Friday, November 01, 2013

The Top 10 Most Useless Art World Lists

It's not my intention at all to ridicule any of the people who appear on any of these lists. As far as I know, you can't really lobby to get on them, and even if you can, it's more my point to deconstruct a bit these clearly popular, but massively news-text-and-time-consuming features in hopes of either nudging their authors to beg their editors to let them write more, er, verifiable articles, or at the very least to craft these crowd-pleasers with a bit more consideration of what it is they lack. 

Without further preface: The Top 10 Most Useless Art World Lists

#10: The 50 Most Powerful Women in the New York Art World by GalleristNY
Published back in 2011, but still popping up with rather telling frequency in their "RECOMMENDED FOR YOU" sidebar widget, Gallerist's list of the 50 most powerful Women in the New York Art World justifies itself with the flimsiest of rationales you'll find on any such list: "[W]e initially resisted the idea of creating a Power List...until we realized we could use one to make a point. There has been a lot of press about women in the art world recently, but for some reason this talk has been for the most part limited to women who work in galleries....What gets left out in the current discussion is the fact that women hold positions of real power in the art world." Er, uh, yeah, so to distinguish those two categories you title your list "Women in the ART WORLD" as opposed to "Women in GALLERIES." And given the very clear precedent of art world Power Lists to include curators, collectors, critics (well, at least until recently), and other non-gallery art world denizens (can anyone find a power list that's limited to Gallery women? I looked, but failed), this rationale seems as arbitrary as its end results. Not to mention that it's now so out-of-date it should either be updated or retired from their feed.

#9: Power 100 by Art Review
My number one issue with the annually updated Power 100 list (other than never appearing on it, or even coming close, or even being considered...where's my scotch?) is how untimely it ultimately is. For example, while the curators of the major biennials around the world wield quite a bit of power leading up to their events, often by the time the list comes out (in which they've rocketed up the ranks), their actual power has begun to cool quite a bit. Bad reviews of their exhibitions or, more so, the art world's insatiable demands for "yeah, so what's next?" makes their appearance on the list seem a bit too nostalgic at times. Yes, this is the complaint of an unappeasble art news glutton, and the list is published near the end of its calendar year, so it serves as a record of power, more than a current barometer, per se, but I often get distracted while reading the list calculating how many positions this or that person will slide down the following year, based on information that came out between the list's assembly and publication. 

#8: {insert number} Artists to Watch in {insert year} by Modern Painters (and published on Artinfo) 
Where to start? With the positive, of course. I give Modern Painters mucho credit for at least inviting artists to assemble this list ("We remain convinced that other artists are the best spotters of talent."), but lists like this remind me of the joke: "The pity about getting one's MFA from Yale is how often, years later, that's the only highlight on the recipient's CV." I'd love to see one of these lists that wasn't so focused on the speculative aspect of the art market, as well, or at least one that seemed to really understand the speculative aspect of the art market (which may be too much to ask from the artist authors, but...). None of the artists in the example linked to here were born before 1979, and yet anyone paying attention knows older, "re-discovered" artists are among the hottest selling in the contemporary realm. And yet none made the list. (Variations on this type list are abundant, and most suffer from the same shortcomings.) 

#7: The ARTNews Top 200 Collectors by ARTNews
You know what would make this list less useless? Publishing their freaking email addresses! Or at least all their photos. I mean, come on! :-) 

#6: Hollywood Reporter Reveals the Industry's Top 25 Art Collectors 
Again, no contact info is supplied :-( . But I'll give this list a bit of a break because, well, it's the Hollywood Reporter, and this is the kind of prose they peddle, but this list deserves special attention for inadvertently highlighting the most cringe-worthy quality behind all such lists (as recently noted by Tyler Green): their blatant starfuckery. Why investigate or analyze trends or issues, or *gasp* write about actual art, when attaching a few celebrities' names to a list will get a gazillion more hits? It's a question writers/editors might want to ask themselves before they're on their death beds. 

#5: The 20 Most Powerless People in the Art World by Hyperallergic
Only "useless" because they haven't updated it for 2013 yet. Come on Hrag...we love this stuff. 

#4: 500 Best Galleries by Modern Painters (and published on Artinfo) 
We actually did make this list, which is very kind of Modern Painters (seriously, thank you), but so many other clearly great galleries didn't that it's ultimately a bit embarrassing (which is something I'm sure the editors have already figured out how to fix for me next year, but...). My real issue with this attempt is its scope. Being overly ambitious isn't always helpful. It leads to inconsistencies, which are understandable from a deadline point of view, but some of the omissions are so glaring, you have to wonder whether a bit more time or, preferably, a smaller list wouldn't have been more useful. 

#3: 2013's Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts (USA) by Barry's Blog
This is such a sincere effort and obvious labor of love, I almost hate myself for including it on the "useless" list, but as the first comment on the 2013 list brilliantly notes (indicting all such lists in my opinion): "I can't help wondering if it makes sense to single out the most "powerful" and "influential" people in an industry that has neither the power nor influence to keep its theaters, concert halls and galleries full. We're a diminishing industry that's steadily losing customers and steadily losing relevance in the broader culture. To publicly proclaim 50 individuals every year to be power elites when elitism is one of our biggest problems seems to me to be counterproductive. I mean no disrespect to the people on the list; they're good people who deserve recognition. But wouldn't it be more appropriate to focus on humility rather than power for a change, and on measurable results rather than insiders' influence?" 

#2: The Love List: Power Couples of the Art World by Artinfo 
Not only useless, but a touch nauseating, Artinfo mercifully only published this one time, as far as I can see. The photos are way too cute often, but it's the inconsistency behind who made the list that bugs me. Take their stated rationale for not including Jay Jopling's ex, artist Sam Taylor-Wood, and her new squeeze: "[B]oth halves must play a significant role in the art establishment. In other words, artist Sam Taylor-Wood and White Cube dealer Jay Jopling were an art-world power couple; Taylor-Wood and 21-year-old actor Aaron Johnson are not." And yet, other couples who did make the list include partners who are fashion designers, musicians, and a host of spouses whose only real power is their ability to end up in the same photo-op as their partner at openings.

#1: The most useless art world list: The monthy review of Artforum's advertisements by GalleristNY 
To anyone who reads this each month, let me just say, "Pick up a copy of the original, you lazy freaks."  To the people who produce this list, you might make more progress sending Knight a bottle of scotch next time you submit your resume. Just a thought.


Blogger Edward_ said...

You want to know what's really sad...this is my highest visited post of all time on its first day, which entirely explains why publications do top x lists, but not why, given how popular they are, more resources and care can't be given to them.

11/02/2013 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your comment -- and your post. No matter how bad they are, lists draw viewers.

11/02/2013 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can be a little spikey sometimes Edward, I like scoreboards and lists. You know a lot of A list wordsmiths visit your blog Edward and it inspires them. My favorite poster of all time is Zippsters or Zippwieg sorry if I got it wrong he dosnt post much anymore.

The whiskey and cookies will be mailed in December but there's a catch , there's always catch.

Gerhard Richter wears Wallabies , I like to look at peoples shoes , it tells me a lot.
I would like to see a contest wear you match the shoes with the art critic or big name artist.

This is most important list in the art world.

11/02/2013 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You can be a little spikey

Yeah, I prefaced the link to this from Facebook with the admission that "I may have woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

Some email came in with another list and I snapped.

It happens.

11/02/2013 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Christine said...

"Spiky" is good, no? But interesting...I guess when we all have the bombardment of social media from every direction... a "list" seems to offer...predigested, organized information(more bang for the buck, more info in less space). I agree that most any list marks a moment in soon as it's done...the reality, the players, the information shifts and changes...especially respond to your: "But wouldn't it be more appropriate to focus on humility rather than power for a change, and on measurable results rather than insiders' influence?"

11/06/2013 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

I think people like transparency and want to know how/why something works and the art world is very good at keeping that a secret. A list is easy to read, makes sense and requires little mental fortitude to get through.

By the way I like the irony of making a list of useless lists and denouncing the process.

11/07/2013 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous AKUTA said...

Sadly my most popular post ever on A Kick Up The Arts (a top ten Arts blog!) was the Top Ten Best Art Jokes.. Oh well - I guess the jokes on me...

11/25/2013 10:17:00 AM  

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