Friday, April 26, 2013

Bill by Bill

A while back I wrote the following in a thread about the alarming number of art world insiders (the "true believers") who were expressing profound disappointment with the way the gallery system had turned lately:
There are artists out there making work worthy of the true believers. But for them to help change how soul-crushing the system has become to many, how "vulgar" or "nasty" or "filthy" and therefore how unappealing to the true believers, those artists need to help stop the seemingly endless numbers of artists who aspire to emulate the multi-millionaire artists dominating the market today and show the world something more important than clever observations of how superficial we've all become. They need to look deeper at humankind and themselves...and to look away from the cynicism-fueled influences that get all the press and attention these days....and become the new influentials. The new leaders for the next generation of artists.
Most of all, they need to not take for granted that the true believers who have supported the art world for all the right reasons will continue to do so if artists don't start taking control and making the vulgar way the market is operating today look unappealing to those who see it only as a mean of buying social credibility, without even caring about the objects they're using toward that end.
You know how to do this. Don't underestimate what's at stake if you don't.
Get to it.
I'll admit. One of the artists I was thinking of when I wrote that was William Powhida.

Even as I wrote that, with Bill (among others) in mind, though, I knew the real challenge in shaking things up was going to be "to look away from the cynicism-fueled influences." 

This is a particular challenge especially because the order of the day would seem to include a new approach to institutional critique (because the institutions have grown immune to the current approach). How do you both look away from the cynical forces and meaningfully comment on them too?

It would seem our friend Bill has found a way.

Few exhibitions recently have excited me as much as the William Powhida one that just opened at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles. The press release alone is reason to cheer:
Dismissed Acclaimed provincial New York-based artist William Powhida is pleased to announce Bill by Bill, a new collection of art works fabricated exclusively for Charlie James Gallery and the fast-growing Los Angeles art market.  Conceptualized and designed by William each work of art has been crafted by better highly skilled artists, designers, friends, family and fabricators under the artist’s supervision in a studio he visited at least once.  After years of going to art fairs intensive market research Bill by Bill represents a decisive breakthrough for the artist into the fields of sculpture and painting by creating unique variations on some of the dominant formulas trends in contemporary art.

Bill by Bill brings together classic Modernist forms with bleeding edge post-studio, conceptually based[1] practices to create a mercenary stunning vision of contemporary art. Begun over a year ago while on residency at the Headlands in beautiful Marin County, William has designed a line of auction-ready commodities objects across stylistic boundaries for market-savvy executive producers collectors. These objects are primed and ready for purchase to move quickly at Phillips de Pury. With a focus on painting and sculpture Bill by Bill avoids problems of reproducibility inherent with photography, new media, multiples, and editions which have diminished the deep satisfaction of buying art.  These one-of-kind objects are able to offer the ‘experience of art’ at a price that isn’t quite for everyone, which affirms William’s belief that art holds an elitist special place in culture.

A unique, signed certificate of authenticity in the artist’s signature style accompanies[2] each hand-touched[3] object. The certificate provides the artist’s critical insight into the fascinating design and fabrication process behind each work. These intimate, text-based certificates contextualize each object in a theoretical and aesthetic discourse while situating them in the broader social and political space of neo-liberal capitalism late modernity. Charlie James Gallery is relieved pleased to finally bring this moyen-garde model of art production and distribution to Los Angeles, which we believe is the only city capable of buying this.

William Powhida was born in 1976 in Ballston Spa, New York.  Powhida has no upcoming exhibitions at any major art institutions.  Recent exhibitions include “Market Value: Examining Wealth and Worth” at Columbia College in Chicago, IL; “On Sincerity” at Boston College in Boston, MA; (2012), “Seditions” at McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, TX (2012), “Derivatives” at Postmasters Gallery, NY (2011) and Dublin Contemporary in Dublin, Ireland (2011).  His work has been discussed in October, Art in America, Art Forum, The Brooklyn Rail, Frieze, New York Magazine, and the New York Times. His art was recently featured in the Village Voice, America’s oldest corporate-owned alternative weekly.

[1] This does not mean conceptual.
[2] The collector agrees to purchase the certificate of authenticity to receive the object.
[3] The artist may have only touched to the work indirectly receiving the work or crating it.
But that's not why I'm bringing this to your attention. The review of Bill's show in the Los Angeles Times is exactly the sort of response we need to see more of in the press for anything to change.The opening paragraph is one many artists would give a body part to receive:
So rare is good satire in contemporary art that its appearance — as in the newest exhibition of William Powhida, a New York-based artist who is fast evolving into one of its sharpest practitioners — makes one inclined to stand up and applaud.
But it's this response to the work that really made my day:
What saves the work from grating sarcasm or smart aleck cleverness — toward which the artist has erred in the past — is a curious undertone of sincerity. Powhida is not mean-spirited or bitter but seems genuinely driven to understand his subject: the internal mechanisms of this peculiar social and economic ecosystem. How does the art world work and how should we feel about that? How much of ourselves should we reconcile to it?
He clearly takes these questions seriously. If he didn’t, his excoriation wouldn’t be nearly so funny. [emphasis mine]
Folks who know Bill understand that, despite the obnoxious persona (a character also named "Powhida") that is one part of his practice, he's genuinely sincere about doing what he can to curb the negative impact that too much money and too little critique is having on the art of his generation. 

All I can say to the other artists of Bill's generation is, go see this show if you can. And if you can't, pay attention all the same.


Anonymous Stephen/Platform Gallery said...

Amen! Great post about a great show!

4/26/2013 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

I struggle with work that is too deeply imbedded in art about art discourses - but Powhida's work seems to be much more about a personal pursuit than an aesthetic, so I have never really struggled to appreciate his work. Regardless of what any given artwork deals with, I tend to gravitate to art which originates from an obvious state of need in an artist's life. It is pretty clear that Powhida is compelled by a strong need to question and engage the the art world in a complex game. In his pursuit I feel compelled to learn alongside him and I oftentimes expereince a strange sense of disorientation at the complex creative network involved in the existence of this work. There might be a little bit of BS in this work, but the fact that it isn't hidden is what makes it truly great - at least that's my take. Thanks for the post Ed, I did not know that this show was going on

4/26/2013 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know Bill personally, but his practice as a whole reflects the sincerity you speak of in a broader context. I am especially enamored with his residency in Wisconsin.

4/27/2013 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Red Pill Bill!

4/27/2013 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, I wrote a bunch of crap that apparently didn't get sent correctly - anyway nice write-up, the show looks very interesting

4/27/2013 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick Collier said...

The whole topic makes me wish mark Lombardi was still alive.

4/29/2013 06:46:00 PM  

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