Monday, December 19, 2011

Art Is Not the Evening News

I may have told this story here before, but I always figure if I can't remember, probably neither can anyone else.

Shortly after 9/11/2001, about two weeks in fact, an artist came into our new space with a proposal for a group show of work responding to the terrorist attacks. I didn't know this artist. She was simply shopping around for a venue for what I assume she thought would be snapped up as a timely exhibition.

We were in the market for group exhibitions at that time, having just opened, but I lied and said we weren't. I didn't want to see her proposal. I knew no matter how good a curator or artist she may have been that not enough time had passed for her to have assembled an exhibition, let alone seen artists make new work, that would have interested me. I wouldn't have been able to see it, even if she had.

I have a bias, you see. You'll see it reflected somewhat in how I don't often respond immediately to new ideas or events on the blog. I like to give myself time to think about them a bit before I do. I like to ask a few questions, research my knee-jerk reactions for contrary views, and see if I can synthesize something interesting for myself (assuming that if I can't, no one else will care to read it) before putting fingers to keyboard.

My specific bias, though, as it pertains to visual art is the belief that good work perhaps begins more felt than thought, but ends more thought than felt. In other words, it usually takes time. I don't trust my knee-jerk reactions to events, and I certainly don't trust anyone else's either. Especially when they quickly translate that reaction into an artwork. I assume, even for the most nimble and in-command artists out there, that the work they make in response to something new will be better the more they consider it. That's not to say good art can't have passion and anger (it certainly can begin more felt), but just to say that works created solely via passion and anger can usually stand a bit of editing. Usually.

This belief is also why I personally don't find it surprising or disappointing that most of the artwork in Miami this year was not about Occupy Wall Street, or why most of the artwork in the galleries this past year was not about social inequality, as has been noted recently. To my mind, it doesn't necessarily reveal complacency, as much as scheduling considerations. It not only takes artists time to germinate on what's happening and time to consider it carefully in order to make important work about it, it also takes galleries and museums quite a bit of lead time usually to put together an exhibition responding to such events. I know galleries who have their entire 2012 schedule all mapped out already. And their artists are counting on those time slots (they've scheduled their lives and studio practice around them), and so moving them around in order to respond to only-God-knows-what may happen next has significant consequences.

Moreover, not all artists want to respond to current events in their work. Should their shows be sidelined or rescheduled because there are protests? Should all of art be only about current events?

Yes, a good exhibition will sometimes resonate with what's in the air at the time, and perhaps an otherwise good exhibition will fall short because it seems out of touch, but given how long it takes an artist to create a body of work and how long it takes a gallery to then program and exhibit that body of work, it seems unfair to lambast the galleries for not being as nimble as Twitter or the Evening News.

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generally speaking, I agree with everything that you say about this topic. However, I do beleive that there is some sort of a need or a desire to have art address social issues or develop at a speed comprable to that of life. No artist should ever change their practice to satisfy this need, but I do beleive that there is an ooportunity to explore this space of immediacy and social concern within their art. I for one am not the artist as I agree with so much of what you speak about in your post, but I am open to the possibilities, becasue risk fuels innovation and creative and intellectual growth.

12/19/2011 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous zipthwung said...

Calling a show 9-11 is like changing your name to Mark Zuckerberg.

9-11 is not now ripe for the lemonade stand supply line. Never will be. This is a common belief. I'm sure it is unassailable.

Is "9-11" an idea, though? Or is it a process? Particle or wave?

One is reminded of Edna St. Millais' poem "Renaissance" in which she sees herself not just as a singularity, but at one with the entire horizon, islands are after all just undersea mountains (everyone loved her except the judges). Edna may have been unaware of Buddhism, but the all-oneness made her career.

On the other hand, you could do a timely show about swarming without referencing any specific rock-hand-hive-of-the-artist event, so too could you do a show ABOUT terrorism and it's affinity groups without privileging any one personal tragedy.

Also, 9-11 could be just connective tissue, part of the medium like the Marlboro man. The very air you breathe. It is never too soon to use the world around you to make art - so why not use the rawest materials too universal? Or too specific?

I hope you used this teachable moment to keep other misguided young curators from the path of righteousness. But the older I get, the less I see this as a moral (mores and folkways?) problem, and more of an identity issue. Self preservation, to be exact.

But no doubt, a lesser dealer would have agreed to a show, but only if half the gallerists stable was included - probably only a summer show though, maybe in the back room.

On 9-11 the village voice published a piece (but not Art) by Jerry Saltz in which he saw the widening gyre of Babylon NOW with the beast of the apocalypse slouching into the limelight - its like the Hegelian triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis and no one knows who the gate keeper is going to be or if North Korea will fragment. Do you even know where your keys are? When was the last time you walked Cerberus? Good god man, the poor girl must have been trembling in her boots! Or was she a silver-spooned socialite? You don't say.

12/19/2011 09:05:00 PM  
Anonymous alananana said...

Whether we know it or not, a lot of us artists make work that is related to social and/or political issues and whether we know it or not, the viewer sees this and a lot of the time does not see this...either way the work can be extraordinary... maybe you could have at least given that "9-11 artist's" work a peek.

12/19/2011 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

maybe you could have at least given that "9-11 artist's" work a peek

It was 10 years ago, so my memory is fuzzy, but I suspect I actually did give it a peek, even though it really wouldn't have mattered. I personally didn't want to host a show about 9/11. It was far too soon in my opinion.

12/20/2011 08:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking back 100 yrs how did the WWI , The Great Depression, WWII
The Holocaust ,Dropping of the Atom bombs on japan , Korean War Civil Rights Movement, American prosperity ,Vietnam , Hippies Flowerpower. How did this all Influence artist of those times?

Then you have sometime before 9/11 and The twin wars . 2008 crash , Barack Hussein Obama elected president.

A Sheperd Fairey Hope Poster that he nicked. and a upside down tank at a bienniel????


How has obscene amounts of cash played a role in the top selling living arists of the last 20 years?



Maybe the next great american painter will show up in 20 to 30 years .He or she could be a child right now living in a car or the ghetto .The parents lost everything in our great depression.
The only luxuries this child has is some colored pencils a sketch pad, hot water and wal-mart.

12/20/2011 09:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

ive always found it a paradox that to reach the universal you need to transcend the extremely personal. Even when playing the markets, you need to keep your eye on the trends and not the daily spikes, but transact within those up and downs. History follows too, its not the nightly news headlines, but the social movements that overlay or underpin those twitters of our daily lives. I can see how Ed or other artphiliacs would tend towards seasons rather then a single day. Which turns round the movement through those successive moments. 911 will have it's place, but most likely only when it addresses a universal rather then a given event. Thats why Goya's massacres have meaning for most, not because of the specific event - who was actually assisinated isnt the point , but because of their historical humanity that all of us can be shamed and outraged at.

12/20/2011 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Whether we know it or not, a lot of us artists make work that is related to social and/or political issues and whether we know it or not,

Even if that is true, it still takes time for them to translate that response to social and/or political issues into meaningful art. Occupy Wall Street only began in October. It's now December. The idea that the New York galleries should have been brimming with shows about the protests (when, starting in November?) is unrealistic.

12/20/2011 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

I agree. I grew up in South Africa and almost every bit of art, theater, writing was about apartheid. What really upset me though is most artists were bringing nothing to the work, no ideas, solutions or perspectives. It was just "look apartheid- bad" and because it was such a pressing and serious issue one could not criticize the lack of development. No one dare say "Look the art has no clothes".

12/20/2011 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"look apartheid- bad"

My critique of 95% of all political art in a nutshell.

12/20/2011 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

I think you’re right in that obvious topical/political references rarely make for great art. I always come back to Guernica. People asked Picasso “So where are the Stukas, the dive-bombing and mass dead, man – like Guernica?” and Picasso said something like “In the papers and newsreels”. “What I’m shooting for is something deeper – the horror that is always there in us, evil shit baby”. And generally some kind of simplistic reference to current events just doesn’t make it as art – not that art doesn’t refer to these things - but it happens more indirectly, at a deeper or more subversive level. I agree it takes time, usually, for the artist and curator/critic. Thematic shows about current social issues (like 99%ers) may be good politics but they’re mostly bad art.
The other argument is that art can’t help but reflect these social forces, but it usually then takes a long time (10-15 years?) to be able to see what these changes really were. We think something like 9-11 was a standout, but actually it’s part of a long and escalating pattern in foreign policy. It comes home to us in a rush, but it’d been coming for a while, and then launches into something much starker, more obvious. People talk about the decline of the American empire now, and see the last 20 years or so as a decadence – as with the Romans – I sort of go along with that, but it’ll probably be another 20 years before that’s really played out.

12/24/2011 07:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

findingfabulous,
I'm guessing that the bad art addressing apartheid would have probably sucked even if it engaged other topics. Not everyone can be Athol Fugard (sic?) or William Kentrdge (not one of my personal favorites, but kinda represented apartheid's sting in his visual work??). I suppose the challenge for those who work with the topical is to not merely respond to the moment.

12/28/2011 01:54:00 PM  

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