January 26, 2008

The healthy self, indeed.

The artworld is split between a market identity (art fairs, etc) and a revolutionary identity (critical theory, Marxism, etc.). What remains/is lacking is a successful integration of the two.


This week in the studio has been destroyed by the Art LA 2008. I have a painting in progress, and without a few days of solitude ahead, I find it hard not to pause at a point where an interruption will do the least amount of damage to the process (most of the flat work has been done -that is, paint applied and scooped up- and the next stage that is impasto starts the clock in earnest). I'm about to head out to the fair, I promise to snap a few pics when I get there. But before I go, I thought it would be interesting to post a few notes beforehand regarding the growing marketplace and the fading world of theory/criticism/etc.

Let me restate the idea that I scribbled down to capture the thrust of this blogpost, sorry to be blunt but there's little time to add flesh to the bone:

The artworld is split between a market identity (art fairs, etc) and a revolutionary identity (critical theory, Marxism, etc.). What remains/is lacking is a successful integration of the two.

Jumping to my conclusion, I aim to reintegrate these two forces. I think that society at large is suffering from a schizoid wound, we have separated into right/left camps. The most interesting and most responsible way forward is to re-member the body politic/aesthetic.

Politically, I am hard to categorize. Usually, people on on the far left think I am on the right, and people on the far right think I'm left. I am rather comfortable in the center, even when it is extremely uncomfortable for me to discuss politically charged issues in our art world. Civility is hard to find sometimes in our civilization. I would like to think that this state of mind of mine is resonant with my genetic legacy as a half breed, mulatto, heterogenaic, mongrel, etc: my mother was born in the Quezon City and my father in Galveston... (but I can't help but question the assertion every time I assert it).

Generally, I believe that politics is a private matter and proselytization is as ugly and as unwelcome to me in politics as it is in religion. But sometimes the subject is impossible to ignore. Therefore I proceed here with much caution and an intention of good will to all across most of the political spectrum.

I would like to submit to you two sources for your reading/listening pleasure:

On one hand....

Here are some of my favorite broadcasts from Bad at Sports that address this revolutionary identity issue and the separable world of the art fair (I scribed a few notes in haste to mark a trail):

Episode 119: James Elkins on Globalism
10:30 There is no uniform art world... in the art world, people get away with saying very trivial things about their nationality...
12:50 ...worlds in collision...
13:30 artists as representatives of the local... the idea of being a global artist is a wrong thing because it represents the West... it is a new face on cultural imperialism... international artists expressing international airport waiting lounges...
16:00 (...this segment sent me back to reading my Jameson)
21:00 Translation, an echo of the conversation with Brian Holmes, BAS#104
24:30 Jeff Koons as the emblem of vacuity...boutique multiculturalism as homeopathic pluralism...
26:00 What is art history? Who is it for? Is it failing us?
28:30 ...art criticism itself... there aren't strong regional differences that are stable in it, so these kind of questions don't get asked. People don't say: 'Oh, but in Hungary they write this weird stuff called art criticism but no one can think of it as art criticism, we think of it as poetry.'..."
29:25 Duncan's brilliant question: What is art, then? Do all cultural communities and cultural groups think of art the same way (as us in the West) and if not, how can we all create an art history that is part of the same thing (by "thing", he must mean the West and what is spontaneously considered "the dialog") and Elkin's brilliant response: if you go back into the Middle Ages and before, you find yourself using concepts of art that don't really apply...
31:28 Global art fair standards: "they know what a gallery is, etc..."
35:48 Art since 1900... the commitment to resisting the commercialization of the art world... the anti-aesthetic... those problems pertained to the problems of post-structuralism are dissolving in the huge ocean of art fair culture... nausea of the lack of resistance against the avalanche of art in the fairs...
42:10 grit in the system... non-oppositional practice... Jameson: good thing about Globalism, the pluralism of practice... the sociologist from Mars... symptoms of globalization...

Episode 104: Brian Holmes with Lane Relyea
14:30 A capsule history of anti-globalism in the 90's
16:00 Nice mock from Lane.
31:00 Brian Holmes' contribution to anarchism... how Libertarianism has roots in the "disruptions of society" in the 60's and 70's... the ambition of the Frankfurt School and B.H.'s desire to revive it... how contestatory or revolutionary theories became part of the very fabric of a.. certain kind of opportunism... what is called Neo-Liberalism includes a strong strand of Libertarianism, which is a right wing anarchism...
52:00 Duncan busts B.H. on his subversive intentions using the "reading group" as a Trojan Horse "...to build a robot army..." This illustrates how the desire to use the romantic aspect of collectivist politics while simultaneously declaiming the destructive potential. Reylea: "The form of the informal reading group has been a fashion or fad since the late 90's..." (a great history lesson follows)
1:00:00 How opportunism creeps into revolutionary movements (associated roughly with think tanks of all types)... Claire Pentecost defends the needs for a "solid network of research"... the opportunism of style "I find it boring..."
1:06:00 Schools as social networking spots... what you get from school is a network... B.H. on the defensive, calling Lane's presentation of social networking as "boilerplate"... "People who don't agree have become a detail..." (he must mean "trivial")...
1:11:00 How does one appropriate network socializing modes for un-instrumentalizing potentials (what language/jargon we're using!)... B.H.'s answer to have an "existential core"... if you have any kind of style, whether it is writing, speaking or painting, you can always have a success in society..." (WOW, that's easy for you to say!) "... the point is to find a way to cooperate with people over an extended period of time..." (too bad that the history of socialism is a history of failed collaboration)
1:15:00 The agenda of his blog, Continental Drift. Fast choppy rhythm=Control Society

Episode 39: Lane Relyea part deux!
35:19 Duncan: excess verbosity in art theory... artists as intelligent agitators
36:30 Criticism has withered, problems with theory rooted in the 80's
45:30 Freedom over production
49:30 Postmodernism relied on a consolidated media, but things changed... hegemony became collage material... (a great comparison between Salle and Tillmans)... the paradigm of urban outfitters and prosumers... but the artists are too deep to respond...
57:00 There has to be a new theory... a call to bury the 80's artists... teh Oedipal turn: Kill your father... Why haven't we killed our fathers yet?
59:20 Damn the market... a call for revolution
1:00:20 Agree on a common enemy that we can all hate, and hit that enemy will all it's force...

Episode 32: Lane Relyea

Most of the dialog in these links should be familiar to art world denizens. What follows might not be, but it should.

On the other hand:

Here's a whopper of a blogpost by Dr. Santy, aka Dr. Sanity. Pat Santy is part of a group of psychologists (associated with Pajama Media) who are fighting an information war in defense of Western Civilization. For most my friends in the art world, please give it a read, even though it probably appears to run counter to everything you hold dear.

A snippet:

...it occurs to me that if socialism cannot die because its mythology is seared into the psyche of the individual; captialism, the bane of socialism (just as socialism is the bane of capitalism), also cannot perish for precisely the same reason--each one is the political expressions of one of the two fundamental developmental lines of the human psyche.

...When not pursuing the objects of their narcissistic rage; the same rage-filled and aggressive individuals and groups easily submit to the will of Allah, God, the religion, the government, the collective, or the despot of the day, as they are filled with the desire for a reunification of the perfect other.

It has been said that the 20th century was the ?century of the narcissist?, but the 21st is well on its way to outdoing the horrors of the past, as a seemingly never-ending epidemic of malignant narcissistic rage and idealism--both caused by a defect in narcissism and both in turn combining to crush the human spirit--all for the purpose of serving the self-aggrandizing vision of the few.

It was a big mistake to think that when the West was victorious in the cold war; and when all the defects and deadly outcomes of socialism and communism were exposed, that it was the end of the matter. Like a zombie brought to pseudo-life by some mysterious cosmic process, eating the flesh of the living, socialism never was completely dead. In the same way, no matter how many tomes are written to discredit religion or a belief in God, it will not make the fundamental psychological need of homo sapiens to yearn for the perfect "other."

But without the mitigating influence of the grandiose self, these utopian fantasies have a way of devolving into scenes from "The Night of the Living Dead."

The task of the Free World in the 21st century is not only to "resolve the ideological debates of the Cold War", it is undo the narcissistic psychopathology that continues to strangled human potential and freedom all over the planet.

Parallel Cities is an abiding thought of mine, an address to contemporary city planning, an offer of an urban schema where the city fabric at large is the domain of private (car) transportation and islands of pedestrian communities are the domain of public (mass transit on a light rail scale) transportation. This seemed to be an anodyne idea at the time, but when I first tested it against my peers (in the days after undergraduate school -see Early Los Angeles), it was met with much resistance. Similar to my experience of the political dimension, my interlocutors at that time spilt between two poles, each taking me to task for crimes of apostasy. Defenders of human scale were revulsed, my anarchist pals thought I was a bit sentimental. I've been told that I am stubborn, but few of the critiques at that time seem to have risen much above the plane of the competitive elbow. Imagine my satisfaction when it became apparent that the art world traffics in parallel cities too, each mutually unaware that the separable worlds of the art marketplace and art of letters are natural compliments rather than natural antagonists.

The big question is how they fit together... and it is even more of a moral question when one ponders the consequences of total war of one against another, which is where we are tending at this time it seems.

By now I hope that my proposition is clear; that the urbanistic model of Parallel Cities also integrates well the Parallel Cities of our art world: where the art world as a marketplace at large is the domain of private transactions and islands of revolutionary theory is the domain of utopian dreams. This is an issue of scale and plumbing (how things go together), that by mitigating grandiosity in this way, one can save theory from itself... so that theory can soar to its heart's content on one hand... and on the other, to be able to establish market value from a multitude of independent negotiations, thus lining the circumstances (as a bird lines a nest) where art can exist at all.

Implicit within this scheme is the relation of limited and unlimited domains. At first glance, the unlimited option seems to be more favored one. But unbounded utopia seems to be destructive in all realms, especially the political if not the academic too. Bounded utopias. Contrary to conventional wisdom, to delimit utopia is to give it life, as biological cells are enveloped by walls and membranes, as we are bounded by skin. Anthropologically, we have evolved only recently and tribal social organization has a natural feel, it is a spontaneous desire. Problems start when the scale of social organization increases as it is wont to do in these modern times. Gentle patriarchs of a tribe of 100 or even of a thousand tend to become tyrants when the scale reaches past millions. Thus, the importance of the concept of freedom in civilization (see the ChinaTown Conversation at the end of Personal, Difficult Things), the only guard against a Hobbesian world of all against all.

This split in all worlds is the source of our malaise, Democrats vs Republicans, Neoliberalism versus Social Lberalism, Anarcho-Capitalism versus Marxism, the market identity versus the revolutionary identity of the art world. That the paradox of antinomies induces a catatonia (click the postscript of this post) is a symptom of our malaise, this insidious Mexican standoff between the commercial world and the world of letters in our art world.

The tonic for the ills described in the B.A.S. interviews might be Penny Aphorism #5:

Art manifests extrinsic value only once it has been invested with an intrinsic value in the first place. Therefore in the world of the marketplace, art is a mirror image of consumer goods, an inversion of the rule.
Poorly expressed (words all a tangle), but its an effort to guard against all the fear of the soul suckedness of it all. It might be as simple as as hard as investing some intrinsic interest in whatever you are doing as a hedge against the rough and tumble of the marketplace. A path led by curiosity and wonder leads to a higher value however negotiated in a besotted world.


By the way, Art LA 2008 is over and the verdicts are coming in: mixed.

It was a great fair to some, a good fair to others and not-so-good to enough to harsh the post fair high. It started out with much promise: a smaller, smarter, tighter anti-mega-fair. But what began as a counter trend ended up a disappointment to enough people so that the future of the LA Art Fair is still a questionable proposition. The thing is, I think LA likes it that way. Too far away from Europe, one step removed from the market powerhouse of New York, a huge history of "meh", Los Angeles doesn't seem to have the stuff to host/hoist another charm on the global art fair circuit/bracelet. Too many galleries only broke even and too few earned bragging rights enough to flaunt effectively. This weakness was sniffed out early in the first day of the fair by savvy client/galleries when it became clear that the surge of serious collectors was too weak to sustain a successful art fair.

My assessment is threefold:
First but not foremost is that there was an over reliance on the selection of a tight VIP list of galleries and not enough focus on servicing a tight VIP list of collectors so that acquisition anxiety would infect the larger body collectorship and unleash the requisite zeal of competition that any voracious art fair requires. It looks like the organizers assumed that the VIP galleries would bring the VIP collectors, but evidently it didn't work that way.

Making sausage: that's the way I think of it. Delicious, but I don't want to dwell too long on the process.

Secondly, what is great about LA was not instrumentalized by the fair: LA has a huge population of emerging artists. Personally, I think any art centers' potential can be gauged by assessing the number of knuckleheads trying out new things. More knuckleheads, the richer the loam. And LA --with 8+ art schools and a magnet for recently graduated pilgrims of art schools across the country for the past twenty years-- is one huge happy stinking heap of steamy loam. Experiments, hard to categorize activity, dumb stuff, off the wall, wierdos, loam. Admittedly, this is not easy to incorporate into the souk of the art world, but let's brainstorm anyway: one could peel off some floor space like Statements or Positions or better: give the dialog pride of place in the fair (I'm thinking of the schema of a theater: the stage would be the dialog and the audience would be the gallery booths) ... alternatively: spotlight off site exhibitions and link them into the party circuit. Book signings and publication parties sponsored by the fair, you know what I mean. And why not mobilize the schools in this direction?

Thirdly and towards the point of this particular bloggpost: art fairs should be more robust in encouraging the theorists to theorize the nature of the marketplace and in turn allow the capacity for some self reflexivity of art work in that marketplace. To wit: there should be a tithing of art fair participants to energize the publication of journals/books/video that could be the fuel to symposia that is more prominently show cased in the party calendar. There was a strange yet subtle waft of pointlessness that stunk up the air of most parties in the fair this week. Simultaneously, art schools should study art fairs. Authors such as Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek should be read alongside that of the Frankfurt School. Art schools who worry too much about career placement (remember Lane Relyea's biting reference to schools as "social networking spots"?) should also take care to arm their graduates with the conceptual background that informs the marketplace they will soon enter... instead of releasing them into a Wild West of an art world like a bunch of clueless blinking sitting ducks such as they currently are.

Re-membering a divided world is as simple as saying yes and letting that counter intuitive border dissolve. The marketplace needs the gravitas of theory and the egg heads need the levity and energy of barter.

All they have to do is say to yes to each other.

Posted by Dennis at January 26, 2008 8:52 AM

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