Romanticism – Gray Flannel Artists

What we are doing in this ongoing series on Romanticism is adjusting your vision. We’re not interested in the usual Postmodern discussion formats or the same institutional approaches to the same kind of painting. Nor are we interested in looking back to a golden age. We are simply trying to find and describe a new vision, a new approach that will take us beyond the limits of the 20th Century; Modernism and Postmodernism.

Since the emergence of the Postmodern “executive artists” in the 1960s the way art is made, experienced and perceived has changed dramatically. And as artists have become more invested in the Art Market we’ve seen them espousing philosophies and practices that parallel those cherished by the larger business community. This has brought about an International Style, a Global School, an Institutional economy, and a singular approach to the production, presentation and dissemination of Art. The Romantic artist can not exist as he or she once did, nor can today’s Romantic artist make art (especially painting) in the old ways with the old visions. We are beyond that, we can’t afford that sort of naivety. That being said our “executive artists” can not EVER reach for something higher and grander than the professional world of business art – the market for the Gray Flannel artist can not, will not move beyond the simplicity of advertising, the uniformity of production or the ubiquity of copyright. What has been lost in the age of our executive artists is VISION; personal, grand and thrilling. Something that incorporates both the high and the low, the ridiculous and the sublime, the life of the mind and the emotion of the heart. These have all become scary things to talk about or paint because they require revealing oneself, declaring what one is, what one does. This is anathema for any executive. Maintaining a fluid essence is paramount in a constantly changing economic environment. In business one must cultivate the appearance that one can be all things to all potential customers.

Another change to the making of art since 1960 involved a shift away from aesthetic innovation to legal confrontation. Appropriation is the preferred tool for re-contextualizing the endless torrent of cultural product that is produced in the hyper-replicating lens based programming industry. Everything, every image, every program, book, song or movie is available at anytime in any form or format for a price. The way we define original acts is no longer in their creation but in their re-creation. The problem therefore is not with a history of constant aesthetic innovation; we are in a Post-aesthetic era. The problem is institutional – legal – copyright. There may never be another real uproar over aesthetic change or “dangerous” thought – radical ideas are quickly applied, subsumed or rejected through economic potentialities. Cultural ideas are marketed and tested with the consumer through spectacle and entertainment. (That is part of the reason there are no REAL critics any longer – there are only art writers.) The success of “art” is determined in the market place not through visual power or argument. The cultural uproar over the works of Picasso, Matisse or Pollock, the legal problems that faced James Joyce and Henry Miller – these are now the tattered remnants of aesthetic arguments in the Modernist age. These problems existed because there was a separation between culture, economics and politics. However in the Postmodern age these elements of an advanced society have all been subsumed into a larger institution – Empire. Business determines all aspects of the production and innovation of cultural products. There are no distinctions made between the facets of Empire – one feeds into the other – it is a vast tautological economy designed around the production, distribution and sales of goods and services. The artist no longer works outside the system, no longer works in spite of the system. Everything is business, and therefore, the professional artist is regulated by the same economic, legal and political institutions as any other business professional. Today when an artist breaks the rules he is challenging regulation, legal precedent rather than historical aesthetic precedent. The civil action has become the final arbiter of artistic success. The artist is seen as a “defendant” and if he loses the action the art is sanctified as “illegal” by the court. Litigation has replaced innovation, and in a weird twist, the Courts now decide if a work is “avant grade”. Business is truly the best art in the Postmodern age, and the Gray Flannel Artist works to fulfill business precepts.

I’ve been pulling together some things that may illustrate these points. We are used to reading about and seeing painting about painting, art about art, art about media experience, the end of the personal, the pictures generation, relational aesthetics, extended fields, conceptual practices – you name it, we live in an age of art product. Art has become full of business philosophies about market economies, production practices and executive cultures thinly disguised as art philosophies. These are all things that we must understand if we are to do something else, SEE something else, if we are to make a difference on the “canvas”.

“About what Judd contemptuously called “the salient and most objectionable relics of European art,” he was nothing if not explicit: “It suits me fine,” he said in a radio interview in 1964, “if that’s all down the drain.” He clearly meant it, too, for what was needed, in his view, was an art that would radically occlude all connection not only with the great traditions of the distant past but also with the kind of latter day modernism that he had come to regard as the depleted remnants of a moribund culture. For Judd, art itself had become a utopian project.” Hilton Kramer “Does Abstract Art Have a Future?”

“I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Grover Norquist

“With the Schmagoo paintings, I really wanted to be able to be careless … work on them for a while, crumple them up in a ball, throw them in the corner. It was a relief. I like the idea that someone could spill a glass of wine on one of these things and it would be no big deal.” Joe Bradley

“You have enough to worry about…a messy stain should not be one of them!” Oxyclean

“…No subject/No image/No taste/ No object/No beauty/No message/No talent/No technique…I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in these paintings that could not be changed, that they can be seen in any light and are not destroyed by the action of shadows…” John Cage on the occasion of a showing of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings.

“…practitioners of the shock doctrine tend to seek a blank slate on which to create their ideal free market economies, which inevitably requires a usually violent destruction of the existing economic order.” Wikipedia entry for the Shock Doctrine.

“The business of America is Business.” Calvin Coolidge

“Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.” Andy Warhol

In a free-enterprise, private-property sys­tem, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct re­sponsibility to his employers. That responsi­bility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while con­forming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom. Milton Friedman “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”

“This is about chaos. This is why it’s called Operation Chaos! It’s not called Operation Save Hillary. It’s not called Operation Nominate Obama. It’s called Operation Chaos! The dream end… I mean, if people say what’s your exit strategery, the dream end of this is that this keeps up to the convention and that we have a replay of Chicago 1968, with burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots, and all of that. That’s the objective here.” Rush Limbaugh “Why It’s Called Operation Chaos”

“Only conservatives believe that subversion is still being carried on in the arts and that society is being shaken by it. Advanced art today is no longer a cause /it contains no moral imperative. There is no virtue in clinging to principles and standards, no vice in selling or in selling out.” Harold Rosenberg “The Cultural Situation Today”

What would it look like not to repress the concept of the copy? What would it look like to produce a work that acted out the discourse of reproductions without originals, that discourse which could only operate in Mondrian’s work as the inevitable subversion of his purpose, the residue of representationality that he could not sufficiently purge from the domain of his paintings? The answer to this, or at least one answer, is that it would look like a certain kind of play with the notions of photographic reproduction that begins in the silkscreen canvases of Robert Rauschenberg…. Rosalind Kraus “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths”

“Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial Institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks – when one fails, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crises less likely, but when they happen they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. We have moved from a diversified ecology of small banks, with varied lending policies, to a more homogeneous framework of firms that all resemble one another. True, we now have fewer failures, but when they occur ….I shiver at the thought.” Nassim Taleb “The Black Swan”

Avant-garde art, lately Americanized, is for the first time associated with big money. And this is because its occult aims and uncertain future have been successfully translated into homely terms. For far-out modernism, we can now read ‘speculative growth stock’; for apparent quality, ‘market attractiveness’; and for adverse change of taste, ‘technical obsolesence’. A feat of language to absolve a change of attitude. Art is not, after all, what we thought it was; in the broadest sense it is hard cash. The whole of art, its growing tip included, is assimilated to familiar values. Another decade, and we shall have mutual funds based on securities in the form of pictures held in bank vaults. Leo Steinberg, “Other Criteria” 1968

In January the Paris-based A&F Markets launched the online Art Exchange — on which investors can buy and sell shares in individual art-works — to a mixed reception. “Can an online exchange turn artworks into liquid assets?” Judd Tully Art Info

Josh Smith wanted to create a show of paintings that looked like something else. The intention was to make “art without an art object” and to take the commodity out of the art. There is nothing in the exhibition to covet or to buy. The work is only to be looked at. He wanted to “bring painting down.””

“What makes painting “impossible”? What makes “great” painting impossible? Perhaps it is a sense of belatedness, a conviction that an earlier generation or artist has left only a few scraps to be cleaned up. Or maybe, at a particular moment, in a particular life and history, nothing could seem more presumptuous or inappropriate—maybe even obscene—than to set out to create a masterpiece. Impossibility can also be the result of the artist making excessive demands on the work, demands to which current practice has no reply. At a certain moment, in a certain studio, it appears that great painting may be impossible, that painting of any kind may be impossible. Nonetheless, for whatever reasons pertaining to a particular painter at a particular time, painting must be done, must go on.” Raphael Rubenstein Provisional Painting

Prince testified that he has no interest in the original meaning of the photographs he uses. See RP Tr. at 338. Prince testified that he doesn’t really have a “message” he attempts to communicate when making art. RP Tr. at 45-46. In creating the Paintings, Prince did not intend to comment on any aspects of the original works or on the broader culture. Cariou v. Prince et al.

The Romantic artist no longer exists and the legacy of engagement, rebellion and innovation OUTSIDE the accepted structures of taste has been lost. These days I’m thinking that it has become time to paint and talk about art that is “presumptuous or inappropriate-maybe even obscene”. Ideas that wouldn’t be understood by the crowds accustomed to institutionally sanctioned critique. Ideas that would fly in the aesthetic face of global brand consciousness and business first attitudes in the Art World. Something that is one’s own, wrought with one’s own sweat and effort and sacrifice, expressing one’s own unique vision, one’s own will to be different, not for the sake of difference but because one is truly different.

Memory & the Real

Power, Corruption & Lies, released in March 1983 (by New Order), was a synthesizer-based outing and a dramatic change in sound from Joy Division and the preceding album, although the band had been hinting at the increased use of technology during the music-making process for a number of years then, including their work as Joy Division. Starting from what earlier singles had hinted, this was where the band had found their footing, mixing early techno music with their earlier guitar-based sound and showing the strong influence of acts like Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder.”

Where do we find “reality” these days? When the virtual and the physical collide what happens to our vision? How do we “see” our lives, the things we love, the world of our memories? Is it all a little off kilter, slightly slanted through our own dematerialized electronic vision or are we seeing reality for what it is? Is there any objectivity to our subjective desires when can not “see” without our technological extensions? In Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” there’s that famous bit of “reality hunger” stretched across the bottom of the painting. It’s a weird unknown thing intruding into our vision. When you look at it from one point perspective the life of the time is there in front of you, a picture perfect lens representation of two very grand individuals and all of their worldly goods. Step to the side and suddenly the picture goes out of sync. What comes into focus is a Momento Mori, a skull rises up before you in crystal clear optical perfection – Death. Somewhere between the straight on picture perfection and the side-stepped optical play we are being chided by the artist to remember that even though we may find this vision of power and opulence desirous, it is ephemeral. A slight adjustment to one’s perspective and a new reality will intrude.

Rauschenberg uttered his famous tag line about the gap between art and life at the beginning of our Postmodern Age. The gap was, at first, used to cleanse Modernism of its visual past and open it to new interpretations. It was a step to the side. However, this facile answer to the Gordian challenge of the time was quickly institutionalized and used to carve out meaning from painting, history and memory. This process changed how we related to what Art could be, how we experienced it and how we made it. 60 years later, Rauschenberg’s gap, intended to create new critiques and new forms, is nothing but a factory tool used to manufacture art products for a consumer-directed, top down Art Investment Economy. In painting after painting we can see the workings of the well-worn shop tools of appropriation, deconstruction and dematerialization used to produce institutionally sanctioned product, i.e., the well-made art object. We’ve grown enamored with the reality engendered through this one point perspective in our Art, on our screens and in our lives. It turns out that we’ve grown comfortable submerged in the gap. We’re not interested in climbing out. Like the beautiful vision of power and opulence in Holbein’s piece we’ve grown accustomed to looking straight onto the picture plane. “What you see is what you see!”

I saw a work by Michael Zahn in a group show a few years ago and it stuck with me – it was the best thing in the show actually. It looked slightly off, not that it didn’t work in the show with the other abstractions – it did. It just didn’t fit comfortably with the other works – it was unique. The painting was very simple really. Four canvases stacked one on the other, done in a “minimal” style, using high keyed color, like the color projected from a video monitor. The “paintings” were representations of the “notes” program on a Mac. They were stacked, like they are in that program, blank, ready to be filled. I thought they were as bold as you please, out there on the wall. Stella and Halley came to mind immediately, but with a difference. They weren’t necessarily about systems, or about mathematics, or even about “minimalism” – but about memory. They stayed with me, troubling me, as I walked through Chelsea blowing in and out of the galleries. What notes? Why the insistent color? Why am I supposed to remember something? Why was the program now actually in my fucking space, or worse, maybe I was in the program? I was perplexed by the idea of the empty reminder – was I supposed to fill these stacked things with my thoughts, ideas, passing quandaries? I had a nagging feeling that I had forgotten something, something important, and the reminder, glaring right at me, was daring me to come up with the memory, to fill in the blanks. That painting was inscrutible, it didn’t declare anything. Michael wanted us to remember, to think, and all he gave us was this bright, colorful “nothing,” this painting, a thing that looked like a program. He had depicted the pure Neo-Platonic beauty humming beneath the program’s surface. The painting was neatly scrubbed clean through and presented as an airless electronic representation. This painting rematerialized on the other side of the program, and suddenly, I felt I had to step sideways to understand what I was looking at. Beautiful, distrubing.

In many of Michael’s works he reveals the mechanics of optical electronic images as they unfold in the virtual world. You can see the packets of information sterilized right on the surface of the Modernist grid. The painting freezes the download, cauterizes the process of appearance in the paint, subverts the Postmodern quotation. In his paintings we are given the mathematical precision of “reality” unfolding in equations. Michael then uses this blunt optical language of manufactured Minimalism to drop the processes of algorithmic imagery right into our laps. The stretcher bar is wide, at times, like Stella’s or Halley’s, pushing the image away from the wall, creating a thicker presentation surface. This tends to remove the image from the wall while it’s being disguised as an emphatic thing – a trope of Post-Minimal painting. But instead of the “thing” we are confronted with our very own Postmodern ground. The image doesn’t project into our space like an image on the screen. It insinuates itself into the space of the room. It’s both virtual image and physical reality, ground and thing. As we confront this unfolding download something changes in our perception. We are participating in a tangential optical PROCESS as it manifests the codes of the image in paint. Michael is wrenching information from the nebulous electronic ground and re-presenting it as reality. Something isn’t right any longer with the way we see these things. Our vision has been tainted by the “gap.” We’ve stepped sideways again.

It’s there that we begin to see that this electronic approximation of an image has warped our idea of what painting should do, of what a painting should be. The surety and fixity of the surfaces of Judd or Stella, the fictive systems of Halley, have all gone viral in Michael’s work. We can not submerge our vision into the ground or slide away on the surface. In the reality of the space of the gallery, our physical memories must become more important, more real – they cause a glitch in the program. It’s as if this approximation of “reality” forces us to side step away from our fixed point of view and the predetermined outcomes of the Postmodern program. Visual touch becomes imperative to understanding while we’re looking at this unsettling discursive reality. We have to fill in the blanks, manipulate the virtual while it unfolds in painted time. This is a different kind of painterliness, one that doesn’t drip down the surface in a false approximation of brand-like stylishness. We discover that our lives must provide these blank surfaces with our memories, provide a depth of focus to the blurred boundaries of these unfolding equations. The work’s stark, beautiful, unapologetic color tugs at our physical perceptions. It pushes us to move away from the single point perspective. We feel our fleshy existence edge forward against the program, and when we do, we come up against the idea of painting itself. The subject, our existence, comes into sharp, chrystalline focus against the god damned thing.

Michael used the image of New Order’s album cover from a jpeg found on the internet. Originally, the picture was a work by Fantin-Latour, a 19th Century academic realist, who probably used lenses and mathematics to make his works. The record cover, a reproduction of that painting, also included a coded color chart corresponding to information about the record. In Michael’s painting he has sought out and isolated part of this online image in pixels, and he has made the “coded” color chart different and more emphatic. The color chart changes its meaning as it intensifies and enlarges it’s colors. Nothing on the surface of Michael’s painting is quite as the original or the replication as presented – the painting, the album cover or the virtual image. But the feeling implicit in those images persists. In the blur and buzz of Michael’s painting we feel that maybe we’ve forgotten something important about what we are looking at.

Fantin-Latour’s painting is a Momento Mori. It’s a still life exploring the emphemeral nature of beauty, sex and death, depicted in a 19th century, academically sanctioned, lens-based image. The flowers are in full bloom just a day or two away from browning, wilting and dying. This moment of beauty lasts for a very short time, and it’s just time enough for us to step sideways, to relish that ephemeral moment in this painting. For a generation that was coming to age during the 1980s this image would prove to be prescient. The record cover based on the image commemorates and celebrates fragility – for the band New Order, the end of one time and the beginning of another. The connections to art history, academic still life painting, youthful rebellion, coded visual language, and beauty, sex and rock & roll open our memories to older art forms and new understanding. All of this is “pixelated” through Michael’s painting of the replication of the reproduction. But the download is not done for us. The grid remains unfilled and Michael dares us to fill it in – but with what? There is no Postmodern irony at work, no direct critique of the mediated experience. The painting demands a different encounter, one connected to our own memories. It’s here that my thoughts, my experience, begin to work with the image and with the “thing.” Rather than falling into the ground or skating over the surface I had to reach further inward to understand the vision. This for me is a Romantic encounter.

What is happening, for a few of us, is that we are looking to find something lost, something glossed over, something that was raw and imperative to painting, something that could speak to the relevance and history of vision in our own time. Memories of certain moments in our lives, certain spaces, sounds, and touch all come to play through that vision, through the way that we see. Those are moments that can be and have been lost to the cynical Postmodern sense of nostalgia. So much of painting these days is about nostalgia, about some former greatness of visual encounter. But in the gauzy, mediated experience of Provisional Painting this sort of nostalgia is false and absurd. It’s something thoughtful painters should guard against, something to react against. Painting isn’t precious. It’s should be tougher, more powerful than that. To engage VISUALLY one must remember. Memory is not the same thing as nostalgia. Memory is viscous, it’s alive and critical. It doesn’t create a glow of comfort or wonder. It doesn’t yearn for the better days or the promise of youth. Memory is subjective history, all good and bad at the same time. It points out our short comings and reveals our strengths – it is bittersweet. Michael understands this and uses it unflinchingly in his best works. The idea of the replication, of the empty ground, refers us back onto our own histories and Michael pushes us to remember – the vision, the image, the space, the passcode. His paintings don’t re-present the past with the glow of a warmed over present. He doesn’t gently nudge the confines of academic styles. Michael pushes us into our own memories through the downloading image. He demands that we engage with our humanity even as the technological sublime washes away our physical connections.

It’s an active visual engagement with persistent history that twists the replication into an older visual tradition, and for me, it echos and re-presents a true Romantic encounter in this mediated age. Romanticism as it manifested through the Modern Era always took us into the unexplored self of both the painter and the viewer. The great works bring us back to our visual touch, the physical memory inherent in vision, and the feeling we get when we REALLY see something through and through. That emotional connection is about our own humanity. That feeling comes from memory not some manufactured idea of reality, or some ad man’s idea of comfort, or some academic’s clever appropriation. It’s the part of us that makes each of us truly unique, truly human. I’ve stepped sideways in front a few of Michael’s paintings because they describe this moment, this time. They remind me that I’ve forgotten and they dare me to remember.

Fast Links

d richmond at Immaterial Culture is starting a series on the historical development of the art academy.

“It is my opinion, that we are in a severe period of academization within the commercial art world. Not that this is news, this is a cyclic occurrence and it is a result of post modernism, post-modernism though as an actual historical condition rather than a conceptual conceit although the end result is that we are belabored with far too many works that are based on the conceptual conceit or more succinctly thinking within the box.”

Jonathan Jones has once again hit on the right nerve with his new post on Picasso’s VISUAL importance for the 21st Century.

“On first glance, Pablo Picasso is the last artist you would expect the 21st century to admire. He was unapologetically and aggressively selfish, not just in life but as an artist. He did not care if any other artist learned anything from him – he preferred to be unique. He has therefore not “influenced” a young artist since the days of Francis Bacon and Jackson Pollock. There is not much to connect his paintings, sculptures or collages with the art of this century.”

Jackie Saccoccio (“She’s the hinge around everything and everyone,’’ collaborator Nader Tehrani said, watching her work with the installation crew. “She brings the accidents and the subconscious compositions together.’’) has curated a show at RISD entitled COLLISION. “Hinge” or not, Jackie is a wonderful painter and a thoughtful curator.

Inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines” and his belief that the world can be viewed as a “gigantic painting from which to crop,” guest curator and abstract painter Jackie Saccoccio (RISD BFA ’85) invited 17 artists to contribute to the project….”

Filthy Lucre and other things…

(Warning to our more squeamish readers – This post is not necessarily about Art and it may bore you to tears – so read on at your own choosing. We’ll have more on Romanticism shortly!)

The Art Circus has come to town and an endless parade of clowns are spilling out of an impossibly small car. I have mixed feelings about these things. The fairs are strictly about commerce, entertainment and mostly money, money, and more money. Every year at this time the very wealthy, the very glamorous, and the well connected show up to be feted beyond avarice by the toadying hoards holding buckets to catch the trickle down. This behavior, institutionalized in the pre-teens by the art economy, has changed little in the last few years of economic disaster, because for the most part, the market collapse in 2008 was mitigated for the wealthy shoppers by trillions of tax dollars pumped back into their deflated portfolios.

What was private equity’s key to survival during the financial crisis? A set of “get-out-of-jail-free cards,” Guy Hands, the chairman of Terra Firma Capital Partners, said Wednesday at the SuperReturn conference here. Those lifelines included the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bailouts of the European banks and the liquidity pumped into the markets by central banks. “Because of all these three, our businesses and our portfolios look a lot better today than they did at the end of 2008. But, in truth, we ourselves didn’t have as much to do with this rebound as we sometimes tended to claim,” Mr. Hands said.”

But for many middle class Americans the money pumped back into those glamorous portfolios also helped mitigate the losses in their quotidian 401K retirement accounts. Part of the reason that the government HAD to involve themselves so extensively in the flattened market was because so much of the stock market is made up of the retirement accounts of middle class Americans. The market crashed just as we were beginning to feel the effects of the tsunami of retiring Boomers who will be relying on those accounts to live. The choice was simple. No TARP, a whole new class of elderly poor would suddenly manifest before our eyes. The 401K, filled with mutual funds that invest in packets of stocks and bonds, bound rank & file workers’ retirement accounts to the Private Equity lifestyle accounts of the equestrian classes. It’s almost like the 401k is PE’s hostage, er…hedge. They go down and 51 million American families bite the dust as well.

More Than 51 Million U.S. Households Owned Mutual Funds in 2010 Assets in U.S.-registered investment companies— mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), closed- end funds, and unit investment trusts (UITs)—totaled $11.5 trillion as of mid-year 2010.”

In order to save the elderly middle class from standing in Bread Lines EVERY American’s “invisible” debt increased to about $176,000 according to the online Debt Clock. We are all in – up to our eye balls – just to continue the games that were played before the meltdown. And make no mistake about it, those are the same games that made us all believe that we were going to be millionaires through compounding interest, 8 percent returns and a sold out show to Saatchi. So, thanks to the intricate codependency of the top down American economy and trillions of tax dollars, Art Dealers can still line up to rent booths at these fairs for thousands and thousands of dollars per day. The magnificent Charlie Finch puts it all into perspective once again in his post entitled “Against Art Fairs“:

“What results is that galleries are thrust into a cut-throat capitalist confluence of product development and cost competition which leads to huge turnover in art fair participation. On the one hand, it must be admitted, the excess cash of the very rich is so substantial that this art factory system continues to thrive even when the rest of world capitalism is in the sewer.”

Ok, I’ve probably lost most of you at this point and that’s ok. Really, who gives a crap about ‘real world’ economics? We all, and by we I mean artists, have very hard, mixed feelings about this system, and it sounds so “2008” to be talking about it today. The art fairs exist because of the ‘real world’, and they employ and sell the work of a few of my artist friends whose livelihood depends on the trickle down. They don’t like this way of doing things very much, but that’s the reality – there are mouths to feed. None of us wants the people that we care about to suffer, but many of us also loath the corporatized institutional system that’s in place. It’s created a glut of art that is nothing more than product made for entertainment and/or investment purposes. This product appears in the galleries and press for a short period of time then disappears into the market to be monetized and traded among very wealthy collectors. Everyone who has an opinion about Art will tell you this. In the 21st Century the avant garde has nothing to do with style change or revolutionary aesthetics. It has much more to do with market capital and global enterprise. The tautologies involved in confronting these art products and this system are endless and frustrating especially for those of us with differing ideas of what art should be and do. The reality is that the market isn’t going to change; neither is the behavior of the galleries and the people that they serve. Robert Hughes had a great deal to say about this in his documentary the Mona Lisa Curse:

“The distressed debt investor Howard Marks warned that now is a time to be “cautious” in the market….The self-confessed worrier said the economy could be “shaky” for awhile as the government pulls back from purchasing securities — the so-called quantitative easing that has helped bolster the markets. It’s the second round by the United States, known as QE2. Without that source of demand, the price of Treasuries may drop and interest rates may rise.”

What will it take for actual change to happen? How will we see things differently? What will we value? The problem is that 2008’s near death experience for the Art Market Economy is now a half forgotten dream. The same players have re-emerged, the same style persists. And everyone continues to ignore the elephant in the room, er…in the larger stock market – there are STILL trillions of dollars of toxic debt conveniently unaccounted for by banks and corporations. The accounting standards were changed in 2009 to make it easier for distressed companies to suddenly become profitable. And this happened not soon after the crash and right at the beginning of TARP so that companies, especially banks, could basically ignore the fact of their toxic debt while billions of tax dollars were pumped into their balance sheets at ZERO percent interest. By March of 2009 exactly six months after nearly going tets up, Citibank was able to record a profit of 1.6 billion dollars. So much for regulation, ethics and transparency in the Stock Market. This current market bubble which strains one’s credulity has also re-inflated the Art Market, and all the balloon figures filled with hot air and old moldy ideas are once again bouncing around the Art Fair cubicles like the number balls in the NY Lotto machine. It’s amazing what a little accounting can do!

IS it any wonder that the Art that we make looks EXACTLY as it does? I really don’t know what will come from the market. Most Americans are bubble-aires anyway, and our fiscal worth is tied to the fortunes of Wall Street in ways that we never could have imagined. But the Art Market – well, that too depends on TARPs, QE2s, sliding accounting rules, ethically challenged trading policies, back room deals, chandelier bidding, buyer rings, and half a dozen other things that usually begin when there’s good coke, free liquor, hot bodies and ambitious minds. It makes one’s head spin. Ah, fuck it – The Art Fair has come to town – It’s time to Party – again!