Sunday, September 07, 2003

9/10/03 - It works well enough.

People create and maintain relationships with each other based on the things they have in common, what those interests are doesn't matter. If they share an interest in money in politics or in art the same rules apply. In New York at this point of time, in the cultural milieu of which I am in one way or another a part, the one thing most people have in common though they don't talk about it openly is fear.

If the overarching logic of the past 30 years of American politics and culture has been "give the people what they want," the art world has always prided itself on doing the opposite. "Give the people what they should have," is probably a better definition of the logic that defined the scene, or at least defined what the intellectual pitchmen declared the scene was about. Whatever its limitations the logic had a certain nobility: what purpose could there be for the idle rich, otherwise removed from daily life, but to help support those who like themselves felt a distance from the crowd, but who did not have the money to stay that way for long on their own? And did not these people have something to offer in the way of commentary on the rush and run of capitalism at full throttle? And this after all was the basis of a friendship.

The culture of popular capitalism was always capable of more profundity than snobs allowed. If Roy Lichtenstein said his paintings were an attempt to rescue his influences from banality - he described correctly the romance and military comics he cribbed from as 'fascist'- there were we all admit now more interesting things to look at on the newsstand and at the matinee. The New York Times "Fall Preview" is bigger than ever this year: nearly 70 pages in 3 sections, with only 10 including photography devoted to art, and most of those simple a list of the upcoming season's exhibits. The other 60 pages are made up of articles on theater, movies and music. Most of the space is taken up with puff pieces, but one still gets a sense of things being at stake even in popular entertainment: of it being both a craft and a business, and a risky one. You sense effort. It's amazing what you can do under the nose of the aristocracy if no one takes you seriously.

If anti capitalist criticality and reactionary snobbery, always the strange bedfellows of the art world, are now so obviously in conflict as to be beyond mention in polite society, if they are the couple no one wants to talk to at the party, what it there left for art? The international market is a conservative place. While all cultural activity is conservative by nature -it seeks to conserve, to remember, to memorialize- one of a kind or small batch commodities are at the far end of the spectrum. There is no need to oversimplify, there will always be something called 'Fine' art and it will continue to be a worthy subject of conversation; there will always be a market for the self consciously refined. But in New York at the moment people are simply lying to themselves while waiting for the ax to fall. From the sense of superiority that once reigned what we're offered now is a set of lazy references to popular culture, a pale imitation of Hollywood and MTV without the effort or the intelligence. There's a pretense that by referring to popularity without actually trying to be popular, one can maintain one's social standing.

"After all, I'm only slumming"
"Why?"
"Because I have nowhere else to go"

In this context any rearguard movement by a now reactionary modernism is irrelevant.

Of course there are good shows coming up in the next 9 months. And the largest sums of money will be well spent, mostly.[?] There will be a few works by younger artists that will shock because they're bright and good and strange. Those who make them will mostly be foreign born, if not still there. But for the rest, who call this place their home, there are friendships based on lies and cowardice. It doesn't matter if one is looking at artists, dealers or critics; it's painful to be around people with so little self respect, scrounging as they are for bread crumbs.

No comments: