Sunday, November 04, 2007

"I'm bored with giant cibachromes of three Germans standing behind a mailbox"

(Marco Breuer fig. 4 (Turn))

"I'm bored with giant cibachrome photographs of three Germans standing behind a mailbox. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means I’m fucking bored with it." so speaks David Hickey in an article in the Art Newspaper examining the current state of the art market - of which he is, shall we say, more than a little critical:

...There are people out there who like art more than money. The only bad thing is that there are a lot of artists who like money more than art. This is a problem but consider the benefits. There has never been a better chance to draw attention to oneself by behaving honourably and honestly and meticulously. If you want to be an icon of virtue, this is the moment because you’ll stand out.If you behave well, if you behave correctly, if you make art that will still matter in 200 years, all you can lose is money...

...So we have a bubble. Art bubbles are great. Art bubbles suck money into the art world. Who gets hurt in an art bubble? Greedy artists; stupid collectors. Who else? Nobody with their wits about them gets hurt in an art bubble...

...The art market in the 20th century is first of all a finite market which means there are always more works of art than there are people to buy them. What does that mean? It means, as Leo says, that somebody has to buy two. Somebody has to buy four or five. If the art does not change, nobody’s going to buy two. To maintain itself in public vogue, art needs perpetual reinvestment, an artist needs one show after another show, one essay after another essay—all these are occasions for stylistic development. If I happen to have written about your frog paintings last year and if you put up another show of frog paintings, I’m not coming by. But, if Barbara [Gladstone] calls me and says: “You haven’t seen the salamander paintings, Dave,” then I’m going to rush right over...

...The logic of an institutional market is: “We don’t care. We’re just filling up this hole in our schedule.” It’s really more important [to institutions] if the person building the plywood box is a Zuni [Native American] warrior than if we’ve ever
seen the plywood box before. And the presumption is: We don’t have style development anymore because history is over...

...My standards for any gathering of art are: is 99% of this bullshit? Yes. But, is 1% of it interesting? Yes. That’s about your percentages for anything in the world.Eventually some dealer will think, “I’ve got this great idea. I’m only going to show art I like.” Everybody else will go, “Oh, no, don’t do that. You’re fucking kidding. Everybody’s got to show one of each.” When you walk to their stands at art fairs, dealers currently ask you: “Would you like to see my Iranian minimalist? If not, our Berlin pornographer is quite interesting. We’ve got one of each here for any taste.” What this means is that the dealer currently has no power. One day one dealer may say to himself: “I’m going to gather power the way Leo did, I’m just going to show stuff I really believe in.” That’s going to really change things. And the art world as we currently know it will disappear. As exciting as this moment is now, imagine how exciting the collapse is going to be. It’s really something to look forward to. Boom! Thousands of Icari plummeting into the surf. Eventually all the windows where you sell your soul are going to be closed....

(Joan Fontcuberta Orogenesis: Atget, 2004 (Based on Eugène Atget's Saint-Cloud, 1926))

Dealer Ed Winkleman takes issue with Hickey on his blog, concluding:

This ending is disappointing. As it is with all (art bubble) deathwatch cheerleaders, Hickey seems to be longing for the next new thing, not because he can even assume it will be better than what we have now, but merely because it will be new, something to look forward to, and he won't be so fucking bored by it. That's not a good enough reason for me. First and foremost, whether Hickey agrees or not, I know dealers who truly believe they are only showing stuff they truly believe in. So if that's all it took, Hickey would have his change now. What I think Dave is really arguing for here is for someone else to end his ennui. The old Pet Shop Boys lyrics spring to mind: "We were never feeling bored, cause we were never being boring."

Which I think is a little mistaken (for one thing, only those who look back on the 80's with a certain odd nostalgia can cite the Petshop Boys as an authority...). Winkleman seems to think Hickey is essentially looking for novelty in art, but it seems to me he's more concerned with honesty - work that is honest, that people can believe in and not just the next hot thing. Hickey is bored not because the work he sees is bad, or because wants something new and novel (or even exciting), but because I think he wants something that's real. And so much of the current art world (including photography) is about illusion and superficiality. Which seems to work right now, so people just keep producing more of the same with slight variations - three Germans stood in front of a lamp-post.

(Rob Fisher Unity Road #5)

Incidental to this, I just read a dialogue in the current Blindspot with Marco Breuer called Nevertheless A Photograph where he says (in part):

" is not the technology I am interested in so much as the idea of true investigations in photography, as opposed to illustration. I was looking for alternatives to the default mode of contemporary photography, which is now a 4 x 5-inch color negative, whether portrait or typology, blown up to 30 x 40 inches or larger and mounted behind Plexi. That's the current orthodoxy, one that experienced in Germany and continue to question. The photographers in this issue are committed to photography, but like me, they are not satisfied with what is known and done..."

(Michelle Kloehn from Centrally Located)

Now, whether the portfolios in the current Blindspot meet those (or Hickey's) criteria is another question - but at least someone is trying. And as for photography in general, I certainly wish that some of the current galleries would actually show work they believe in, not work they think fits the current fashion (though at least photography has books as an integral part of the medium - and I think we see much more of this kind of work in published form than on gallery walls). So in the end, it probably wouldn't be that bad a thing for the bubble to burst - the collapse of the current gallery/market paradigm - which for too long has had something of a stifling death grip on a lot of honest creativity

Finally, as a postscript, I couldn't actually find a photograph of three Germans standing behind a mailbox - but I'm sure someone from a prestigious Kunstakamdemie somewhere surely must have taken one...

(all pictures from the current Blindspot)


gravitas et nugalis said...

I had a wonderful conversation this past weekend with Prabuddha Das Gupta at this show in NYC. He and I were alone in the gallery and were able to converse at length.

His pictures in his show, href="">Longing were, IMO, made by a photographer who is 'behaving honourably and honestly and meticulously.'

Das Gupta states that "My work is definitely very untrendy." and even though he is exhigiting in a very good gallery in Chelsea, changes are good that it will be overlooked by many, if not most of those who frequent and inhabit the 'art bubble' world.

Afterall, he and I had the gallery to ourselves on an otherwise very busy Saturday afternoon in Chelsea.

Anonymous said...

Hockney has been quite outspoken concerning his general dislike for photography depsite his own endeavors in the medium. I would guess this is coloring his statements...

As for the Blind Spot edition, like you I applaud it's intent, and there are some beautiful images in it, but on the whole I found it somewhat uneven. Why does idea-based work so often have to be uniteresting visually?

Anonymous said...

I prefer to judge arts with my mind, I'm obviously a collector not an investor.
I buy art just because I like it.
I'm so fool that I will not sell it.
Of course there are some exception the 3D:
1) Debts
2) Divorce
3) Death