Jerry Saltz, for one, bemoans the lack of good art being created and shown today, as do many other critics, VoCA included.
The recent exhibition Unmonumental at the New Museum in New York (see VoCA post HERE) is a perfect example. As someone commented, it was art that’s being made for a market where people will buy anything.
Part of the problem seems to be the changing power structure of the art world. Where once critics’ opinion were influential, now commercial galleries hold tremendous power. They achieve a certain credibility – people like Larry Gagosian – whose power is such that collectors may buy works sight unseen, over the phone or from a jpeg. These galleries produce catalogues, they create waiting lists for work, they choose which collectors are worthy of a certain artist’s work, etc etc.
The collectors themselves have a new kind of power, too. Many of them – Charles Saatchi, Eli Broad – buy work by young artists, then open museums, hire curators, produce catalogues, donate to museums, sell their works at auction (often for an enormous profit). They effectively create a market for these works.
In 1984, Eli and wife Edythe formed the Broad Art Foundation, the single largest collection of Jeff Koons artworks in the world. “We had more artworks than we could possibly display,” Broad has said. “The art foundation was a way to share important works with museums, other institutions and the public.”
(VoCA wonders whether Koons is the most overrated, yet savvy, American artist..)
Mega-collectors Eli and Edythe Broad with artist Jeff Koons. Image: artandliving.com
What’s wrong with this situation? Well, nothing….and everything. From a critic’s point of view, it becomes about why certain works of art are deemed important. We would argue that there is an energy about great artworks that is best discovered by someone with experience looking at, and assessing, visual art.
Whether or not an art work ‘speaks’ to someone should be only the beginning. The work must hold universal importance on some level – great art is about the human condition.
Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974. Image: hawaii.edu
One thing that happens when the commercial galleries and collectors hold so much power, is that artists – in their desire to become successful – create art for the powerful. Consciously or not, artists make work that fits easily into galleries and homes, that is cutely conceptual – like a joke that collectors with little art education can easily understand.
What happened to the ‘un-buyable’ art? Remember the work made by Joseph Beuys, or Anselm Kiefer or Paul Thek? This art wasn’t nice and it wasn’t pretty. But it was terribly important.
Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch performs with blood and paint in Klosterneuburg, 1996.
VoCA would like to see the return to a day where painting leaps off the canvas and into the room, into collaborations with dance, theatre, music and film.
Where people don’t necessarily ‘get’ the idea in the work. Where the craftsmanship of an artwork overwhelms the idea. Where an artist understands that he or she needs to go big, and goes massive. Where the power of the execution matches the power of the idea.
An installation by Jessica Stockholder. Image: blog.art21.org
Of course there are artists already working this way – and we commend them. Jessica Stockholder, and Canadians Shary Boyle, Daniel Barrow, Daniel Cockburn, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, Michael Dudeck, Paul Butler, Adad Hannah…to name only a few.
But they’re few and far between.