Life’s Hard, Wear a Helmet
I have a real job and I live in Philadelphia and I care about other things (like my mother being into tea parties and health-care and the world seemingly going to a frozen hell) so art world controversies fall to my peripheral notice until I am able to take them out (about once a month) and examine them. When I do get the chance it is a little hard to get all worked up, because as far as I can see things are business as usual and what it amounts to is institutions, artists, gallerists, collectors and etc. working very hard to make a living in one ever-growing art world food web in which the collectors/people with money/institutions are the top predators and most artists are smaller one-celled organisms eaten by just about everything.
The thing about a food web is that, as it turns out; we all need each other to survive.
The subject of this review is the exhibition at Winkleman Gallery , a quasi-response to an up-coming New Museum exhibition. The organizers of “#class” are William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton who both have acquired a reputation for questioning the art world establishment. Philadelphia readers may remember both their work from “Air Kissing: An Exhibition of Contemporary Art about the Art World” shown at Arcadia University in March of 2008.
Back Story (Or–Why a quasi-response to “The New Museum Controversy” is thought necessary):
In March the New Museum will open with an exhibition that will showcase contemporary art owned by a single private collector who is also a museum trustee. (Read the New York Times article on the matter.) The single private collector is Dakis Joannou, who has had the good fortune to have the money and inclination to buy a lot of Jeff Koons. His collection is usually over in Athens and hasn’t been seen by much of the United States. Another thing critical parties are concerned about is that Jeff Koons himself is curating the exhibition from Mr. Joannou’s collection. It does not take genius to know that this museum exhibition will raise the value of Dakis Joannou’s collection, the value of Koon’s work and both of their reputations (which are all rather valuable already).
On the other hand, the public profits by being given access to a collection they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see (unless they cannot afford the $12 museum admission).
I am tempted to not give a fuck about Dakis Joannou’s collection being exhibited at the New Museum. If it is a good collection why should the museum not take advantage of the resources of the people affiliated with it? My one complaint is that the exhibition may be completely boring to people who regularly visit big museums, if all Mr. Joannou has collected is names like Koons then most of us will have seen the show already.
Visiting an Exhibition that is a Series of Events
Winkleman Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday 11-6pm, “#class” events happen from Wednesday-Sunday 2-8pm. This means that when visiting the gallery you may not be there when anything is happening and there is no assurance that when something does happen that it will be very interesting.
You are assured of seeing a chalkboard that runs along the walls, with complaints and possible solutions to the myriad of problems artists face scrawled upon it in a rainbow of chalk. There are also black folding chairs, some comfier black chairs, a web cam that could be live-streaming your interaction with the space’s goings ons, and at least one end table with a plastic cylinder half-full of rocks by way of centerpiece. There is also a little “market space” in the back where artworks actually made by Dalton and Powhida are on view and are sold by a highest-bidder application process.
I arrived on scene at 2 pm during the most recent snowmageddon and sat for twenty minutes watching Jennifer Dalton rearrange some tables. Everyone was friendly but I felt too nervous and out of place to really interact, so after asking what was going on that day I decided to see some other things and come back at 4 pm for a discussion on “Success”.
When I came back there was a small crowd of people, a couple of beers, and an informal discussion on success as an artist, with topics ranging from how you can have it– to what success as an artist actually means. Perhaps most interesting to myself was a comment by Powhida pertaining to using art writing as a strategy to enter the art world, which I’ve realized is something you could do but have never heard expressed before. There were other topics of course, some pertaining to how submitting images to a gallery doesn’t work, how the most-networked artist seems to win, how creating a myth about yourself helps, and how sticking to the same subject matter works; but I think the over-all feeling was that success is an elusive animal and there may not be any concrete advice to give anyone except possibly the ever awesome; don’t give up. (Unless you actually really suck and then you should do something else.)
During all of this it was more then a little awkward to be one of the few “outsiders”, everything was New York centric and I couldn’t help to wonder at no one having a world-view of success that didn’t involve the New York art-world. I believe I was also the only one in the room without a graduate’s degree–or with a bachelor’s from somewhere as “backward” as Ohio. If you are of the faint of heart variety–or just far away– you can follow everything online, as all happenings are live-streamed from the “#class” blogspot. Despite my awkwardness I actually had a fun time talking shop and suggest visiting in real time while something is happening (bring beer). I was most impressed with Edward Winkleman who was there and seemed really nice.
Cry me a River
Some comments left upon the chalk board were “there are too many artists and nothing to rebel against”. This seems especially poignant when considering that the “New Museum Controversy” seems so out-of-joint that it could almost be fabricated. (An apt comment on The New York Times reads: “Much ado about not-so-much. The main bone of contention is apparently a potential increase in the value of Koons’ work–but, as the article notes, Koons is a contemporary art-world “superstar.” An exhibition of his work at the New Museum will not therefore greatly affect his status. Given that the collector and trustee has agreed to not sell any part of the collection from the walls, I can’t see any significant conflict of interest in this case: Koons is huge, and the New Museum is in proportion to his current status.”) Controversy begets controversy and without fail it will bring more people out to see your exhibition. Journalists like it because it gives them an angle to write about and most people like gossip.
“# class” will capitalize on the controversy of the New Museum exhibition. Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida already capitalize on making transparentish the intricacies and eccentricities of the art-world and their reputations will grow as a part of “# class”. It makes one wonder if anything is actually a controversy or merely an opportunity for someone or other to get their own work noticed or their name/gallery spoken of.
I am reminded of being a young artist and saying something to a friend about this or that person “selling out” to which my wiser friend replied “you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t have done that had it been offered to you.” I never said it out loud but my friend was right. The truth is that some people make it big and others do not, just like some people are born ugly and some beautiful, some complaints artists make may be legitimate and need to be acted on but a great majority of them probably stem from jealously and bitterness about the hand of fate.
In Between Times
I’m a nerd. The reason I participate in the art world is to experience singular moments of great joy when in the presence of great beauty; whether that comes from an idea or the actual physical manifestation of beauty I could care less. These moments are few and far between, my solace in the long stretches between experiencing them are instances of snarkiness and cleverness like the exhibition currently on view at Ed Winkleman.
Art about art, or for its own sake, has been proven to be able to provide those moments of singular expression, I caution that art about the art world may not be able to. Pure enjoyment may be tied to a naivety that all this transparency will forever do away with. Sometimes too much information is just that.
Now that I am at the end of my essay I have re-read it and feel that, although I don’t want to change anything– my over-all tone is pretty negative. To clear it up: I like #class, I’ll probably drop in again during the course of the show. If this exhibition does nothing else it reaffirms the fact that there is a community of artists (including curators, dealers, gallerists and collectors) that underneath it all; care about each other and take their practice very seriously.