Saturday, January 8, 2011

The market rate for political expression

Naughton, Nicholas "One day in the rose garden", collage, 2010.

I met an artist named Rollin Bemish yesterday. This post isn't about him, but he did lay the tracks for what I'm thinking about now, and with thoughts plunging ahead, I thought I would jot down some ideas and links for y'all to check out. He is in Kansas City for his show at La Esquina called "a glimpse within". It's a group show, with some interesting work I have to say. It's a group show curated by Caleb Taylor that includes painting, collage, illustration, video, and the sculpture is quite nice. Undulating waves of reeds swaying from side to side over and over. Just the mechanical structure is something to see.

Anyway, Rollin approached my work with a different style than I've had in recent studio visits. It's nice to have a more academic studio visit from time to time. I felt a bit self conscious about calling my work political, especially socialist (the bomb that he dropped on me), but I was happy that he reminded me of the current call for artists for the 2011 Berlin Biennale. As I've been reading, the curator Artur Zmijewski is known for his theory of politics and art, something I love to mull over, especially his idea about 'duty and rebellion'. I've had quite a few conversations with people this week about selling art, about taking a commercial approach in art practice, and the various pros or cons relating to that choice. I'm also constantly considering my socially motivated art objects in the context of a market. Of course, the predominant direction of a lot of contemporary artists is towards the new media, towards experienced based art, or towards collectiveness and sustainability. All of these modes of working subvert the capitalist art model, or simply do not adhere to a structure that allows for the work to be easily confined within the commodity distinction. Challenging the system for the sake of doing so isn't that interesting, but work that's honest that does that can be astoundingly good, and much of it is completely ephemeral. It's not that artists are always searching to defy commercialism, we contribute to the larger conversation and over time this evolves beyond our current systemic boundaries, though it has been proven over time that collectors and institutions will find a way to monetize just about any object or experience. A great example is the collection of performance art, or the acquisition of the '@' symbol at MOMA. Pretty soon the smell of a fart will be bought and sold, or a twitter account will be collected and stored for posterity. Piero Manzoni already sold a can of his shit, so anything is possible.

The curator Zmijewski says this of Duty and Rebellion...
...Grzegorz Kowalski and Maryla Sitkowska mounted [an exhibition title] on the centenary of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw: Duty and Rebellion. Even though the exhibition concerned the academy as an institution, its title was indicative of a split present within art. A split that allows art to „work for” the state and the national economy, to serve society as a shaper of environments, producer of visual information systems, designer of interiors and industrial goods, in short – to do its duty. On the other hand, art is kept from lapsing into dependence on the authorities by its rebelliousness, because it insistently challenges the taboo, nurtures dreams, proliferates freedom, and produces social knowledge, (art can be said to be an open university of knowledge). Art constantly offers and denies its services to the powers that be. In doing its duty it usually does not cross a certain line marked out by shame.
It really falls in line with many of my conversations; the perceived back and forth seesawing of our activities as artists. On one hand, I have to eat and if I have an inkling of what might sell, or my work is received well in a certain gallery or market-driven space, than I should probably pursue it to continue making and doing what I love. On the other hand, I want to make challenging expressions that are not bound to the restrictions of the white cube. Ideas that ride on the fringe of art and its overlaps with other fields like science, music, and philosophy. Maybe collaboration or collective expression is a goal of this direction, but the main issue is that making work about experience alone is something that isn't going to pay my bills or allow for me to continue making things. I have to then spend more time hustling at a job to support this need to create outside of a commercial art system. With less energy, output is down, thus the quantities of ideas will be less explored, or the monumental scales that I crave to achieve will not be brought to fruition.

I've realized that over time, it's not pertinent to continue on in this direction unless one has a job that can truly support the luxury of non-commercial creation. I see it as a task of making what one wants to make, sellable or not, and being organized in finding the way to doing it sustainably. Art is a business after all.

1 comment:

  1. this is the best thing you've ever done. - your bro.