Monday, 14 March 2011

Someone Needs To Tell the Upper Echelons of the Art World That There's a Recession On

I found this essay in a notebook the other day, written back in December. Although publishing it here highlights my inability to keep up with the 'now' of electronic media, the issues it discusses are still pertinent and will remain pertinent for some time to come.

Someone needs to tell the upper echelons of the art world that there's a recession on (America's gallery giants open British front in the modern art 'arms race', the Observer, 12th December 2010). As in all walks of life this seems to be a recession only for the poor and already underprivileged. While the rich keep on getting richer the gap between the celebrity artist and your average artist keeps on getting wider and wider. An increasing number of millionaire artists hang out with billionaire gallery owners as the majority can't afford to focus solely on their practice, second jobs taking up more of their energy and time.

I thought all this big art market stuff had disappeared along with the fading memory of the over-rated and overblown YBA's to be replaced by a new generation of quieter, more serious, introspective and interesting internationalist artists (see Chris Townsend, New Art from London, Thames and Hudson 2006). But no, it seems commercial galleries such as Gagosian and Pace, and owner/dealers such as Jay Jopling and Dasha Zhukova, continue to increase their revenue from and control over the art market, snapping up more 'name' artists for their 'brands'.

Although this can be said to be good for those few living artists who benefit (the Martin Creeds, Zhang Xiaogangs and the Keith Tysons. It is worth noting that many of the artists these dealers are dealing with are dead (Bourgeois, Rauschenburg, deKooning, Rothko) and many of the living ones aren't short of exposure (Koons, Hirst, Emin, Gilbert and George)), the question is: is it good for art? Is it even about the art? For although some of these galleries do put on some good shows (one of the most moving exhibitions I have seen in the last couple of years was Richard Serra at the Gagosian in Kings Cross, London) I do wonder about the motives of those involved.

Too much of the contemporary art world is about being seen and being seen to be seen in the right circles. There is too much emphasis on the opening night and not enough on the art. I am sure the galleries I am discussing won't be suffering from the impending cuts to the arts budget, whereas said cuts may prove to be the end of the line for many grass roots and artist led initiatives. The question I wish to pose with regard to these circumstances is: how should we artists respond to the challenge of this inevitable crisis?

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