ART AT BAY Best of 2013: This Year’s…Was Last Year’s…and Will Be Next Year’s…


It’s a fun exercise: looking at trends over the past couple years and predicting how they’ll take shape in the coming one.  I suspect many feel similarly in hoping that art is some how above the sort of trend cycle fashion is subject to.  Still, some cycles are persistent.  Thus, it’s easy for this sort of thing to degenerate into a Joan Rivers style snark party.  To that end, I’ve included some lessons I’ve learned from the review and goals of personal improvement as an art appreciator.

This year’s James Turrell was last year’s Gerhard Richter and will be next year’s Paul McCarthy

Gerhard Richter and James Turrell are artists that have enjoyed a largely pleasant relationship with the art world for considerable portions of their respective careers.  However, over the course of a year the said art world seems to have overshot love and landed in obsession with each artist – a sort of reputation bubble, minus the popping.  It seemed, for a bit at least, Richter’s paintings couldn’t sell for enough then Turrell’s reviews couldn’t stop short of orgasmic.  So who’s up next?

I predict Paul McCarthy reluctantly.  “Reluctantly” because two other people would’ve nearly been a better fit.  Frank Lloyd Wright has upcoming exhibitions at both the MoMA and Guggenheim – that sort of cosmic alignment slash institutional validation is often all that’s needed to precipitate an art world freak out.  Additionally, the work of Mike Kelley has deservedly been gathering momentum over the past couple years.  It’s difficult to not tumble into thinking about what he would have accomplished had he been alive.  Regardless, he would’ve likely been one of the most important working artists for years to come.  That said, I went with Paul McCarthy because of the similar point in his career and his two high-profile pieces during 2013 – his giant balloon dog at Frieze and saucy Snow White of ‘WS’.  In the past McCarthy’s work may have perhaps been too irreverent to ever characterize him as an art world darling.  However, both of these pieces were both very well received.  If 2014 sees a genuinely great piece from McCarthy, he may enjoy the same critical near-infallibility recently afforded to Turrell and Richter.

The lesson I learn here is to be wary of getting caught up in my own words and the words of others.  These artists all create great work.  However, as a writer in a world of sound bytes and hasty judgement its easier to repeat whats heard than generate new discussion.

This year’s Bushwick was last year’s Williamsburg and will be next year’s Ridgewood

I believe the rise in awareness of hipsters can partly be tied to Williamsburg’s popularity.  The neighborhood is not unlike Haight-Ashbury to the hippies, just much less romantic and much more ironic.  Though the tide of hipsters hasn’t waned, gentrification has pushed back (though an argument can be made that hipsterdom is gentrification).  Many art galleries obviously arrived to Williamsburg with the low (relatively speaking) rent and influx of creatives.  Perhaps partially due to the aforementioned gentrification some importance in Brooklyn visual arts has since shifted to Bushwick.  Some of the off-Manhattan NYC art world already seems to be seeping into Queens.  Specifically, Ridgewood may soon find itself the inheritor of a considerable portion of Brooklyn’s art scene.  The recent closure of 3rd Ward is definitely ominous for those clinging to Kings county.

I mention this all because we have Tampa Bay neighborhoods that we hold dear.  Though the sluggish real estate market spares us from the sort of gentrification chasing the creative community out-of-town in New York, we aren’t spared entirely.  Last year’s battle between Seminole Heights’ locals and the Family Dollar chain highlighted this issue.  Perhaps more importantly, it underscored the nature of the fight and the near impossibility of artists ever winning in the long-term.  The way the rules are set, we are necessarily an exodus-prone bunch.  The rise and fall of New York’s neighborhoods illustrate this clearly.  The struggle against gentrification and being pushed out needs to start early and be thoroughly tenacious or just not be struggled against at all.

This year’s Marina Abramovic was last year’s Damien Hirst and will be next year’s…I have no idea.

This is a very specific sort of artist/set of circumstances and is why I didn’t think I could make this prediction well.  It requires a  respected artist making a series of poorly regarded decisions, followed by one surprisingly bad one.  Remember Hirst’s multi-Gagosian solo exhibit (aka Art Scavenger Hunt for the Rich)?  This year Abramovic produced a gala performance that seemed to unnecessarily denigrate the performers.  Her piece “The Artist is Present” seemed powerful to some, pretentious to others – caused uncontrollable crying in both.  Finally, there is her collaboration with Jay-Z – a marathon performance of his song Picasso, Baby.  However implausible, the performance seemed to cheapen both performance art and hip hop simultaneously.  This was followed by a Kickstarter project that was largely viewed as borrowing from the poor to build a vanity institution.  In the eyes of many, this left Marina at the end of the year bereft of much of the authenticity she had at the beginning of 2013.

Though I sincerely hate seeing reputations take a tumble like this, they are inevitable.  Thus, who has set themselves up to make a surprisingly bad call in 2014?  Well, the nature of it makes this prediction difficult.  Part of what makes these decisions so bad is that they come from artists that we were sure knew better.  That’s why Jeff Koons wouldn’t fit the prediction.  We weren’t surprised by his boring and tasteless Lady Gaga album cover.  Had Cindy Sherman, for example, produced that cover, we’d have next year’s prediction.

The lesson I learn here is that authenticity is valuable.  Further, authenticity squandered draws the ire of the critical art world.  Remaining authentic may be difficult but ultimately leads to success…whatever that is.

This year’s “sloppy” abstraction was last year’s geometric forms and will be next year’s figuration

No more crystalline shapes, no more stripes.  There was a moment in the recent past when you could not throw a stone at an art fair without hitting a triangle on a canvas.  This is the bizarre world of painting, where shapes fall in and out of style.  Seriously, though, this at least gave way to the paradoxically sloppy yet well thought out abstraction that seemed to dominate painting this year.  More importantly it made painting in general interesting once again.  Artists and viewers alike seem ready to explore the nuances of the medium, to take the medium seriously in a way that hasn’t been done in a very long time.  I may sound like I’m overstating it, but I don’t think I am.

It is because of this more deliberate approach that I think that fans of the medium are ready to consider figuration again.  For a long time figuration has been a sort of conceptual obscenity in painting.  Thus, I’m excited for its return.  This is the prediction I’m probably most confident with.  I’m pretty sure before you get to Miami in 2014 you can say something like “NADA is definitely going to be dominated by figurative/representational painting this year” and not look like a fool.  If I end up being totally off, send me angry email –  I’ll promptly read it delete it.

The lesson I learned here is how much a medium can conceptually blossom once given the consideration it’s due.  Great art seems to be the product of an animated give and take, the result of boring things like accountability, refinement, conversations, practice, persistence.

ART AT BAY Best of 2013: This Year’s…Was Last Year’s…and Will Be Next Year’s…

On the Crazy-as-Kim-Jong-Il Economics of the Art World – part two

This article is the second of a two-part series on fair wages for artists.  The first part addressed labor practice inequalities when it come to artists.  You can read that article here.

While writing this post I had thought of local shining examples in artist compensation and others I would like to see improve.  After some consideration, though, I decided to leave out any specific names of organizations to avoid undue attention or embarrassment.   

In my previous article I made the dumb assumption that everyone is aware of how artists generally get paid.  There’s a number of ways an artist’s pay-day comes around.  To pretend I’m not generalizing would be irresponsible (I’m admittedly not getting into grants, residencies, etc. here).  For the most part, artists don’t get paid to exhibit their work.

Typically artists produce and exhibit work free of charge.  Artists are usually only compensated with the actual sale of a piece.  A commercial gallery will commonly receive a 40-50% commission on the sale.  Expecting commercial galleries to be benevolent, though, is not only naive but unfair.  That’s why I’ll be leaving them out of this conversation.

In regards to getting paid as an artist, non-profit spaces are much more variable.  Some non-profits expect commissions comparable to commercial galleries while others don’t charge any commission.  In fact, there are many non-profit spaces that do award honorariums, stipends, etc. that pay artists to produce and exhibit art.

However, the group W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) have produced studies that show 58% of artists in New York City do not get paid to exhibit their work in non-profit spaces.  In the state with the highest per-capita arts funding in the nation, over half of artists do not get paid to exhibit their work at non-profit spaces.  You can imagine what the same statistic would look like in Florida, the state with the nation’s second lowest per-capita arts funding.

With that in mind, calling out our local non-profits on unfair artist compensation when those institutions themselves are being unfairly under-funded gets morally complex.  A director for an area arts center once related to me that the bulk of their funds must unfortunately be directed to very inartistic expenses such as rent.  However, the difficulty of providing fair wages doesn’t warrant abandoning it altogether.  The art blog Hyperallergic quotes W.A.G.E presenter A. K. Burns as saying “nonprofits get money from different sources for public education, and the artist is the educator. We are wondering why the artist isn’t being paid?”  Consider our local non-profit art centers and spaces: don’t the art and artists presented at these centers/spaces furnish as much cultural value as their paid instructors?  Answering ‘yes’ to this question produces an obligation to similarly compensate artists.

Paying artists fair wages doesn’t necessarily mean increasing an institution’s budget (by very much, at least).  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of budget planning for non-profit art institutions, but feel free to research how this has already been done at various venues.  Basically, fair artist compensation can be achieved when an institution shifts its focus to viewing artists as educators with cultural value.  While institutions would need to reduce the number of exhibits per year to offset costs, the exhibits would become more culturally valuable.  When artists are fairly compensated with capital rather than “exposure”, the nature of the artwork changes: rather than choosing art that is market-pandering, art is chosen on the merits of its cultural value.

I won’t doubt that this issue is controversial.  The idea of compensating artists for their cultural services rather than the commodity they produce is contrary to a very old arts tradition.  The art world is now a place where a very small number of artists are paid a wildly high amount of money while most get paid nothing to very little.  With serious prioritizing of funds and values perhaps the art world can be a place where most artists make a decent living.

For further investigation:

  • I couldn’t have entirely addressed this issue without reading three articles from the art blog Hyperallergic.  You can find them here, here, and here.
  • W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) are a New York based group working for fair artist wages.  You can find their website here.
  • CARFAC is a Canadian organization that acts as a voice for and in the socio-economic interests of visual artists.  A great example of an organization that could serve American artists well.  Check out what they do here.  Also, have a gander at their minimum fee schedule here for an idea of what artists should be getting paid.
On the Crazy-as-Kim-Jong-Il Economics of the Art World – part two

Information Overlord’s Weekend Reading Guide 1/27-1/29

This week’s installment of ‘Weekend Reading’ is a Short Attention Span Extravaganza!  I bought a Nook this week.  Suffice it to say that I’ve been reading on it non-stop to justify the purchase and convince myself I’ll actually use an e-reader.  Now that Sunday is here no more reading for me.  No more reading for anyone!  Enjoy these links.

As Barbie well illustrates, everyone in the history of art could go on a diet.
  • This video is at once annoying and endearing.  Annoying when I hear this silliness in galleries but I know it comes out of my mouth too.  It’s the eternal art paradox: the art world’s favorite pastime of making fun of itself for taking itself to seriously.  This is sh*t the art world says.
  • Film noir wished it was as cool as Weegee.   Weegee: Muder is my Business is seriously the title of the new exhibition at the International Center of Photography on the work of crime photographer, Weegee.  This guy lived a noir.  If you’re not familiar with his work this slide show can illustrate.
  • You may have seen the art meme of the pepper spraying cop sauntering through art history.  Now Barbie gives it a go.  The ubiquitous doll sits in for some of history’s most famous works of art.  More disturbing than amusing for what it has to say about our wildly unrealistic ideal female body.  This slide show is at the Guardian.
  • …and originally from wactbprot…Mondrian Pong.

Today in awesome…Mondrian Pong</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>sfmoma:</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>First Mondrian cake, then Mondrian shoes… now Mondrian pong? What’s next!?<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
artisandoflove:</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>lf:</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>on art history / zur kunstwissenschaft, nr. 279</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Love.</p><br /><br /><br /><br />

Information Overlord’s Weekend Reading Guide 1/27-1/29