Trends rise and fall in the art world, each (hopefully) a step toward the best art we can collectively make. Some, though, don’t seem to have stopped by our little art world by the bay just yet. I’ve listed five here and some of their inevitable (and awesome) exceptions. I honestly don’t intend this piece to deride my beloved art scene. Rather, it should serve to highlight those that are pushing our envelopes for us, and let’s say a personal wish list of the kind of art I’d love to see even more often.
1. Smaller, Subtler, and Subdued
If there is one actual overarching trend generally making its way through the art world at the moment it’s this. This ‘trend’ was detailed by Jerry Saltz in his survey of the Whitney Biennial last year. Perhaps it’s in reaction to the post-2008 market collapse, or maybe it’s a response to the swelling art market. Regardless, a lot of artwork seems to have pulled itself inward, scrapped the factory staff, and scaled down its dimensions. The sell-out show stopper pieces are just a bit fewer. Also, as Saltz points out artists are more frequently looking for routes around irony and cynicism without relying on sentimentality or over simplification. The best of this work is a refreshing respite from the out-of-control market hype of the past few years.
In terms of scale, most local work is relatively under control. However, I suspect this is more closely tied to limited resources and venues than aesthetic concerns. Subtlety, though, is a virtue rarely praised, often passed over for gimmicks and quick reactions.
Exceptions: A notable exception is perhaps one of favorite local artists (I’m still considering her one of us though she’s now based in NYC): Ryann Slauson. Slauson created a piece that I’ll always regret not purchasing. On a pedestal sat a deflated basketball constructed from paper mache, each dimple carefully painted on. The ball sat there lonely and perfectly useless. Much like this particular piece, her work generally has a peculiar way of being earnest without being sentimental, smart but not cynical, and serious but not stuffy. Her understated work asks for time, and returns on what you give it.
2. Net Art/New Media
Computer art has arguably been around since the 1950’s – even Andy Warhol joined the party as early as the mid-1980’s. It’s at this moment, though, that it is growing out of novelty and into respected form. Considering the amount of time that we spend on the internet and the profound changes it has made to the way we live we may rightly say, “About time.” GIF’s, Tumblr, social networks, interactive sites, among many other forms are becoming standards of the heady fringes of art and are poised to enter the mainstream.
The reasons Net Art and New Media have been virtually absent from the Tampa Bay scenes are most likely practical ones. Locally, artists that can also code are a bit of a curiosity. Also, there are the complexities of exhibiting and selling work that is typically confined to a computer monitor. Though, I’d like to see this trend roll through more than the others, I fear it may be one we won’t see for a while. Somebody prove me wrong!
Exceptions: Artist Hunter Payne is an unapologetic fan of the interwebs. I realize that sounds absurdly vague but there honestly isn’t any better way to say it. He’s produced several new media pieces, GIFs, and “games”. Further, he curated the exhibit TRU_RL: Tight Artists Offline at Studio@620 – an amazing group exhibit featuring the work of artists from the Net Art quasi-collective known as Tight Artists. This was one of the area’s rare exhibits that would’ve even been too hip even for the Chelsea white boxes. I’d pay money to see a show like this again.
3. Contemporary Art Fairs
2012 seems to have been the year of the art fair – oddly both for the art world’s unabashed revelry in and simultaneous hating on the institution. Regardless of where you fall on the opinion spectrum, these fairs act as more than just a venue for the obscenely rich to relieve themselves of wads cash. Contemporary art fairs serve as a time for the art world to gather together and figure out where this crazy thing called contemporary art is headed.
I realize it is unrealistic for Tampa to ever be home to anything the size of Miami’s Art Basel and its satellite fairs. Still, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to host a quality Contemporary Art Fair. Consider relatively similarly sized cities. Washington D.C. has Emerge, Houston has Texas Contemporary, San Francisco has artMRKT. I hate to say it but the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (Tampa) and the Mainsail Art Festival (St. Petersburg) don’t count. They are frankly little more than temporary art flea markets (though, I suppose in a way, the same argument can be made of Art Basel.)
Exceptions: I debated whether or not to even include this ‘trend’, because this is the single trend I could not pair with an exception. Perhaps we can take a page from the playbook of the Anti-Warpt music festival. That is, could a fledgling Contemporary Art Fair could coincide with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts or Mainsail Art Festival to act as an alternative event? I’d love to see that happen.
4. Shocking Art
It’s difficult calling this a trend or even using the word shocking. Regardless, it came and went back in the 1970’s. That’s forty years ago – I’m not sure if I really care to see it roll through town anymore. In a way, at that time art stretched itself to lay claim to all it could be. It sought to provoke moral sensibilities, upset ideas of art’s relationship with the market, and upend all assumptions about what art was and could be. It was nearly a time when art could be shocking simply for the sake of shocking – at the time is was something the art dialectic needed to pass through.
Our scenes produce very little truly shocking work, and perhaps that’s alright. It would be difficult to present that kind of art now without it appearing adolescent. Maybe its time to make peace with the possibility that we’re just going to skip this important phase in art’s progression.
Exceptions: Last October’s drama on the 600 Block and his recent dual exhibit Strange Fruit set artist Allen Leper Hampton apart as one exception. His work has been some of the most shocking to local sensibilities. Beyond that, though, I like to think his work teaches people to critically read art instead of simply reacting to it.
5. Post-Modern and Post-PoMo Concerns
There are several interesting topics and concerns that seem to receive scant attention in the Bay area – feminism, post-colonialism, Neo-Marxism, modern identity, immigration, and so on (and on and on). These concerns address the most basic and important ways we interact with each other and how we process our environment. They encourage us to question complacency, to ask if things can and should be different.
I realize these topics can sound terribly academic and deathly boring. However, good contemporary art is much brainier than it has been in times past and demands its audience dedicate deep thought to it in addition to romantic feeling. Further, these themes are much more relevant and less played out locally than themes of generic self-expression. In a way, this kind of art is much more easy to relate to than the adolescent confessional work that seems to have acquired a strong foot hold locally. I suppose it is the difference between artists talking about themselves and artists talking about all of us.
Exceptions: Tempus Projects‘ recent exhibit, Piracy Redux, applied some of these concepts locally – the POD installations touched on topics such as Post-Colonialism, Marxist Historicism, Private Property, and power relations among others – it urged revisiting our local heritage and ideas of our collective self. (Disclosure: I was a participating artist in Piracy Redux) Also, the work of artist Becky Flanders has addressed feminist issues in a way that’s been poorly lacking locally otherwise. Her art often demands us to be confrontational with ourselves, in reconciling women with our deeply held archetype of woman. Her work is a great example of art that can be very moving without relying on sentimentality.