May 17, 2006


Aaron had flagged this speech delivered by Jerry Saltz recently in Houston. Aaron reported that Mr. Saltz was well recieved, fluid and easy at the podium, appearing almost as a stand up comedian.

Notes from Saltz's humorous lecture were printed in the Texas publication ArtLies, one of the few art magazines that have gotten better over the years, it seems to me.

Here is an excerpt:

New Yorkers are funny. We think we're "it". And what we are -what we really are- is the trading floor of the art world. Almost no major career happens without partially happening in New York, but that is beginning to change. I'll give you a blatant example -Tracey Emin, a British artist who recently spoke to my class. Her talk was thrilling 'cause it was so empty. She kept saying, "Well, five thousand people come to my openings in London. We have to have special press previews... " I went ot her opening in New York and there were forty people there. So, some art doesn't travel well, but that doesn't make it bad or good; it just says that the biggest artist in London is barely a drip in another city.

New York artists report this all the time. "How was your opening in Cologne?" "I dunno, there were like six people there." So New York is the trading floor; however, it is also the most provincial place in the world- as a Midwesterner, it is easy to see. Provincial is a place that thinks other places are provincial. You're deffining a place as you. You cna't see a paradigm you think is the only paradigm.

Returning to California, my wife and friends asked anxiously if I liked my stay in New York last week. On some level, they didn't want me to say yes, afraid that I would have developed a New York state of mind and want to move there.

Well, of course I would like to move to Manhattan.

But such a move would have to match or exceed the immense assets we enjoy here in SoCal. We live in Elysian Heights, aptly named. Particularly here in Echo Park/ ChinaTown, there is an artist's community that is unique... comparing as I can the other communities that I have seen around the world: New York certainly, but also Houston, Dallas, San Fransisco, Seattle... then Barcelona, Paris, Haarlem/Amsterdam is a little better, Cologne is not so bad, and Berlin would give us a run for our money.

But for what an artist needs, the life here in EP/CT is firing on a lot of cylinders:

1. In this part of the West Coast, emerging artists and established artists comingle naturally. Several artists out East reported to me the unfortunate reality that once you are pegged as an artist in NYC, your worth is set in stone. I first encountered this idea during a visit to the big apple back in '93. Later, around the year 2000, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the genial superstar figures who confessed his reality that he focused to an extreme degree on the importance of branding himself as an artist. The cure for this ailment (if it can be regarded as one) -whether one is prisoner of their brand or has had their percieved worth involuntarily concretized- is to get a life. And once you are living your life freely, the world at large will accumulate anomolies that will anyway have to be reconciled in some kind of convulsive paradigm shift.

That's life.

The effects of branding and the social ladder on the West Coast is not as severe perhaps because the top end over here isn't so... over the top. We bump into our share of celebrities, surely... and on occasion, success will go to an artist's head. But in this part of Los Angeles, the life that is opening cans of Campbell Soup doesn't rub up very often against the life that's spilling caviar on thousand dollar per square foot floors. Maybe this is different in poulation dense Gotham. New York is New York, after all.

Perhaps the identity of NYC as the art world's trading floor is becoming hardened over time, and therefore it is a durable and unalterable fact of life over there. And what's wrong with that? Being the place that sets the pace for the terms of trading art worldwide can't be a bad thing.

2. New knucklehead low end art happenings occur with a natural regularity (something I didn't see in New York last week); high end art establishment stuff goes on elsewhere in Los Angeles even though not everyone goes out to breathlessly lap it up --and this too, is a good indication to my eyes. Dallas and Barcelona has a top end (institutions like museums and univesities) but no bottom end that I could see: no impromptu exhibits, 'zine production, funky happenings... in a word: experimentation.

The closest thing I saw regarding the experimentalist tip in NYC was Matt Keegan's show (ahem*, the one next to mine), probably because his modus operandi resembles Matt Chambers' TRUDI gallery (ahem*, the one I was in a group show in at the inaugural) and associated highjinks. The fact that New York Matt operates in higher end contexts (established galleries and museums, Keegan's show at Nicole's was in tandem with a simultaneous show at P.S.1) whereas SoCal Matt works in emerging galleries and do-it-yourself impromptu exhibition spaces. Both guys for me represent the spirit of the emerging generation: a fierce focus on curiousity where ever it may be found and preserving that spark (without which art would not exist at all)... all other concerns are disposable in the pursuit of these core values. They seem to let the chips fall where they may and the imperative to manage one's image seems to belong to the older generations.

But would I like to live in NewYork? Hell yea. Someday, who knows? Things change over time and communities move and evolve. And if we could find an opportunity to live in the city that is the art world's trading floor that could match or exceed the Elysian life we are enjoying today in L.A., we would move East in a heartbeat.

Plus, New York is a lot closer to Barcelona and Tossa de Mar, the new Hamptons as far as I can see.

(*Yea, but still.....)

Update: I googled to an interview which ended with a quotation appropriate for those who live on or near a trading floor (that is, all serious artists):

I have a quote here that I've lost the context for, but I love the quote and I've taped it near my computer. It was advice for artists. It says, "Professionalism is the enemy."

Posted by Dennis at May 17, 2006 10:34 AM

Leave a comment