Monday, May 01, 2006

Holy Trinity of the Contemporary Art World

A new biography takes the measure of Clement Greenberg. "The power of critics such as Clement Greenberg in art or Edmund Wilson in literature -- both did much to shape elite and popular taste in the mid-20th century -- is hard to imagine today. Contemporary art is self-parodic and insulated against Greenberg's style of criticism, and art-world success is now determined almost exclusively in the marketplace, not on the printed page." Wall Street Journal 04/29/06

I spend more than my fair share of time harping on the illegitimacy of having critics decide the direction of the art world. Occasionally, I also meander into the territory of questioning whether or not the majority of art dealers are “qualified” to decide the aesthetic value of artwork based simply on sales figures. Those opinions are not as similar as they may at first seem. While critics often fall into the category of non-artists (not always, but still very often this is the case); they still maintain a level of professionalism based in a heavy foundation of specialized art knowledge, typically from some of the finest art history programs in the country.

Private Art Dealers or Gallerists often fall into one of three categories:

1. An Artist that desperately wanted representation, but couldn’t get it, so opened a private gallery and shows own work and work of friends. Very often, these galleries eventually turn into co-op galleries because the artist that started the exhibition space wants more time to actually “make art” rather than play receptionist to the space and work the books to figure out how to pay for those two cases of wine for the next opening.

2. An “I don’t know Art, but I know what I like” – type of art patron, that is uninformed enough to believe that a gallery is the perfect financially-secure first opportunity at entrepreneurship. There are unlimited examples of these galleries hiding within major art centers in the country. In extreme instances of ignorance these are the same people that “purchase” ownership ventures in “Thomas Kincaid” and other giclee-print-only galleries.

3. True patrons of the arts that started as collectors or even art historians/critics and take the time to understand the “process” of artists. They stay in the business, even in financially-lean times, simply for the love of art.

I pointedly am only interested in discussing the "private" galleries/institutions in this post. Thank God for that last one, because those are often saviours for artists. So how does this paradox play out? Between the critic and the gallerist, which is more detrimental to the art world as a whole? As artists, we often tend to introvert ourselves to the point of forgetting the “Holy Trinity” of survival in the contemporary art world.

1. Artists

2. Critics

3. Dealers/Gallerists

We need each other. Unfortunately, we also have a responsibility to our chosen profession (as well as the future notoriety of our individual works) to expose the hacks. I’m always on the look-out for the top echelon of dire individuals to the art world.

1. Artists that produce non-representational work simply because they were too lazy to ever take the time to learn (and practice) technical perfection.

2. Critics with a “power-trip” axe to grind.

3. Dealers/Gallerists that view the art market as a potential “get-rich-quick-scheme”.

I feel I probably only need to clarify the first one of those three. I have a deep-seated respect and adoration for non-representational art, half the marks in my scrolls fall into that category. But as a graduate of a college art program, I can attest to the ridiculous number of students that made non-representational art simply because it was viewed as easier than majoring in business. These were the same students that complained about “having to take life drawing courses” or “how they slept through those boring art history courses”. - DN

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