Sunday, April 15, 2007

market maze

A few days ago Artworld Salon had this piece regarding the upcoming Arts Chicago:

However, one innovation strikes me as likely to draw criticism: The NEW INSIGHT section, described as “an amazing display of the future emerging talent in the art world… comprised of artwork from 24 graduate students at 12 of the country’s most influential Master of Fine Arts programs,” including CalArts, Yale, RISD and the Art Institute of Chicago. Especially given the fact that these students were selected by renowned Renaissance Society director Susanne Ghez, I’m predicting a stampede by neophiliac collectors to buy their work. Unless some draconian mechanism has been put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen - an idea which might be considered advisable in some quarters, but would almost certainly be a) an infringement of some Constitutional right and b) totally ineffective in the face of aggressive collectors.

Offhand, I cannot recall ever seeing a section of exclusively graduate-student work displayed as part of an art fair. (Although one certainly comes across the occasional artwork by a graduate student who’s already joined the roster of a participating gallery.) In this sense, New Insight marks the latest stage in the crumbling of the wall between art schools and the art market, the earlier stages having been 1) the prowling of art-school studios by dealers and collectors, 2) the growing professionalization of degree shows, and 3) the “School Days” show at Jack Tilton last spring. Honestly, this is a topic on which I feel divided. Part of me sides with the logic that led Columbia arts dean Bruce Ferguson to close the studios of first-year grad students to collectors. Then again, I think, maybe it’s totally reactionary to think that we can sequester students from the art market, or even that doing so would be a good idea.
- Marc Spiegler

My first reaction is ugh here go again into the insatiable world of art spin and youth fetish. I mean an "amazing display" ? The only amazing displays I saw in grad school were alcoholism and jaded instructors! Isn't future and emerging roughly the same in art lingo?

First, I'm glad for Chicago to get back in the game and for the artists who live there. What I am sad to see - but at least now it's open and codified - is the "top 12 " schools openly marketing their students. In other disciplines this would be seen as a good thing - it's job placement. I can also see how this is appealing to an artist who wants some sales, especially having just dumped $40-$100G on a masters degree. The school should help them get some of that back. But this isn't about those student artists. This about branding programs and getting collectors to develop a taste for that brand (Yale, RISD, etc.) and I'm afraid that it is the student artist who is not only the "bait" but the potential victim. This is starting to look a lot like college sports more and more. Or like sitituations where the top highschool talent skips the college level and goes pro without what many experts in the field would consider a necessary maturation period for development. I'm sure many univeristities are now looking at their art programs as potential money makers and marketing tools not unlike their sports programs - they are in some sense the opposite ends of a pendulum. Banks love contemporary art - it's the new craze, the new asset class for global capital. Most "new" collectors I'm assuming are largely coming from the financial sector and wealth management so from a universty admin .perspective this is a win win. Finally a "legitimate" business sector recognizes the "value" of a program that has largely been ignored and maligned in the past.

So having an art student section at a fair makes sense also from the "niche" perspective. Fairs are getting bigger, broader and more competitive so there will need to be more targeted attention paid to buying habits beyond traditional gallery programing and the standard emerging/mid career paradigm. You need some means to make your fair "different". So beyond gallery programming what else can you offer under the "contemporary" umbrella? Well why not "student" art. But if the artwork is directly inserted into the market can we even call it student work? Does "student work" truly even exist anymore? - with regard to the top 12 marketable programs, I'm not so sure.

So the central question is:

Should the artworld/art university program mechanism expose students directly to the gobal art market or shield students from direct and immediate immersion?

I'm willing to see both perspectives but also inclined to think that it is harmful to the development of culture at large. When money and demand enter the picture at any stage - much less an early stage - people alter their choices, or worse, let others(the market) make their choices for them. Artists I think in general want to connect with an audience of some kind and that often manifests in pleasing any audience they might have whether it be small or large. There is an entertainment aspect to all this - though much smaller than my use of the word suggests. My point is if people are paying for something they like, they want what they like to always be available - in other words to stay the same. That goes for the buyer but also the seller. Known quantities are easy to predict and easy to classify, package and sell. It's in the market's interest to have this in place. Call it a compromise on quality. The trend that may result from all of this speculative collecting and marketing is that generations of artists moving forward will begin to have shelf life and the role of the artist within their own work will be further diminished by a competitive based art market which is built upon consumer trends, financial speculation, capital investment schemes and ultimately awash in "product" saturation.

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