Token New York Art Fair Post

March 7, 2009 · Print This Article

Jenny Holzer, Money Creates Taste, Limited Edition from the Sculpture Center available at the Armory Fair 2009

Jenny Holzer, Money Creates Taste, Limited Edition from the Sculpture Center available at the Armory Fair 2009

One thing that remains true across most markets is that its all about the buzz, so I feel compelled to weigh in on my experience at this years Armory and satellite fairs.  Perhaps ironically, I appreciate the crass commercialism of art fairs for the discussions and contextualization they bring about.  Hypothetically, one doesn’t even need to see the work in the gallery booths to get the most out of the fair.  The difference between a worthwhile contemporary art fair and a superfluous one is their ability to provoke conversations around art, and that often comes down to programming, programming, programming, (the same often remains true for contemporary art museums).  With this in mind, I made it a point to check out the two Open Forum discussions at the Armory and Volta on Friday, making these the main event and lofty excuse to visit these otherworldly candy stores in downtrodden times.

The first of the day at Pier 92 in the Armory was “Museums Speak! Funding, Exhibitions, Collecting and the Future” featuring Arnold Lehman, Director of The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Claudia Gould, The Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.   Of course the obvious topic of conversation was the economic recession’s effect on museums large and small.  This amounted to amplified fretting and  hand wringing about poor endowment returns, staff cuts, and pressure to sell off artworks for those collecting institutions.  Ultimately this inside baseball failed to peek my interest as the average art enthusiast, but by no fault of the participants or others whose jobs might depend on the future funding of museums.

Next up was Volta, a more engaging fair simply for its concentration on individual artists.  Part of the same Open Forum programming was the panel “Re-Inventing Non-Profits in NYC” featuring Anne J. Barlow, Executive Director of Art in General, Mary Ceruti, Executive Director of Sculpture Center and Gianni Jetzer, Director of Swiss Institute.  The discussion was far more reaching in its implications for the future of artist, which automatically perked up my ears as the tendency in these circles is to forget that without artists there is no art.  Again the discussion was set to the doom and gloom tune of economic woes, but fortunately geared towards adjusting and moving forward.  Artists take note, it appears these non-profits are foregoing extravagant exhibitions in favor of funding and facilitating projects that might not otherwise be feasible for emerging artists.  The level of succes for these spaces is refreshingly difficult to quantify relative to the museums — which ultimately just want to get bodies through the door –  but issues such as branding still came up as a stategy of shear survival.  Gianni Jetzer seems to think the Swiss Institute has no branding, but he fails to notice that Switzerland itself is a brand, and a damn good one as his performance confirms.  Of the three non-profits, SI seems to be the most willing to take chances and perhaps it’s that godmother country’s loose purse strings on top of her sex appeal that keeps SI not truly in any position to worry.

A closing note from this last discussion was the divisive question about whether tough economic times will be good for art, as some have suggested.  There seemed to be some consensus that any such idea is a myth, but I have to say I’m not quite convinced.  My hunch is that the playing field is a little more level and its hard not to notice the change in the air that has inevitably come from the powerful having a little less power.

13 Responses to “Token New York Art Fair Post”

  1. I enjoyed this piece alot!

    A little “side knowledge.” I know Gianni personally and have had good and bad times with him.

    In particular, he was extremely upset with me when I wrote an article criticizing the fact that so-called non-profits in Europe, esp. Switz and Germany, which are government funded, are used primarily for the development of CURATORS’ careers; no longer are art or artists forefront. He took personal offence and told me, strongly suggested I could say, that I should criticize artists and not the system or curators. I of course strongly disagree. He is a master at branding, especially for curators’ interests. But he burnt his fingers there a bit, not least of all on me, and learned to talk his way out of it a bit, and begin to claim a centering on artists. But his letters to the editor and so on concerning my essay show exactly the opposite to be true.

    He is actually a good curator, albeit a clear Consensus correct believer in the system as is — especially as it has been, with curators as the top of the heap. Many curators and so on are good nowadays. That is not the problem. The quaestion is one of power and its pernicious effects. Many of these folks will be changing their tunes as the cards fall into a new pattern. AT different times in the past, after various “reshufflings,” I saw that happen with dealers, with critics, and I think it will now happen in the “bust” with curators.

    As you suggest, it is always good, at least temporaily so, when the power relations reorganize, when the powerful become even slightly less so. Not only artists have to accept “positive criticism” as they are so fond of preaching to us, so do all other members of our little hypocritical artworld.

  2. This was the first time my work was show at the armory show. I was extremely overwhelmed both by the amount of work and by amount of people there. As an exhibiting artist I am absolutely biased toward the work, which is not experienced to its fullest in that context. But I think it is unfair for you to say that looking at the actual work doesn’t really matter. Conversations are great and necessary but are pointless without the work.

    I was told by a dealer that “it may not be pretty but it is efficient”; but that crass commercialism you refer to doesn’t apply to most on the audience members who are just there to look.

  3. Hey Emily

    i once heard another artist say that going to an art fair is like watching sausage get made.

    I agree with Tim in that the art is not important at the art fair. For most of us on the production end, the fairs tend to be insipid events. That being said, I believe that this one was actually interesting in a perverse sense.

    With the Dow at about 6500, and the art market in worse shape, it was amusing watching this mirage presented by so very desperate sales people. As Rome burned Nero fiddled.

    I actually felt sort of bad for the dealers this time. They handed over thousands upon thousands of dollars for these booths, dinners, parties, and smiled. Of course knowing all the while they were bound to loose money – just hoping to keep up appearances as New York was crumbling around them. The futility of the situation reminded me of the blind conviction that artist must possess. I think that Chicago’s own Merchandise Mart was the only one to make out well on this one.

  4. I guess I should clarify: my point was only to say that an art fair takes on a special role in its ability to generate discussion about the art on display, or art in general, which includes the market. So, the difference between a “good” and “bad” art fair lies in its fulfillment of this role. The art IS important, but it is ultimately not what’s on display and not what is being measured.

  5. And Mark twain famously said, “Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made.”

  6. Mark,

    I hate to correct you, but I think he was bastardizing something from Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary.

    I could be wrong of course.

    R

  7. Richard,

    I hate to correct you :) but the quote your thinking was in terms of litigation (my word of the month):

    LITIGATION, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage. ”

    I looked this up in my copy of the book signed by Missy Peregrym that you made possible :P

    The original quote was from Otto von Bismarck who also said:

    “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America. ”

    Love it :)

  8. No, that is indeed an actual Mark Twain quotation — although it does sound much like Bierce. Perhaps he was himself referring to another. It is a quite famous Twain quotation — another I love from Twain was an adaptation, attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and also used by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    The Sausage/Laws quotations has often also been attributed to Bismarck, but not before the 1930’s, and he is now not generally regarded as the creator of the phrase. The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer and poet John Godfrey Saxe that “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” this may be the first; Twain did say it as his own though (when he said the lies phrase, Twain himself attributed it to Disraeli).

    I’m something of a super-Twain-fan.

    By the way — how about that Saxe guy, Richard — a “lawyer and poet”!

  9. And here’s a great Ambrose Bierce one on art, from the Devil’s Dictionary:

    ART, n. This word has no definition. Its origin is related as follows by the ingenious Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.

    One day a wag — what would the wretch be at? —
    Shifted a letter of the cipher RAT,
    And said it was a god’s name! Straight arose
    Fantastic priests and postulants (with shows,
    And mysteries, and mummeries, and hymns,
    And disputations dire that lamed their limbs)
    To serve his temple and maintain the fires,
    Expound the law, manipulate the wires.
    Amazed, the populace that rites attend,
    Believe whate’er they cannot comprehend,
    And, inly edified to learn that two
    Half-hairs joined so and so (as Art can do)
    Have sweeter values and a grace more fit
    Than Nature’s hairs that never have been split,
    Bring cates and wines for sacrificial feasts,
    And sell their garments to support the priests.

  10. Fair enough, I know when I’m outgunned.

  11. Hahaha, the trip is more fun then the destination. We need to get Richard off to Basel Mark and we can all get a drink! hahaha

  12. I don’t miss work related travel. No I do not.

  13. Drink until we quote Mark Twain un-understandably!

    “As Twain said, ruhluhluhluhroleeeee.” (to be read with a drunken accent).

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