The Dec/Jan issue of Interview is chock full of Art World hero making. If you want to have a peek at how reputations are made and maintained this is a good place to begin. The lengthy first section begins with a statement about art and life as it is playing out in the middle of the current sweaty economic downturn.
“The art market is a likely hiding place for that fugitive $4 Trillion [the amount of money pulled out of hedge funds – supposedly]-and the money will be happier for it…[Art]’s something you can believe in. Something that gets you off. Something you can watch or play. And it’s something that not only speaks to who you are, but that transforms you into who you want to be.”
Wow. That is a sales pitch! It’s goes on to make the case for an over-achieving art market filled with collectible artists that will appreciate in value over the coming years. This is followed by gushy, chatty interviews with current art stars, and a get-to-know-ya section of the up and coming – all featuring splashy fashion photog pictures of the intense looking characters (the clothes they are wearing for the shoots are credited – Gap, Mark Jacobs, Diesel Jeans, Hugo Boss.) They are depicted as rebels within the system dressed in the forward looking fashions approved by the industry implying both social edginess and market conformity – Auteurs. The set is wrapped up with sugary articles about the gallerists and collectors who affirm the worth of the art and artists that the magazine has chosen to present. This is the publicity strategy for the art world first honed in the 1960s.
A great example of polishing the brass in a swift soft sell is presented in the following passage describing the artist Kelley Walker.
“Perhaps no artist deals so strategically and systematically with pop culture…[Walker] is something of a post-pop wizard, using a copy, cut, and re-print technique that involves an Epson ink jet printer and screen-printing. The result is a series of pop images-somehow violent, hilarious, spontaneous, and overdetermined all at once. Most famously, Walker has screen-printed paintings based on photos similar to those used by Andy Warhol in his Race Riot works, smearing the images with chocolate.”
The author lays out the artist’s pedigree – Warhol, appropriation, Postmodernist conventions and the academic use of non-art materials all pointing to collect-ability. In the press release for the current show these conventions are delineated like a checklist:
“Highly conceptual and visually provocative, Kelley Walker’s work tackles some of today’s most complex debates around issues of circulation and reproduction, authenticity and authorship, and the banality and conventions of the image. Showing a particular interest in the changes brought about by the use of computers, Walker has been investigating the ways in which images can be sampled, altered, disseminated and then re-appropriated.”
Another really telling moment in the interview is when he reveals a need to communicate, almost the way in which an advertising focus group would work. “Sometimes I’ll present a work to the public and listen to the responses- then pull it back, shape it, and put it back out.” The audience is an integral part of the art-making process for this artist, just as it is for Jeff Koons (see previous post on the Middle Brow.) Contextual communication is the conceptual appropriator’s forte – the work lives or dies through that communication. The work must appeal, must be understood, must create the context for its understanding through the audience’s involvement. These sorts of techniques are part and parcel of our Postmodern world, the Middle Brow and Popular Culture. The entire Interview issue carries on this media marketing tradition as it seeks to ensure continuity, sale-ability and acceptance of the workings of the market itself. Over and over we are assured that contemporary art is the perfect investment vehicle. In fact the magazine itself has created the context for that assurance! Have a look for yourself – it’s a Pop Culture gold mine.