increase in the size of the art market is because there is more money available. The rapid increase in the size of the art world created a an economic bubble in first decade of the 20th century. Driven primarily by greed, the artworld continued on as if nothing was changing except that there was just a lot more money to scramble after.

The increased demand was initially met by inflating the prices of every artist on the "A list" primarily by using the auction market to manipulate prices. Within less than a decade A list artists were no longer affordable to collectors of more modest means. The solution of this was a series of raids on the art schools to find fresh meat for the marketplace followed by similar auction market ploys to quickly move them up the price ladder.

Needless to say when the stock market crashed, this house of cards imploded. What's not immediately evident to many is that while we still see news of positive auction market results, it's only for a few headline pieces. From what I can see, they mask the carnage which has occurred in the "day sale" markets of secondary works. There is an excess of supply waiting in the wings and little demand to support prices. On the plus side, I read that "sales were to the trade" meaning that dealers were buying for clients or on speculation.

Further, the art market crash, killed the 'new artist will grow up to be famous' fantasies and people became more cautious as the excitement dwindled. Among the "Branded" artists life goes on as they continue to be exhibited but with less enthusiasm.

We have two groups of artists which haven't been recently exploited and who are closer to death than a MFA grad. This is the group of artists born in the first half of the 20th century. It includes artists who were marginalized by the art world or who marginalized themselves, along with better known artists who were in the down cycle of popularity.

So money talks, and in a tight market like we have today, the conservative approach is one strategy which has always been employed. It used to be only 'blue chip artists' who benefitted from this but, as noted, in an expanding marketplace there's more room to wiggle, and there is an interest now in artists who might have been overlooked (reasonably priced) and who had built some sort of name recognition earlier in their careers

If there is a shift in market interest, maybe it's being caused by the collectors who have become more cautious. Maybe it's because the artworld is in flux and there is no clear stylistic leadership. Maybe the dealers are figuring out that the art market is three dimensional and that there is a real and continuing interest and demand for artists with a history who don't conveniently fit into last years pigeon holes.

And maybe critics will step up to the plate by offering some real insight about art for a change. Is it about the money or is it about the art?

9/14/2010 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chicago's mayor is on the way out..however our Chicago Artists Month October 2010-Our City.Our Studio. is going strong. Please look up Ed Paschke..he was the most well known of The Windy City's Hairy Who!! Karl Wirsum will be giving a art talk soon. All those interested can also check out


9/16/2010 08:55:00 AM  
Anonymous PK Steffen said...

Glad to see you mention Tony Fitzpatrick. As you know, Tony has done a lot for the art and poetry scene in the Chicago area. I showed at his World Tattoo Gallery back in the 90s. You couldn't ask for a better gallerist - a fellow artist who was never afraid to take a chance. Good on him and all his hard work!

9/16/2010 01:04:00 PM  

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