But chaos can occur anywhere. Currently, at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, smack in the heart of Chelsea, you can see the work of a young Lord of Chaos. Ryan Trecartin’s brilliantly colored, insanely paced, multi-narrative single-channel videos are some of the wildest things to appear in years. Trecartin is a combination of Jack Smith, Paul McCarthy, Taylor Mead, a drag show, daytime soap operas, and the Home Shopping Network. This kind of anarchic energy has been cropping up more and more—although you have to look for it amid the mass of shows. Last April 27, an artist-curated worm-of-chaos embedded itself in the bowels of a market-hyena. “Beneath the Underdog,” at Gagosian, wasn’t the best show of the season, but it was rife with frustration and seriousness and provided an alternative to the slickness and market manipulations of Takashi Murakami’s exhibition in the same gallery. A sprawling, smashed-up floor ran throughout the gallery; the forgotten and the overexposed shared space. The show was so disjointed that you knew you were being taken into the charged field of the disconnect—that something utterly new and genuinely weird had been given free rein. In an overmoneyed situation, anytime artists take back control, you can see when money is acting dumb and just following the leader. That peels back the curtain, even briefly, and shows how much can be done with a little nerve and a lot of effort.
On July 19, a bubble of chaos erupted again in “NeoIntegrity,” a fringey 180-person smorgasbord at the Derek Eller Gallery. Organized by the underappreciated painter Keith Mayerson, it had its own “NeoIntegrity Manifesto” stating, “Commodity is not the reason to produce or appreciate art,” and art “has an aura that cannot be contained—it is the result of a man-made alchemy that comes closest to re-creating the soul.”
These shows and others like them are, and will be, uneven. But they are reasons to believe that even in times as strange as these, wonderful things happen. It also means we can let the moment play out without panic. Critics can be critical of art, and it won’t affect sales much. Artists and dealers don’t have to cater to the market, because the market is catering to them. More artists can take matters into their own hands, curate shows, write, and make publications. Although the current tide is lifting more bad boats, the waters will one day recede or the currents will change. For now, it is amazing that a gallery like Mitchell Algus’s can exist at all. Algus, whose day job is teaching high-school science, specializes in artists of the late sixties who never quite made it. Although some museum (P.S. 1?) should pay him to curate a space for the next ten years, or he should be awarded a MacArthur grant, for now, the selfless Algus can exist in a small gallery in a big Chelsea building because this market makes it just possible for him to make ends meet.
Or take an artist-and-critic-run gallery like Reena Spaulings. While its super-hipness can get on your nerves, it is still an excellent test site, in the tradition of the late Colin de Land’s American Fine Arts. The good shows at Reena Spaulings help change what art is; the bad ones are just bad. Then there’s the energetic maverick Michelle Maccarone, who spends huge amounts of her time at art fairs or in other cities because she doesn’t sell nearly as much out of her terrific New York gallery.
The shows in all these galleries aren’t automatically better than elsewhere; in fact, they can be as iffy as any. The art world isn’t Hollywood. Not every gallery has to open big and get bigger. There’s a huge niche for smaller-scale operations that move fast and can react to change quickly. The surplus of money simply means that these dealers can survive the first hard years when they don’t have a dime or a clue. Then, when the market dries up and the hype dies down, when a correction sinks many of the galleries and artists currently riding high, good artists will still be able to make art for less than $50, and audiences will still be able to see art in galleries for free. Things won’t be much different; they’ll just be smaller.
Art allows us to glimpse what Kafka called “the glimmer of a possibility.” Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, called this “permanent uncertainty.” Poet Amiri Baraka dubbed it “the changing same.” Those who say everything in the art world is about greed and bad values, who think art has gone to hell, and that New York is creatively dead, need to understand that change that appears to be for the worse stimulates people to change for the better. (After all, the very Web address NewYorkIsDead.biz is creative.) If art has gone to hell, it’s gone there because it’s interested in that topography and wants to explore and mine its resources. Art is long. The market is not. The market is art minus otherness. “The rest,” as artist Anat Elberg recently said, “is gossip.”