Monday, July 01, 2013

A Conversation with William Powhida on the Contemporary Artist's "Narrative"

One of the themes I kept coming back to when talking with Elizabeth Dee (see our two-part conversation on the contemporary gallery model here and here) was how the narrative (or story) of the art gallery seems to be in flux...some have even said "in crisis." What I mean by that specifically, is that why people open and run galleries, what they hope to do while running one, and what brings them to close one seems to be changing a fair bit all around us, at least compared with 10 years ago, when we first got into this business.

I'm a big believer that making decisions is always easier when you know the narrative you're working within and the goals you're working toward. It's why in my book I highly recommend new galleries write a mission statement and business plan. With these tools as your guide, you can make much smarter decisions about where to spend your time and money.

Thinking about this some more, I realized that gallerists are, of course, only one small part of the art industry, and if their narratives are changing it stands to reason that's because the narratives of the players around them (artists, collectors, curators, critics, historians, etc.) are changing as well. And so I have decided to publish a series of conversations with the various players in the art world, examining whether they agree that their narratives are in flux, and if so where they think they're headed. Naturally, not everyone within a certain role will agree on this, which is why I look forward to your feedback on the interviews.

It makes sense to begin the series with an artist, the one player in the art world without whom the rest of us would look silly doing what we do. I'm delighted that one of the artists I know to have given such matters a great deal of thought, William Powhida, has agreed to be part of the first in the series. Full disclosure: I've worked with Bill on various projects, and we have had an ongoing dialog about the art world for quite some time now.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, here's a bit about William Powhida (from his website):

William Powhida (b. 1976, New York) is a G-E-N-I-U-S and habitual critic of the art world. Powhida lives and works in New York. He studied painting at Syracuse University where he easily received a B.F.A with honors and scored an M.F.A. from the cheap-assedfamed Hunter College Program. Getting a honors there was a joke. He has exhibited internationally in New York, Los Angles, Seattle, London, Madrid, Miami, Chicago, Copenhagen, Austria, Dublin, and even the Canary Islands . Recent shows include Derivatives at Postmasters Gallery, and POWHIDA at Marlborough Chelsea, which made people really fucking mad. He recently exhibited some giant drawings about the balkanization of the art world done in collaboration with Jade Townsend at Gallery Poulsen in Copenhagen, Denmark.

He has organized exhibitions including #class and #rank with Jennifer Dalton, Magicality with Eric Trosko, and Dunkle Wolke at StorefrontBK in the dreaded Bushwick. He also collaborated with Jade on the Lemonade Stand and the ABMB Hooverville drawing. His work has been discussed in the New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, Art News, Artinfo, Artnet, Hyperallergic, Art Fag City among others. He completed a publishing residency at the Lower East Side Printshop and was the connecting communities resident at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in 2011, while his show at Marlborough imploded and may have killed several careers. He is currently finishing new works for a show at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles opening April 20th, 2013.  [EW: This show got fantastic press...I wrote about it a while back.]

Currently he is represented in New York by Postmasters Gallery, in Seattle by Platform Gallery, and in Los Angeles by Charlie James Gallery.

 ____________________

Winkleman: There seem to me three basic artist's career narratives that are widely discussed.

  1. The first one, which faded with the end of Modernism perhaps, was the "kill the father to supplant the son" story whereby successive groups or individuals argued either in manifestos or via their work that some previous dominant movement was now irrelevant and they themselves then rose to prominence, only to have the same thing happen to them shortly thereafter, upon which they entered the growing group of has-beens still doing important work but not getting much attention for it until they reached old age or died.  
  2. The second one, the more Post-Modern and perhaps today most popular narrative, is that an artist is discovered by some hard-working dealer or curator, given exhibitions that garner a bit of press, rises through the ranks via biennials and museum group shows, gets fun and lucrative commissions, eventually gets their own retrospective, and eventually enters the canon, living comfortably off their art.
  3. In the third one, and this transcends time, the artist perhaps makes a splash for a while, but then really never gets much traction for a period, during which they teach or give up on the art world, sometimes to be rediscovered and get a second splash, sometimes not. Sometimes they keep making their work happily anyway, and sometimes they get jaded and quit.
Do any of these narratives still hold much appeal for artists today? Do any of them, or any combination of them, seem realistic?

Powhida: I can only speak for myself, but I do know a lot of artists and my thoughts about these narratives are also informed by those artists’ experiences.  I think the second model is what I was taught to believe during my BFA and MFA, reading the art media, and following visibly successful artists. The Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) is a perfect example of the second model, as they are currently having their first museum show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, although as collective, not an individual, making their role in the narrative a little more unique than say, Corey Arcangel.  His career hits most of the marks of the second narrative as well and he seems to be doing just fine on a normal timeline, unlike Jacob Kassay who skipped most of the narrative elements and jumped almost directly to “living comfortably.”

The first model is obviously historical and there is general agreement, even if it’s not entirely true, that the avant-garde model you describe is dead. Interestingly, it seems that the reverse of that avant-garde model might actually be happening, wherein different groups seem to be arguing that previous dominant models such as Modernism are still relevant. Neo-modern artists focusing on process and form come to mind, specifically the new casualists.

Personally, the third model is not appealing at all, but unfortunately seems to be the more realistic narrative for many artists, particularly in the art market where a few sales can be equated with ‘making a splash’. When I think of the third model I often think of Lee Lozano who got ‘jaded and quit’, or disgusted and quit, and was later rediscovered.  I often have to remind myself to not go Lozano and move upstate to raise grass-fed goats.

Still, the third narrative is also unrealistic for most artists. For many artists there simply is no splash, ever, just a kind of long, slow march of making art in relative anonymity with enough opportunities to show work publicly that artists keep their studios open and practice going.  Many of these artists have MFA’s and would consider themselves professional artists, even if they are not generating any income of their art.

Winkleman: What components of the current realistic narrative today are missing from those three earlier ones?

Powhida: The two contemporary narratives of artistic success today that you outlined are both just highly unlikely for most artists within the kind of MFA sphere of art that we are discussing.   Most artists won’t ever experience much of a splash, the proliferation of art news outlets notwithstanding.  Of the relatively small number that do receive some recognition, even fewer will ever have anything remotely approximating the increasing levels of career spanning success.  Missing from the two most likely narratives is an acknowledgement of the majority of artists working in relative anonymity.  This isn’t a narrative that many artists aspire to, but one arrived at after years of working without making a splash or hitting any of the benchmarks you’ve described.

A friend recently admitted his aspiration had become to paint for his friends and family.  I found it to be a bit depressing at first, but in some ways, his is a very realistic level of expectation at this point in his artistic career.  In my friend’s comment, I think I can see what is missing in between the ‘splash’ (that may never come) and “living comfortably off your art” (which is lottery odds) is a vast, subtle landscape of adequacy and different measures of success other than art world MFA career ladder. I think this includes many components of that ladder, but not always in a forward trajectory to the International Art Event Circuit or blue-chip galleries. Success may be a well-received group show, an opportune residency, a long-sought after grant, the personal fulfillment of a practice, participation in an active, vital community, or long-deserved review.

This isn’t a narrative that makes a sexy magazine profile or will continuously produce the kind of validation collectors need to plunk down on five- and six-figure objects and artistic brands, but it is the one that most artists will experience; an infrequent and episodic series of successes that don’t create a coherent narrative that we identify with the seventy-five artists the art world can support at any one moment. It’s a vertical hierarchy if only because of the economics of the art market; very few artists earn enough to ever ‘live comfortably’.  Increasingly, even that narrative seems to be that even fewer artists will ‘live lavishly’ with large studios filled with assistants.  I know a woman who provides private yoga sessions for an artist and his assistants.  I imagine it’s a pleasant work environment.

Finally, there is an emerging narrative that I don’t think most art dealers will like, except perhaps Vito Schnabel.  BHQF represents something of the authorless, artist collective narrative, which has had its moments previously (Forcefield anyone?) but is now part of the broader critique of Capitalism.  There is a real sense that the emphasis and celebration of individual artists may give way to greater artist or even creative collectives, re-affirming that maybe Barthes was right about the “Death of the Author” after all.  I mention this after nearly two years of Occupy Wall Street activity that has not faded away, but has faded into the fabric of the art world.  It’s why I joked on Twitter about Elizabeth [Dee] saying “horizontal hierarchy” that precipitated this discussion.  I also mention it after hearing that Parsons is shifting their art program away from the individual model towards group dynamics.  It’s an interesting narrative to consider in so much as it doesn’t automatically mean it negates the market, BHQF can achieve five-figures at auction, remain relatively anonymous as subjects, run a free school, and critique the apparatus in which they operate.

Winkleman: Some would say younger and mid-level galleries are in crisis because they can't sort out how to help artists who are not yet powerful. They can't sort out what their narratives should be. This would suggest perhaps the artists themselves are unable to articulate what they want/need from those galleries, perhaps being solely focused on what they want/need from bigger galleries. Are artists in crisis over their narratives?

Powhida: I think my last response speaks to some of the crises artists face, which is operating within a system that is increasingly bifurcated between a very small group of stars and everyone else.  I think it’s the same condition that you and Elizabeth were discussing, prompting you both to speculate about new models of distribution and production. I think for many of the artists who would be defined as ‘dark matter’ by Gregory Sholette, it’s redefining for themselves what is meaningful.  It’s hard to create a narrative of success when you’re the dark matter against which the stars shine, but I find that it’s important for artists to be able to articulate what is valuable about art beyond prices and the market.  I think this is becoming increasingly clear because of our growing awareness of income inequality and how it expresses itself not only in the art market, but the broader Capitalist economy, climate change, and ‘democratic’ society. I think it’s even harder to desire the kind of the success defined in your second narrative if one has any class consciousness at all.

Winkleman: What roles, if any, do you see commercial art galleries playing in the emerging narratives? A central one, a marginal one, a fleeting one?

Powhida: I think we are seeing the roles commercial galleries will play in the emerging narratives happening now.  It’s clear to me in what Alain Servais, whose writings you brought to my attention, calls the ‘go or grow’ model.  There is a diminishing role for the middle where long, slowly developing art careers happen that don’t always result in blue chip status or retrospectives, but regular exhibitions and stable, if modest sales.  I’m getting accustomed to hearing about galleries closing and gallerists becoming directors at bigger galleries.  Obviously, very few galleries are growing into mega galleries with ‘museum-quality’ shows, which one art historian friend recently described as ways for galleries to present “A” level museum works along side “B” and “C” level available secondary market works. Conversely, at the bottom you have an expanding pool of always emerging galleries to produce the ‘splash’ moments for a number of artists who will be pulled up into the larger galleries very quickly if the splash is sufficiently large.  I’ve heard gossip of mega-galleries developing relationships with these smaller spaces to make the transition from the emerging market to the mega-gallery smoothly and without that middle tier.  So, I see the role of commercial galleries perpetuating this kind of ‘go or grow’ crisis narrative, where there is a lot of activity with little remuneration beyond exposure at the bottom, and far less activity at the top where most of the money concentrates in brand names.  “Dude, you got a Colen!”

I know you and Elizabeth discussed new models of collaboration to help support, produce, and distribute artists’ work, but in a model where the middle market is diminishing, I’m not entirely sure that there is a gallery model that can effectively compete.  I imagine that as an alternative to this economic reality, we will see more models like Regina Rex and Essex Flowers where artists will collectively run spaces to socialize the cost of running a space and distributing the rewards of the speculative risk model, anticipated sales after production, differently.  I also imagine that the representation model that BHQF shares with Vito Schnabel, functioning more as an agent to help fund and produce their events and exhibitions will see an increase as more collectives emerge, in part because of altruistic and ideological motives, but also because of the the commercial and critical success of BHQF.

But to the previous point, if we were able to reconsider our notions of the vanity gallery, often derided as ‘pay to play’ we might see a model where artists and dealers collaborate and socialize the speculative model where everyone subsidizes the overhead (shifting that capital requirement from the dealer along to everyone involved) and shares in the rewards in a progressive manner.  This might also help artists and dealers co-produce art works, projects, and events that might not otherwise be affordable by individual artists.  I had a very interesting conversation with Molly Crabapple where she simply wondered in amazement that artists, like myself, would work for months and years on art without getting paid in advance but in hopes of selling it. Her background as a commercial illustrator left her marveling at our collective stupidity in a way.  I really didn’t have much of a counter-argument other than our notions of selectivity, that a dealer must pick the artist to individuate them from their peers to bring their work to attention to the collectors, creates the illusion that art making is pure and autonomous. This perpetuates the illusion that money and exchange just being a kind of necessary evil that happens behind closed doors in hushed tones. This idea is rooted in our 19th century model of the artist as the Bohemian, operating outside social constraints, making poverty synonymous with authenticity and integrity.   That’s not really a problem the mega-galleries have to deal with with, considering they have started dividing their own staff into sales and development to keep production and distribution at a discreet distance and not shatter the illusion that artists and even their dealers are autonomous and the art is made without concern for money.

Winkleman: Some have suggested curators can fill in for dealers with regards to providing a sounding board or fostering a studio practice dialog, and artists can sell their work via channels that don't necessarily give them that service that gallerists previously provided. Do you see any advantages/disadvantages to that?

Powhida: I’m a terrible person to talk to about this.  I don’t have many curators in my studio and I don’t think we get along very well.  I often find curators to be increasingly specialized creatures that are sensitive to critique of the institutions that they have to negotiate with.  I do know a number of excellent curators, but I assume most of them still don’t want to deal with my work because of art world politics.  My last visit with curators included a group of well-intentioned twenty somethings who were filling in for their boss.  They didn’t seem to know anything about my work after reaching out to me, so I didn’t try to convince them of anything. I obviously was not included in that particular show about the economy.  So, I’m not sure that curators are going to fill in for dealers as being sounding boards, and what would motivate a curator to establish a long-term relationship with a particular artist? I think for me, the big disadvantage of relying on curators to provide feedback and support is that they are at once a small group negotiating their own interests in the work with that of the institutions they represent.

I’m reminded of Brooklyn GO when thinking about the relationship between curators or dealers and artists. There are very few curators and dealers relative to artists, and the prize of Brooklyn GO was at base, an opportunity to have work reach a curator’s eyes.  I think this entire question is really only applicable to represented artists or artists who have achieved a certain level of recognition.  In reality, most artists are other artists sounding boards and the ones who foster a studio practice dialog.  I am very lucky to have worked with you, Lisa Schroeder, Sara Jo Romero, Stephen Lyons, Charlie James, and now Magda and Tamas at Postmasters, who have all been involved in my development, but then again, I’m part of a small and diminishing group of artists with representation in the middle market.

Winkleman: A famous New York art critic once told me he thought solo exhibitions in the gallery make no commercial sense anymore and are produced solely to keep artists happy. That they are about the artist's egos. He indicted his own profession in that, mind you, feeling that nothing he wrote about solo shows made any difference. Response?

Powhida: I have to agree with David Zwirner here that the alternative is a little bit dismal, producing and debuting new works in an episodic manner at four day art fair spectacles where even attention becomes a commodity.  I just took down a show I worked on for a year at Charlie’s gallery in LA and based on four sales, the show made economic sense for both of us.  While I certainly could have done versions of the work or shown a few of the works at an art fair, I don’t think the show would have had nearly the same impact.  The show depended thematically on the relationship between each text/object pairing.  Producing the show for a year did not make me happy, it was nerve-wracking and difficult, and I probably would’ve been relieved if Charlie had said “this is a terrible idea, go make some drawings about Koons,” which would have been infinitely easier.  If anything, even my staged performance piece at Marlborough Gallery was a critique of shows that seem like are entirely an extension of an artistic ego as brand.  I find the idea that solo shows are only about making artists’ happy off base and that I hope the aforementioned critic sees an excellent, thoughtful solo exhibition of inter-related works that convey something greater than their individual parts soon.

I also agree with Zwirner that four to six week shows provide an opportunity for a broader, if still limited audience interested in art, to really see the work.  This includes the public, who aren’t going to be traveling to every art fair in the world.  It would be wonderful if art galleries open to the public received a some tax breaks or rent subsidies for providing what Zwirner called “the craziest freebie in the world.”  If the market can’t support it, perhaps it’s time to advocate for the kind of value that Chelsea and other art galleries provide freely to anyone interested enough to look.

Winkleman: Artist-run models keep emerging, which would on the surface of it seem to be a good response to dealers' crises. Would you consider opening an exhibition space and running it? What might the advantages be over a dealer-run space? How would you imagine dealing with the disadvantages (e.g., less time in the studio, managerial headaches, etc).

Powhida: Years ago, Tom Sanford asked me if I was interested in opening a gallery with other artists.  Tom often took pride in finding any way he could to cut his former dealer Leo Koening out of any sales.  He may have been joking about this, but I think Tom was ahead of the game on this, seeing the writing on the wall for his own relationship with Leo, the water had settled after the splash and Tom was beginning to think about the long term.  At that point, I politely considered the idea, but dismissed it because I had just spent years trying to develop relationships with commercial galleries and crack the barrier of selectivity and find an audience. I didn’t want to build that from scratch and saw immediate disadvantages in how collectors or critics might view a group of artists representing themselves and collectively running a gallery.  I allowed my own understanding of how the system worked, its’ deep roots of selectivity and privilege, to short-circuit my own thinking about what Tom was suggesting at the time.  Now as artists have begun to form collectively run galleries that aren’t always about exhibiting and selling their own work, including Jen Dalton and Jennifer McCoy’s low-price gallery model [Auxiliary Projects], out of necessity, the perception isn’t “look at those desperate artists trying to show their own work.  They must be terrible if they can’t get a gallery...”  The narrative is now received with greater understanding and terms like ‘horizontal hierarchy’ are being used to counter the established narratives of selectivity and the vertical hierarchies that support fix and six-figure branded art objects.  Even the often gratingly conservative GalleristNY found a way to talk nice about Essex Flowers, in part, because it made a "splash."

I think I would be interested in running a gallery collectively for some of the reasons I mentioned earlier about subsidizing the speculative model, if I didn’t have three strong relationships with commercial galleries.  I’d be interested in following a model like Heliopolis in Greenpoint (which is awesome, but lacked the elusive ‘context’ Elizabeth refers to and hasn’t received the attention it deserves) where the artists are partner/directors of the space and do very interesting shows.  They share the responsibilities which mitigates some of the downsides you mention, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a hundred years of collectors working primarily with dealers as arbitrators of taste.  I think the biggest challenge for a collectively run artist gallery model would be establishing relationships with elites, who may want access to artists, but also desire the validation of an informed opinion and expertise of a dealer in agreement with their own feelings.  Most galleries after all are only as strong as their relationships with collectors, curators, critics, and sometimes, the artists.  I think what happened at Max Protetch Gallery is an example of this.  It barely lasted a season after it was sold to different owner and became Mullensteen Gallery.  Most of the represented artists left immediately, and the new program never really had a chance.

So, at the moment I’ve still got a lot invested with the relationships I’ve established with my dealers, both professionally and personally, and I’m focusing my efforts at working collectively in the area of trying to establish long term artist-owned studio spaces and open a dialogue with the community to address multiple interests. I certainly believe there is room for collaboration with different groups to establish creative, arts-driven community centers, artist-run spaces, and possibly new models of artist-dealer relationships to name a few possibilities. 

18 Comments:

Blogger Patrick Jewell said...

Looking forward to reading more in this series, as this opening article is a real knockout, one of the best things I've read here, and I'll be coming back to it often to turn over the ideas in my head some more. But right now as an initial reaction, this strikes me as refreshingly realistic and straightforward, particularly in the way Powhida acknowledges the 'anonymous' narrative, which is the story for a huge number of us artists who manage to continue to make work in the long term, the "long, slow march" he mentions, which is perhaps defined more often as failure in its relation to the second and third narratives described here. As you say, Edward, knowing the narrative you are working within is crucial, especially when that knowledge is hard won and maybe not so fun to look at.

7/01/2013 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who has moved upstate to raise goats AND continues to make art, I find Powhida's assumptions vis a vis varying artist career trajectories, somewhat shallow.

7/01/2013 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Parick said...

What seems to be missing from many of these type of discussions is an unpacking of what exactly is the role of art and artists in the society of now and tomorrow. Interesting object maker? Philosopher? Super-consciously engaged individual?

I feel like answering the use/function question could open up a whole range of ADDITIONAL narratives that might ultimately be more viable in terms of longevity, audience cultivation and maintenance, etc.

7/01/2013 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



If the process of art results in it becoming a mere commodity and arts’ deeper social/spiritual goals cannot truly be achieved even with the utilization of language, which has its own limitations and experience is futile to translate into form, is it more appropriate to approach art with an eased effort that embraces the impossible? If working from that eased point of impossibility, does a particular objective and spacious relationship get created between the collective/individual body and the power structures that govern them? Does that new relationship offer the possibility to alter the structure by holding futility and inevitable change simultaneously?
What is the role of the contemporary artist? What can it be? What is its potential and/or limit? In what evolutionary state is the role of the artist at? What are the responsibilities that come with that role? What are the degrees of separation between the process of how one lives as an artist and what an artwork postulates created by said artist? What do those degrees of separation say about the role of the artist and or the artwork? Considering how informed we are in our current times, is that separation even possible? Is that separation being eradicated? Wouldn’t maintaining that separation be a blatant form of hypocrisy and denial of what the contemporary is, a time of accessible information? After all doesn’t artwork in general offer a glance into a way of living or a critique of a way of living? Isn’t art after all about perception and it’s malleability and in turn, using that malleability to create new realities, new ways of living? Have we as artists not challenged our art identities enough? Is that why art has become generally irrelevant in our current cultural/social landscape? Are we so consumed by the challenge to sustain our identities as artists whose very constructs are at the mercy of economical/institutional powers that we’ve forgotten what art can be? Could the evolution of the role of the artist be contingent on letting go of its’ enslaved identity? Has being an artist become too identified/commodified? Are we trapped to that identity? Is that identity held hostage by the market? Do we hope to crystallize that identity through the market since we fear it’ll strip us of it? Does the market really offer that kind freedom anyways? It’s a shame isn’t? And in that process of pursuing that “freedom” doesn’t the artist just become an instrumentalized cultural producer serving a pyramid power structure that bestows “freedom” to a few and to those few, the question emerges, what kind of psychological/spiritual lives are being lived from that supposed given freedom? And to those who are striving for that freedom what of their health, spiritual, psychological or otherwise? What’s appropriate to expect from the market and how do we level with ourselves about our expectations from it? I mean, it’s an identity. It’s constructed.

7/01/2013 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous David Palmer said...

Great interview EW. Really enjoyed hearing William's views on the art world. Have always liked his work.

Regarding the "famous New York art critic (who) once told (you) he thought solo exhibitions in the gallery make no commercial sense anymore and are produced solely to keep artists happy. That they are about the artist's egos," a similar argument could be made about the relevance of publishing any one critic's narrow, media-subsidized opinion about art.

Is this done just to support the critics' egos? Wouldn't it be of more cultural value to read everyone's Facebook comments and tweets?

7/01/2013 08:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

There's a lot to consider in this Ed. But when considering our futures, what comes immediately to my mind is this :

From
The Art Market, Arts Funding, and Sweat Equity :The Origins of Gentrified Retail by Aaron Shkuda


While significant scholarly attention has been paid to retail in gentrified neighborhoods, the origins of this specific form of urban commerce are less clear. The history of New York’s SoHo neighborhood provides a way to explain how and why art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants have come to define the retail landscape of gentrification. It also can help scholars answer two important questions about the arts and city life: how do artists and art galleries spark retail growth? Furthermore, outside of the economic activity created by the sale of art, how do they inspire economic development and gentrification? In the case of SoHo, the art market, government arts funding, and the sweat equity of artists were of central importance in drawing visitors into the neighborhood. These artistic tourists eventually became the customer base for area retail, shaping its distinctive commercial landscape.

http://juh.sagepub.com/content/39/4/601.abstract

So what happens when Amazon and Saatchi replace in large measure many of our brick and mortor art galleries?

Art has influence, well beyond its aficiandos.

Maybe thats the key -whereas the Castelli model had collectors supporting the gallery who in turn supported the artists and indluenced curators, maybe its time for real estate (condo) developers to offer subsidies to gallerists? Not so much trickle down, but a foaming out of activity.

7/02/2013 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous mark creegan said...

Wonderful discussion! In relation to the artist who said he/she is making work for friends and family, I often think some different designation is needed, a new category for the highly trained hobbyist. There is a particular experience for artists who are completely intellectually immersed in and address their work to the contemporary art world, but do not have any distributive access to that world. This is especially true for artists not living in art centered cities. As one of those I often feel I may as well live on Mars. Its either stubbornness or stupidity that prevents me from this course because I know there are alternative art worlds, ones more conventional that I could tap into and be successful within, but its just not interesting to me. At this point I dont even think I am making work for friends and family because there is not really a dialog involved beyond the superficial, its really for myself which is the case for the vast majority of artists everywhere.

7/03/2013 08:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all the Gallery owners and Curators, MFA-BFA-PHD Self -Taught Art Freaks. You Gotta take the pain. That's the way it is.You have to continually improve and analyze.

IS YOUR ART DESIRABLE???????. The bottom line is the market love it hate it and all the big shots who make the market. You aint gonna change it.

Never quit, anything is possible.

Happy Birtday America.

7/03/2013 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous evangeline cachinero said...

I appreciate that you guys are trying to move forward since the #hashtag rantings and filter through the issues so that progress can be made and new tools put into practice. Discussions like these seem to trickle into the blogosphere, resulting in minor galleries around the world making changes. When there were articles about galleries doing a 50/50 split as opposed to 40/50 (which was the norm here), galleries seemed to change their ratio overnight. As much as I like to think your NY bubble doesn't impact me in regional AU, it does.

I agree that there were some missing 'narratives', as you call them (how very contemporary). Unfortunately for gallery owners, these new narratives don't include a gallery system. I reckon these are the major contemporary themes that are mostly moving away from the gallery model:

1. Collaboration (as powhida stated). collaboration/remix seems to be the essence of globalisation, blurring the lines of authorship, doing away with the idea of artistic genius and even identity. It's a nice change from the megalomaniacal, narcissictic art personalities that we were taught to admire and the implications of a collaborative approach are multitudinous. Collaborating with a group of like-minded individuals is nothing new or exciting, of course (think art movements, schools and manifestos). What is new, is the ease of online access to other work and how this is affecting the interplay between artists, creating a huge collaboration (whether the artist admits it or not). In this narrative, we're all one big happy family. We're poor, but we love each other.

2. The Artist Corporation. It all started with street art when artists began taking their career into their own hands without need for a gallery. Now, you have artists forging their own careers online/TV/advertising, starting companies and getting their own following. The MFA crowd likes to think of these artists as B-grade, but we all know that they're making work that is sellable, interesting and beautiful. Who's to say that they won't make it into the cannon, while MFAers work away in hopes that their annonimity (martyrdom) will bring future rewards. If people are making money, they're making more art. The more art that's being made, the better the work can be. ARIs are a great example of how MFAers are managing to take matters into their own hands while maintaining an academic approach to art-making. Not sure about in NY, but here we have gov subsidies for ARIs. In this narrative, brothers and sisters are doing it for themselves. Your career is your responsibility. You get off your ass, stop your whinging and figure out ways to make money.

3. Cross-pollination of industries. Frankly, I find art about art boring as bat shit. I'm interested in the issues it raises only because it affects me directly. Visually…. BORING. Art about art has a self-serving agenda. I'm totally guilty of making some myself (artformyrent.com). I don't have the answers for what can help our industry, but I'm not sure that the problems artists have with the current art models can be figured out while swimming in its own soup. There are other industries doing amazing things that trump art because they're doing it with innovation in mind as well as a sense of being useful toward the greater good. What are we bringing to the table that people need? How can we work with other industries to integrate art into peoples lives, therefore making them less disconnected from art? In this narrative, we're all part of the greater good. We accept that artists are not tortured geniuses, but an important part of the puzzle of life. Working with the other pieces, we help to create an un-fractured innovation revolution in which art has a place.

to be cont...

7/03/2013 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous evangeline cachinero said...

cont from above...

4. The agent Rep. A cheaper option for gallerists. You represent the artists as their agent. It's kind of like exactly what's happening now, except that you may not have an actual gallery, but you oversee the artists's career making sure they have shows at other institutions and taking your cut. In this narrative, artists are still rock stars whose egos need to be managed. A small percentage make obscene amounts of money and the rest of us toil away, courting agents desperately in hopes that one will acknowledge our genius and represent us.

5. The part-time realist. This narrative is probably the healthiest of the lot. In this scenario we accept that our industry is unfair, corrupt and void of any of the romantic art spirit that we dreamed about in our youth. We accept it and love it for what it is, with a healthy level of detachment so as to ward off deep states of frustration / depression / hysteria / addiction (whatever your thing is). We may have gallery representation or not, may be in a large city or a regional area, might have an MFA or not. We work part-time in a chosen profession that may or may not have anything to do with art: teaching, design, gallerina, zoo keeper… We spend the rest of our free time making art and plugging away at our art careers in the knowledge that we probably won't see much success in our lifetime but that a life without art is no life at all. In a way, this is the most un-tainted path of an artist. We're faced with the reality of the world we live in and are better able to respond to plight of real people (or the human condition as you lot like to call it). With enough counselling and lowered expectations, anyone can be a part-time realist.

7/03/2013 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...


This is real beautiful sh*t!...I shed a tear in my beer!

"It’s hard to create a narrative of success when you’re the dark matter against which the stars shine, but I find that it’s important for artists to be able to articulate what is valuable about art beyond prices and the market."

Whether in ubiquity or anonymity - beyond prices or the market, what matters is the commerce of engagement - the activity of participation and the condition of being transformed by experience. It is all relatively (ir)relevant.

7/04/2013 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Contemporary Artist's Narrative"...sounds like an art theory thesis waiting to happen. I don't want to add to the errant line of BS being scattered around here, but why can't anyone be straight up and recognize that art is guided by politics and commerce far more than it is by anything else...everything else is secondary. Art has truly become a game of aesthetic capitalism. SO, when someone talks about, "The Artist's Narriative", I wanna throw up. It is all pipe dreams and debt for most artists aspiring to be anything "contemporary".

7/05/2013 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

" art is guided by politics and commerce far more than it is by anything else...everything else is secondary"

That's too reductive a view for me...you can point to certain situations within the story of certain artists to support that view, of course, but it ignores that by far most artists still need to make someone somewhere gasp with awe or delight or the shock of recognition to even get their work into that political / commercial system in the first place suggesting, still, that the work is the thing. Then, of course you're competing for certain milestones with other artists (or collectors or dealers) and the politics takes up a huge chunk of your time...but never doubt most insiders live for those moments of awe or delight. The rest is their job....and it comes with certain petty indignities, like any job.

7/05/2013 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The gasp,shock or awe factor today is what I would call "SPECTACLE!" (which can be visual or intellectual)

I guess I missed the trinity: Politics, Commerce & Spectacle!

As far as artists themselves go, of course it is about something more, but that is experienced within the private world of personal psychology and need, which is not so readily accessible for people who are not invested in teh modes of actual art production.

7/05/2013 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Acquiring something valuable offers sufficient enough awe or delight for any wealthy collector

7/05/2013 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You're far too cynical for me Anonymous...I mentioned delight as well...at seeing an artwork and wanting to bring it into the wider dialog....I'm sure you can pooh- pooh that as well, but the question I'd ask then is what exactly are you looking for in all this?

Artists put work out there, so it's clearly not only about the "private world of personal psychology and need." Sounds to me as though you might be arguing to be fully appreciated on your own terms to which all I can say is there's a very, very, very long line of people ahead of you for that.

7/05/2013 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

Anon is definitely a cynical character, but they made a few bitter tasting points.

Everyone has a little different idea of what it means to be an artist, but I see it as accessible to anyone who cares to engage in the act of creation on a regular basis. I teach art to children, so I am a little more generous with my terminology. Therefore, when I think about what constitutes an artist's narrative, I think it mainly has to do with making the work and quite possibly the pursuit of seeking an audience for it - although this should not be teh focus of the narrative, which it seems that it has increasingly become. The pursuit of an audience should never become more important than the pursuit of the work itself.

7/05/2013 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Roy Forget said...

This article inspired me to write artistic vignettes of my own:



They are stories of those more or less in the 4th category, as described by William Prowhida, and perhaps in the 3rd category you describe.

7/31/2013 07:40:00 AM  

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