Eight young artists whose work the critic believes breathes new liveliness into a frustrating system, in a photograph by one of them, Ryan McNamara. Who are they? Click to view the slideshow.
Art is changing. Again. Here. Now. Opportunities to witness this are rare, so attend and observe.
For nearly ten years, starting in the late nineties, art and money had sex in public. Lots of it. And really publicly. Art became news. Prices were equated with artistic value. The highest sellers were seen as the best artists. Galleries got bigger, then became multinational, opening branches here and then in Europe and Asia. Wherever money went, art followed (it should be the other way around). Larry Gagosian now has eleven outposts; I await Gagosian Kuwait.
Like oil wells, once these operations are turned on they have to keep pumping product. Lots of it. Most of it crude. For ten years, large, shiny, highly produced, entertaining, ever-more-expensive objects were produced by the system, then snapped up by speculator collectors who rushed in where the rest of us feared to tread. It doesn’t matter that most of them don’t know what art really is and have never gleaned its hallucinatory powers. A lot of people struck it rich and laughed all the way to the bank.
This worldwide rising tide had the benefit of floating many boats. More artists than at any time in history were able to at least subsist within this system. And a lot of very good art got made. So it went. Until it didn’t. In 2008, the bubble burst. Or seemed to. Everyone, including me, assumed that the art world would shrink. But that didn’t happen. Instead, growth surged. It was as if John Travolta’s Pulp Fiction character stabbed the art world in the heart with a giant adrenaline needle! More sales and speculators; higher prices; new galleries. And it’s still happening. Even as the world is in recession, the art world has remained on a bender.
But something has been happening of late. Large numbers of disconnected and discontented artists, gallerists, and others have taken matters into their own hands, changing the directions of art, its structures, and maybe its internal values. Over the last decade, we saw megatons of art that was produced in factories, turned out by armies of assistants, and sometimes never touched by its makers. All you could think about was how much it cost. Collectors and museum curators eager to be included in the all-out global party shelled out enormous amounts of money for this sort of art. Often they bought it sight unseen. Everything was impersonal. Meanwhile, things small, unfinished, or chaotic were art non grata.
But now, all of a sudden, more art is coming from private places, looking almost outsiderlike, untaught, odd in ways that feel pressing, impatient, and important. In from the wilderness. A lot of it is smaller, made of less expensive or found materials, and more provisional, or at least bad in ways that aren’t so annoying.
After too much art that made too much sense, artists are operating blind again. They’re more interested in the possible than the probable, the private that speaks publicly rather than the public with no private side at all. Damien Hirst may be able to fill eleven galleries with spot paintings done by other people for other people. But this work doesn’t have any of the inner power channeled by Joanna Malinowska, staging a concert of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played on toy pianos, then inviting over 100 viewers to howl like wolves for five minutes, mourning the fate of Native American prisoner Leonard Peltier.
Much of this art evades categorization and defies collectors. It exists in the in-between genres where performance, sculpture, video, sound, photography, and sometimes painting overlap. When it’s not in an overlap, it jolts the old categories. I see artists bored by light-without-heat, irked at gigantic galleries’ pushing out art-as-product, leaving behind the overdetermined for the undetermined, guided by interior voices and bringing us out of a long tunnel to new blueness. Our blood still boiling at the art-luxury freak show, insurgent energies have resolved to make it new and make it over. Or die trying.
And the pheromones in the streets have been wild. There have been evenings of over twenty openings in little spaces on the Lower East Side and in Bushwick, enormous numbers of people filling the streets, looking at one another as if to say, “Yeah. There’s a way around the grossness and shell shock.” Most important, it’s not about neighborhoods or size. Energy and art go where they will. Peter Freeman just opened a huge, unrenovated ground-floor space on Grand Street that looks and even smells so much like an old Soho loft gallery it gave me old-school goose bumps.
Hundreds came, dozens of works were hung, and dancing in the streets ensued a few weeks ago at the opening of artist Hennessy Youngman’s everybody-is-welcome-and-everything-gets-hung open-call show at Maurizio Cattelan and Massimiliano Gioni’s new pint-size Chelsea non-gallery, Family Business. Cattelan recently hung his career’s output from the ceiling at the Guggenheim for a retrospective, and the New Museum’s Gioni is the curator of the next Venice Biennale; that two bigwig insiders are running this peewee nonprofit space in the middle of Chelsea shows people are still trying at all costs not to go along to get along and to play with the system instead.