Decline and fall

gallery show

Artists and dealers are as passionate as ever about creating good shows, but fewer and fewer people are actually seeing them. Chelsea galleries used to hum with activity; now they’re often eerily empty. Sometimes I’m nearly alone. Even on some weekends, galleries are quiet, and that’s never been true in my 30 years here. (There are exceptions, such as Gagosian’s current blockbuster Basquiat survey.) Fewer ideas are being exchanged, fewer aesthetic arguments initiated. I can’t turn to the woman next to me and ask what she thinks, because there’s nobody there.  

Instead, the blood sport of taste is playing out in circles of hedge-fund billionaires and professional curators, many of whom claim to be anti-market. There used to be shared story lines of contemporary art: the way artists developed, exchanged ideas, caromed off each other’s work, engaged with their critics. Now no one knows the narrative; the thread has been lost. Shows go up but don’t seem to have consequences, other than sales or no sales. Nothing builds off much else. Art can’t get traction. A jadedness appears in people who aren’t jaded. Artists enjoying global-market success avoid showing in New York for fear any critical response will interfere with sales. (As if iffy international art stars could have their juggernauts stalled by a measly bad review or two. A critic can only dream.) Ask any artist: They’re all starting to wonder what’s going on. Jerry Saltz

A great piece from Mr. Saltz at New York magazine, though I think he’s partly transposing onto current events the lack of a feeling he would have gotten decades ago when people thought art was historically progressive and something novel was afoot. What he’s saying is all true, at least from the view I get through my tiny, inefficient portal into the economic wasteland as it looks from out here in the hinterland. In terms of how money gets spent, obviously, something is replacing the gallery show but it isn’t friendly and it’s more about investment than any sort of passion for what art can do. “The whole middle is being pulverized.” In other words, the art world follows the money and the money is all in the hands of people who just want to protect and increase it. On the other hand, maybe this is the sort of collapse that happens before something new and vital and more democratic emerges?  As in France and America a couple hundred years ago (Not that anybody has a good idea how to replace an entire system that’s driving this country through yet another bubble toward another precipice.) Meanwhile, people talk about how to control assault weapons and whatever nutty thing Korea is doing to distract us from the fact that everything has ground to a halt. Depressing and sad.

3 Responses to “Decline and fall”

  1. Richard Harrington

    Everything is up and down. We’re down now. Hopefully it will come up again. But if artists quit creating, or are only producing work because they are trying to get on that train, what path are thy on anyway? You’d be better off on wallstreet. That’s where the money is.

    I think there’s only one reason real reason to take the path- because you can’t see your way clear to do something else. Then make do, and get busy figuring out what you’re here to do.

  2. Richard Harrington

    That’s what I get for watching Face The nation while writing a response- I think it’s readable, sorry for the fractures.

  3. dave dorsey

    Don’t you know better than to watch TV and write at the same time? Yeah, totally agree Rick. Nobody I know went into this for money. What is sad, though is the suggestion that the gallery scene has been replaced by online or inside tracks as well as the art fairs. On the other hand, that’s just as viable for people who want to try for income from the work, but what Saltz misses is the social factor, rubbing elbows with somebody and talking about something in an impromptu way. I totally agree with that. We paint because we believe it matters and it’s worth doing–the rest is gravy. I want to make a trek to see Kurt’s show. Didn’t get there for the reception. If you’re up for a lunch and studio visit, let me know.